‘I’m in the best fucking band in London.’
Alex Keevill and I have known each other as physical beings for all of five minutes. We’re at King’s Cross Station where I’ve just come in on a train from Brussels for the last leg of my holiday. When my original plans for accommodation fell through, Alex offered me a roof, bed and kettle for my week in London.
He’s not being ironic when he makes the announcement. Alex genuinely believes that the Microdance are the best fucking band in London. Me, I refuse to give him the satisfaction of acknowledging anyone in this strange new town knows the Microdance at all.
We’ve ditched my stuff at the flat and found ourselves in a bar in Dalston on my first afternoon in the city. The girl behind the counter appears to be mildly hysterical and I can’t understand why. She bursts into giggles every time she looks at Alex.
It all started when she asked him: ‘Aren’t you…?’
‘Aren’t I what…?’ he asked back.
I didn’t hear her speak after that. All I saw were smiles and uncontrollable giggling.
‘What’s all that about?’ I ask him.
‘She knows me from the Microdance.’
‘So I’m Alex Keevill of the fucking Microdance!’
‘So I bet she’ll give me a blowjob.’
‘I’ll go wait by the door.’
TMD’s fifth EP – Yo Yo @ 26 – released this May to a daft amount of online publicity. It could be something to do with In At The Eye Records (their label – always useful to have one of those), or it could be something to do with how music blogs the world over seem to have the mad hots for them; this one wants to be them.
‘Yo Yo @ 26′ – the A-side – is a brazenly good track that, for its obvious brilliance, I very, very reluctantly love. Less song and more sonic tasting platter, it positively bursts with (a selection of…) disarming hooks. Good luck choosing a favourite moment.
My heart, however, is set on the B-side – ‘Devour’ is the warmest, fuzziest, breathiest, and possibly darkest, track they have. All introspection, acceptance, angst, and a little bit of sadness – I probably find myself in it.
‘What you hear of us online is not wholly representative of the power of this band. Of course there’s enough there to get a feel for us but the recordings are all compromised for a variety of reasons. But I think time is the biggest one. We’re recording seven minute songs with dual guitars (and the rest!), synths and vocal harmonies in six hours! I’m by no means a natural singer; kind of like Deftones’ Chino isn’t. The difference being that he gets a month to do his vocals, I get an hour! That is also indicative of how the industry is changing. We’ll get there though’
A couple of days later I’m sat on the floor surrounded by five pairs of legs at the Microdance’s rehearsal space on the north end of Brick Lane. Alex doesn’t allow me to melt into the wall, so I take a spot by Gavin’s feet, mesmerised by his pedal board. They do two run-throughs of the set they’ll be playing at the end of the week, cutting off ‘Devour’s feet so it can segue into ‘Goodbye Lily Laser’. The two blend flawlessly, but I’m not too happy about my pet being mistreated. Lily Laser then morphs into the noise fest that will close the set – a nameless monster affectionately called ‘Death Jam’.
I play them a video recording of their ‘performance’. Gavin says something about not realising they were that loud. It’s nonsense. Nothing’s loud to willing ears.
‘I never played you my old bedroom recordings.’
We’re back home and Alex is mucking about with his laptop. He plays a track studded with the natural fuzz of isolation and echoes. It’s layered and textured and lonesome, with a burst of stark guitar. Before I can get a word out:
‘How great is that, eh? I wrote that when I was 22.’
‘It’s great.’ I parrot.
‘It’s that guitar, right? I mean just listen to it!’
He replays the solo. Then he tempers his statement.
‘I don’t play guitar as well as I used to, though. I haven’t played the guitar well for years now.’
Self-deprecation isn’t any more credible than self-aggrandisation. At the rehearsal I’d sat bewitched by song after seamless song punctuated by Alex calling himself and everyone else out on inaudible errors. Right now, he appears to be nothing but entirely honest and all I can do is wonder what ‘well’ sounds like.
There are more demos – demos that have been lying in wait for years. Demos that were recorded yesterday. ‘I wrote a new song!’ he declares every other day, and he plays it on the electric with elation so palpable it makes the room a little bit warmer. It’s always exceptional and it’s always frustrating because he already knows.
