WANT IT/NEED IT
Glasgow trio display a punk/glam energy and force; their sound is pure, if their themes don't always subscribe to linear forms of causality.
WANT IT/NEED IT
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SCOTLAND is a country that is not willing to declare independence...
from the rest of the U.K., and especially London. I have talked a lot of the north, and will continue to do so, for some time to come- with regards to music. It seems that there is a stratigraphical line of quality, that runs like Hadrian's Wall, between London and the north. I'm not sure what is causing this; possibly freedom to roam, and no constraints or else there is a little more diversity in certain parts. Whatever the explanation for the phenomenon is, one thing is for sure: the most interesting moves are being made, the further north you travel. It is Scotland that has provided the most diverse new music- in my mind- over the past few months. Historically, the country has perhaps not been as vociferous as England, when pertaining to the best and most fervent music, but headway is being made. Scotland has always had a close link with the rest of the U.K., in spite of any political sabre-rattling and yearnings for emancipation. I have always been amazed at how the musical landscape changes, in direct relation with the locality. I would have imagined that away from the busiest cities, there would be greatest homogenisation and narrowness; but it seems that London has suffered a stagnation. If the right-wing musical rags, and the left-wing broadsheets are to be believed, they alternately speak of a resurgence in originality and hot new things to watch, or belie a lack of focus and individuality. Both are wrong, when it boils down to it. There is originality, if you know where to find it. The issue with the biggest cities- particularly London and Manchester, is that there are so many acts and bands plying their trade and vying for ear space, that a lot of their sounds and uniqueness blend into one another, and gets muddled in a massive sea. On the other side of things, I have heard a lot of new acts, where the music and lyrics have been potent and potential-filled, yet the singer has strayed so close to an existing artist (past or present), that one could not be swayed in the belief, that a cover's band are playing. The huge cities are always subjected to the mainstream artists. The beige and nauseated sector containing your Sheerans, Little Mix, Barlows, androgynous indie bands, hopeless girl and boy bands; and raft of heart-on-sleeve, dull-as-crap solo singers, is responsible for the inculpation. When there is a diffuse and uneducated media scrutiny and lack of quality control; hordes of horrible acts are allowed to foster and burgeon. Consequently, the neighbouring new acts, are unwittingly attuned to replicate- in some degree- the associative sounds. Away from the disingenuous rapture, there is a comparative inertia, that means bands have space to grow free-range; and not be confined to predefined cages; forced to play the role of 'battery hen musician'.
I was somewhat perturbed by a recent summation given about Baby Strange, by The Guardian. I have followed closely their 'New band of the day' segment for many months, and have found them to be a reliable- if somewhat overly-critical- barometer, when searching out new music. They attested that the band's music swings between "drones and dirges", and in their banner headline, stated that (the band) were: "Like The Clash, only minus the anger and energy". I have scolded The Guardian before for phoning in their reviews somewhat; compelled, baffingly, to summarise an entire album's worth of material into six or seven lines. I am assuming their longest-serving reviewers comfortably take home a healthy five-figure pay-cheque, and are hardly swamped, when it comes to workload. I do my reviews for free, and feel it is insane to be so casual and under-valuing when critiquing an album, or song. If it sucks, say so. But say so with constructive criticism; don't just write something off. Similarly, where The Guardian have introduced a daily 'New band..' employee; they have built them up, in some reverent tones; only to have a bitter lash in their tongue; chopping them down and undermining them in a few words. I can nary see the point of putting the spotlight on a group, whom you wish the public to become aware of, only to offer sarcasm, feint praise and a myriad of Oxbridge tautology and thinly-veiled condescension. In the case of Paul Lester, whom was tasked with distilling Baby Strange's essence into a digestible pill-form; he has somewhat missed the point. I have a more mechanically-reliable focus and authority; so I shall give the band their long-over-dues. I am a huge T-Rex fan, so spotted the connection with their 1972 song, Baby Strange. Their sound is a combination of dark and moody punk edge, combined with a natural ability to funnel out any tribute-paying, and leave an original and fresh sound that is capable of uniting large clans of music lovers. They have swagger and class; a sharp songwriting talent, as well as a knowing knowledge of great music past: which they manage to infuse into their palette, and paint their canvas with some primary colours, as well as daring shades. In essence, they're a Pop Art wonder: sharp and daring, yet enlivening and sexy (quite), underneath it all. In a middle-class broadsheet Kobyashi Maru scenario, every new band has an autosomal dominant doom; if you know your music, and appreciate what is being offered by a band, it is a lot of easier to be appreciative. Johnny, Connaire, and Aidan are our endeavouring three-piece, dapper-dressed, and have a keen-edged and mannered smolder that the likes of James Dean and Steve McQueen would envy. Their music is intense and exhilarating, and want you leaving (a lot) more...
