When the man of many pseudonyms, Heinz Junkins pressed a hand-decorated copy of this album into my hand in a dark corner of The Fleece, he was perhaps a little reluctant to let go of this precious cargo. “I think it’s finished…” he trailed off, before disappearing once again into the crowd on a mission to distribute more copies of the disc. It was unclear at this point how, when or in what strange form the album – which delights in the enigmatic title “Yard Is Open” – would surface, so I decided on the idea of a preview so that the few readers who endure my ramblings could get some sense of what was to come. However, after living with the OLO Worms debut album for a good few months now, I’m not sure I’m any the wiser. But the good news is that very soon indeed, you will be able to hear this curious, shifting beast of a record for yourselves, in it’s near almost impossible to pin down glory. So I’m certainly not nearly ready to produce my usual screed of glib pronouncements and platitudes about it. Instead I thought I’d present the notes I made on the very first listen to the record. That way, you can perhaps experience with me the sounds, the sights and perhaps even the strange barnyard smells which herald this important milestone in the OLO Worms career… But firstly, the challenge is to figure out what’s real and what’s a product of your overworked and fanciful imagination. From the very opening seconds, this is a multi-layered, dense recording. Samples of conversation, strange sound effects and unexpected instrumental blarts appear then are gone as swiftly as they arrive. Did you really just hear that – or is it your excited synapses independently filling in the gaps? The OLO Worms inhabit a sort of post-media world, where all of the streams – television, music, and the endless babble of social networks – have melded into a single torrent of semi-consciousness. From this dreamlike tumble of images, snippets and soundbites they manage to extract the most absurd, and sometimes the least consequential – but then they reassemble them into something improbable, often hilarious, and almost always rather beautiful. I’ve long held that laughter is as relevant a means of appreciating music as any chin-stroking, aridly academic approach – and there are many laughs to be had as this surprising record spins out – from huge belly-laughs to more nervous, uncomfortable tittering at things which are only just in the realms of sanity, there is a sense of humour and genuine delight at the core of this album which shines strongly through. Some may find this difficult – because music has to be serious right? Well, no – you’re wrong.
On the opening track “Barnyard”, the narrator from Jeff Wayne‘s “War of the Worlds” seems to have fallen on hard times, and finds himself describing strange post-apocalyptic scenes in a world closely approximating our own. However, he is quick to point out that these were “old times/a wooden time“. The shocking dystopian vision of post-modern society inhabiting a farmyard spins out over a swooningly lovely backdrop. Blasts of brass and an angelic chorus of voices fill out the spaces created by a shuffling, baggy beat. It’s like Primal Scream meeting J.G Ballard in a shopping centre – probably during 1991-2 when both were enjoying something of a renaissance. Something more familiar but no less remarkable arrives next, in the form of “Back From England” release on a Fence 7″ single from 2010. This, I can state almost certainly, remains the only record ever to claim “Dino Freak” as it’s primary genre. Whilst no agreed definition for this is recorded, in practice this seems to mean insistently throbbing bass, shuffling woodblock-heavy percussion and sinister, haunted vocals which descend into a distinctly home-counties accented rap at the end. Seemingly random crys of “Mexico 1986!” carbon date these boys and give a hint to some of the formative experiences which underpin the OLO aesthetic. I’m sensing almost-complete Panini sticker albums somewhere in the OLO Worms collective past? I bet they always swapped to get the metallic silver team badges though. Onwards into the unknown once again, and I’ve found myself scouring social media for the evidence to support the next track – as I distinctly recalled seeing a picture of a sheet of paper with the lyrics of this odd little song scrawled on them – some business about actors who steal tractors? And sure enough, buried deep on Facebook is a lyric sheet for “Ol’ Boozy’s Chug Thump”. The name of this short, demented hoedown has survived the long gestation period of this record, along with the curious lyrical preoccupations. Taking almost as long to complete its fade out to silence as the entirety of the frantic rant lasts, this is a torrent of sometimes painful but wonderfully silly rhymes which dance around the country-lite rhythm playfully. Meanwhile odd sounds rebound around the mix, creating a cartoon-like strangeness. With “Ol’ Boozy” safely back in the barn, a tinkling cascade of metallic noise, like the heartsinking moment that house keys fall down a concrete staircase begins the next track entitled “Strays”, before a slightly off-kilter falsetto vocal kicks in with a refrain of “if you cut it right off/it starts the slippery slope“. Benefiting from the attentions of fellow Fence artist Rozi Plain, this is again rather beautiful. A mildly warped guitar joins along with a shudder of electronic undertow while things develop into something of an OLO anthem. Don’t be fooled though, this isn’t Coldplay or anything – not unless you played them at the wrong speed and in a different room at least. Then again, it’s pleasing to imagine this soundtracking “goal of the month” at some future point perhaps?
