Monday, 23 March 2009
So many possible introductions. A lazy music journalist would make some “is 'crystal' the new 'black'” connection. If I were Ross Noble I'd make some poor attempt at describing the ker-azy implausibilities of walking on a pair of glass stilts. Or in an attempt to be trendy I could describe how this is a beautiful addition to the pantheon of shoegaze revivalism along with A Place To Bury Strangers and The Pains of Being Pure At Heart.
But although Crystal Stilts have been tarred with that brush, it doesn't really suit their hue. 'The Dazzled', other than a vocal coming through a slight haze, contains little hints of “sonic cathedrals” or whatever other clichéd shoegaze reference you cared to crowbar in. It's a simple rock 'n' roll ditty, based on a jangly guitar and reverb laden vocals. Garage rock would be a much more apposite genre placement.
And self titled follow up 'Crystal Stilts' sounds like a thawed out Raveonettes. Desert nights are channelled on 'Graveyard Orbit', a rattle of tambourine and Velvet Underground organ. 'Alight of Night' maintains a slow pace throughout, giving it a lethargic summertime feel. The hazy 1960s style production adds to this warm feeling. 'Prismatic Room' follows all the tenets of the pop handbook, but the layer of fuzz just adds something undefinable to the music.
'The Sinking' ups the languid pace, bringing to mind the pop nuggets of Vivian Girls, whose ex-drummer Crystal Stilts acquired on some indie transfer market.
Whilst all this backwards looking music won't nick Animal Collective's avant garde baubles, it does make you want to drive across America in a convertible, a shotgun on the back seat, sun blaring down and a blonde in the front seat. Freedom and guitars. 'Departure' brings to mind the 60s girl groups so beloved of Glasvegas and Bradford Cox.
Crystal Stilts aren't going to receive many plaudits for their lyrics. 'Verdant Gaze' features these clunky lines. “She awaits me impatiently, Floats around me weightlessly, She whispers to me wordlessly, Urging me to discern her face.” Not that it matters. Half the words are undecipherable, and they work better as just another instrument, a lamenting monotone over the top of the guitars.
The only low point on a record filled with rattling gems is 'Spiral Transit', which is too slow paced, with too much vocal mumbling and too little melody. All this can be forgiven though, for large swathes of 'Alight of Night' are joyous revivalist garage rock, dancing a waltz around all its opposition.
Titus Andronicus start slowly on 'The Airing of Grievances.' There is little implication of the noise that will come at the start of 'Fear And Loathing In Mahwah, NJ.' The vocals from Patrick Stickles are the only clue, like an enraged Conor Oberst, far away and over an acoustic guitar. Then, three minutes in, things go a little bit Glasvegas, a little bit Pogues. The most rock 'n' roll of instruments, bagpipes, can be heard pining away under pounding drums and feedbacking guitars, an air of celebration flows out of the speakers. The passion of youth flows. Just to hammer in the Shakespeare connection the track fades out into a distorted speech from the play they take their name from. Just in case we didn't get it, you know.
Underneath the bile and the thick serving of scuzz this is fairly traditional rock. The influence of the Pogues can be felt again on the harmonica led 'Joset of Nazareth's Blues.' The music and the themes
on show are as old as them there hills. The line “I was just another book on the shelf” from 'My Time Outside The Womb' is typical. Angry young men, beer fuelled and raging.
It seems appropriate then that these New Jersey boys take their name from Shakespeare's bloodiest, most immature work, a revenge themed play that ends with the line: “If one good Deed in all my life I did, I do repent it from my very Soule."
The literary references show up as typical teenage posturing. Camus features heavily, with 'The Outsider' quoted at the end of the epic shoegaze of 'No Future Part II: The Day After No Future.' Titus then go one step further, naming the album closer named after the old existentialist. These existential themes come through, the impression given of a band unconcerned about any possibility of a brighter day tomorrow.
The production means that the music is always emerging through a feedback haze, and by halfway through a break is needed. 'No Future Part I' provides it, a slow burn desert track that builds up into a brilliant torch song. The Conor Oberst comparisons float up again on 'Arms Against Atrophy', sounding like Desaparecidos reduced to working in a dive bar as a Bruce Springsteen cover act.
