The XCERTS – LEARNING HOW TO LIVE AND LET GO

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It’s all change for The XCERTS. The Aberdonian, now Brighton-based band have completed their fifth album, out shortly on the UNFD label. With this release, the XCERTS branch out into new directions while retaining the qualities that propelled them to fame over a decade ago. Long-standing fans will recognise the eclecticism, the energy and the emotional dimension that define the sound of this three-piece. In conjunction with these staples, the inclusion of electronic elements clearly marks the beginning of a new era. This electronic focus feels both original and referential, nostalgic and fresh, and is guaranteed to conquer the hearts and ears of fans old and new. 

The album starts with ‘GIMME’, an adrenalising opener that packs a punch and sets the tone. Poppy, high-energy, drum-driven ‘Car Crash Culture’ follows; infused with good old Y2K sonorities, this track is somewhat reminiscent of early Neon Trees and the Killers. The nostalgia trip back to the late 2000s-early 2010s continues with pop-punk ‘Jealousy’ and rocky electro-pop ‘Ache’, the latter featuring Murray Macleod’s college friend and Architects frontman Sam Carter. Straight on first listen, these songs stand out as immediate and absolute earworms with a real anthem quality. Fun and compelling, they tick all the boxes of an effective pop tune. But don’t let the catchiness fool you; far from lazy or mindlessly formulaic, these songs always feature little quirks, playfully toying with the limits of the genre and expanding into something else. 

So you’re a few tracks into the album and you might think you’ve got it all figured out. Then the XCERTS pull a 180 with ‘Drag Me Out’, an electro ballad with emotionally charged lyrics. The album title, ‘learning how to live and let go’, is repeated at the end like a hopeful mantra, conveying the overarching theme of the work: acceptance. This rollercoaster of an album indeed showcases an impressive range of emotions. Macleod’s versatile vocals take us through different emotional states and slices of life, from loving and hurting to reminiscing and regretting. Shoutout to the lyrics scattered throughout the album mentioning crying online and throwing your phone at the wall, epitomising the 2023 social media angst. Thankfully, just as you start wondering how many hours you spent scrolling today, the permeating echoes of 2000s pop-punk and emo remind you of simpler times, back when the worst that could happen if you threw your phone was the battery falling out.

The gentle, introspective bubble initiated by ‘Drag Me Out’ carries on with ‘Everything I Cannot Live Without’, an acoustic guitar ballad featuring folky harmonisations and warm strings. The closing track, ‘It Aint Easy’, is another slow tempo, stripped back song, this time in a Poison-esque register, with ‘Every Rose Has Its Thorn’ overtones. In a similar vein to ‘Cry’ from ‘Hold On To Your Heart’ or ‘Aberdeen 1987’ from ‘In the Cold Wind We Smile’, these tracks are yet another demonstration of the XCERTS’ stylistic range, from bulldozering bangers to soul-baring ballads. 

Perhaps the most remarkable strength of the album resides in the duration of the songs. Most of them are around three minutes (with a few below the three-minute mark), sometimes featuring pretty abrupt, dead-in-their-tracks endings. As a result, the power of the music feels very focused and channelled. It also gives the songs an off-the-cuff, punk edge. The listening experience becomes likened to raw snapshots, like being in the rehearsal room with the musicians as they’re working. And knowing how central this idea is to the XCERTS’ recent band dynamic, it’s a joy to see it transpire in this album.  

‘Learning How To Live And Let Go’ is a beautiful culmination in the XCERTS’ career. This album is further proof, as if we needed it, that the XCERTS are among the greatest masters at the art of writing soulful songs and power anthems. 

8/10 

Words: Rebecca Galian Castello

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