Following swiftly, “Barbershop” visits further uncharted – and perhaps advisedly so – waters. It begins with a interview which rivals in significance the Frost/Nixon encounter as Junkins stages a Skype summit with Rebecca Taylor of Slow Club fame. Their meandering chatter spans topics serious and bizarre, Taylor‘s honest and open northern vowels lulling us into a sense of false security as the music slowly winds into life. Then, with little warning of what is about to occur, a change of pace is signalled by a strange mockenspiel sound and suddenly a slinky, Barry White style groove sets up. This is accompanied by frankly some of the sleaziest vocals I’ve ever heard. The voice starts shrill then dips furtively and rather lewdly low, before resurfacing as an unhinged bark later in the track. It’s mostly all about sexy hairdressing it seems – which is certainly largely untouched territory for pop music. The last words are left for Rebecca, with an animalistic groan of “Hubba Hubba!“. I feel a bit grimy after this, to be honest. Cleansing is supplied by the sixth track, “Whacked By Pillow” which is a comparatively downbeat and pensive affair. It skitters in with the sound of a plague of insects, and centres on a delicate acoustic guitar melody which, along with the tinkling of wooden percussion and some tribal beats, provides a backdrop to sinister half-whispered vocals. There is a certain cinematic quality to this, but it would be one of those foreign films – probably impenetrably complex, likely black and white, and certainly with subtitles. Though in what strange language I’d not presume to guess. Stabs of metallic noise and gnarled twists of crunchy guitar add to the atmosphere as the moody bassline climbs towards the song’s climax and the OLO‘s provide a weird collective choral accompaniment. This all coalesces into something pretty spectacular – a slow-burning, dark knot of loveliness in the eye of a sometimes unsettling storm of an album.
Familiar from the recent “Image EP” and previously one of the groundbreaking “Polaroid” projects, the always welcome “Snake” explodes into life via a 16-bit computer sound – probably swiped from the part of the game when you defeat the level boss. Then a waspish, dub bassline stutters and shudders into life with what I can only describe as queer electronic biting and rending sounds punctuating the mix. Meanwhile a choir of voices coincidentally intones the melody from “Stepping Stone” by the Monkees, giving the whole thing a triumphant and anthemic air. Nagging electric guitar shards add to the complicated and heady brew, before the retro computer sounds drift back in while a distant voice states that “There’s a circle forming inside of my head…” before asking that age old, but ever important question “Are you a girl?“. I can see this one provoking lots of interesting remixes and potentially getting lots of dance-savvy people excited – and if it can get an old duffer like me shuffling around the living room its powers may know no limits. A marine influence permeates the next, very strange song entitled “Flipper”. A bleepy, electronic affair which sets its stall out early with “dolphins with laser guns” and the most remarkable chain of rhymes I’ve heard in some years involving alsatians, crustaceans, mutations, lubrication, fumigation and a host of other concerns too unsettling to mention. Beneath this is another of the absurdly addictive dub grooves which pop up throughout this record, shot through with melodic tumbles of guitar and earwax-loosening buzzing sounds. While thus far it’s clear we can attribute many unique attributes to the OLO Worms, I’m moved to wonder if they in fact possess the power to reanimate the dearly departed, because for their next trick on “Curves” they appear to have raised the shade of George Harrison and introduced him to in passing to Galaxie 500 for a shimmery, acoustic drift with military drums and gently melodic vocals provided by Gareth Jones. This is, by OLO standards, a ballad – focused on rockets and relationships. It’s a strangely formal musical interlude in a record which is generally unpredictable, but it ably demonstrates that this band is capable of expressing many moods and making really conventionally beautiful things alongside their more avant garde artistic endeavours.