‘It changed my life,’ he’s explaining the story behind his side project. ‘my own ideas of self-worth. Before it happened, I thought I was god. After, it was endless days of anxiety, self-doubt and fear.
‘Affirmative meditation has really helped me out. It’s basically just me reminding myself what an awesome bastard I am.’
‘That’s better than having drugs do it for you,’ I concede, understanding the philosophy behind the mantra.
‘It’s the reason I created Captain Keevill and his Darkest Horses. The songs that came out of it were too dark for the Microdance.’
It’s true. While The Microdance aren’t quite the shimmery twee-pop the name might lead you to expect, their songs are extroverted, audacious and sticky – the life of any party. CK + HDH would falter in a crowd but radiate eloquence when left alone. They’re not too keen on being at the party.
London is really tough on a band like us. On our day we give people no chance but to succumb, we overwhelm them and thankfully that is more regular now! But if we’re 20% off our game or the sound in the venue is not up to it, trying to convey this art, which is perhaps a little more complex and profound than what people are used to, can be very difficult – it gets lost on a lot of people. It’s not easy being in a band whose music is about flourishes of spirit and unexpected turns when the appreciation of music these days is largely based on expectation.
We’re at the King’s Head Theatre where Adam Spreadbury-Maher has put together a spectacular production of A Tale of Two Cities. ‘Yo Yo @ 26′ and ‘We Are Made of Evil Things’ fill the room at curtain call. Alex introduces me to Carla – his friend and cousin – who asks me how I’m finding London.
‘It’s like any other city…’ I begin, tactlessly.
She’s not having it. She tells me there’s no other place like it in the world. She explains its culture and personality. She tells me London is beautiful.
Cities are never beautiful, but I don’t say that out loud. Cities are, by their very nature, ugly – loaded with crime, deceit, addiction, xenophobia and violence. Some cities are just better at putting up a front than others. London, I have no doubt, is as ugly as any other city in the world.
But I remedy my mistake and truthfully say I’ve loved everyone I’ve met.
It’s my last evening in London. Bridget‘s come over with her pup, Eugene. Bridget is ex-Microdance and currently the other half of Captain Keevill and his Darkest Horses. We turn the lights down and they start to play. Eugene has sprawled himself across my lap, his head buried between my legs. I like to believe he senses my melancholy, though it’s more likely he’s found a willing slave to scratch his head. Bridget blows him kisses mid-song. The moon is full, and the sky uncharacteristically cloudless.
I think about what Carla said the night before and I find myself believing it.
In this moment – in tremolo evenings and lamplight – London is beautiful.
I think about what Alex said on my very first day, and, incredibly, I can believe that too.
The Microdance are the best fucking band in London.
No really, BUY MORE MUSIC
bloody knives don’t fucking care.
they aren’t fussed that they don’t have guitars.
they can’t be arsed pressing the shift key.
no one listens beyond two minutes.
no one is worth more than ten.
morality is an illusion.
death is an inevitability.
Wonky Doll and the Echo – named so because it’s shorter than saying “George Lemons, YIOS, Kostas Antonakoglou and Octapus” but not by much. Wonky Doll and The Echo are from Athens. The one in Greece. If you ever see them, introduce yourself. That’s George on the vocals and the guitar, there’s YIOS on the bass and the backing vocals, you can find Kostas on the synths and the guitar and behind them you have Octapus on the drums.”
First things first – what is up with that name? George says “Our name symbolizes something beautiful and worn at the same time, mainly because of the time passed or its mistreatment. The echo interferes in order to give the essence of sound.”
Wonky Doll and the Echo are three years old – yes really – formed in 2010, by George and YIOS. Says George: “We created some songs we actually liked and we decided to form a band. By that time we met Kostas, whose part is to play the synth and occasionally the guitar. Then, we found Octapus and after a while we became a solid team.”
He continues: “Our first goal was to make songs we enjoy. After that, we realized that many people like our songs too so we started doing live shows and a few months later we recorded our first LP. Wonky Doll and the Echo is a vehicle for artistic expression for all four of us.”
