Thursday, March 05, 2009

Gramma' kids

Ambition makes you feel pretty ugly. Not us words, but those of Thom Yorke. Which is interesting, as Radiohead have been really quite ambitious on a lot of other bands' behalves. In Bad Vibes Luke Haines dismisses pre-Bends Radiohead as "a heavy rock outfit, fright-wig and all"; what they did for the rest of us after that was find a way to channel their post-grunge guitar abuse down different channels, introducing it to the special noise altering machines and funnelling the existential angst into structures that their once thought of bretheren would never have gone near.

We're well past the Radiohead ripoffs now but you can hear the next generation of what we're getting at here in the debut album by Grammatics, released on March 23rd on perhaps Britain's most frustratingly inconsistent label, Dance To The Radio. They possess an epic swell and a massive plangent guitar sound, yet they know how to fix it to a belter of a hook, a melodic twist, a lyrical resonation. Almost all the mainstream press reviews have compared it to Muse and you can see why, with Owen Brinley's occasional falsetto leaps, a voice of leaping ability but never used merely to show off his range without due cause, and the moments of skyscraping explosiveness from a guitar-bass-drums set-up, but there's none of the space-prog elastic nature of Muse's guitar mini-symphonies, rather a melodic in its own way grandeur with a elusive lyrical quasi-complexity that makes the message that much more tantalisingly opaque. We've heard them called Britain's Mew - check the bombastic Rosa Flood and see if it reminds you of Special from And The Glass Handed Kites without actually musically resembling it in any way - and you can see that as well in the way they take ostensibly pretty pop-rock melodies and stretch, compress and generally fuck with them wholeheartedly. Their fuck buddy in that sense is Emilia Ergin's cello, lifting in places, sailing serenely across other songs while clearly paddling furiously under the waterline.

Such is their command of their surroundings that there's far too much going on to start believing it acts as any kind of suite even if it works best flowing in one sitting as it is, such is the sureness of touch. Shadow Committee teases you with unresolved tension then crashes through a colossal vaulting chorus, straight after which D.I.L.E.M.M.A.'s darkly swooning and chiming melodrama, like Conor Oberst tied to the front of Cursive, almost sounds like straight ahead pop. Murderer... well, White Lies wish they could do this, but maybe if they'd stopped being poster-portentious and hired a producer who knows how to build guitar sounds without completely flooding the thing they could start to think about approaching this level. The Vague Archive cut and shuts two songs into one just in case they sounded like they didn't have enough to go with, starting out all charging and hyperventilating like double speed Bunnymen then 2:30 in deciding to be a stentorian post-rock influenced swoop instead.

As if to really take the piss they can even pull off a widescreen orchestral ballad, even an acoustically led one like the yearning Broken Wing, which eventually pitches Brinley's falsetto into a wall of cello and delay pedal sound. He may be singing about being "in a prism of refractions" on Inkjet Lakes, but all around him things coil and bubble like a volcanic lake while Laura Groves, now trading as Blue Roses, attempts to stand fast in the face of the growing storm, around which come waves of wavering organs and subtly tribal drumming. Even Swan Song, being the six minute final track, refuses to become the all-encompassing blowout most would go for preferring dynamic shifts that seem to gradually get faster rather than bigger, veering from willing to swirling to stabbing, and that's just the cello. ("I'm coming home for Christmas" Brinley asserts therein. Another Mew link.) Brinley used to front the Biffy/ATDI-esque Colour Of Fire, and it's instructive here insomuch as he knows when to let go and when to just rein it in. An MVP is hard to ascertain but we're going with Relentless Fours, which loops old school M83 style ambience with a hypnotic intensity, chooses not to smash down the studio walls when it has the chance and instead coasts on a repetitive cello figure and clubbing drums as Brinley and Ergin duet on an elliptical love/obsession theme ("how can you call yourself an actress when you can't get your act together?") which eventually become acapella... and *then* the guitar lets go. You'll think of plenty of kind of similar places and then decide it's no use trying to isolate one. Even the big rock ending immediately falls down a lift shaft again and again.

This, then, is why we still have albums rather than collections of songs vaguely arranged, because this is an album that can't be rearranged or have bits taken apart because it'll collapse like a Jenga tower into a complete mess. Nothing here could pass even in the most warped sense for an anthem, but it demands to be played at top volume across a huge expanse. Although some of it is more immediate than it'd ever let on it's an album that requires the time and effort but only because it demands it to untie the knotty, deceiving emotional core at the heart of this remarkably assured and accomplished debut. Having produced an album that is better than anyone could have reasonably hoped, quite something given the astronomic resonance of their singles to date, Grammatics are, after all, the type of band with the type of unafraid ambition you didn't think Britain produced any more.

Look, we can prove it. This is D.I.L.E.M.M.A. (we don't want to type that out too often, cheers):

And here's a shorter edit of the new single (out 16th on 7") Shadow Committee:


if said...

This mostly reminds me a lot of Goodbooks, although it's much better than their album turned out

Scott Goodacre said...

We've just reviewed it here:

I actually think the album is somewhat better than a 7/10 though, and for me so far it's one of the best of the year. Going to see them Wednesday, so hope they don't disappoint.

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