As the album approaches its conclusion there are a couple of very odd, short, discordant interludes – the first of which extols the virtues of a varied diet as it suggests “Eating Every Living Thing” while clanging Beefheart-like guitars echo around the voices and pizza is consumed loudly and gluttonously. The second very short piece delights in the incongruously grand title of “Sometimes I Like To Take The Long Route Home” and introduces a muted trumpet – the sort of thing which signals a pratfall in an Ealing Comedy. It parps oddly for just around a minute or so – its hard to say exactly why of course, but it introduces a sort of nostalgic note to proceedings by evoking black and white films on wet Sunday afternoons. The end of the album proper comes with the pulsing, epic and complex beast which is “Sphinx”. The jungle sound effects, twittering electronic noises and almost sub-sonic bassline are merely an introduction to a truly unhinged rap. This song mutates several times during it’s course, and is often many things at the same time. I’d urge listening on headphones, perhaps with an another adult in the house – just in case, you understand – you can never be too careful with these things. The next twist brings in echoing, hollow stadium-rock guitars and a police siren which build to sonically uncomfortable levels. When it has reached its almost unbearable zenith it rather unexpectedly becomes a slice of tinny 1980s hair-metal, complete with screamy rock vocals, before ending it’s tortured existance with a single stroke on a triangle. In common with much of this record, there is so much going on here, layered in such challenging and unusual ways that it’s near impossible to describe in any coherent sense.
It’s taken a long time for this collection of songs to come together in the form of an album – and it’s fairly certain that before it finally reaches you, the listener, there will be all kinds of strange happenings to ensure it becomes a multimedia event in it’s own right. It’s important to remember here that the last OLO Worms EP was realised in the form of both a tiny vinyl USB-equipped coffin and a large, cumbersome vinyl cube. And that perhaps is part of the sense of balance the OLO Worms set up – tapping into the torrent of signals which showers all of us, every second of the day, they make damn sure they give something back which is greater than the sum of what they’ve misappropriated. They are always listening to the weird background chittering which most of us manage to tune out, and whether it takes the form of innovative music or just a picture of lots of cats considering some fishermen, they’re tapping into its latent artistic possibilities. In some ways, “Yard Is Open” has benefited from this long, slow public birth via social media – a concept which suits the OLO Worms perfectly with its endless stream of ideas, incongruities and absurdities. And quite apart from the initial oddness of this music and the deliberate attempts to abstract things away from the idea of a traditional ‘band’, this is a damn good record. There are moments of buttock-clenchingly tight art-pop, absurd rock-outs, perverse raps and lots of curious insights into the strange world of the OLO Worms.
The OLO Worms will release “Yard Is Open” on 13th August, and will launch this via live appearance at the Louisiana in Bristol on 10th August and The Old Police Station, Deptford on 11th August. The unsettling but hugely entertaining video for “Strays” can be seen here to give you just a hint of what to expect. In the meantime you can still obtain the digital release of the “Image EP” from Bandcamp, which provides an introductory glimpse into the world of the OLO Worms. The 7″ single release of “Back From England” is also still available via Fence Records.