I have chosen WANT IT/NEED IT for a number of reasons. It is a track that just creaks over the two minute mark; yet covers so much ground, and takes so much wind from your sails, that it seems simultaneously impressive and teasing. The opening bars go some way to backing up my hypothesis. There is a background of mechanical mystery and druid darkness. It is joined by a pulsing drum pattern, which merges with a striking electric guitar buzz, that comes and goes sporadically; infusing the music with some urgency and imminent danger. In the formative stages, the track has more in common with desert/stoner rock bands such as Kyuss, Queens of the Stone Age; and a sound and vigour that is more often associated with Californian acts. I can detect some punk-ier overtones, as well as flavours of hard rock and 'rebel rock' bands of today. I was hard pressed to place Baby Strange in a pod with other bands; their initial strums and fuzz displays a sense of adventure, but they also have relatable and tangible tones, that will bind uninitiated and intuitive alike. The unpredictable explosion that follows the (comparative) calm, is a riotous bluster. It has punk clothing, in the sense that it is a Buzzcocks-cum-Sex Pistols slam and smash. There is a similar jostle and unpredictable electricity being ushered, but it is a more modern and depoliticised enunciation. I was reminded, initially, of Blur's Think Tank wonder We've Got A File on You. There are hints of that here, as well as a lo-fi and raw edge to it. There is no studio sheen or gloss; it is as though the song is being performed in the streets: mandated to the people gathered around. The words, however, suffer no ill health: everything is clear enough to be recognised, but urgent enough to catch you unaware. The refrain of "It's alright/It's okay" is offered up, as the band create a spinning and gravitational twirl around the words. The musical composition is not a straight-forward noise; it intelligently elicits a melody, but changes course at certain stages to support the vocals, as well as alter the mood, so that the excitement and intrigue is kept up. Even in a 121 second track, the band take time to deviate and take some side-steps. The mood is calmed, briefly, before the 1:00 mark, as a new vocal passage comes into play. This time, it is has less brute force, and more pugnacity and swing: "I don't want it/But I need it" is the repeated chorus, which heralds the way for a full-bodied band choir. There is a little bit of The Libertine's early spirit in the way the band youthfully yell, with an audible smile. I admire the number of different shifts, that the song contains. By 1:42, we have graduated from a Fun House-era The Stooges. There is dirt, spit and U.S. bite and bile beneath the skin. From there, with perhaps a segway of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club-esque potency; there unfurls, a new and immediate charm. Somewhere pitched between '70s GBGB underground punk, and eponymous album The White Stripes. I could detect the same abandon and cunning inventiveness in the guitars, as that of Jack White. It is the type of lick and shred he would employ, circa-2001/2. The drum bounces and crackles as it does on Let's Shake Hands/Hypnotize; and it is underpinned, and carried steadily by a tight bass line, that the likes of Muse would be proud. This Detroit-via-Glasgow guitar, drum and bass camaraderie is carried through to the end; the chorus is unleashed once more, to add a last drop of flammable oil to the fire; and we are done.
The entire experience is a refreshing change. I know from vast experience, as well as the relevant and current parable of me, as the songwriter, that it is too tempting to open up a song, and let it wander too long. There is a lack of concision and focus amongst a great deal of new bands. Many seem to be worried that a truncated running time, equates to a lack of quality (whether the associated track is a homunculus, or not). By presenting a song that is 2 minutes long, and takes detours and digressions, yet is cohesive and encapsulating, has meant Baby Strange achieve a heady high. Few contemporaries are capable of recording a track like this, so early in their career. It is the type of song that is reserved for a 3rd or 4th album: when you are absolutely sure that the public are on your side. Their is bravery and boldness, but the band should have no fear. As a free-standing track, or presented alongside their other songs, it is a triumphant effort, and Mr. Lester should take note from me. There is plenty of anger and energy, but the band do not pretend to be, or are necessarily influenced by The Clash. There are varying influences and passages within the song, but at the core, the sound is unique and a lot more than 'neo-punk' or a challenge to the current scene, or whatever other label you want to levy at the band. I have heard little evidence that other groups are willing to embrace the freedom and quality of the classic punk and rock era. There is a current trend towards- if you are a rock band- aping The Arctic Monkeys or another popular band. I hope I have done the band full justice, and that I have come a lot closer to describing who the boys are, what they play; and what effect they will have. They will be a big name for 2013 and 2014, I am sure about, and are good enough to be future festival mainstays. Although, with any new band, there are differing opinions; and there is only one way to decide for certain how good they are:
LISTEN for yourself, and arrive at your own conclusion.