Archive | February 2013

soundCHECK 189 – February 28th 2013

Matchmaking requires charisma. One of the reasons I’m crap at it. Yet the following 646 words are committed to explaining why you (a music fan) should be frenzying yourself into a tiz for the fluttering eyelashes of Spectres (a band) and their harrowingly beautiful new EP.

Before we begin, you deserve a confession. I’m easily impressed. Example: I find it a source of dizzy wonder that horses can be butchered into horrorchunks tiny enough to be pumped undetected into budget burgers the size of a seven year-old girl’s fist. That’s some feat. But overactive amazement-receptors notwithstanding, like any other human it takes something special to, like, really blow me away.

Blown away I have been. By the twisted, tortured shoegaze of Spectres’ Hunger EP.

Let’s backtrack. Spectres formed in Barnstaple in February 2010 when members of North Devon favourites LOAD.CLICK.SHOOT! and Fen Tigers realised their bands didn’t exist anymore. They began honing a sound that married eldritch melody with bruising rhythm and relocated to Bristol at the beginning of 2011.

Since then gigs have come and gone. But for the most part Spectres have stalked the shadows while the label they founded (Howling Owl) thrust the best of Bristol’s underground talent into the spotlight. That changes now. Hunger is a raw, cantankerous record that sparkles, startles and delivers tenfold on potential hinted at back in the early days of nervy DIY gigs in The Rising Sun.

So what of the songs? Rattle The Cage is a bludgeoning ode to visceral guitars and eagerly demonstrates the new found muscle in Spectres’ sound. I Was In A Box, meanwhile, evokes fractured frames of a dystopian nightmare as piercing guitars sink their teeth deep. It sounds like the vampiric soundtrack to every Twilight film ever, in the parallel universe where that particular series isn’t brain-witheringly limp.

Maybe You Shouldn’t Be Living Here is the angry lament scrawled by Ian Curtis when God denied him past the pearly gates. And the concluding Threshing Machine builds to an outro that sounds like some joyous celebration of the underworld; its paralysing hook so potent you become powerless in its clutches. This is perhaps one of the most cleverly-disguised, thickly-veiled pop songs of the last decade. Horror-pop. Pop-noir. Call it what you want.

Yet what’s most impressive about this EP isn’t the actual songs per se. It’s the fact that it feels so complete. Spectres find beauty in the brutal, assembling harsh sonicspheres that at once seem incongruous yet wonderfully orchestrated. It’s clever. And compelling. Rabid breakdowns of white noise dissonance see guitars moan like rusted wrought-iron gates on a cold Sunday, yet there somehow remains a honey-smooth aesthetic that renders Spectres as fun as they are challenging.

Those of you with ears will notice a band hardwired into the zeitgeist affinity for 90’s shoegaze. But it’s also clear that this is a record of talent and hard work. Those are ingredients that are immune to fads, phases and fickle NME readers. Besides, no art is truly original anyway. While pinchbeck impersonators will always be ten-a-penny, the best artists build on what they borrow to progress the present. Spectres stand in the second category.

Are they perfect? No. They have a way to go yet. But the fact that Hunger sold out on pre-orders alone gives you an idea of their growing stock. So too does their romp to victory in Artrocker magazine’s New Blood competition. And their invitation to play at The Great Escape Festival in Brighton, Britain’s leading festival for showcasing new music. It’s all genuinely exciting for a band from Barnstaple. (A second batch of EPs is available from howlingowlrecords.bigcartel.com. Hurry.)

The best place to start your Spectres affair? The eerily disconcerting and beautifully shot video for Rattle The Cage, which saw the four-piece filmed semi-naked in freezing conditions in an old diving school. Draw the curtains and full-screen it at btnbt.com/2192. And don’t tell your mother.

Hunger concludes dramatically as Threshing Machine swells to a seismic crescendo of layered fuzz before cutting to abrupt silence. The only sound to be heard is the ringing of your battered cochleas. And you know what? That’s okay.

CONTACT: Email your local music news to jharper[at]northdevonjournal.co.uk or tweet @testforpulse.

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soundCHECK 188 – February 21st 2012

I recently made a TV documentary. It was about a toothy middle-aged woman who lived with her son in Bristol.

Their house was dark, unkempt and dusty, but generous in size. Just as well too, because this woman – I never actually got her name – was the happy owner of sixteen dogs. Sixteen. One of them had red fur, its busy tail rousing various detritus from the kitchen corner as it nipped at some of the other dogs – who hid under sideboards looking haggard and ready for nothing but the cold embrace of the grave.

The woman’s son had just one dog: a playful, blue-eyed border collie named Terrence. When I met them, the son and the dog were wearing matching white t-shirts with vous aimez mon dubstep in thick black lettering across the chest next to a picture of a small red heart. You see, Terrence had a particular penchant for making dubstep belters – and he was huge on the French club scene.

Terrence readied a 7-inch and played me a track.

It sounded weird. Like a small piece of plastic vibrating rhythmically on a wooden desk, with a woozy high-frequency melody akin to pixies playing a glockenspiel. Had I heard this before? It sounded exactly like the alarm on my mobile phone. Wait. It was the alarm on my mobile phone. And clearly a goat’s cheese dinner is a fine architect of joyfully leftfield dreams.

Terrence doesn’t exist in the real world (whatever that is). Yet such night-time tales sustain my spirits through the cruel, depressing winter. Happily, you and I will soon be shot of winter’s icy clutches. You can tell because summer music festivals are beginning to release details of their line-ups. Ben Howard, Basement Jaxx and The Vaccines will headline Boardmasters 2013 in Newquay. Xavier Rudd and Willy Mason head to Croyde for GoldCoast Oceanfest. And Sigur Ros, Belle & Sebastian and Poliça play End Of The Road in Dorset.

Finally, congratulations to (previously North Devon-based) Spectres, who have been selected to play at The Great Escape Festival in Brighton this May. There’ll be a Spectres special next week. For now, content yourselves that theirs is a sound of bludgeoning rhythms behind scything, feedback-framed guitars that are as cutting as a cocaine cocktail.

Then again, who needs drugs when you can have a Babybel and a snooze?

CONTACT: Make music? Want to be in soundCHECK? Email jharper[at]northdevonjournal.co.uk or tweet @testforpulse and I’ll make your dreams come true.