The Old Fruitmarket is a bit of a revelation. Entry is through the overbearing civic frontage of the City Halls, and then via a fairly anodyne, typically minimalist ‘arts centre’ type space. But buried within is an impressively cavernous, high-vaulted hall. There is a sense of the old times here – all uneven flagstone floors and curious dark corners, with fading names of fruit traders around the walls. A balcony runs high around the building, and weirdly my first thought is of the secret synagogue buried behind 19 Princelet Street. Tonight, the hall is laid out cabaret style – an odd touch perhaps but I always get the sense that organisers don’t quite know what to make of Fence events – beard-stroking folkniks, or spirited outbursts of dancing? In the event tonight we were going to get a little of both. But it’s important to remember that tonight had a purpose – namely in kicking off Scottish Refugee Week – and to this end the show was interspersed with short films on the themes of ‘Spirit’ and ‘Courage’. These were understated and affecting, and managed to convey the reason that we were all, in fact, here without damaging the celebratory atmosphere. Aside from the unusual surroundings and these more down-to-earth concerns, this was a rare chance to see some of the gems of the East Neuk here in the city, alongside one of Glasgow’s own finest exports. It promised to be an interesting night…
It’s going to be very difficult to add to the almost fawningly fulsome praise I’ve already heaped on Randolph’s Leap in these pages, but once again they pulled off that difficult trick of opening the show while still stamping an impression on all those present. They appear to do this by launching full tilt into a set of riotous, stomping gleeful pop which gets better with every chance to see them. Airing a number of tracks from “The Curse of the Haunted Headphones” along with some welcome new pieces, perhaps the winning bit of the formula for me tonight is their two-piece brass section, which given the space and opportunity to really belt out their accompaniment to Adam Ross‘ compositions has transformed the band the last couple of times I’ve seen them. As ever, the sporadic outbursts of irrepressible on-stage dancing and collective sing-alongs get the audience irresistibly involved in the tiny but affecting dramas at the heart of Ross‘ songs. During the set Adam announces that there will be a Randolph’s Leap EP on Fence soon, which makes a sizeable contingent in the audience sigh with relief that they snapped up their subscription to the forthcoming “Buff Tracks” series. The band leave the stage all too soon, to a warm reaction from the audience. From the closing notes of the now traditional final tune “Crisps”, it’s clear some hearts have been won here tonight.
It’s my first opportunity to see The Pictish Trail performing with his band tonight, and it’s something of a surprise to hear how they manage to mutate Johnny Lynch‘s often plaintive and fragile solo efforts into hulking rock anthems. Some of the new material which will form an EP and album release later in the year is aired, not least “The Handstand Crowd” which has turned from a wistful stream of memories in St. Andrews to a chugging pop-rock epic here tonight. There’s a brief electronic interlude where Johnny presses buttons and operates machinery through a cloud of dry-ice while live drums are expertly combined with the beats remarkably effectively. But ultimately there’s no shying away from the big solos and crashing powerchords here as Alex Supergun and Bart Eagleowl hammer away on guitar and bass respectively on the closing pair of tracks – a punky storm through personal favourite “Ribbon” and a soaring, stop-start grind through the previously delicate “Words Fail Me Now”. Overall the set feels like a success, and the band appear to have thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Johnny‘s stage chit-chat didn’t quite land right tonight – and what would have been a two-way conversation between performer and audience in Anstruther Town Hall felt a bit more one-sided here in The Old Fruitmarket. But, musically at least, The Pictish Trail unmistakably connected with the audience via their punished eardrums and plucked heartstrings.