'Upon Viewing Bruegel's "Landscape With The Fall Of Icarus"' carries on with the scholarly themes, which at times feel crowbarred in to give the band some highbrow appeal. Which at times it seems they need. The self titled track, if you removed the fuzz, could almost be the Fratellis with its laddy whooped chorus. Unfortunately. Lyrics like “There'll be no more cigarettes, No more having sex, No more drinking til you fall on the floor” really don't help the mental image.
The band are young, and it shows. But coming from older gentleman the music would lose the passion that raises it above what it could have been. Apart from the occasional clunky line, the music generally emerges as triumphant, loud, passionate guitar led indie played by kids who really mean it, man. It emerges as something more than its component parts, whatever the moments of teenage passion that filter through it, like so many biro hearts drawn in an exercise book.
The almost inevitable one-two nature of tips for the years then becoming a success means that Sky Larkin are due for some amount of success in '09.
Not that this is even their best track, what with 'Antibodies' around. 'Beeline' still does good work, with a grungy outro and a general air of 1990s college rock filtering around. It's like a pepped up Pavement, fronted by a Northern lass with a beautiful croon.
The word 'driving' rises to the fore like bubbles in a lemonade. You try to avoid writing it for its horrible late afternoon radio connotations. But it's driving in the best sense, a song with movement, poise and joy in its two and a half minutes.
All that and we didn't even mention the single has been released as a watch. More practical than Of Montreal's lantern, for sure.
Here's a mental image challenge. One of the B sides here is called 'Death of the UK'. And the band you imagine is.... The Enemy, right? Some kind of awful landfill indie band anyways. Well, the A side is out to trick you, so watch yourself, boyo.
'Dance It Away', is full of false promises. Guitars descend in a very a la mode fashion, and a pacey bassy burble create energy and momentum. It's a track you can imagine sounding even bigger, and greater live. The bad images are dispelled.
Then it all goes wrong on the aforementioned 'Death of the UK'.“The UK's in a mess, what we going to do?” Unless this is irony of the archest kind, the song runs like some awful Daily Mail op ed piece written by a terrified crone with poisoned veins, reporting “Kids have got knives stabbing one another.” Fevered broad strokes painted over the whole British youth, the lyrics only get worse.
They're worth a further dissection. Here's a couple of couplets from near the end of this sub-Twang drivel. “UK's in dismay, we haven't got a clue, the stupid things they say, the stupid things they do.” They, one must presume, are the 'politicians'. All that emerges is empty ignorant sloganeering rhetoric. And the worrying idea that some other poor band didn't get signed in place of these morons.
Just like an errant son with an unforgivable flaw they then try to make it up to you with a energetic slice of paranoid filled rock in 'Animal'. The melodies are derivative, but LR Rockets are good enough at what they do to almost overcome the barrier. But the damage is done. I'm not upset. I'm just very disappointed.
These songs feature: confectionery references, a guiro, banjo, cheap keyboard noises. If this were a crossword clue, the answer would be 'twee'.
Belle and Sebastian are conjured over the melange of instruments that make up the Oh, Atoms acoustic orchestra. The lyrics on 'Sugar Mouse' reference sweets and a lover, being all clever and metaphorical. Regard: “Just a quarter of you would be better than this empty wrapper.” Cynics would dismiss this all as sickly fey indie kid nonsense, but they fail to see the pop loveliness conjured up.
On 'Let's Go Away' things get a little Slow Club, a simple duet backed by ukelele and guitar. It bemoans a lost love – “Nobody does it like you, but you're gone” - pure sentiments over sparse music. It is a heart tearing moment of gentle beauty, and shows the magic that Oh, Atoms have within.
Mercury Prize winning lyricist extraordinaire Guy Garvey gave this his much coveted 'Single of 2008' award. A list of expectations results: gently instrumented indie- CHECK, melancholy vocals- CHECK, beauty and wonder- CHECK.
That the Leisure Society tick all of those boxes is no bad thing, however. Who doesn't want to be as grand as Elbow are? Not that this is a spot the difference game. The band play things a little simpler than Elbow, a little less bombast in their soup of music. And few will reach Garvey's way with words.
On their own merits they emerge as winners. A simple ¾ piano line is supplemented with violins and woodwind. Poise and elegance flood through the melodies, with simple lines like “America seems an awful long way to go” riddled with sadness. On the flip side 'A Short Weekend Begins With Longing' rattles along on a banjo line, breezy and, in essence, pop. It doesn't reach as high as 'The Last Of The Melting Snow', but it shows a reassuring breadth of ideas. Guy Garvey right again- CHECK.