Columbia Mills have always been drawn to the dark. From their early singles right up to 2018’s ‘Close to You’, the Dublin-based quintet - namely, brothers Fiachra and Uisneagh Treacy (vocals and bass, respectively), Stephen Ward (guitar), Paul Kenny (drums) and Ken McCabe (electronics) - have taken inspiration from the decidedly melancholy subject matter and spun it into their signature sound, one that aims to bridge the gap between indie rock and electronica. On their debut album, 2017’s A Safe Distance to Watch, they set out their stall with intricate songs of hard-won hope, with Fiachra’s baritone vocals striking a favourable chord.
Three years later, they follow it up with the precarious launch of CCTV, released into the world amid much uncertainty - strangely fitting for an album that tackles the idea of connection and what happens when that thread is severed. The album’s title track opens proceedings - in this instance, the acronym stands for ‘Car Crash TV’ - and its document of a turbulent relationship unfolds over a six-minute track that starts as hushed alt-folk before dropping out entirely and beginning a slow build to a towering, multilayered crescendo that’s held together by Uisneagh’s bass and Kenny’s drums, going for the gusto in a way that suggests this is a much more ambitious band than before. Such an idea is borne out by the likes of the disco-tinged ‘Isolate’, which speaks to the dexterity of their evolving sound; they might not have been able to pull that off on their debut, but the new record finds them in an undeniably confident frame of mind, something that bleeds into even the more immediate moments on the album like the full-throated bombast of ‘Strange Game’ or the stirring, wistful ‘Heart and Soul’.
There’s a delicate sense of nuance to things even when the albums at its most streamlined, with songs like ‘Understand’ and ‘The Greatest Love’ deriving moments of tension and release from how particular elements of the band’s sound interact with each other; the former surging forward with an immediately memorable synth ostinato, and the latter offering up a club-ready mix of forceful rhythms and call-and-response vocals, a floor-filler that’s equally at home being played in rock clubs. They’ve broadened their horizons admirably, refining some aspects of the sound pursued on their debut while branching out in unexpected directions elsewhere.
‘Who Am I Supposed To Talk To Now?’ is a prime example of those musical worlds converging as Fiachra opens up about personal loss, a tragic tale of losing a friend to ill mental health that’s all too relatable. “You always said you were fine / I should have known then it was tearing at your mind” he sings, its sweeping chorus tinged with regret. ‘You’re Not the Answer’ explores similar themes, tackling the thorny topic of being unable to open up about one’s struggles and the devastating consequences that can have, set to an affecting melody and stately waltz tempo. It’s a real gut-punch of a song, but what they offer in melancholy the band counter with catharsis, and it’s a winning combination.
Clocking in at a shade under 47 minutes, CCTV’s 10 tracks show off the scope of Columbia Mills’s prowess as a band, offering up a bigger and bolder version of the quintet than was heard on their debut, pursuing a more exploratory sound while still being packed with hooks and heart. They’ve successfully made their next statement as a band without compromising what made them stand out in the first place. While they’re still drawn to life’s darker corners, their second album reaffirms their desire to illuminate them.