I’d been excited about seeing King Creosote playing something other than “Diamond Mine” for a while – despite an enduring love for that forlorn paean to East Fife. Mostly, its the thought that Kenny Anderson‘s vast, untapped back catalogue and the stash of new songs which surfaced on “That Might Be It, Darling” hadn’t had a fair crack of the whip for a long time. Tonight, the band numbers eight – including stalwarts like Gummi Bako on guitar, Uncle Beesley on bass and rakish headgear, and Captain Geeko The Dead Aviator thumping frantically on his djembe mid stage. Add to this the additional vocals provided by the almost impossibly lovely Bam Bam and as he surveys the stage it’s clear the King is in his element. The set spans his recent career, from the very recent big band reworking of “Doubles Underneath” – an irresistibly catchy, stomping affair which gets the audience shuffling in their chairs, to a spirited and acid-tongued “You’ve No Clue Do You?” – a much darker affair than the polished recorded version.
Somewhere in the middle of Kenny‘s set, something strange happens. Up to now there have been sporadic outbursts of dancing, not least from the now dangerously inebriated Edinburgh Bill who gesticulates and throws wine over himself in evident awestruck delight in the bands. But suddenly, a couple of youngsters who are hear with the Refugee Council break through the shyness barrier and start to career wildly in front of the stage. The floodgates open, and suddenly there is a miniature moshpit. True, these kids don’t seem to know all the words like some of us old stalwarts do, and they haven’t quite grasped the rhythm of the much more delicate “John Taylor’s Month Away” as they clap along, but they’re loving every single second of this. And so is the band – smiles are exchanged, lyrics are subtly changed to pay tribute to the dancers, and now even Bill is somewhere in the mess of bodies swaying dangerously around and incurring the interest of the security guy who thought he was up for a quiet night until a few minutes ago. We’re treated to energetic versions of the defiant “Coast On By” and a gleeful dash through “Single Cheep” with its reportedly “unforgivable” guitar solo delivered intact. Finally, the reins are handed to Gummi Bako as the sprawling, rocking “Little Man” is given a thunderous and triumphant airing.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about King Creosote and friends is how they can take that atmosphere and spirit which starts in a tiny hall in a coastal town or around a beach bonfire, and transport it here to the middle of Glasgow on a Tuesday night. The warm, open-hearted and conspiratorial nature of the Fence Collective is a welcome opposite to the usual closed-shops of music scenes and arts movements. If there is one theme which runs through tonight’s proceedings and ties it to the underlying purpose of this event it’s perhaps exactly that – no matter where you end up, how you got there or why you made the journey, there’s a welcome in this music which is hard to resist.
Regular readers will know that I make this trip on a near regular basis, which accounts for the disproportionate amount of Scottish music featured here. However, this time around things felt a little different – with the switch from England to Scotland much more marked as we crossed the border. No trace of the Olympics, of the Jubilee, no tattered bunting flapping from the buildings or grubby flags attached to car-bonnets. Nationalism here is a much more serious business, in the face of which the cartoon image of face-painting and “God Save The Queen” is just a bit silly really! In the midst of this the vibrant cultural scene continues to churn out surprising amounts of new, interesting music which is ably chronicled by the likes of Scottish Fiction – a blog and podcast which displays far tighter quality control and dedication than this one, and which is branching out here into promoting gigs with the first Scottish Fiction Presents… night, sitting neatly in the middle of the West End Festival and dovetailing perfectly with the Gibson Street Gala earlier today.
Descending into the bowels of Great Western Road once again, Barrhead six-piece Saint Death cram three guitarists on the Captains’ tiny stage, standing at a diagonal tilt to the audience, rather like a modern day Shadows, just to squeeze in. But that’s where any comparison with sixties instrumental groups most definitely ends. Initially discordant and brittle, the opening and somewhat epic piece ramps up into a sort of spaghetti-western-meets-horror film soundtrack. The doom-laden drums and portentous bass are overlaid with a rather lovely twanging solo. Its almost unclear if there is a break here, or whether this is a second coming of the initial song, but the punishingly loud piece throbs and pounds dangerously. There are vocals here but they’re buried, like a distant howl. Submerged melodies and ear-splitting layers of noise are piled onto each other. It’s full of false crescendos and heart-in-mouth crashes. Next up is a more traditionally constructed post-rock track which benefits from melodic keyboard interludes and which spirals into something beautifully noisy and shamelessly indulgent. It eventually collapses into itself gracefully enough, the keyboard returning to see it off with dignity. Finally “100 Times” shimmers in, an initially shoegazey drift with confident, if rather sombre vocals. There’s a final, truly sinister vocal interlude before an apocalyptically chugging sludge-rock ending. Saint Death have been something of an eye- and ear-opener tonight and remain a highlight for me. Surely no band needs three guitars? But if you’ve got them, this is very clearly how to use them.
