When I'm Around
Acronymically intriguing; Michael Davies' LAC alter-ego has a curiosity, which is surpassed only by that of his incarcerating, ignoble punk strut.
When I'm Around is available at:
The E.P. Borstal Boy is available at:
THE task for the male solo artist, is one that has Herculean undertones.
For the past decade or fifteen years, there has been a little bit of a struggle when searching for stunning solo male acts, or strong frontmen, that you could pin your hopes to. Since the mid-late '90s, the job of presenting yourself as truly original and diverse has become a lot harder. In the sense that so much music has already been sung: so many styles; genres; sensations and anthems have been recorded; by each passing year, the nature of originality and potency becomes difficult to define as well as supersede. Talent shows do not help: in essence they are the antithesis of originality; with hopeless fame-chasing wannabes being moulded to sound like certain existing artists. Outside of that, there is a lot of solo movement. Some can be seen as quite pleasing; shades and tones within a voice or set of lyrics that suggest something promising, but by-and-large, how many artists can we say that about today? Whilst female solo artists such as Laura Marling are producing great strides and albums, that are filled with maturity, striking themes and an abiding air of quality and conviction; aside from her, there are not many whom promising the same. For the men, there seems to be no natural leader, setting the bar and showing how it should be done. It is true that some are rising up now, and are capable of yielding crops years down the line; in the here and now, there is a greater issue: no one in modern music today; in the male solo artist division, is capable of taking your breath away. I may be missing someone, but having my ear practically cemented to the ground, I know what is out there; and I am aware of Bon Iver, Matt Corby, Jake Bugg and a myriad of differing talent; but I still arrive at the same conclusion: there is no one that truly inspires me in every aspect. If the lyrics are tremendous; the voice comes off as lacklustre or unspectacular. If an artist has a great voice, the words are too narrow-minded, and they are there is little true range to their palette and subjects. It is frustrating, and in all honesty, I am not sure who or how the pandemic is going to be cured- in the female genre as well. Recently I have featured some great solo artists that I hope will make their way into public consciousness; yet fear that due to the growing market, and the hardships of trying to promote your sound, it may not be fully realised, or they may have to downscale their ambitions. Still, eyes are trained towards the band market, as a sense of strength in numbers dictates the public consciousness. This year has seen legendary and established bands making biggest waves, and there seems to be a trend emerging: diverse and innovative bands with a strong frontman/woman tend to draw in the biggest bucks. I have been downhearted at the amount of new acts, where the sound, singer and lyrics are awash with cliché, sloppy iambic pentameter; vague resulting in esoteric appeal and an inherent (un)planned obsolescence. For success, immediate impressions and lasting success- aside from terrific and encapsulating song writing- you have to have a captivating and worthy (literal) voice; a sound that is stunning and meritocratic; tied and binding by a collective whole, that is inspiring and capable of historic and of-the-moment prosperity and fascination. U.S. acts such as The National, Queens of the Stone Age- as much as I have mentioned them recently- have these facets, as do the other bands whom are currently making huge impressions in 2013. Uniqueness and differentiated sounds are as vital as anything too; and were a band to crack this, then their future is almost safe- regardless of prevailing winds and economic outcomes.
