Hatcham Social could be forgiven for being a little, well, cheesed off. They’ve been around long enough to become (almost) the elder statesmen of the east London indie scene. They’ve seen mates’ bands go on to much bigger and better things (depending on your perspective). They’ve been sidelined, overlooked, underestimated and criminally underrated. And yet they go on.

The reason they continue is possibly the same reason we want them to. Any sensible person would want them to. And this reason is exemplified well in The Birthday of the World. No one else sounds like Hatcham Social. No one else could. Anyone following them through the trials, tribulations and, yes, triumphs of the last decade cannot help but be astonished by the shape-shifting nature of their album-by-album development. All the while, though, they remain recognisably Hatcham Social.

Partly, this is explained by frontman Toby Kidd’s distinctive and hugely charismatic vocal stylings. Part Orange Juice-era Edwin Collins, part early David Bowie and part enigmatic, hair-on-the-neck-raising pure emotion, Kidd’s voice always retains its… Kiddness. This is evident on opener – the alarmingly-named ‘Bucket of Blood’. It begins with a fade-in that could be from Echo and the Bunnymen’s first album, Crocodiles (no accident – check out Hatcham’s label name), before deceptively laying a slightly spooky, mesmerisingly melodic trap.

Melody has always been at the heart of Hatcham’s attraction. From the outset, on astonishing and long-awaited debut You Dig the Tunnel, I’ll Hide the Soil (2009), the band’s music seized the listener by the throat with it. It has always been their not-so-secret weapon, their shock-and-awe explosive incursion. And here they are, hitting us with it again.

On ‘The Struggle That Keeps Us Together (Coming of Age in the Milky Way)’ – the band has always had a way with titles – a dreamy backing refrain, courtesy of former-teen-popstar-turned-alternative-rock-goddess Amy Studt, counterpoints the dazed and amused main vocal. There’s more evidence on ‘Hanging Rock’, a haunting, acoustic masterpiece that recalls Bowie’s ‘Song for Hermione’.

A New World Calling’ brings what is perhaps one of the album’s main lyrical themes into relief: the exploration and eventual colonisation of other planets. Or at least that’s what it seems to be ­(“You know Mars has been the sole red goal”) – you never can tell with Hatcham Social. All the while, a syncopated rhythm appears to mock and attack any arrogant and facile listener interpretation. Anyone who knows Kidd knows he resists and avoids easy categorisations as though they are irritating gnats hovering around his melody-filled head.

Hatcham Social’s creative core has always comprised Kidd and (kid) brother Finn. They are the Mark E Smith-like constants in the band’s perpetually pulsating and fragmenting universe. Finn, in charge of the beats, should not – like his band – be underestimated. It is his foundation that is the counterpart to Toby’s ambitious and often highly intellectual concepts, and ‘A New World Calling’ is a perfect example of this.

Three epic and marvellous songs form an end-piece to the album. They act as a sort of coda, reinterpreting the themes and concepts of earlier tracks in different form. And I don’t use the word ‘epic’ lightly – these three will leave you both astonished and euphoric, with their mysteries, intimacies and ambition.

The Birthday of the World is a culmination of Hatcham Social’s promise thus far. Lyrically surprising; sonically astounding. Confident and fully realised, it is complete and perfect – and already seems like an essential classic. “I will make her triumphant,” sings Kidd on last song ‘Star Woman’. If there is any justice on this planet, the band’s new album will do the same for them.

By the way, Hatcham Social couldn’t be elder statesmen right now – they’re still far too young.

5/5