They’ve got a video out – heads up: it’s got blood, scorpions, and a wonky doll (natch). The director of this creepfest is this fellow called Costas Gounaris who the band met through a friend at their album’s release gig in October 2012. Just look at what he made for them… wtf was the brief? Kostas (the one in the band) explains
“We told him we wanted something impressive, so, he came up with the brilliant idea of making a double project, a music video and a short movie. He also proposed getting the budget through crowd-funding (on Indiegogo). And so it happened, in February 2013, thanks to our friends and fans we were ready to start shooting. After two months of pre-production, shootings and post-production, we now all enjoy our first music video. The short movie is still on the post-production stage and we have taken care of the soundtrack!”
It’s more than just mindless gore – you can’t help but feel there’s meant to be some sort of profound message hiding under there. What is it? The band doesn’t elaborate much and George declares elusively that it’s all “just symbolic images of the director, visualizing the lyrics and the atmosphere of the song.” – yes, sure. We believe that.
Here’s what’s interesting: Wonky Doll and The Echo – you hadn’t heard of them till now – but they’ve gone and come out with this, yes, ok creepy, but also impressively executed… music video. Who even makes music videos anymore? And what indie band would invest so much in a video of this calibre? Why a video? Why now? Kostas puffs up with pride and explains the band’s aesthetic preference: “I cannot vouch for other bands, but we are definitely one of those that believe audio and video mixed together can give a very impressive and artistic result. Not to mention the fact that music videos bring you closer to the audience. And it’s not just music videos, we recently started to add video art on our gigs and it really enriches the atmosphere. It’s perfect!”
Speaking of gigs… what are they like? “Every gig we’ve done is quite memorable,” says Octapus, “but I would choose the one we supported Clan of Xymox, in December 2011, for various reasons. It was our second gig and we were playing for the first time in front of more than 300 people. Plus, at the end of the show, Panos from Geheimnis Records, proposed to start discussing the release of an album in vinyl. After a few months, Pleasant Thoughts was in our hands in vinyl!”
The album – Pleasant Thoughts - is as, if not more, admirably put together as the video. ‘The Cut’, listened to without the visuals, is a jewel. The album’s got the Cure-ish quality that makes it as suited to a dim flat brimming with desperately mingling dark-haired 37-year-olds as to a cable-laden haven of a teenager going through the paces of self-discovery and deliberately imposed self-loathing. Apathy masks depth and aggression masks melancholy. Despite its blatant complexity, YIOS explains: “The album has a DIY production. It was recorded in George’s bedroom which we “redecorated” a bit of course. We were lucky to have all necessary equipment. The biggest challenge was the production process, mainly done by me and George. It lasted for about two months and we spent many hours each day working on the songs. We almost started hating seeing each other.” He laughs.
You wouldn’t believe it if they hadn’t told you – there isn’t the faintest hint of bedroom recording on Pleasant Thoughts. George adds “The more we play together, the more we evolve as musicians. This is affecting our sound that changes day by day. We have a lot of material and we really want to share it with everyone soon. I have to tell you, I’m excited about our forthcoming work. Our new material sounds deeper, atmospheric but with even more catchier rhythms.”
‘catchy’ – not exactly the word I’d go for when describing something this heavy and bleak but HEY, whatever floats your boat. Listen for yourself:
Having had quite enough of promo-babble, we move on to the SERIOUS BIT – the one with all the opinions and profundity. Sadly, at this point I cannot think of anything to be opinionated and profound about beyond a long drawn out variation of: ‘so… Bandcamp, huh?’
Until we got signed, we tried to play off people’s kind hearts and offered our stuff for ‘pay what you want’ – about 10% would pay above the going rate of a dollar a song, or whatever it is and 90% would pay nothing. I guess we also knew that we were offering a slightly compromised version of what we are capable of (due to time/money restraints while recording) and perhaps felt bad demanding a set price; but giving away music with no other revenue stream from your art isn’t sustainable. What really gets me is at the start of this ‘collapse’ when people used to complain that £15 was extortionate for a CD. I was in a bar one evening and my friend who happened to be buying a round of drinks while talking to me said something to the effect of ‘I would buy the new Deftones album but it’s £15 in HMV, that’s ridiculous!’. Anyway, it turns out the round of drinks he was buying cost something like £22, we left the bar an hour later and that album Saturday Night Wrist is still regularly bringing me great pleasure, healing great pain and helping me finish runs with a sprint seven years later! The political argument behind that is something else; but if it’s straight up quantifying the worth of great music, no £15 is not too much for an hour of wonderful art which is available to you in perpetuity. Another valid point: if you don’t like it, don’t buy it!
