Arty Scottish indie collective win both hearts and minds.
Johnny Sharp 2011-03-09
The path from art school to rock’n’roll band was an oft-trodden one in the 1960s and 70s, but it’s been a road less-travelled in recent years. So in an age of stage-schooled, fame-hungry gottabes, it’s nice to hear a band formed out of a multimedia art collective. Especially one imbued with the sense of mischief and off-kilter ideas you’d associate with that background, but equally in love with some of popular music’s more immediate, soul-stirring properties.
This debut album for Chemikal Underground, after a couple for the Surface Pressure and Fence labels, showcases music which is neither wilfully obscurantist nor ironically poppy, but full of smart yet heartfelt indie-rock built to alternately quicken your pulse and wrong-foot your brain.
You know you’re in the presence of a band a touch more cerebral than the average when the second song is entitled I’ll Wake With a Seismic Head No More, but it’s the earthy appeal of cavernous guitar and brooding bass, reminiscent of early Cure albums, that reels you in. Yet as that title suggests, there’s always a sense of mischief, and it repeatedly meanders off on tangents, before concluding, "I only ever wanted to put my tongue in your dimples."
You can’t deny the vintage pop allure of Machine Age Dancing, with its harmony-laden chorus and echoing Spector-style drums, but all the while they ration their melodic favours, repeatedly wandering off on discord-tinged, techno-flecked tangents. Yet treating us mean only keeps us keener.
The same trick is pulled on Shallow, which opens as a windswept, yearning reverie decorated by dreamy backing vocals, but sidesteps intermittently into proggy flights of shoegazing fancy, before eventually coming full circle.
Post-modernists all the way, they pick from a grab-bag of musical, cinematic and artistic references, but the object always seems to be to entertain rather than confuse. Once again, You’re No Vincent Gallo has passages of nicely rounded indie-pop but then wanders off the beaten track via introspective lo-fi contemplation, skittering techno beats and pink noise.
The result, invariably, is that they hold the attention like a movie that keeps tantalising you with strands of plot then flashing back and switching the viewpoint. Some may find it irritating, but many more, you suspect, intoxicating.