Friday, December 25, 2009

Sweeping The Nation Albums Of 2009: Number 6

"And it starts like..."

Waited Up Til It Was Light was such a complete statement that, short of going gabba, a second Johnny Foreigner full length a year later was always going to be evolution rather than revolution, a re-statement of what they're good at and how they drive a coach and horses through 99.5% of British bands with what we described this time last year as "barely controlled hysteria, sucrose rush replacing the sugar, technical witchcraft you're not supposed to be recognising." Grace And The Bigger Picture, an attempt to document their year on the road, is by nature more piecemeal in purest song terms - take off the hidden track and associated gap and it's 15 tracks in 36 and a half minutes - but there's something relentless, even uncompromising, about that very fact. They're going to write songs of the utmost pace that sees guitar, bass, drums and yelps crash headlong into each other and somehow emerge as fractured nuggets of hyper-alt pop. For all that, it's actually a grower. Who knew.

Let's talk about Alexei's guitar style, because it doesn't get talked about a lot in detail but it's unlike anyone else in his immediate sphere. You can tell he knows his Owls and American Football and Kinsella brothers, because while he's not a tapper it's full of those kind of geometrically implausible moments, peaks and crescendos that keep everything faster and louder than everything else. Listen for that ridiculously precise mini-solo delivered almost as throwaway towards the end of Choose Yr Side And Shut Up!, for instance. And yet, somehow, Junior Laidley just keeps up with it all. And it's not just stylistically that he suggests a direct debt. Like Berrow hero Craig Finn phrases recur from earlier - those "arcs across the city" make a slight return early in Choose Yr Side And Shut Up!, which itself has been divested of its earlier, slower coda, now I’llchoosemysideandshutup, Alright. Dark Harbourzz' title appears as a lyric in at least two other songs and Feels Like Summer's "some summers" clarion call reoccurs at the end of The Coast Was Never Clear. Lyrically there are many reasons to be fearful about albums on life on the road but Alexei's world is clearly a dark one where they "see the stars like holiday heaven/Now we're nine months on I'm having revelations in some student union", or "sit and watch the riots on the last night, dropping all the lamps till the fires are our only light". Not only do they know what they do best but, with Alex Newport's production help, they've refined it into an attacking formation. Criminals clamps a chantalong chorus about culture versus development - "closed your clubs and sold you out for what?" - to a whole load of distorted vapour trail guitar. Custom Scenes And The Parties That Make Them, thrown into disarray by comstant travel, transmogrifies from somewhere close to Eyes Wide Terrified to something more forward thrusting with a brief break for a three-part roundel. It's not just in the ballads - see the acoustic forty second as if they couldn't be arsed to come up with any more (Graces) - that they've found a way to play with the general musical theme. More Heart Less Tongue rides on an insistent piano loop, glitched up on slight reprise More Tongue Less Heart; Every Cloakroom Ever is full of treated guitar delay, arrhythmic fills and an almost West Coast feel to the usual sound even as Alexei reassures "don't doubt your worth". Kingston Called, They Want Their Lost Youth Back, meanwhile, appears to be trying to play itself at three times normal speed. Ultimately, as The Coast Was Always Clear progresses from contemplative mid-section to crashing self-referential close, it's the sound of a trio comfortable in their own skins, that is to say incredibly itchy.



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