Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Mint Imperial


"Is it still thundering and lightninging out there?", Alex Dingley asks those of us who've arrived at Clwb early in search of shelter and sanctuary. There is no such grand elemental drama contained within his short, idiosyncratic songs - though 'In The End', a match lit in the dark offering succour and solace to the downtrodden and downhearted, resonates on a more profound level than the others.

Alternating between guitar and keyboard, Dingley forgets the name of one song ('Not Alone In The Dark'), introduces another as being "about a bathroom visit from a ghost at 2am" ('She Just Came By To Say Hello') and explains that the scenario in 'If I Asked You To Dance' takes him back to the indie disco upstairs in the late, lamented Dempseys, a mere stone's throw away.

Most recent album Beat The Babble was recorded with his friend Cate Le Bon and her collaborator Tim Presley in California and only received a belated UK release last year - credit to the Libertino imprint for amplifying a voice that is unique, both literally and metaphorically.

"Unique" is also the word - or one word, at least - to describe local mavericks Gindrinker, who never perform so much as confront. The duo kick off with alleged "pop hit" 'God Of Darts' and follow up with 'Y Chromosome', a song that DC Gates declares is "about men and how I hate them".

The frontman's personal shitlist is extensive, encompassing everything from Katie Hopkins to red trousers, Gourmet Burger Kitchen and the cooking lager on their rider. Placing a can of the offending beverage on the floor on our side of the monitors, he says: "If that's still there at the end, you have impeccable taste."

Still, when life gives Gindrinker lemons, they manage to make a potent lemonade punch - perhaps best illustrated by 'Transit', a hellish trek up the M6 to Barrow in the back of a van narrated by a dishevelled Odysseus who's accidentally sat on his crisps and is torn between playing Whitehouse or Kenny Loggins on the stereo.

Headliners Imperial Wax have their own ode to a memorable journey, 'Rammy Taxi Illuminati', a thrilling ten-minute-long beast about a conspiracy-theory-spouting cabbie that hits the road at turbocharged pace before grinding down the gears and settling into a sludgy groove. It's the centrepiece of their debut LP Gastwerk Saboteurs, recently released on US label Saustex Records on the recommendation of their pal Jeff Pinkus of Butthole Surfers and Melvins, and the high point of a rambunctious set.

Imperial Wax may be a new project, but the foursome are far from wet-behind-the-ears novices. Guitarist/vocalist Sam Curran is the veteran of numerous Leeds garage punk bands (imagine Brian Cox if he joined Oh Sees), while guitarist Pete Greenway, bassist Dave Spurr and drummer Keiron Melling were the tight, brutal backbone of The Fall for the last ten years of Mark E Smith's life, accustomed to ignoring the mercurial frontman's attempts at sabotage and hammering away at their instruments regardless.

Perhaps surprisingly, it's Curran's influence that can be heard most clearly on Gastwerk Saboteurs, a record that reminds me of The Icarus Line's underrated 2004 masterpiece Penance Soiree in the way that it captures and celebrates the unrulier, noisier elements of US rock in all its various hues. Album opener 'The Art Of Projection' and 'Barely Getting By', a mantra made for screaming, are among the best songs that 2019 has had to offer so far, while 'Plant The Seed' barrels along with Crampsian shake, rattle and roll.

Curran is at the heart of the chaos, pushing plugs of paper into his ears and adjusting his errant mic stand with his mouth before swiping it to the floor in frustration with the neck of his guitar, but he takes a step back for the two Fall covers that close the evening. Greenway performs vocal duties for 'Cowboy George', while 'Auto Chip 2014-2016' features a punter making unintelligible noises into the mic, foot on the monitor, refusing to relinquish his spot in the limelight. Somewhere, Smith is raising a glass and smiling.

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

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