Posted by: ben | May 29, 2009

focus: zoey van goey – the cage was unlocked all along

Zoey Van Goey Header
Ben: Regular readers might be aware that I’ve been looking forward to Glaswegian three-piece Zoey Van Goey’s debut album for a fair ole while now. They teased the public with a spectacular single way back in 2007 and then spent the intervening two years quietly studying for their degree, the blaggards! So is The Cage was Unlocked All Along worth the wait?

Before we go into opinions, let’s have a bit of background. Zoey Van Goey formed back in 2007 whilst studying at the University of Glasgow. They did a few gigs and wrote a few songs. Inevitably for a twee indie trio in Glasgow’s west end, they got noticed by Stuart Murdoch of Belle & Sebastian fame whom got them into a studio, acting as producer on the sublime Foxtrot Vandals. Being good arts students, they carried on with their studies, writing and recording whenever they could. Another single was released in 2008 but things were otherwise quiet.

Late last year, rumours of an album began to circulate. Finally, here in May, an album saw the light of day.

So why the anticipation? Well, aside from the obvious Belle & Sebastian link, Foxtrot Vandals was an absolutely amazing song. I’ve been craving poppy summer pop for a few weeks now and was hoping that Zoey Van Goey would fit the bill.ZVGThanks

Dan: I’ve had a different approach to Zoey Van Goey, as I wasn’t astounded by the first single. It was a nice enough pop song, but I needed more to go on before I could get excited. When the news of the album came around, a quick catch-up with Foxtrot Vandals brought me around. It was actually a great, bouncy song that I’d somehow foolishly mislabelled when I heard it on release. An album full of their enthusiasm would be worth investigating, and it’s come at a great time.

So far, this year seems to be about established artists expanding their catalogues rather than new artists making their debuts. Zoey Van Goey seem to be the only new band stepping forth in to the music world with something fresh to offer, which is a brave move considering the industry’s reliance on trying to recreate the 1980’s at the moment. So a pre-order was necessary, and soon after, on a friday afternoon it was waiting for me to give it a listen.

I was instantly smitten. It’s not an adventurous album, and it’s quite twee; but it does have clever lyrics, well-crafted tunes and a beautiful, melancholy centre. I listened to the album 3 times that Friday evening, and woke up Saturday morning absolutely clamouring for it. I had to have more! The short running time of 33 minutes just isn’t enough. At first I thought the tracks were too short, and could do with an extra chorus to finish them off. That idea was quickly dismissed, as each track stands up well enough on its own not to need any prolonging. It’s just that the album doesn’t feel long enough. A couple more tracks could have done the trick, but it’s likely that anything more would ruin the flow of the album.

The Cage Was Unlocked All Along tells the tale of a relationship between two lovers, from first date to ‘okay-ever-after’. It starts with The Best Treasure Stays Buried, in which the subjects uncover their love from the burden of their current, unsatisfied, separate relationships. The album then follows them, track by track, through ecstatic love and desire; fights; and disappointment; to the last track, The City Is Exploding. It all ends with the two of them realising that even though the love they felt to begin with isn’t there any more, they depend on one another to such an extent they can’t live without each other, and “How we call this love, we may never know” leads them into an uncertain future.

Ben: I’m going to disagree here. The album doesn’t appear to have any narrative to my ear though there’s a tremendous sense of introversion and fear in the lyrics. The listener is brought into a private world normally occupied by the narrator and their partner – the songs are so intimate and create a sense of ‘us versus the world’ that it’s easy to misinterpret that as a story of a single couple.

What strikes me foremost about the album is how sinister the songs are – deceptively so. Like so many Scottish bands, the production and tunes are quite sweet and innocent but lyrically this album is really quite bleak. My album highlight – We Don’t Have That Kind of Bread – appears at first glance to be a ‘let’s never part’ pop song but in actuality is about a girl convinced that her partner is either going to be kidnapped, imprisoned or run down, imploring them to ‘stay under the covers with me instead – don’t leave, don’t leave.’ Sweethearts in Disguise tells of someone who ‘can’t take it, this feeling we won’t make it out alive,’ asking her partner to tell her lies to comfort her against her greatest fears. We All Hid in Basements says that everyone should be dead (‘When will the end come? / The TV says it’s on the way’). That’s three of the first four tracks.

There’s too much of an element of fantasy to suggest one single story throughout. One of the constants throughout all the tracks is the fact that the singer is in a relationship which is where the album has it’s real charm – in much the same way as early Belle & Sebastian albums invited you into the private world of someone at odds with everyone else, The Cage Was Unlocked All Along puts you on the side of a couple whom feel that the world is just too odd and dangerous. Each song is a bubble against the scary outdoors – you feel privileged that you’ve been invited in and you want to stay.

I hate myself for the Belle & Sebastian comparisons – it’s very lazy. Musically The Cage Was Unlocked All Along is more akin to something the Delgados would have put out – there’s that same frantic guitar-and-drums, the same distorted wall of guitar on The Best Treasure Stays Buried, the same gentle female singer. They do have the same producer which has a lot to do with it but forgetting that – Zoey Van Goey have managed to stray far away enough from their Glaswegian contemporaries to create their own unique variety of music.

Dan: The stand out tracks are the original single, Foxtrot Vandals; We Don’t Have That Kind Of Bread (a desperate plea to never part, even for work); Cotton Covering; and Sweethearts in Disguise. The latter is possibly my favourite track, a bitter-sweet track relating a fear of both the end of love, and the future. Some of the best lyrics appear on We All Hid In Basements, with it’s depiction of theoretical apocalypses past, present and future. The rise of Obama and the Nintendo Wii are skilfully linked in the lyrics “We want to vote for change, but we cannot spot the difference/ so on the couch we pray to Super Mario for deliverance”. In the end, The Cage Was Unlocked All Along is a beautiful album, from the astounding artwork to the accomplishments of a new artist in a stagnating industry.


Peter Diamond's excellent coverart. Click for much larger version

Ben: Oh, how I love this album! I ordered it expecting the joyous poppy pop of Foxtrot Vandals and instead got the most complicated, awkward, inviting pop music imaginable. It’s fragile yet confident, worried yet happy and makes for the most astonishing listening. I was surprised on my first listen and continue to be surprised by it two weeks later. If you only buy one album this year, I implore you to make it this one.

Recommended tracks:
We Don’t Have That Kind of Bread, My Persecution Complex
Dan: Sweethearts In Disguise, We Don’t Have That Kind of Bread

Want to dig further?
Official website:
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  1. […] This post was Twitted by andymarczak – […]

  2. […] upgrade. The only CD he bought was Zoey Van Goey’s The Cage Was Unlocked All Along, and as we reviewed that earlier, there’s little sense talking about it again here. (It still has the best artwork of the […]

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