On paper, Michael Davies, A.K.A. LAC may seem somewhat the anti-hero. In a recent profile writing by Paul Lester of The Guardian, there seemed to be as much back-handed praise as there did derisive snickering and sarcasm. The Guardian is a publication I have always had an issue with. As useful as they are for introducing new talent to my eyes, when I read their profiles and articles about said artists, the majority of the time there seems to be a modicum of insincerity and Trojan Horse venom behind their intentions. Paul Lester is the man responsible for my umbrage and discourse. A middle-aged- and one can only assumed- failed musician, he spends his professional days, seemingly searching for new bands and acts; so he can simply employ his own twisted brand of subterfuge. Lester proclaimed that LAC is unlikely to "Be the daddy", summating the appeal of LAC: you'll like it only if "you like shouty bloke punk". Aside from Lester being a credulous and musical illiterate buffoon, there is a great malaise at play at the paper. Their reviewers are subject to more derision and negativity that they put in their reviews; usually a few lines long and going to no lengths to give an overall opinion or anything bordering on insightful. Factor aside my reticence and hang-ups with The Guardian, my abiding point is, that they have missed the point: LAC is not a band-fronted by a man- whom should be passed over; cast aside, and dispelled- as Lester has done so reverently and confidently. I shall crib from that aforementioned article, as the facts about Davies' past are the only factual aspects; so let me tell you about him. Davies spent some time in a young offenders' institute at aged 15; a cellmate hanged himself, and it was the Spartan resilience, augmented by painful experiences that inspired Davies to go into music. Having gown up in an area of south-east England, that, in Davies' own words: "depressing". The music of LAC is intended not to scare or even inspire a raft of musical acolytes and tributes; more represent the reality and harshness of certain sectors of society, and the problems and hostility that is an ever-present threat. In the way that Plan B and a great deal of Grime artists- as well as rap artists- present the streets and city life in all of its mangled and dystopian glory: like The Divine Comedy-cum-Irvine Welsh. The three-track E.P. that has been created by LAC, whom are: band leader and vocal laureate Michael Davies; backing vocalist and bass boy Damion Sheppard; and pots and pans man Andrew Mardle. Situated between Oxford and London, and drawing in collective experiences and day-to-day life, the E.P. Borstal Boy is deeper and more layered than its title would have you think. Being a man whom is at the mercy of, and reliant on, the (dreaded) Jobcentre: in all of its hell, horror and vileness; themes and songs speak to me as literally as they do figuratively. It is not an E.P. reserved for punk fanatics; nor working-class bands such as myself. If you negate Paul Lester's repressed sneering and insincerity, and listen hard, the music works on so many base foundations: it has huge energy and excitement; it is modern and relevant, as well as being great music. Whilst LAC may be near Google-proof- and locating all of the social media pages is a task in itself- when you listen to the music; preconceptions and judgementalness (sic.) are gunned down, stomped over, and buried- see what I did there?
When I'm Around is- to my ears- the standout from the trio of tracks off of the Borstal Boy E.P.: the title track and Dead Generation make up the other two. If certain stuffy newspapers compare the songs to being interlopers and encroaches: deflecting any hint of praise, and preferring cynicism; then take it from one whom knows music better and more intimately: it will strike chords. In fact the initial stages of the intro. will project images of The Libertines' Up The Bracket: a sort of Time for Heroes-cum-Begging begins its gestation. At once the mood has touches of the early-'00s punk attitude that the boys in the band popularised; as well as flavour notes from mid-career The Clash. That pummelling, almost militaristic percussion assault; and the way it mixes- and spars with- a familiar electric strum brings to mind the modern and iconic punk pioneers, and gives the track authority and ambition in the early stages- with just the right amount of remembrance. As the intro. opens up and stretches its legs, so too do the guitar and bass: sprawling and striking in a move that is simultaneously self-actualising and literal. You get the impression a prison riot or street brawl is being sound tracked; awash as the song is, in vibrant and spiky riffs. If you were to compare the sound to another band- and I won't do liberally to avoid cheapening the band- then there are some early hints at an influence of early-career The Jam; mingling alongside that Libs. vibe. That coalescence of '70s punk and modern-day youthful energy marries well- promising no imminent divorce or disagreement. The energy is too not forbidding or menacing thus far: it is light enough to draw in indie and rock fans, yet has an edge and perseverance that suggests spittoons will soon be needed. There are also some undertones of The Who to be found. One can imagine that a great deal of the band's records, as well as other '60s and '70s legends, are to be found in the homes of Davies, as well as his band mates. A lot of turf has been covered and won by LAC within the brief intro., and when the vocal arrives, you are already on board with their sound and ambitions. Tales of "me and a mate called Pete", give you an impression as to the narrative and direction the lyrics will take; and the boys that are running around "smoking cigarettes", paints a tableaux of lads-on-their-uppers; swaggering around town and- whilst offering no hostility (early on)- classic and reliable themes are presented. In the same way as The Libertines infused their albums with stories of f*****-up parties, semblances of abnormality and Death on the Stairs; LAC continue the (neo-)punk theme; and like Messrs' Doherty and Barat, a tangible and explicable sense of fun is present. The song's strong efficacy gets you listening sharply, and following our protagonist's plight. Our hero talks about the changing times; his voice dripping with intention and clout- suggesting parts Lydon, parts Strummer. The guitars rumble and spring as the percussion and bass thrash, solidify and stomp.