A lovely thought, just the place to toss out an optimistic chestnut like: ‘it’s great that you’re making music, but how long do you think you can keep it up?’
Musically, I genuinely believe that this band has the capability for longevity. And if that is the case, whether the money is coming from record sales, licensing or slightly inflated concert tickets doesn’t really matter – the industry has to recalibrate, that’s obvious. I like to think that we make music with a bit of substance and that lends itself to loyalty. I am fiercely loyal to those bands I grew up listening to; the guys who provided me with a soundtrack to my life and shaped my musical appreciation. Those bands worked on a number of levels – the singles drew me in and the deep cuts kept me there. I think we have that too: if something like ‘We Are Made of Evil Things’ draws people in to listen to ‘Fucking Fucker’, then hopefully the latter will become their favourite in time. What else is encouraging is that a band like The Joy Formidable is now enjoying transatlantic success. I’d liken us to them in the sense that they do big, emotive music with enough barbs to catch the ears of the radio indie kids but more under the surface to keep the deep lovers involved; we’re not quite at their level when it comes to production yet – The Big Roar was HUGE – but I think the LP is a critical move for us and I have a feeling we’ll play it well.
This seems as good a moment as any to get a bit meta. Where does the music come from? Why do some people create music while listening keeps the others content? What’s the difference between the two kinds?
I’m not sure there’s that much of a difference, that’s to say I definitely loved music just as much before I began to make it. The difference is that it felt unobtainable; I equated everything to ‘that magical sound’ now, after years in a studio, it’s more like ‘if I dissect this enough, I can work out that he’s running that guitar through 3 phasers, some tape delay, reversing it and only tracking the feedback!’ – I wouldn’t say it’s lost its magic, it’s just magic science that I understand now, rather than something preternatural. I’m almost certainly the least naturally musical person you’ve ever interviewed – so this has been very difficult for me, and it’s hard to explain to someone who loves music as much as I do why I HAD to do this, but those days of practicing guitar for 8 hours were not much fun!
I think that after years of recording, I’m just finding my vocal range and getting comfortable with it. I’m really looking forward to bringing back those super complex 9 minute songs I wrote when I was 20 but didn’t quite have the chops to execute. This band right now is a monster, absolutely the first time I’ve thought to myself – ‘here’s a real opportunity to get those sounds/feelings in my head out there and do them justice’.
I’m the kind of guy that likes to be up there with my idols; I hate the thought of admiring something and not aspiring to it. There’s a lyric in our song ‘Goodbye Lily Laser’: “I punch the sky, I’m ready made, No need to dream, I’m that awesome kid” - Lily Laser is the female personification of that part of me (how clichéd!) that was so complacent with what it was blessed with naturally that it kind of let me become crap and lazy. I woke up one day and realised that the world will overtake you if you let that slip in. So, that song is kind of a message to the part of me that wants to make a life out of music. I’d still rather have been a professional footballer though!
Background noise or sacred vibrations: any hard and fast rules when it comes to listening?
If you’re making toast when Siamese Dream is on, we’re over.
OK – so what should people be doing when listening to Yo Yo @26?
Somehow improving their lives. If I’m really out of shape (which is most of the time these days!) and I know it’s time to sort it out, I’ll put Pantera, Slowdive, Kate Bush, M83 or Deftones on my headphones and go running. I’ll hold my hands up to the sky, you know like I’m some boxing protagonist in a Hollywood film and and feel Godlike – almost immediately after feeling like I can’t even get out of bed; that’s the power of music. Music is an elixir in so many ways, it can heal the mind and the body and I hope ours can do that to at least one person.
Besides that, if it’s hot girls – making out!
BONUS QUESTION 1
What is a Yo Yo @ 26?