I’ve heard quite a bit of praise for Queen Jane in recent times, and exactly as predicted they managed to take up the baton of good, old fashioned Glasgow guitar pop and carry it forward into a new generation. It’s angular, gleefully urgent stuff which explodes with melodies and ideas. Scratchy, complex guitar work and an almost furtively slick rhythm section keep everything tight – when the band pauses, they stop on a sixpence and the dramatic tempo changes kick in effortlessly. Meanwhile the staccato vocal delivery harks back three decades to another era of Scottish music entirely. The lyrics though are wistful, and seem to ache for a not-so-distant past where things were just, well….better somehow. Within the space of just their first track Queen Jane are brave enough to throw in a drum solo, a little calypso interlude then a searing burst of noise to end things. “Romance” sets off on a post-Postcard jangle, jittering and careering through frenetic choruses towards an all-hands-on-deck chanted break in the onslaught. When they set their minds to it, these four unassuming gents can make a heck of a noise, but it’s always controlled and delivered as an integral part of the absurdly infectious pop tunes. Next up, “Confession” packs all this together with regret-laced vocals, reverb drenched shimmers of guitar and deftly delivered and dizzily complicated rhythms. Recent EP lead track “Denver” is propelled in by a clamour of keyboards before a stomping, pop anthem kicks off. It works through chorus after chorus of stirringly energetic yelping before a choppy, helicopter-blade bass brings in the closing assault. Saving something of their best for last “Fighting Man” is a wistful closer. Altogether gentler, the vocals take a more central role and showcases James McGarragle‘s talents in reaching for the emotive high notes. The drummer slips back behind his kit for a frenzied close with military beats and bugle-call guitars which befit the title of the track. I can see exactly why people are tipping Queen Jane for bigger things on the strength of tonight.
Decked out in oversized football strips provided by hyperactive drummer and surrogate frontman Niall McCamley, Edinburgh’s much vaunted The Spook School bound on stage and rip directly into their urgent, layered punk pop. It’s scrappy, gloriously unkempt and delights in its sharp edges, stupidly catchy hooks and sudden off-kilter interludes – in fact I’m pretty sure I just heard them sing “Would you ever trust a band who think Matt Damon’s really cool?” to which the correct answer was an emphatic and unanimous “No!“. The rhythm section is solid and pounds relentlessly away while duel guitars skitter and scratch, before emitting swathes of feedback and eardrum bursting noise. There’s just a hint of The Only Ones in the jagged but soaring guitar melodies and chugging rhythms. A ukelele is broken out for a brief and strangely woozy sea shanty, then an acoustic guitar arrives for the intelligent, clever pop of “Devil Of Mine’. Benefiting from multiple vocalists, The Spook School create a sort of twee-with-bared-teeth call-and-response dynamic which is infectious and probably as much fun to play as it is to watch. During a discussion of their attire, the band explained that one shirt was a Barcelona strip, another a rare Team Canada jersey – but Niall sported a white shirt with “I am footballer” crudely scribed on in permanent marker. With razor sharp wit an audience member asked “Is that not Rangers new top?” to a riotous reception. They close things triumphantly with their recent single “History” in all its urgent, tangled and discordant glory with its perfectly choreographed ‘lalala‘ ending and guitar-hurling exit. It’s been a good night for The Spook School and to celebrate Niall is off into the audience, taps aff and wanting to swap shirts or to exchange CDs for sweaty hugs. Somehow he’s like the older kid who led the young ‘uns astray. But if this is what it leads to, long may it continue.
