Blistering debut album from south coast noiseinks.
Alistair Lawrence 2011
As the title suggests, The James Cleaver Quintet have a past. It’s not one that anyone would have noticed, though, as it involved the band almost falling apart before it’d recorded a note. In that respect, their back story isn’t important, but what it prompted is: this album.
Bringing together the soulful punk rock of The Bronx, the kinetic spark of defunct cult heroes The Blood Brothers and the trend-bucking post-everything hardcore of Refused, they’re an outfit whose lifeblood seems to be pumping at an accelerated rate. Their desire to get on, get up and try new things would buckle a lesser band’s veins.
Broadly speaking, the songs on That Was Then, This Is Now fall into three categories: various calls to arms (Chicken Shit (For the Soul), Think or Swim); broadsides against hubris and style over substance (Eyes for Ears, Lower Than a Bastard); and some warped but affectionate love songs (Golfing Pros..., Pinks and Blues). It’s a range most other bands can only strive for, especially at such an early stage.
Perhaps the album’s finest moment is its mid-point: The JCWho? slides into view with a meticulous spiralling ska punk accompaniment, before it proceeds to take flight. As they launch themselves into a rush to nail their colours to the mast, "We’ve got nothing left to lose, we’ve just got everything to prove" is a simple refrain brought to the boil with swagger and intent.
Vocalist Jack Saunders perpetually flips his delivery back and forth between full-throated melodies and paint-peeling screams to great effect, but his true power as a vocalist is the confidence to bury as many great lines in the malaise as he belts out from above the mix. The result is an album that rewards with repeated listens, particularly as its heaviest moments will seem impenetrable to some at first. Chief songwriter Maud E Licious (no, really) can take another bow for seamlessly splicing together his love of cacophonous noise, whaling hooks and quieter, disarming moments.
An overall verdict? What hasn’t killed them has made them awesome.