Friday, April 10, 2009
The Leeds music scene is a little bit special. In the past, it's provided me with two of my favourite bands in This Et Al and ¡Forward, Russia!. The transient link between the beginning of my exploration of the Leeds music scene, and my most recent discoveries may well be mapped out in relation to the Leeds-based indie label, Dance to the Radio. This Et Al and ¡F,R!'s split vinyl marked the birth of the label and it's most recent release, Grammatics self-titled debut, marks the label's proudest moment. Such an innovative and awe-inspiring piece of work would be cherished by the least modest of labels.
Fittingly, Grammatics opens with Shadow Committe, which was their debut single, released back in 2007. James Kenosha's productional rejuvenation of the track and some of the instrumental re-workings ensure it's impression remains in tact, after 2 years. The first riff following the instrumental opening sequence, is punchy yet restrained and clearly defines the band's ability to flawlessy couple Emilia Ergin's cello with the guitars. Shadow Committee furthermore serves to showcase more of the bands vast array of qualities in the chorus when the chorus' instrumental onslaught is staggeringly over-shadowed by the impeccable falsetto of Owen Brinley.
Brinley's vocals possess such a remarkable range and soft tone that they resemble those of a choirboy. But where a meek choirboy's mere utterances would be suffocated by the accompanying noise on a track such as Rosa Flood, Brinley's power and presence can never be ignored.
Like Brinley, the rest of these Grammatics can be as tender and mellow on certain occasions, as they can intense and dramatic on others, such is the diversity of their talents. The Vague Archive plods along merrily to begin with. After a mere 30 seconds, the song soars into a chorus, charged by thriving drums and bass.
Soaring melodies during choruses will often have the listener in giddy anticipation of their occurance. Murderer is perhaps the album standout and possesses an abundance of these most powerful melodies. The amazingly effective use of electronic features see guitars banished, they would serve little purpose in this track. The montage of aching synths and touching keys and the swirling effects of the chorus provide such a scope to the song that the axe could never dream of replicating. Murderer is such an affecting and touching song that the likes of Sigúr Rós and Jeniferever would hold it as their masterpiece, had they conceived it.
Far away from this surreal territory, however, begins Broken Wing. I often tend to dread the acoustic track on an album. Sometimes they're over-indulgent and often act as an anti-climax, shame on me for expecting such heinous crimes from Grammatics. The track begins with Brinley's voice displaying a staggering resemblence to Elliott Smith. The guitar isn't all that dissimilar to the strumming of the legendary songsmith either. However, after 2 minutes, the electricity is resumed, yet the emotion of the opening couple of minutes is retained.
To listen to Grammatics from start to finish, one must devote 61 minutes of their lives'-7 minutes less if you trim off the actual silence at the albums very end, interrupted by a couple of seconds of singing at the very end. And perhaps the album is elongated in places. Is there a purpose in every isolated period of noise that's void of vocals? The opening sequences of Shadow Committee are a signal of intent in their sonic sparsity, the heavily distorted guitars in the latter half of Relentless Fours provide a much needed whig-out following the preceeding minutes of the song which opened with tender electronic keys. On the other hand, the closing 1:20 of the 5 minutes of Murderer are random noises and incomprehendible speech on a phoneline. Filler for filler's sake, when it's not really needed.
I'm not overly-enamoured by the closer, Swan Song, either. It lacks the melody, progression and cohesion that are in such abundance throughout the rest of the album.
Perhaps this album may serve as the epitomy of the Leeds music scene; vibrant, unique and laced with genius. Actually, more fittingly, it's the gem in it's crown.