AC Acoustics Understanding Music Review

Album. Released 2010.  

BBC Review

Glasgow band’s excellent third LP reissued on its tenth anniversary.

Mike Diver 2010

Although active for 13 years – their final album, 2002’s O, arriving a year before their split – Glasgow’s AC Acoustics fall into a broad but clogged category of period indie bands: those that never quite made it.

While some of their peers broke free of introductory features and breached the mainstream to varying extents – Snow Patrol signed their major label deal the year AC Acoustics split, going supernova with Final Straw; The Delgados earned plenty of kudos for their Mercury-nominated The Great Eastern LP of 2000; Mogwai embraced accessibility with 2001’s Rock Action – this lot’s claim to fame remains a couple of spots on John Peel’s Festive Fifty. Neither Stunt Girl nor I Messiah Am Jailer, said cuts, are featured here, both available on second long-player Victory Parts; but Understanding Music, the group’s third collection, is probably the best indicator that they could/should have achieved so much more.

Victory Parts received plenty of critical acclaim upon its 1997 release, but compared to what would follow three years later AC Acoustics’ best-known work was a fairly by-the-book exercise in indie-rock box-ticking: satisfying for sure and excellent fun when experienced live (this writer caught them more than once, albeit always as support act to a faster-rising band), but rather lacking in longevity. Understanding Music was to be the band’s Spirit of Eden – while Talk Talk had made some steps towards a more enveloping, organic sound with 1986’s The Colour of Spring, it was their 1988 masterpiece that marked their progression away from their commercially sound synth-pop style. AC Acoustics made their comparable leap without a transitional LP – a brave move, but not without the risk of alienating what little audience they’d established.

Understanding Music isn’t without its moments of propulsive rock fuelled by punk inspiration – Super Cup finds every dial turned up to 11, and the Brian Molko-featuring single Crush sparks like first-album Ash with an accent shift – but this is a collection characterised by introspection. The gentle forcefulness of Chinese Summer is undoubtedly the greatest inverted-commas soft-rocker (still loud, mind) from north of the border that Gary Lightbody can’t call his own; Arcane Action Man acts as a precursor to the electro-folk-isms of Tunng, who formed the year AC Acoustics split; and She Kills For Kicks is an anthem that never was, which in the hands of an outfit like Arcade Fire would today be on hourly rotation on indie stations the Western World over.

Excellent stuff, basically. So why wasn’t it heard by as many people as it should have been at the time? Because people like me went for the headliner, not the support, and drank our way through these brilliant songs while waiting for Stunt Girl, the ‘hit’. It’s our own fault. But at least we can today give AC Acoustics the recognition and respect they deserved a decade ago. Now, what about a tenth anniversary edition of Seafood’s Surviving the Quiet, eh…?

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