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diskant rewind: Freedom From Excessive Noise #5

Posted: February 27th, 2009, by Stuart Fowkes

(Originally posted November 2002)

Freedom From Excessive Noise by Stuart Fowkes

An encyclopedic spread of bands from across the UK this month, and across the alphabet, as Ann Arbor and Zebedee Numchuck allow me to present what is, quite literally, an A to Z of some of the best new British bands you might want to go and have a listen to.

A is for…
Starting off like the theme from the advert for Smash instant mashed potato (the one with all those pre-Metal Mickey look-at-us-we’re-covered-in-tin-foil-aren’t we futuristic tin Steven Hawkingseses), Leicester’s Ann Arbor hereafter turn their hand to the genre known henceforth as GRAAAAAARGHcore. Take away the fact that the main riff to ‘Tensed Up’ sounds more than a little bit like ‘Selling Jesus’ by Skunk Anansie, and you’ve got a Big Black-fuelled noise party for all the family. It’s stripped down the bare essentials (there are only two members: guitar, programming and bass), and loud enough and good enough to make you honestly expect Steve Albini to pop up shouting about crows or squirrels any minute. I’ve had the privilege of seeing Ann Arbor perform live, and it took my ears two days to recover from their atomizing songs about fucking then. I’m looking forward to many more happy hours of deafness from this ‘ere demo.

G is for…
God_Only_Knows – another band combining electronics and guitars, you might think. What to expect? Only too often, bands can end up thinking they’re some kind of Renaissance men (or women), simply by the introduction of a bit of kit with ‘Roland’ stamped on the front. Refreshing then that God_Only_Knows (complete with underscores, natch) don’t drown their music under squeals, breakbeats or vocal samples, instead weaving a spacious and pretty mesmerising twist on standard post-rock fare that sets them apart nicely from the pack, thank you very much. The opening track (the fantastically-titled ‘Ailsa Stewart’) starts off promisingly, but ultimately weighs in about two minutes under its proper fighting weight, coming to a close before it’s really got going. Unlike ‘Reflections In Natural History’, seven minutes of swooping, sweeping and bleeping that genuinely gives the impression it’s got something to say for itself. It’s not all plain sailing – ‘Plane/plain’ does suffer from too many inconsequential beeps and not enough ideas, leaning rather self-consciously towards Autechre territory without committing fully to it, but on balance a offering that varies from substantial and worthwhile to flamin’ beeptastic, mate. No Beach Boys covers, either.

L is for…
Down to London for our second stop, and the wild, camp world of Luxembourg, the kind of pop band it sometimes surprises you still exist, until you remember that this is England, the country that brought you boy scout camps, theatrical camp and Carry On Camping. Luxembourg’s vocalist steals the limelight here, kicking off sounding like Morrissey if he’d been brought up by Benny Hill, and consistently reminding me of Oxford’s kings of musical theatre, The Bigger The God. At other times, there’s a bit of David Byrne at large in quirky couplets that rhyme ‘e-mails’ with ‘females’, and then again with ‘details’. Opening track ‘Making Progress’ is doing just that, a pleasant blend of The Smiths and The Sensational Alex Harvey Band until about three minutes in, when we’re treated to an extended spoken word character study of a call centre worker, the man that called her and the bloke that sold him his insurance. I still can’t decide whether this is quirky or irritating, but there are some charming pop songs on display here nonetheless, even when the tempo drops on closing track ‘Raised’.

R is for…
RedJetson‘s press release says they’ve been compared to Slint, Mogwai and Sonic Youth. Predictably, they don’t sound like any of them really, Six By Seven being another one of ‘those’ guitar band reference points, but one that fits more appropriately here than most. And interestingly, their demo is sequenced all wrong, with what is (for my money) the weakest track first, presumably because it’s the closest to a four-minute pop song. It’s the most immediate offering here, but a few listens in and it’s second track ‘Shoot You Coward, For You Will Only Kill A Man’ that really gets under your skin. quiet/LOUD/quiet/LOUD it might go, but it’s done in a way that’s satisfyingly refreshing, not with respect to any particular structural intricacies or mesmerising guitar wizardry, but ‘cos it’s, err, good. Top marks for getting ‘conquistadores’ into the lyrics as well.

V is for…
A dark room and a glass of red wine on a winter’s night seems to suit the new stuff from Glasgow’s Viva Stereo, which to be honest could be from a different band to the one I listened to in my last column. The electronics that permeated the band’s previous effort last for about eight seconds before being lobbed on the tip and replaced with a wistful sigh and a defiantly defeated vocal. They don’t dispense with the electronics, instead keeping them ticking over in the background and actually using the sparseness that characterised earlier material to highlight the, err, not sparse bits. The half-dumping of the electronics is awkward and ‘unfinished’ in places, like an acrimonious breakup after five years of boy/girlfriendery, lurking threateningly in the background on eponymous track ‘vivastereo’, but swirling in the foreground and sounding more than a little like Bent on ‘Don’t Let Them In’. That said, the band sound in more comfortable and comforting mood here, and here’s to demo number three.

Z is for…
Glasgow again as we turn our attentions to Zebedee Numchuck, who sound like they ought to write songs about a dog called Dylan with a total lyrical content of ‘BOIIIIING!’, but who actually a skwerking, growling instrumental tour around the noisier end of ‘post rock’, if that term still means anything. We must be at least onto ‘post-post rock’ by now. Not as abrasive as Shellac, and without the imagination of quiet bit + loud bit = Mogwai-era Mogwai: so far so Zeitgeist, as we’re starting to think there’s too much of This Sort Of Thing(r) going on. That is, until about five minutes into first track ‘Transition Into The Breakdown’, when a massive burst of riffing rips my trousers clean off and into the next room. The rest of the four-track demo hails from the same region as Reynolds (musically), all epic poise and intelligent structuring, but without that little extra spark of genius to set the whole lot alight. The odd forays into OXES’ wilful awkwardness and C Average’s unashamed foot-on-monitor homages to Birmingham metal during ‘Five Corners’ are what make me happiest, and what make me think they’re onto a winner in the long run.

Stuart Fowkes

Stuart is possibly one of the tallest people you have ever seen. He towers above your puny skyscrapers like Rodan on steroids, his blonde spikes puncturing the atmosphe re like crazed, gelled knives. In real life he is part of the Sunnyvale Noise Sub-element pop outfit, and writes for other websites as well as this one - the cheeky blighter. He favours the noisier end of the musical spectrum, with a fervour which would seem to indicate a dodgy heavy metal past.


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