Friday, December 11, 2009

Three feet high and rising


Being one of seemingly very few people in this godforsaken country who thinks Clinic are so criminally underrated that the record-buying public should be banged up for life (a kind of circular argument, that), I was always going to find my interest piqued by repeated comparisons between them and Cat Matador. In truth, though, with their de rigeur violin, the local hopefuls have more in common with those riding the recent wave of vaguely folk-influenced, fiery-eyed and epic indie from Scotland: My Latest Novel, Broken Records and The Twilight Sad.

A technical glitch which leaves them stumped for more than five minutes hardly helps their cause, while the rhythm section is too obtrusive at times, they're often somewhat disjointed and I'm not keen on Liam Martin's vocals. But that's certainly not to imply that they're not worth bothering with - on the contrary, there's enough going on to merit a confident tick in the column marked "Promising".

For The Gullivers, it's tempting just to put "See above". Certainly in terms of the flaws, the bass and drums again often force their way too far into the foreground, and while Mark Byrne may have the perfect frontman's stare (intense and permanently directed two foot above everyone's heads), sadly he doesn't possess the voice to match.

But, unlike Cat Matador, The Gullivers do at least have someone who CAN sing amongst their ranks, as keyboardist Sophie McGrath proves on 'Letters', her Bat For Lashes T-shirt giving some hint as to where their influences lie. What's impressive in a band so young is exactly what has struck critics and listeners alike as so remarkable about The XX - namely the careful and judicious restraint on volume and the beyond-their-years maturity and confidence to allow the different elements of the songs space to breathe.

Headliners We Were Promised Jetpacks, by contrast, are all about much broader, more aggressive brush-strokes within fairly familiar parameters - so their signing to FatCat (thanks largely to their association with two acts already on the roster, Frightened Rabbit and The Twilight Sad) struck me as being a bit of a curious one.

The leftfield Brighton label has at various times been home to the likes of Vashti Bunyan, Black Dice, Mum, No Age, Animal Collective, Sigur Ros and post-rock supergroup Set Fire To Flames. Perhaps, then, the hope is that the Edinburgh quartet might turn out to be their Franz Ferdinand or Arctic Monkeys - both critically and commercially successful and thereby vital in underpinning some of the label's more esoteric releases.

Fierce dynamics and punchy post-hardcore guitars prevail (even when they reveal they've been bitten by the glockenspiel bug that's doing the rounds - it really doesn't suit them) but the secret weapon in their armoury, the thing that will really set the Jetpacks apart from the pack (if you will), is undoubtedly Adam Thompson. He's a vocalist of the vein-popping variety but never resorts to screaming, instead singing his lyrics with an almighty bellow, often delivering them stood well back from the mic.

Debut single 'Quiet Little Voices' - the oldest song still in their repertoire, the one with which most of us are familiar, and one that's patently not about Thompson - is fired off second, no longer the cornerstone of the set as I imagine it was in the early days. And that's because it's been displaced by the likes of 'Conductor' and 'It's Thunder And It's Lightning', the latter a recent single and the potent opening track on the LP, These Four Walls.

It's an apt album title - there's definitely a sense of the songs seething and raging within a confined space, like controlled explosions. Often a little too controlled for my liking, to be honest - I'd value less formula and a few more frayed edges - but, like set closer 'Short Bursts', undeniably explosive nonetheless. The modest foursome may be keeping their feet on the ground but, you sense, know that given the right conditions they might well take off.

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