'Boomerang/No Doubts/I Roam/Girl Called Melody'
9.5/10, 9.5/10, 9/10 & 9.5/10
Home-grown 'ska/reggae/rock band', trumpet their intentions with genre-contorting confidence.
Release date: The album 'Mischief', will be released on March 14th.
They are a young outfit, but filled with confidence and talent that belies their combined years...
And the songs I have heard today have made me proud to be from Surrey. Don't get me wrong, I do not hate Guildford. It is pleasant and safe but doesn't spark, shine or intrigue you. The shopping facilities are generic and un-interesting; the people are nice enough but it is the history of the place that is its defining characteristic. Since the likes of The Stranglers, Guildford has not produced too many iconic or relevant groups. There is a lot of new talent bustling in the underground, and the A.C.M. has its fair share of emerging wonder. Bigtopp are an intriguing outfit that will put my hometown on the map, for the right reasons.
I have been a bit of a musical Chris Columbus as of late. In the sense that I have been searching the media for a certain type of band, but have stumbled upon others altogether. Bigtopp were a new name to my ears as recently as last year, but since hearing about them, I have been hooked. They have actually been around since 2006, and I noticed them when they entered, and subsequently won The Music League competition in 2012. Since then they have played summer festivals and adopted a large and loyal fan base. They are an 8-piece group but have an amazing fraternity to their bond and sound, and are also decidedly tight and focused. Having met in college, it is clear that this sense of friendship and shared influences enforces their sound and success and are going to be around for many years to come.
'Boomerang' is first up. In the first of one pun-based commentaries from me, this is a track that you will not want to throw away. If you do it may come back to smack you in the head, because it means business from the off. Starting with a grand and precocious piano line, it has quite a classic edge to it. Part Beethoven, part Liszt; but not in a sardonic way. Muse perfected the same kind of flamboyance, most notably on Absolution. It is unexpected and stirring. The piano also has a '90s club stomp to it, and this is backed up by the war hammer of a drum that introduces itself like an avalanche. The vocal has a reaggae/ska edge to it; there are tinges of Paolo Nutino at first, but harder, more endearing and authentic. One of the most frequent adjectives levied at the band has been 'danceable', and this is obvious. It pulls you from the corner of the room and demands you move until you drop. They have elements of Mad Caddies, Madness and The Specials to their veracious bonhomie and jubilance, and it shines through on this track. "Like a boomerang/it all comes around/Like a boomerang/it's the same old sound" is sung during the chorus, and repeated to great effect. The song deals a lot with how similar a lot of music sounds, either as a metaphysical innuendo or as a direct commentary on modern music- I am not sure. The lyrics, and chorus especially are simple and effective and it is a lyrically economical track. It is a rebel-rousing rally cry, a euphonious sunshine smile. In all an incredibly pleasant and memorable song which updates the classic reggae/ska mantle and brings it into 2013.
With an immediate and commanding vocal performance, 'No Doubts' talks about (how doubt) is "like a shadow chasing me". The track has its trademark liturgical jubilance to it but is more reflective. It is a track that uses imagery beautiful: "Jury, judge and execution/they'll be with my elocution" is a savvy and intelligent lyric. Doubt is dragging Bigtopp down, and we sure as hell can't stand for that! In spite of any recriminations or deeper questions the band sure as hell no how to set the mood alight. The brass and drums crackle and set fire to the rain, washing the streets with colour and parade and bring joy to the isocratic citizens. The music stops, starts, jumps and teases, jives and swoons and although doubt is the "nasty word" that cannot be spoken of, it has an endearing positivity to it. The band will not let anything takes the smile from their lips. The band are fantastic and resplendence to proceedings, and add colour to the black and white dubiousness or some of the lyric's sentiments. It is plain to see why they are becoming a staple of the summer festival Lazy Susan. They are enjoyable to listen to, and no matter what mood you are in they make you smile. They make music that sticks in your head and contextualizes your negativity and makes you forget about it. It is another barnstorming track, and although possible moleculary superior to 'Boomerang'. Quite an emphatic 1-2. Strangely the song reminded me a little of Chris Cornell's theme to 'Casino Royale' in its melody. This is the type of number that could easily score a big movie; probably less Bond, and more Bondi Beach.
