On Tom Aspaul’s debut record, Black Country Disco, we are transported to the absolute nadir of his life: most of the songs are about not believing in his own songwriting abilities, the death of a friend and the misery of a breakup. And yet, if you don’t really listen to the words (like I do the first 10 times I listen to anything), you are easily swept off your feet by the disco-drenched production and sky-high choruses.
The intro track and ‘Close to Me,’ Aspaul says, is about being at an industry party and hating everything about it and feeling waves of impostor syndrome, extremely ‘Gone’ by Charli XCX ft. Christine and the Queens vibe. (It’s worth noting that Aspaul very nearly quit music, which inspired the flavor of some of the tracks early in the record.)
Then, he outlines a depressing decline of a relationship on the sonically pulse-pounding ‘Carnelian,’ getting the listener to dance before we learn it’s about jealousy, cheating and the trauma of a breakup. That story continues with ‘Tender,’ where we are treated to exuberant production and an earworm chorus despite the song taking a retrospective look at a relationship that just didn’t work.
As if it couldn’t get sadder (at least lyrically), one of my favorite tracks on the album, ‘Traces,’ comes off like a glittery, synth-y callback to a former lover. But according to Aspaul, it’s a song more in line with Grimes’ ‘Delete Forever’ about her friend’s heroin overdose; ‘Traces’ is about his memories around a friend who had taken his own life eight years ago. It’s both being let down by his fading memories of his friend yet also the pain felt when the memories surface, usually when drunk and out at a club.
‘Euston’ transitions us to side B of the record, where we get to ‘W.M.,’ still a song about heartbreak, but getting more into the Black Country of it all after Aspaul leaves London. (Black Country refers to a region of England in? Near? Around? West Midlands.)This time, it’s about being able to find happy moments and simply have fun despite (and through) a breakup. Finally, something to fucking celebrate and really dance to!
‘Dead Already (Save Yourself)’ takes us to a bubbly place, sound-wise, while Aspaul lyrically investigates the post-breakup mess of what one’s relationship to an ex really looks like. The penultimate track, ‘01902,’ is the first production credit for Aspaul; he released it right before dropping this album, which he tells Genius was inspired by Lady Gaga dropping ‘Sour Candy’ a day before Chromatica.
With ‘01902’ we get, at last, a dance song that involves late-night lust. “Now would you like to live deliciously?” asks Aspaul on the chorus. “I’ll put my hands on you, put your hands on me.” It’s his second, and only other, production credit on the record.
If that olde English (?) lyric sounds familiar, it’s because it is, darling dear. Gay icon Black Phillip of the A24 cult classic, The Witch, is a literal demon sheep who famously says “would you like to live deliciously?” Aspaul told Gay Times that this was an intentional pull; knows his pop culture references and we love a nod to anything related to demons, sheep, or living deliciously!
Then, it gets hot: “Can you feel it inside? (Let’s do this the right way) Have to leave at midnight (Keep your eyes, on the prize).” I guess the first eight tracks are a sort of melancholic foreplay lyrically, while we’ve sonically been fluffed up for this track, but perhaps more so for the title track, ‘Black Country Disco.’
On the final track, we indeed reach a climax. Opening up out of literal thunder noises, the song crystallizes Aspaul’s newfound confidence in his songwriting and production abilities and the reverence of making it through a very low point in his life.
We get verses that sound like chorus and vice versa, but the standout is the bridge:
If only I could see through time
Then I would know that I would just be fine
Who knew you had to go so far?
In the end, Aspaul is okay. And we’re okay, too, because we’ve been treated to a superb record that tells a compelling story but doesn’t for one moment give us a reason to stop dancing.