The debut album by Alfie Templeman was launched not with a lavish party or extensive and spendy press campaign but a gig built within the sandbox video game Minecraft – or “an immersive music festival in space”. Users were encouraged to take part in scavenger hunts in order to gain entry to a secret spaceship and hear extracts from the album.
That tells you a lot about the area of music in which Templeman operates. Some 60% of Minecraft’s players are teenagers and Templeman – still a teenager himself – deals in a very specific, very teenage strain of 21st-century pop-rock. It lives in those areas of the Radio 1 playlist not colonized by hip-hop, UK rap and pop-house, and in branches of H&M and McDonald’s. It is music in which George Ezra and Harry Styles occasionally dabble, but Sea Girls, Tom Grennan and Thomas Headon – who was one of the support acts at Templeman’s Minecraft show – play full-time. It is a little bit guitar-y, occasionally piano-led, but mostly electronic. In among its influences lurk the brightest, most 80s-inspired singles by the 1975, Jungle’s whitewashed pop-R&B, Tame Impala’s hazy electronic psych and Bastille’s ever-so-fractionally left-of-centre pop. Somewhere in the recipe there are also sprinklings of stadium-sized ambition and warm mid-70s AOR. It is very commercial but nondescript of image and doesn’t seem to have a name, though some of its fans – and indeed Spotify – persist in referring to it as “indie”, perhaps in an attempt to rile any parents in earshot who can remember when indie meant the Jesus and Mary Chain staggering paralytic around a stage for 20 minutes, pausing from making a horrendous racket only to tell their audience to fuck off. Then again, upsetting parents really doesn’t seem to be part of the deal with this stuff. It is friendly, upbeat, fresh-faced, successful and unthreatening: Nice Boyfriend Music. It sounds like it did well in its A-levels and is looking forward to a sick gap year backpacking in Australia.
If the gauzy textures of Glass Animals represent this kind of thing at its most exploratory and expansive, then Templeman is at its dead centre. Alongside the usual, his most obvious inspiration from him is Coldplay: not Coldplay the grandiose stadium ballad-mongers but Coldplay in pop mode. The kind of tumbling, echoing guitar found on Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall and Adventure of a Lifetime turns up on Broken and 3D Feelings, while Templeman’s lyrics tend towards Chris Martin-ish one-size-fits-all generalities when dealing with serious matters, such as his struggles with anxiety and depression: “Life ain’t got a manual / It came without instructions … Don’t you feel like you’re broken?” That said, it’s hard to escape the feeling that Templeman is actually slightly better than Coldplay when it comes to pop: his songs flow more naturally, they feel less considered and forced; their metaphorical grin is less fixed.
In fact, within the confines of what he chooses to do here, Templeman is pretty good. The love lyrics are a bit cutesy (on Do It, he frets about sounding “sappy”, something he perhaps should have considered before writing the title track, on which he imagines himself flying to the moon on “a hundred unicorn balloons”). The cheeky spoken-word asides occasionally grate. And listeners substantially older than the target audience may find themselves puzzling at the presumably unintentional resemblance between the synth riff of Candyfloss and the theme tune to Cagney & Lacey. But there’s no getting around the fact that Templeman is possessed of a keen melodic facility, that Color Me Blue is a very well-written song or that Leaving Today is incredibly pretty. There are nice sonic touches here and there: the off-key slide guitar that opens Folding Mountains; the filtered house squelch of Best Feeling.
So on its own terms, Mellow Moon succeeds. Even so, you wonder if it might not reflect a young artist pulling his punches. Templeman also self-releases music as Ariel Days – the name a reference to Ariel Pink dating from “before I found out he was a massive prick” (after a history of misogynist comments, the US musician was pictured at the January 2021 riot at the US Capitol building, to “peacefully show my support for the president”). That project is a little less bright-eyed and eager to please than the music here, couching the same melodic facility in lower-fi production and more opaque, chaotic and intriguing arrangements. You get a whisper of its sound on Mellow Moon’s beautiful closing track Just Below the Above: an intimation of greater depth, just as the occasional lyric here hints at a sharper, sarkier character lurking beneath the surface: “I’m in a mid- life crisis at the age of 18.” Maybe it’ll rise to the top in time. For now, Alfie Templeman is perfect Nice Boyfriend material and teenage adulation awaits.