Music lovers and commentators aren't psychic (psychics aren't psychic either, but that's another matter); so predicting that a certain sense of mortality would enter the fray was unexpected. Don't misunderstand. The band have not gone all Ian Curtis and need Diazepam dropped in their tea, but they are in a slightly more pensive mood. The fireworks are still illuminating the view, but words such as "As I Roam/As I Roam/I ain't allows appreciated" suggest that there are some clowns at the Bigtopp party. The vocals have a pleasing urgency to them, delivered at a breakneck, almost rap-pace at times. It has many similarities to many traditional reggae songs in its D.N.A., as well as its execution. There is a sharp incongruousness to the music and vocal bi-play. Although some of the words paint a picture of a lonely tableaux: "I'm a one man and his dog", the music does not wallow or become morose as: "its detrimental to my health/don't want to be somebody else". Bigtopp's lieutenant is walking through the streets, through memories, and down dusty roads, but knows his friends will never leave him. There are delineated sermons of defiance throughout, and when the vocal chorus of 'ohs and woahs' arrive at the 2/3 mark; the bullish and island vibe feel starts to seep back in. The vocal becomes more whispered, there is some guitar feedback and a fantastic electronic storm is brewed, reminiscent of Bellamy, Van Halen and Santana. There is a glorious musical Technicolor throughout and a brilliant mix of sound. There is a greater rock element in this song, marked particularly by electric guitar- providing a sense of soucier shadow to the landscape. I suspect that when the album arrives it will be a remarkable corpus, but one that will clearly have a predominantly joyous and and celebratory vibe, with a frisson of despondency.
Truncating the joyride is 'A Girl Called Melody'. It has a symbiosis with the other three songs, but has a slight Pacific Coast feel to it. It has a tone to it, familiar to some of the songs of Steely Dan's album 'Countdown to Ecatsy' (I can hear 'My Old School' in the brass that plays just over the halfway mark). It also is another slight gear change. It has romance in its blood. The music has a repourposed emaciation to it, as not to clutter the sentiment and overall tone, which is one of positivity. The words "all-time/all-time/all-time high... I'm at an all-time/all-time/all-time high" provide a sweet coda, which is repeated frequently. The brass blasts metonymically and has splatters of Nutini and The Skints. There is a bit of Donald Fagen in the vocals which is an unexpected treat, and it is a confident and impassioned performance, once more. The seeming positivity of the chorus hides a secret pain. It appears that our hero will not end up with Melody, and won't "take on the world as two". Where as inferior modern acts would convey the break up of a relationship with hyperbole and assonance; here the words are direct and meaningful. The band back up their front-man staunchly, not allowing for any rhuemy, wallowy crap. Things happen, move on with it! The chorus is repweated again to the end, and one hopes that the 'all-time high' is biological, and not psychoactive. This is a track that will appeal to a wide field. It has a summary feelgood synecdoche to the music and the lyrics about changing love and circumstance do not detract from the force majeure that has been displayed throughput the four tracks. The song is fresh, open and busy, with an infectious joy to it. One can have their own interpretation of the song itself, and whether the author has any regrets. Maybe I have missed their point. I like to think, that in spite of it all, Bigtopp are going to smile their way through it.
This review has- I hope- surmised the key points of what is the be, the first four tracks from their upcoming album 'Mischief'. These tracks are only 2/5 of the story, and it is hard to say what the other tracks will focus on. The quartet I have heard are assimilate examples of a wider whole. I adored the tracks I have heard. I am a big fan of ska, reggae and rock, and Bigtopp have produced an iridescent blend. The brass, drums, guitar and every little musical ingredient compliment the vocals perfectly, and elevate and enforce the lyrics. The vocal performance is incredibly strong; imbued with authenticity and a great individuality to them. It is this combination that makes the band such a name to watch and love. I would implore you to rush out and buy their album on the 14th. It will be a perfect summation of a band who can traverse the musical quagmire with aplomb.
There is a Beyonce-sized but coming up... do not ignore them if reggae or ska 'isn't your thing' For those who think the genres are concubines of their favourite music, I would advise open-mindedness. I myself am not myself an aficionado or devotee of this 'type' of music. The band transcend misconceptions and doubt with charisma and good old-fashioned talent. They are superbly tight and cohesive and do not allow the standard or fun to stop or drop for even one second. As it is so goddamn cold and miserable, perhaps the album's release date is apropos. The music will put a huge smile on your face, make you want to get up and dance, and take your heart and soul to a Caribbean beach.
The 'Mischief' album, will be, according to the band's press-pack, a work that "tells the story of human fragility" but does so without tristesse. I am a fan after just one listen, and am sure you will be as well. Head over to their website and hear what they have produced already and if you aren't smiling by the first track I'll eat my hat...
... and I wear a Beefeater, so know I'm to be trusted.
Key Track: No Doubts