As our hero is "Putting myself on the map", the pace and energy of that riff, as well as the percussive and bass augmentation keeps the song intent and relentless. Yes, Mr. Lester, portions of the song may have a punk shoutiness; with Davies and Sheppard duel and swagger their vocals together, summoning a rabble that is not supplementary or a nuisance: instead it is elicited to bolster and emphasise the themes of the track. Whether there is any regretful missive at its core, our protagonist never shows it; as all that is happening- good or bad- is inevitable "When I'm around". As much as the song is designed to display autobiography as well as honest (as well as home) truths; it is also meant to project a fun and lads-about-time swing; it is infectious in its own way. If you try and compare LAC to The Clash, Sex Pistols or The Jam; they may come up short: the boys are not trying to emulate them. They fit very much in a post-Libertines mould, and take elements and weapons from their war chest, and add in some explosives and chemicals that are very much their own, and born out of first-hand experience- which creates the potent bang of the track. The boys yell and 'nah nah nah' boisterously; instruments smashing and marching, and concoct a boyish and impish chorus; before the track comes to its end.
LAC may not win over too many hardened critics like Lester, not galvanise the compartmentalised groups of music fans whom tend to 'like what they like'. For me, whom has never been a fan of '70s and '80s punk, and preferred more modern stabs at the genre, it is a song and sound that appeals to me. The key themes include modern relevance, realities of street life as well as modern life, rather than subjects more cerebral. In the way that The Libertines combined cigarette-strewn scenes of inhospitable and unsavoury climbs, LAC and Davies anoints When I'm Around with some comparable weight. It may take a few more E.P.s or albums before our hero matches the dizzying heights of Carl and Pete (and co.); yet Borstal Boy is an E.P. that promises intention and future-potential. The tracks are crammed with menace as well as fun; the riffs and compositions are always focused yet have a slightly drunken sway to them. Above all the band are tight and focused. Percussion is powerful and masculine; the guitars and bass display some familiar movements, as well as originality and potency, and the vocals from Davies are always authoritative and meaningful; contained youthful edges of a young Weller, yet different enough that you wouldn't even notice it. In a 2013 landscape where punk is hardly a common theme or thread, LAC fill a niche and market that is crying out for contenders. Too much indie and generic rock is present. Some of the bands, and especially new bands show signs of potential and star appeal- The Family Rain come to mind; and blues rock is on the up as well. In the same way that swing and doo-wop is being updated and revitalised; sounds of the southern states of the U.S. are being experimented with; it seems prescient and vital that an (almost-forgotten) core has been neglected. Punk was a genre that has influenced most bands today in some form, and there is a need for a more direct approach, when reappraising and reintroducing the genre. Bands infuse flecks of punk here and there but never delve too deep into sound. LAC are going to busy working on future songs, and are along the right lines now. Between the three boys, and Davies especially, there is a wealth of colourful- and often painful- history and backstory, that gives the songs their unique edge. They have cemented a sound and intention, and just need to expand on this and produce a full-length release. I hope the likes of The Guardian will not chase away potential buyers; as it seems that the profile piece they completed does injustice to the group. Yes, there are shouty and chaotic edges; beer-stained highs and cigarette-puffing middles; yet no lows. It is music that sets out and achieves what it wants to do: recreate punk's mandates and appeal to a modern crowd. It does pretend to be anyone it is not. It will be interesting what moves LAC make next. Hopefully many new songs will be forthcoming and more people will get on board. Even if you are unfamiliar with or not hugely in love with punk in general, you will find much to recommend. In a year where there is precious little diversity or force...
OUR endeavouring trio are out on their own.