Yo Yo is a person who lived in Shoreditch, east London at the same point that I did and I met her when she was 26. I think the less said about her, the better. Although, she did provide me with a cool song title. I hope it goes on to become someone’s password!
BONUS QUESTION 2
There is no question
(give your own answer)
We rehearse next to a Brazilian waxing parlour on Brick Lane. We often get girls ringing the buzzer on our rehearsal room and have to politely tell them that they probably want to go next door, unless they can play synth – in which case they’re welcome; before or after their ‘treatment’ – preferably after! We try to politely allude to exactly what establishment they’re looking for without grinning too broadly. It’s a dangerous situation for four men who are going to be in close proximity to each other for four hours trying to make serious art. It’s a surprise we haven’t started to cover Barry White while our minds run with thoughts of what’s going on (or coming off!) next door. There may or may not be a five minute spoken word description of this running through one of our more elegiac recordings!
You’ll find ‘Yo Yo @ 26′, its B-side, ‘Devour’ and much, much more over on TMD’s Bandcamp. If you play synth and want to be a part of The Microdance, there’s nothing stopping you – leave them a note on Facebook, or just get in touch here and we’ll put you through.
Meanwhile, here’s ‘Devour’:
Alex Keevill, Gavin Mata Hari, Thom Browning and Caleb Clayton – peddlers of sonic smoothies, delicious and rich in fibre.
They may only have a single out but Alex tosses out names and a byline as if the Microdance have existed for a decade or more. They haven’t. Not just that, but they’ve got the blandest formation story in the world. Nothing like ‘we met at art school, brought together by our shared love of pointillism’. According to A:
All TMD members have been complete strangers to me prior to joining the band. There have been quite a few lineup changes in the few years that there has actually been a band. I say ‘actually been a band’ because our first two releases were recorded with just our former drummer, James Davies, and me. Well, we had help with some awesome female vocalists… but the point being, I played all the guitars, bass, synth etc. For a while I had neither the energy nor inclination to put a band together; I just kind of forgot about the dream. Then one day I woke up with the renascent desire to do something massive and magical and the live version of the band was born. Finally, now I can say we’re doing the grand vision justice. This is a killer crew!
If it’s a story you seek, just ask about the paradoxically childlike name meant to represent an expansive, introspective sound. The explanation rocks up before the question’s even left your virtual lips. Now you know – before the band, there was the Microdance.
My wife (then girlfriend) and I used to listen to the Postal Service and we’d try to dance, rhythmically, with the smallest possible movements. A particular favourite for this was the ending of their song ‘Clarke Gable’. We called this ‘Microdancing’. Around about that point I was ready to start a new musical venture and the name just fell into place.
You’ll have heard of the Microdance before. You may have seen them pop up on Twitter, or noticed Alex poking around one of the infinity shoegazer pages on Facebook. They’ve been around for a while, but Yo Yo @ 26 is their very first Official Release (they’re on a record label and everything, egad).
The reason you’re only hearing what you’re hearing now is because these are our first releases through a label. That shifts the focus because we now have a commercial vehicle to drive the music with; so we’re no longer talking about our ‘pay what you want’ releases because we have a bona fide commercial strategy in place. I am immensely proud of all of the stuff I have released; those songs are all brilliant to me for different reasons: The Her Ride To The Stars EP was the first time I ever went ‘pop’ and I love the ‘feel’ of that EP. The level of sophistication on some of those songs was way beyond what I wanted to project. Some of those chords and the amount of guitars going on were crazy. But, no matter how wonderful those songs still sound to me, there’s definitely something missing. I didn’t sing it all that well, some of the guitars weren’t biting enough and the end result is one of partial regret. I guess that’s the case with all of those EP’s: Her Ride, Get Dark and Enemies of Love. I’d say I’m somewhere between 50 and 60% satisfied with them. I’d still love for people to go and check them out because the songs are of a very high calibre and there are those moments of real pride when listening back to particular parts, but there’d always have to be that caveat!
EPs upon EPs – is there a full-length in the offing?
Yes! We are currently in pre-production and I can tell you that it’s shaping up to be very special. We really hope to get it out at some point this year;
He breaks into the press release:
It’s gonna be a bright, hopeful sounding record with a million kaleidoscopic guitars, female/male harmonies that will make love to your soul and drumming that will have jazz fans rockers squirming with delight in equal measures.
