Sunday, September 16, 2018

Back of the net


Indie rock, some would have you believe, is dead. It isn't. It isn't even sleeping. It's in rude good health - and, as a recent New York Times article ventured, it's largely female artists who are keeping the flame alive.

Unlike all of those featured in that piece, Brooke Bentham isn't American, hailing instead from South Shields via London, but she could hold her own in the company of any of her transatlantic cousins. When Loud And Quiet branded her "the Angel (Olsen) of the North", it might have seemed to the uninitiated a cruel and facile comparison, burdening her with unnecessary pressure and arming audiences with unrealistic expectations. But within two minutes tonight she's exceeded them, her languid guitar style and incredible voice - reverbed, timeless, world-weary, beyond her years - holding the entire room rapt.

And the songs are sensational, compelling us to cling to every note and word. Breakthrough track 'Losing, Baby', even without piano and skipping beats, is wonderful, and yet is eclipsed by both 'Perform For You' and 'Heavy And Ephemeral'. New single 'Out Of My Mind' - recorded with Bill Ryder-Jones, the man who made The Coral interesting - sees Bentham temporarily dispensing with the folk in favour of guitar fuzz to great effect, and indeed might be even better with her backing band behind her.

It feels wrong to say this, given that they arranged for my review ticket, but Bentham's PR team would be well advised to start seeking out alternative employment. It's not that they're doing a bad job, it's just that very soon she won't need anyone to tell people how good she is.

Together with Mitski and kindred spirit Snail Mail, Soccer Mommy aka Sophie Allison is a cornerstone of the New York Times article's case. The Nashville native draws on Best Coast in imbuing the indie rock idiom with the spirit of breezy pop while retaining a mellow, melancholic reflectiveness.

She kicks off with a pair of older tracks, 'Henry' and 'Try', before concentrating largely on material from debut LP proper Clean. The teen/twentysomething melodrama of 'Cool' and 'Last Girl' makes them seem tailor-made for inclusion on the soundtrack for an indie flick made by someone who grew up on a diet of 80s teen movies. While the latter gives voice to feelings of insecurity and inadequacy within a relationship, 'Your Dog' is the polar opposite, a forthright riposte to the Stooges classic in which Allison refuses to be controlled and mistreated.

The highlight comes when the rather reticent singer is left alone to perform her sumptuous cover of Bruce Springsteen's 'I'm On Fire', which for my money trumps the original. Her bandmates - who look like a bunch of stoned arts students dragged out of a college dorm and onto the stage - return for 'Scorpio Rising', finally finding themselves left off the leash, though only temporarily at the track's climax.

Allison comes back for a solo single-song encore and then they're all gone. It feels as though it's all over too quickly - but then they've probably left a pizza burning in the oven, and those episodes of Rick And Morty won't watch themselves.

(An edited version of this review originally appeared on the Buzz website.)

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