Opening with a foot-stomping Spanish-influenced number, Michael Cassidy might seem a little out of place at the head of a noisy bill like tonight’s, but his cosmopolitan and wide-angle take on the singer songwriter gig lifts him head and shoulders above similar acts. His strength lies in the sheer range of approaches to his material, which veers from scuzzy delta blues to more formal ballads. These switches of style are effortless – Cassidy‘s guitar playing creating a sparse but atmospheric web on which his heartfelt vocal gently rests. Another of Cassidy‘s strengths is his inter-song engagement with the spirited audience. He’s not afraid to engage, to rib us a little and to draw people into his songs. The audience, annoyingly young and fresh-faced and hyped up by three noisy acts remain surprisingly quiet and respectful, and when they do break into a fit of giggles, Cassidy is on it straight away with wit and charm. It makes for a celebratory atmosphere which fits the sense of occasion perfectly. His closing tune “Fifteen Years” is plaintive, lyrical and strangely upbeat given the unrequited ache at its core – and it garners a rapturous reaction from the audience too, who are calling for another tune the second he takes his guitar off. Initially, I questioned the wisdom of putting the ‘acoustic singer-songwriter’ guy on last, but having seen Michael Cassidy‘s way with an audience, it made a good deal more sense.
So it’s out into the night for the wander home, with a little light still evident in the western sky. It’s nights like this that reaffirm my faith in music and remind me that however dull and uniform things can seem sometimes, there’s always a crop of new and interesting bands about to appear from left-field to surprise me and confound my expectations. It’ll be a sad day when I’m too old and jaded to appreciate that. Long may Neil of Scottish Fiction keep flagging these artists for attention too. I know from personal experience it can be a thankless and sometimes frustrating game – but tonight is testament to exactly why it’s important.
Naming your band is clearly an important and formative bit of the music-making process – not least because quite often it signifies a great deal about how a band sees itself, its influences and aspirations. Having written about music for a while now, I’ve come to realise just how swiftly a name impacts on me too. How I can be switched off quickly by a name which just sounds like ‘something I wouldn’t like’ and despite my best efforts to remain open-minded about music, how fickle and easily influenced I can be. So this edition of Single Tickets is dedicated to a couple of bands where at first the names have stopped me in my tracks, but where persisting beyond my own silly prejudices has led to hearing really exciting things. I’m not for a moment saying these names are wholly bad – but for me, with my musical history and influences they don’t work so well. But the music does work well, very well indeed…
His Name Is Codeine – Before The Apple Fell
One of the worrying things about creating music can be that sense that it’s all been said and done before. Thankfully, bands in their first flush of enthusiasm have the remarkable ability to batter through this barrier, and to carve their own new niches. But those accumulated layers of music history can be dangerous for other reasons – for one thing it leads to the unholy horror which is Q magazine. It also means that quite often words, snippets of music and even band names can carry heavy associations. That’s just what could have happened here, as Codeine for me signifies that early 90s outfit which produced “Frigid Stars” – a record so close to perfect you wouldn’t dare mess with it. So when this band popped up on someone’s social network feed – and indeed someone who’s tastes I generally find I agree with – I gave this a listen despite these early, and frankly baseless, concerns.
