'Stroh 80', 'National Unity' &'North'
9/10, 10/10 & 9.5/10
Glasgow band of brothers, have plenty of spit and punch.
Availability: Stroh 80 is available via http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tJhIelkwrzg
I suppose the band name gives an indication of what to expect; but nary a hint of what you actually experience...
Let me qualify that summation. For one thing they are an absolute bastard to search for via Google. My Internet history has had to be purged, and being a 29-year-old, thought I had seen a lot. After a quick cold shower, you get to the music. I have had the pleasure of experiencing a wide spectrum of music this week; everything from ska/reggae to dub-step, through to soulful pop. I was ready and prepared to hear what Casual Sex had to offer my ears.
Being a songwriter and singer myself, I feel quite adept at dissecting music and giving it a good analysis. It's what my brain loves to do, and I am always keen to experience strange and wonderful new sounds and sensations. Our heroes are Glasgow-based, and have recently been anointed by The Guardian in their 'New band of the day' segment. There, they were described as being purveyors of "spiky, tart pop music", and have a multi-faceted array of musical styles in their wardrobe from "glam to white reggae". The band, as it happens, were brought together by chance meetings, and thus created Casual Sex after congregating at Glasgow's Green Door Studio. To business, then...
I have a curious fascination with song titles. I performed a quick Internet search of what Stroh 80 was. Essentially it is an Austrian rum, used extensively in Austrian cuisine. The numerical value denotes the 'proof' of the rum. 80 is the strongest you can get, and presumably is used to fuel medium-sized planets. I would be remiss if I didn't at least approach the song with a certain imperiousness. I was expecting a cacophonous riot of a track. What was the come, was a lot more pleasing. It begins with a few seconds of distortion; a sound similar to an intergalactic phaser being fired. Following on its heels is a propulsive guitar strum, at first reminiscent of 'Coffee + TV', but mutating into a rawer beat altogether. When Sam Smith's vocals are introduced they have a warming familiarity to them. They are an amalgamation of Edwyn Collins, Jarvis Cocker, Lou Reed and David Bowie. If you could imagine such a mythical creature! It has great disco and glam element to it, the music inspires hand claps, hip moving and fist raising in equal measures. The song itself is about is being caught in the act with your girlfriend's pal, in the "aftermath of a drug party on the floor of a local occultist", according to Sam. With tones of Steve Harley, Suede and early-Bowie in its sound, the song is rousing, confident and alpha-male. There seems to be little regret; although when the words "swallow my pride"... "she/she feels so cold/on the doctor's sofa" paint vivid images of strange smells, magic, mystic, red faces and a whole lot of mess. Due to lack of pitch change in Smith's voice, it is hard to sense whether his Tommy Lee feat of sexual candour weighs heavy on his mind, or heavy on his genitals. The backing 'woahs and ohs' from his fraternal cohorts suggest that the party may not be over. The guitar and drums skiffle like strobe lighting; they are locomotive and surge the blood around the whole of your body. As the track fades, the protagonist collects his trousers, assesses the scene and has a whole lot of explaining to do. There is an aching world-weary cynicism to the vocals- Bob Dylan detoxing; and the band employ smart chord sequences and CBGBs-esque lasciviousness.
National Unity is a spikier, more swaggering animal. Beginning with an arpeggio of electric guitar, it opens the theme song to an '80s spy movie; all dark streets, bad hair and 80 BHP German sports cars. There is a little bit of The Libertines (Can't Stand Me Now, Last Post on the Bugle and Don't Look Back Into the Sun especially), and when the drumbeat curates a dizzying choppiness, it is intoxicating. The band let the music do the talking to begin with, employing an H-bomb of intrigue: a mix-breed of disco, white reggae and indie. It defies you to stay seated and within about 30 seconds is patronising your hips, and puts a scotch and cigarette in each hand. Sam is heard for a brief time, before the music pushes him under the waves. The guitar mutates between Magic and Medicine The Coral, Rubber Soul The Beatles and imbued with a pernicious stab and punch to it. The front man returns to the fray, unveiling a vocal which is slightly more composed than on 'Stroh 80'. There is a bit of an incestuous mix of Barat and Doherty; salaciousness whispered and drooled. The guitar work as well has a lot in common with the Libs boys too. At times too there is some early Bloc Party and a rhythmic testicular swagger that recalls the glory days of '90s Blur, Oasis and Pulp. The song only shares a collegial bond with anything you've ever heard from the band before. In fact the majority of the song is purely instrumental. It flexes its muscles and bares its skin. The recycled jive and sway of the music is infectious and injects lysergic acid into your brain. It's what Lewis Carroll would sound like if you let him loose in a recording studio, and it is bloody brilliant. The words "Can't you feel this unity?" are repeated like a mantra from a cult, interrupted briefly by a barked vocal interjection. Blur employed the same trick with 'We've Got A File On You', and like that song, you don't need to hear more. It is a disease that you will not want to medicate. As soon as he has returned, Smith departs and here we go again! It is a remarkably tight song, and I was begging for at least 7 minutes more. It is a track which will not leave your brain for many weeks to come, I promise you that.
The track was released on the WCSP label last year under 'Mao Disney Fluxing Up the Asethetic' complilation.
Completing our trio is a more raucous and name-worthy parable. Casual Sex are once more armed with plenty of ammunition and unleash a biblical in flagante delicto. As with 'National Unity', 'North' has a similar late-night attitude to it. Again there are flecks of The Coral, The Beatles, with bits of The Velvet Underground and Bloc Party. It sort of continues where 'National Unity' left off. Like The Beatles' 'Abbey Road' side 2 medley, you could imagine running the two tracks together seamlessly. Welll... until the vocal comes in. It is pure Jarvis Cocker, with a teaspoon of Elvis Costello. The music again is brilliant: twangy, coordinated and discontent. There is a terrific bass line that holds it in check, as around it there is a drunken chaos. Flashes of distortion and re-verb; bouncy twangs; and a sound that may be a synthesiser or a keyboard, I can't tell. The entire track twists and turns, builds up and goes down and is a collage of sounds and texture. There is a brief flash of 'Roxanne'; and a solid and muscular drumbeat that is solid and impressive. "We're still just the same, now", is one of the first lyrics that strikes my ear. The vocal changes to a Bowie-influenced register and is again vocal and lyrics take second place to the music around it. It is a bold choice for a band with such an impressive singer, who can give conviction to the band's novella's of sex, drugs and everything in-between. "We're still just the same now/honey, what we gonna do?" ('Honey' is replaced with 'baby' interchangeably), are more-or-less the only words you will hear; but is all you will need to. It has that beautiful '70s sound to it, and is a remarkable track again. One that will suck you in and brings to mind so many different scenes and scenarios. The lyrical sparsity and musical mosaic are a wonderful blend and put a huge smile on my face. This song was a split A-side with 'Wake The President'.
For a band that is almost Google-proof, they deserve a huge following and mass exposure. I would judge you harshly if you did not check out this band, as they are without pretension. Despite me hinting at their influences, they are their own band and are fresh, gutsy, talented and brilliant. The Guardian described them as "potentially the best Scottish indie band since Franz (Ferdinand)". I think they are being a bit myopic. I think they are the best indie band of the moment, and have the potential to overtake their countryman's achievements easily. So there you go; if you only listen to one band today, for God's sake...
... experience Casual Sex and make sure you keep their number close.
Key Track: National Unity
All quotes in this review taken from The Guradian's profile of the band: