If they can only let some grit into the studio, they’ll find a powerful voice of...
Chris Moss 2007
When the Tiny Dancers began to generate a scattering of news reports in spring last year, the peg was that they were yet another band that had been signed to a major label after a year mucking about in the West Yorkshire pit villages where they formed and recorded a couple of demos. The usual ‘presence’ – an in-the-know fan-base, a MySpace page - was vaunted as proof of their relevance, as was the bandmembers’ serious regard for rock traditions. By the end of 2006, this five-piece had toured with Richard Ashcroft, opened for Bob Dylan and become the new big thing in a media-driven pop culture that already places the Arctic Monkeys as veterans.
It’s a dully familiar phenomenon, but as this debut album proves there’s some substance here. David Key’s tuneful, ever so slightly fragile singing harks back to the likes of the Small Faces, early Stones, some vaguely 60s age of innocent ire. But on the opening track, '’20 to 9'’, there’s a rumbling bass, a jangling guitar and a soaring lyric that falls somewhere between Neil Hannon and Ian McCulloch. The whole wrap on the song has an 80s feel, no doubt partly due to the hand of producer John Leckie, who engineered the Stone Roses’ dashing retro-rock sound to wind up that decade.
Later, on the melodramatic ‘'Ashes and Diamonds'’ we have what sounds – punningly enough - like tributes to Ashcroft and Neil Diamond. On ‘'Moon Song 2'’ Kay gets deeper into the Diamond groove and fills huge spaces with grand verbal gestures, the tortured earnestness only partially tempered by Chris Etherington’s pounding guitar-led crescendos.
There’s a country and western band hiding somewhere beneath all the electrics. On ‘'Bonfire of the Night'', the band sound as if they’re lapping up a folksy jam in a barn on the West Riding, with claps, sweet harmonies, cheeky pauses and a country glee that stops just short of hollering ‘hee-haw’. Given that they’ve been testing their talents at a local Miners' Welfare Club, the Tiny Dancers are, in fact, frighteningly sprightly. They have a penchant for twee melodies, tidy bridges and not letting lyrics about death get in the way of a pretty riff – a definite weakness, as they shine brightest when they are darkest, when the beat slows down or the mix of lively rocking instruments is spooked by Glover’s keyboards. You can hear Leckie at work when everything is allowed to get cosmic and a little bit cluttered.
There’s neither great range nor depth on Free School Milk. But the Tiny Dancers sound febrile and wide-open and, promisingly, slightly confused by all the competing impulses and influences that drive their music. Radioplay is assured. Track 8, '‘Hannah, We Know'’ is already part of the Great British FM Soundscape. Perhaps it’s dated to ask them to be more ‘northern’ but you do suspect that if they can only let some Yorkshire weather and pit-village grit into the studio, they’ll find a powerful, plaintive voice of their own.