Normality is elastic and in the world of Novelty Island the twang of the intoxicatingly surreal reverberates around latest single, Michael Afternoon, an electrified, lo-fi chug in and out of the life of a smudged storybook character. Crossing the wires of Revolver-era Beatles and the slacker experimentalism of Blur’s 13, the single is the second to be summoned from Novelty Island’s upcoming, masterpiece debut album, How Are You Coping With This Century?
Birthing a new and vivid character into the pop and rock canon, nestled as a distant relative in a family tree headed by the likes of Ziggy Stardust, Sergeant Pepper and Tracy Jacks, singer-songwriter, Tom McConnell – also known as Novelty Island – has become custodian of a man fighting the fires raging within his troubled mind. The possibility that it may be the artist himself remains. Setting the inner thoughts of the protagonist and a list of fantastical therapies to chunky, barre chords, wiry guitar breaks and an unrelenting backdrop of complimentary and counterpoint vocal harmonies, Michael Afternoon enters listeners’ lives as a drifter on a sea of no hope, yet blessed with a painstakingly-constructed, low-strung psych-pop opus to soundtrack his lowest ebb.
Recorded in a home studio, McConnell played almost every instrument on the track, only giving drumming duties over to London-based session player, Jan Simson at Studio 13 in West London, working alongside Carlos Lellis on mixing duties. With lyrics that skip through viaducts, jam, ferries and sitcom sets, and acrobatic key changes from verses in F# to the chorus in C, the act of listening to Novelty Island is to feed the ears with potent, e-number-rich confections and open the doors to a Willie Wonka-style music factory.
Nudged back to his native Liverpool from London by the inevitable force of the Coronavirus pandemic, McConnell’s time in the capital as an attentive student of the Abbey Road Institute is put to potent use across the forthcoming 12-track album, set for late-summer release. Openly and passionately a devotee and student of Paul McCartney, McConnell’s work as Novelty Island had, prior to 2020’s shutdown, been lodged, if not yet sinking, in the quicksand of his own expectations as he aimed for the highest possible plateau of songwriting, arrangement and production.
Newly lost on the sunny streets of Liverpool, free of traffic and depleted of human life, How Are You Coping With This Century? described by the writer vaguely as ‘a surreal northern nervous breakdown’ took shape under crisis conditions, coming as a surprise to McConnell himself. It was during the dreamlike weeks of sun-kissed lockdowns that the world, now on a new and unexpected axis, seemed to catch up with McConnell’s wild imagination and set a suitable stage for his ambitions.
Also referring Brian Wilson and Kate Bush as major influences, whilst tipping his hat to Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer in the name of the project itself, McConnell’s playful view of reality, incorporating surrealism into precision songwriting and studio craft, reveals him as an artist in the truest sense of the word.
As such, Novelty Island exists as a complete vision of a world of and outside the one listeners live in, with McConnell not only creating all of Novelty Island’s carefully assembled, rainbow-riven moving and still imagery, but also stewarding a growing visual estate on Instagram. Functioning between the food pictures and motivational quotes, Novelty Island’s surrealist social media offers a suitably slow-moving aide to the aural experience.