Demo reviews (January 2010)
Time for another trawl through the latest demos / self releases coming out of North Wales.
Something Personal - Wishes (EP)
Back round the turn of the millennium Llanrug's Something Personal (well, the original founder member, Jono Davies) sent me an effortlessly catchy piece of indie pop called Boomerang. It was one of the finest demos I received that year. Almost a decade later, this is the debut EP proper from a radically different line-up, but still driven along by Jono's songs.
This self same set of songs could have been released at any point between then and now. The E.P. bears none of the growth marks of recent musical developments. For example, the crashing title track bastardises the already bastardised-to-death Beatles-influenced template that shaped Oasis' Definitely Maybe and the Real People's debut album.
But lyrically this EP makes Noel Gallagher sound like WH Auden: "to love is to lie, to know is to hide" - eh? No, really: what?
To the EP's credit, the melodies are anthemic and memorable. The bombastic arrangements and production underline the band's self-proclaimed ethos of "melodic, upbeat and honest rock n roll music". This music isn't designed to impress effete, chin-stroking music critics and makes no tokenistic attempts to do so, to its credit. However another proclamation on their Myspace page, that "the band's music is a breath of fresh air to the UK music scene and afar" would get them banned by advertising standards if it was anywhere other than on Myspace.
In essence, you'll enjoy this if you like your music painted in bold primary colours and familiar patterns and you can forgive the guileless lyrics. If you like to fill your bag with something more original, subtle and crafted, move along.
The Fag Machine - New Ways to Walk (EP)
We could have a long discussion about the necessity of originality in new music, or whether - indeed - it is possible. I think it is. On the most fundamental level, even Something Personal's songs are original, in that no one else has strung those exact same sounds and lyrics together. But the collective weight of all of the bands standing behind them who were also influenced by The Beatles via Oasis crushes any breath of freshness out of them. Wrexham's The Fag Machine are nowhere near as derivative, however you can hear exactly what has shaped this EP: The Stooges, The Birthday Party, The Dead Kennedys, 80's Matchbox B-Line Disaster. Vitally, though, you can also hear this band reaching beyond those influences for something definably their own.
This is low-down, twilight scuzz that invokes the primal spirit of rock n roll without just echoing it. Philip yowls fragmented existential beat nightmares at us and I have no clue - whatsoever - what he's on about. And that in itself is enough to pull me back to these four songs again and again.
I think this is very good. A damn fine debut. And I'll be intrigued to hear what evolves out of this primeval soup.
Switch Fusion - Prophecy (demo)
Llanberis' Dafydd Gethin Owen is the single most talented young musical visionary whose creative efforts have graced my airwaves over the last 12 months, or so. His explorations of the more interesting but still accessible micro genres of dance music are always suffused with great energy and creativity. A lot of the electronic music that I hear (and I hear a lot) relies to a most predictable degree on snapping together a few 4 bar loops with less imagination, but the same amount of technical skill, as a toddler applies to Lego bricks.
The best electronic music shifts and expands that palette. So you can't predict where the breakdown is going to come, but you can feel it.
On this latest piece (Gethin is remarkably prolific on top of everything else) Switch Fusion stretches a deceptively simple minor key melody over an electro house soundscape with just the right amount of interesting sounds and production tricks bubbling in and out of the mix to keep the casual listener far removed from the dancefloor intrigued.
For specific evidence of his instinctive musiciality and production skills, hear how he holds back the main theme of this piece until two minutes 22 seconds in. There's a great assuredness, here. He promises that his debut EP is going to eschew the rather strict genre focus of most dance releases, touching, instead, a number of different bases. I hope his ambition is matched by the broadmindedness of those who get to hear the EP when it eventually arrives.
Under Alien Skies - Powder (EP)
Oh, dear god, this is outstanding! Prestatyn's Under Alien Skies are David and Danny and this is the best reason, so far, for listening ahead into 2010 with hope, expectation and wonder.
Imagine a much less fussy Animal Collective where a song is actually allowed to breathe rather than get drowned in outre squiggles, fronted by someone who has more than a passing acquaintance to Scott 3 (album), Oddesey & Oracle and - foof! - no reference points are going to suffice here, sorry. The EP is on now and every time I type out a hackneyed comparison it makes some leap left, right, or right over my head that totally defies expectations.
Second track Cracks has a most gorgeous Spanish guitar part that just melts away into crickets and sibilance. It's one of the most beautiful things I have ever heard. I'm doing a double take. I have stopped the EP and asked myself seriously whether I just meant that:
"Really, me, is this one of the most beautiful things I have ever heard? Up there with Sigur Ros, Brian Eno, The Beach Boys, Soft-Hearted Scientists, Spiritualized, Miles Davis, Air, Neu!, Mazzy Star, Fleetwood Mac, the Afternoons, Robert Wyatt, Fernhill, Nick Drake, Cat Power etc. etc. etc.?"
Yes. Truly. Trust me, me.
I must gather myself.
I must. The remnants of my dignity demand it.
Even the lyrics are excellent.
OK, it's not going to fill stadiums, and have fists punching along, but this will fill heads and make them punchdrunk with the audaciousness and originality of the ideas contained therein. Which is a million times better, isn't it?
If I hear an EP as good as this before the end of the year, I will explode with furry joy. Pray that doesn't happen. (And tune in to the show this Sunday night to hear the EP in full.)
Please send high quality .mp3's with a short biography and contact number to: email@example.com
And go avail yourself of a copy of the Under Alien Skies EP.