Then he remembers he’s now got a label to do PR for him and slips back into Artiste Mode:
Basically, it’s gonna be a PROPER, cohesive album, the like of which we don’t see many of these days. We hope that the record will spawn some kooky b-sides and outtakes – because we really want to convey a focused vision with the long play but have those different avenues to explore the other facets of what we do. Kind of what Devour was to Yo Yo @ 26, I guess.
Haven’t heard Yo Yo @ 26 yet? Put this on loop as you wait for the next part of this thrilling I-i-I
Whispers assured us we were as lost and stoned as anyone else. People come and go, live and die, cities rise and fall, and change. But you – you promised you’d still be there in the morning.
And you were – you are the sound the sun rises to.
And you remain – you’re what the earth spins to.
But you don’t care about your sway over the sun or the earth or the tides.
That’s why we love you.
Happy 20th Birthday, Souvlaki.
No Joy‘s ‘Maggie Says I Love You’ is everything.
It’s bare toes and outstretched arms in summer, it’s a glimpse of the sun in winter, it’s the rationale that overcomes fury, it is the quiet company you seek in solitude.
Things I love about SULK:
- Their name, my constant state of being
- Their hair – moptop (who needs a field of vision, anyway), sideswept (left), sideswept (right), long (enough), rufflable (c’mere, you)
- Their sound – brazen and unafraid.
Every review of Graceless out so far can be summarised thus: SULK sound like the Stone Roses.
It’s possibly an oversimplification, but not a lie. In addition to the smoky monkey man vox, Graceless is a firm devotee of the Britpop sound, flaunting crisp guitars, hair-flippable drums, and such flowery song titles as ‘Diamonds and Ashes’, ‘Back in Bloom’ and, well, ‘Flowers’.
The question – in sounding like our Madchester/Britpop/Acid House/C86 heroes – are SULK any good?
The answer – surprisingly – yes.
For eras as revered as these, it’s a wonder their derivatives have never come anywhere close to the original sound. Books and movies and journal articles have all striven to capture the essence of what made Madchester/baggy, acid house, and Britpop the sensations they were. Still, the Britpop offspring, never really captured the sound and were, despite the technicalities of their success, unbearably insipid.
Britpop itself – a style, a scene that based its success on sounding like everything that had come before it – was unselfconscious enough not to suffer from banality. Half of Elastica (the album) may not even have been composed by Elastica (the band), but we still listen to ‘Waking Up’ every morning (‘make a cup of tea/put a record on’). We still sing along to ‘Champagne Supernova’ with the same conviction that Liam instills into Noel’s ‘slowly walking down the hall/faster than a cannonball‘.
That’s the ‘swagger’ everyone talks about – the obnoxious self-confidence with which the blatantly inane and/or unethical are not only forgiven, but celebrated.
SULK are the first group I’ve come across to have it. While I can’t quite catch any plagiarism on Graceless (apart from the passing similarity between the opening of ‘Marian Shrine’ and German group Selig‘s ‘Ist Es Wichtig’, which I can’t imagine is intentional), and the lyrics seem innocuous enough, SULK radiate poise and self-assurance. They wind 1989-1994 around their fingertips as if the years were their own creation (no pun intended).
It’s not plagiarism, it’s inspiration – or so I react to ‘Marian Shrine’ (aka ‘Manchild’, for those of you not keeping your eyes on the tracklist) the most Roses-y of the lot. A track that prances around a sticky chorus you’re sure you’ve heard before (“maaaaaan-chiiiiiild!”), completely oblivious to the decade it’s in.
Wait, no, it’s clearly ‘Sleeping Beauty’ that’s the most Roses-y. It’s funny how all of us review types are throwing around the word ‘Madchester’ as if there’s some sort of revival going on, when really SULK only sound (exactly) like one of the three bands that defined the sound. Not a sign of the shameless grooves that made the Mondays or the broody mantras of the Carpets. Again, we’ve got a song that sounds so familiar it hurts – but just try to place it… it can’t be done.
