Jon Davies on the bands that made for an eclectic and ultimately satisfying musical landscape this year…
When Indica Ritual decided to call it a day, the Liverpool music scene lost an ally in the fight against endless Britpop inspired dirge. Soon after, however, word was spreading that a new group would replace the gap in Liverpool’s close-knit indie scene. They’re called Outfit, in case you’ve been living under a rock.
Early murmurs included a batch of hazy, lo-res images, masking the band members identities. This may have been intriguing for the wider UK audience, but to us locals, it was clear as to the ex-band from which these new pretenders arose. Steadily more chopped, blurred and skewed photos emerged, culminating in the video of ‘Firemen Don’t Fly’, a less eccentric version of Indica Ritual, and decidedly more sombre. A couple more songs were uploaded onto Soundcloud, and despite the growing zealous fervour, I guiltily felt something more akin to indifference.
Firstly the aesthetic seemed contrived; the shielding of identity was already convoluted – see the disappointing WU LYF – and it seemed a vain attempt at self-encryption, to be later discarded by them appearing in their music videos. It felt like Outfit could go belly-up if chillwave and hypnogogia was to ever fade away. Most jarringly, the music didn’t fit the visuals, and to an extent still doesn’t. Whilst their imagery is obscure and doctored to look like malfunctioning VHS tapes, the production, by contrast is crystalline; parts are reminiscent of the studio vacuum of Steely Dan and 10cc, and even the hall of mirrors echoes sound canned. The first recordings instead were studied, well crafted songs that twisted in their own way, and it was a shame Outfit had to hide under the haze. They don’t make me long for the good ol’ days, just wished they had a bit more joy in them.
Then ‘Two Islands’ was released providing a famished indie scene with an anthem, drawing together the skipping melodies of traditional guitar groups, a beat prepared for a post-Chibuku comedown and a refrain even the most ardent Wombats fan would hum along to. It still doesn’t sit too well, but you can’t argue with a single that managed to sell out within a few weeks of its release, providing the perfect parting gift as Outfit moved to LDN.
Much energy went into the hyping of Outfit, but there was a crop of notable releases from our bands, starting with Stealing Sheep. Refreshingly short on gimmicks, the trio’s EP ‘I Am The Rain’ relied on unassuming folky tracks that evoke all kinds of 60s revivals, full of psychedelic guitar licks, Mo Tucker drumming and lush harmonies, without the unnecessary gloss of decay. It’s a well trodden, and therefore, difficult path to tread without joining the crowd, but Stealing Sheep do it confidently enough to stand out amongst myriad folk-fodder types to be found here and there.
Local noise rock was given a shake-up with a first and last set of records. In the summer we said farewell to Sean Wars’ multi-armed nightmare Monobrow, who on their last show released a small brown bag with a CD and T-shirt to remember them by. Musically, usual rules applied: you either worshipped or detested the sheer blunt force and disregard for subtlety in their improvisation. On the other hand, for a tenner you bagged yourself the greatest ever band tee (called ‘Poor Battles’). As Monobrow trudged off into the sunset, the debut EP of Spitting Cobra’s, ‘Angel Tits’ appeared. Slow and daunting, but strangely rewarding, and full of upsetting song titles, each track has a life of its own under an arc full of harsh glitches, pummeling drums and somber deconstructed guitar lines. There was also a low-key, though solid EP released by veterans of wonkstep, Stig Noise, this one with added turntables (make of that what you will).
Capitalising on a number of highly impressive performances came a split EP from tour-mates We Came Out Like Tigers (pictured) and Ravachol, entitled ‘True Love Always’. With each release the former sharpen, add texture and improve on the all-important production needed to appropriate their live setting, but this is more of a leap, mostly owing to their improved songcraft, along with the chance to play among the best screamo bands in the UK. The hardcore scene may be small in England, let alone here, but they’re raising their profile with each and every release and gig.
Speaking of live performances, we come to a group who seem to be on the other side of the coin from WCOLT. Sun Drums have been gigging sporadically and stumbling each time over a plethora of electronic devices, but on record they’re sumptuous. The self-titled EP sums up so much of what’s been the musical zeitgeist: Burial-esque longing fused with Sufjan Stevens’ cinematic orchestration, harmonies recalling Grizzly Bear, and peppered with dense synths. However, nothing is borrowed, and Sun Drums create a record that is very individualistic. The trio’s long-delayed EP is well worth the wait, and my Liverpool record of the year.
Image courtesy of We Came Out Like Tigers