I’ve got to say, I’m very I glad I did too because Elgin based His Name Is Codeine spin some of the most enigmatic, beautifully dark noises I’ve heard in quite a while. From the outset of “Before The Apple Fell” there is drama and tension in the pulsing bass and churning guitars which hint at unseen threats and potential. The band also benefit from multiple vocalists, centred the powerful lead provided by Lyn Ralph with her heart-squeezingly gloomy delivery. She possesses the uncanny and sometimes unsettling ability to leap genre from a regret-laced country drawl to a howl of frustration or vengeance. When all three voices join in, the vocals become a sort of mesmerising chant. Meanwhile the guitars work gradually up to a shimmering, shuddering screed of echo-laden noise and the drums thunder urgent, distant warnings. The raw, seemingly untamed power of this sprawling, wayward music reminds me of the much-missed Thin White Rope at times as it manages to get louder and more intense with every passing moment. Eventually it reaches a point of no return where layers of noise and melody tumble over each other, guitars solo wildly and that solid rhythm section which has just a hint of the swampy tension of The Bad Seeds just keeps thundering on apparently untouched by the storm raging around it. Clocking in at well over five minutes, this isn’t a throwaway pop tune by any means, but it’s a very direct and specific statement of intent. This is turblent, insistent and cinematic music which leaves me breathless – it’s well worth a moment of your time and little of your cash.
It’s probably clear from my ramblings that I know little else about this His Name Is Codeine, and while I could pull my usual stunt of inferring and speculating from snippets of their social networking presence, I think perhaps this time preserving the mystery is much more appropriate. You can download “Before The Apple Fell” for the curious sum of US $1 from Bandcamp – which, unless the economy has collapsed even further by the time you read this, is less than a quid and worth every single penny. There are also a few videos and demos on their YouTube channel which are well worth a watch.
Thank You So Nice – Let’s Make Money
My objection to this band’s name was not so reasoned – it’s just odd and hugely non-descriptive of what’s in the tin somehow. I know I’m not the first person to alight on the band’s name as an issue, but there is something evocative of garden parties, weak tea and triangular cucumber sandwiches implicit in the name Thank You So Nice which makes it utterly incongruous for an Edinburgh-based power-pop outfit. That said, it is perhaps memorable in its strangeness and reflects a sort of uncomfortable sense of not quite fitting easily into the any particular scene or sound which Thank You So Nice could very easily fall victim to.
There was a period in the late 1970s and early 1980s when the more intelligent fringes of the punk movement which was otherwise busy oafishly destroying itself, edged into a more accessible but equally challenging niche. Bands like Alternative TV and The Only Ones managed to combine smart lyrics and thoughtful songwriting with some of the edge and energy which spun out from the rapidly imploding revolution. Somehow Thank You So Nice hark back to that same combination of elements, delivering short but intelligent blasts of angular pop which are very hard not to be snared by. Having said that lead track “Let’s Make Money” is perhaps my least favourite of the three here, but that’s not to detract from its accomplishments. With its stuttering, theatrical chorus and complicated rhythms providing a backdrop for some bitterly twisted lyrics. It’s a little too petulantly twee and directly mocking for my tastes, but there’s no doubting the commitment to getting the point across here. A little rougher around the edges – and for me perhaps the stand-out among the three tracks – “Out of Time” is a fuzzy, urgent pop anthem with an appealing vulnerability and desperation in the lyrics and a stupidly catchy chorus which I’ve caught myself singing in several unguarded moments – anything which I manage to retain for more than a few minutes in my advancing years being a good indication of its infectious charms. Finally “You Were The One” melds a frantic bassline with fuzzed-up megaphone vocals and scratchy guitars to produce an unexpectedly effective amalgam of indie-pop and garage rock. Its a short, sharp blast which knowingly and a little teasingly leaves you wanting to hear a little more.
Given what seems to be a growing resurgence of guitar music on the east coast, Thank You So Nice fit neatly with the likes of Morris Major and The Spook School in delivering clever pop music, big on melodies and bursting with enthusiasm. But the real acid test of Thank You So Nice will be sustaining the interest contained in these three, brief but sure-footed tracks across an entire album. One is due in the Autumn and if there’s one thing which can can make it stand out in a year of pretty remarkable releases to date, it’s channelling the tumble of musical and lyrical ideas evident here.
“Let’s Make Money” is available as a free download from Bandcamp. An album “Make Love Not Money” will follow in the Autumn.