Have mercy – from this whirling opener we’re thrown into the breathless ‘Flowers’ whose endless chorus overflows with all the jingle-jangle and ba-ba-ba’s in the world, ensuring you’ll spin around and around till your head flies off. A little later, a song made up of the ocean – ‘Back in Bloom’ (if your eye’s not on tracklist, you’re hearing this as ‘Black and Blue’). Waves of reverb, waves of ricocheting space-vox, and waves of a chorus that spirals in and out of focus (‘she’ll be back in bloom’).
I didn’t ever expect an album like Graceless to come my way, or even to exist. Nostalgia aside, it’s worth admiring the album for the quality of its production (Ed Buller worked on albums by Suede, Pulp and White Lies – SURPRISE!). It’s also worth noting that, despite their FANTASTIC hair, I am praising SULK on the worth of their music. Graceless must be good.
Word of mouth is an amazing thing.
Forget banner ads and social networks, forget mass mix-tapes and mix-CDs and mix-m3u-s, forget advertising budgets and marketing spends.
Because what power could lights, colours and rapid frame rates possibly wield over the influence of a simple “Hey, listen to this – it sounds like you”.
The intimacy of a phrase that you know has come to you and no one else.
That’s how I found Last Leaf Down.
This one’s got the echo chamber acoustics that make it feel like it’s coming from within you, so you feel the deception it does when it cries out:
‘Fake lights in the sky’
Something about Screen Vinyl Image is unambiguously vintage.
It could be the name – its resemblance to the authentically ancient Ultra Vivid Scene.
But more likely its the sound. Born out of the far ‘nu’-er Alcian Blue, SVI are unashamedly not so. Ignore any/all reviews/bios calling SVI ‘futuristic’ or ‘contemporary’ or any synonym thereof. Look – they’ve got Bernard Sumner to do vox on ‘Stay Asleep’ – the second track of their latest release*, 51:21, presumably named for the duration of the album (which, fyi, is 51:59)
51:21 opens with the immensely likeable ‘Too Much Speed’ – released as a single a couple of years ago if you were paying attention. A pleasantly noisy pop-tart with a tambourine and a hook, dancing with each other against a backdrop of fuzzy-coarse guitar noise that remains politely out of the way.
Not quite so approachable is the aforementioned ‘Stay Asleep’ which features Gary Chadwick**. There is not a shred of doubt that this track was recorded around the time I was born (probably earlier).
BUT WAIT WHAT’S THIS.
Cross the four minute mark and it’s the scene from Alien – an entirely new creature bursting out of a familiar character. Relentless (analogue) synths push their way out of the placid electropop and drill their way mercilessly into your subconscious. You’ll hear the echoes in your dreams, your veins will throb to the percussion and your ears will tingle with what may be white noise or may be tinnitus.
Barring the closer, we’ve met the rest of these songs before, on The Midnight Sun EP, but they’re worth revisiting. These are the tracks you can see played live while you listen – lights swaying and melting into each other, voices soaked up by carpet and bouncing off concrete, heads bobbing or swaying, eyelids closing, bodies staying rigid.
I’m especially fond of ‘Passing Through Mirrors’ – atypical, no doubt, it lacks the blackness of its comrades, its guitar is very nearly acoustic, it’s got ‘shimmer’ and ‘sparkle’ (are those chimes?), it whistles and it coos, and before it can hypnotise us completely, it curls up into itself and slinks away, leaving us with the unforgiving intro of ’16mm Shrine’ to jolt us back into the dark.
Thinkpiece? Jam session? Composition? Who knows what ’51:21′ was meant to be but its 32 minutes are what take up the 51:21 (51:59?) it’s named after. Live and unedited, it’s whirlpool synths, marching beats, metallic echos, a racing pulse, and even some 8 bit ideas. Our alien friend from ‘Stay Asleep’ also makes an appearance around the 25 minute mark, this time with a classic reverby ‘gaze guitar serving as its foil.
If I had been more timely, I’d have been able to lead you to their bandcamp page so you could pick up 51:21 in Ye Olde Cassette Formatte. Now, however, you’re left with no choice but to direct venomous curses at me as you grudgingly download the digital album.