Wednesday, 30 January 2013

This Town Needs Guns - 13.0.0.0.0

 

Surprise, surprise...the World did not end late December of last year; the World continued to be slowly bled dry of its resources (rather than been put out of its misery via an asteroid or some man-made black-hole), stock-markets continued to tumble, and mankind was denied the end many would argue would be more beneficial than sacrificial. So we're pretty much into the no-man's land of Mayan time-stamping and while that lot may have lost one of the World's oldest and longest-running bets, their calendar did have some relevance around the whole 'end of one age, beginning of a new' context. For Oxford-based math-rock outfit, This Town Needs Guns - or TTNG as they are recognized by some - the end of such time had already come some twelve months before December 21st. Not only had one of their guitarists departed to pursue a design-orientated career of creativity, but so too had their lead vocalist. With an album like Animals, the band's four-year old debut, lead-singer Stuart Smith's emotional in-take of both alternative and even emo-centred tones gave the band's somewhat acoustic and pop rock sound an even grander emotional tint. Now though, with the drastic switch on vocals by new lead-man Henry Tremain, and the band fully converted to a three-piece, there's even more relevance on the album's somewhat unconventional title 13.0.0.0.0, a reference of course to the Mayan calendar but, coincidentally, has more a relation now to the band and the new age they've now entered.

Cat Fantastic starts the album in as much the same way their debut brought us into the sound of [what was] the band fie years previous. Despite the change, Tremain's tone holds as much a held-on approach to the flicker of guitar strings and clustered percussion. As a whole, the song is a deserved welcome back for TTNG, and it's a fond reminder as to how well the band manage to texture the guitar playing into this intricate melodic structure. Even when the track by the latter parts ushers in more of a looped and climatic moment, there's very little lost in how Tremain still holds the piece together. Havoc In The Forum, likewise, continues that resurgent nostalgia for reminiscence of the band's debut. Guitar playing is more drastic and choppy however, but the intricacy in how tone and layering are used creates an interesting dynamic with the song's conventionally orchestrated progression. True, the track doesn't hold as much integrity or means for reaction from the listener's viewpoint, but the band's careful and precision use of notation in its rhythm creates some dashing but overly nice string textures.

Admittedly, TTNG aren't a band who seek for instrumental variation, nor do they idolly switch back and forth with this change for the sake of alluding to some sense of variety. Left Aligned remains consistent in how guitars and drums interlink and play alongside one another, almost equal in how postured and positioned they are in the production...and this somewhat makes the track the less appealing than its previous counterparts. Tremain's vocal deliverance too feels slightly ambiguous in its reasoning and direction - losing a lot of the previous connectivity that was created so well on the opening parts of the album. But even if the band don't change their sound via instruments, they can sure conjure more emphatically challenging and dynamic sounds if it does remain the same. The track In The Branches Of Yggdrasil opens up with drums that are played a lot more rasher and rougher than what we've used to, all the while this fizzing white noise regurgitates in passes throughout the track - guitars, in both bass and electric alike, create an unprecedented openness and eery spaciousness to the music. And despite its two minute length, the way it builds somewhat secretly and without identifiable reason gives the song's climatic rashness of noise and wailing guitar feedback a more effective and strung appeal on the listener.

When the band, however, revere an opposing direction in change - via the more stripped-back humane approach to music - as is the case with the track 2 Birds, 1 Stone And An Empty Approach, we get a better opportunity to see how new vocalist Tremain can truly stand up to the challenge of projecting the same amount of emotion and intensity the music here has often been so fundamental in presenting. The track itself starts off fairly stripped back and almost unwilling to project, as if possibly afraid by the way the strumming clearly comes through in sound and how entangled the playing of strings comes across. And yet, this is something that works to great strengths in regards to the track's eventual ushering of melody that eventually opens itself out, but still comes across in this hesitant but confident-enough-to-be-heard manner. And it's that relating human-like attitude that gives the music more of a personality and, as stated, relation to potentially that brief corner of listeners who might or might not share the same characteristics. Indeed, what I like about what the band have managed not to lose - in spite of the huge gap in time between records and the drastic line-up change - is any and all of their previous play on such human-like positions and scenarios.

Triptych, which follows Nice Riff, Clichard's off-shot mix of tropical shore guitar swatches and [a surprising edition of] erratic drum-and-bass-like synthesizer beats, returns us once again to that familiar playing field where the glide of guitar strings is given equal priority to the rash tumbling of percussion that thumps and clashes, in such an arrhythmic but effective manner. The track isn't entirely a black-sheep in its [just over three minute] length, but there's a sense of less involvement and adventure in the band's playing this time, because of it. It's a case where the first half feels predominantly strong and the latter half is left merely as something to coincide and balance out, rather than continue on and strengthen the music. Likewise, the track A Different Kind Of Tall feels somewhat more aggressive and forward than need be, without giving as much a reason for its extroverted attitude. And despite the moments of calmer instrumentation and allure of bass guitar and steady drum hits, I feel there's less a development and concreted stature to how the music as a whole gels together. Not that it's all over the place, but it's definitely one of the less completive or definite listens on this album. But even if the rowdier increase in guitar playing and absorbent position the vocals now find themselves within, remain, the track +3 Awesomeness Repels Water (I'll leave you to decipher that) the beginning parts of elicit guitar playing - and how they come across more imperial or commanding than what they've been known to be - creates more of an effective and rougher introductory for the music, as a whole, to somewhat break away from and reveal itself. A contradictory purpose, but the relation between the two differences in guitar playing does stand up in the long-run as a lot more appealing and workable, especially around Tremain's vocals which project in a lot more absorbed manner, into the instrumentation, and perhaps become shrouded by it without coming across as obscured or hindered.

I guess with a band like TTNG, you can take tracks like this that aim for a fine balance between lavish experimentation and uncharted discovery, to be one of creditable validity. Given how the band (of a previous stature I will repeat) tended for more of a lavish approach to what was still a math-rock identified sound - influences more in line with the acoustic flavoring of alternate and punk rock - it never marked itself a stand-alone obviousness as to whether variation in their musical output would do the band justice. Fortunately, at least at this present moment in time, things are looking fairly positive and rewarding. True, I will return to their debut and find myself thoroughly enjoying a lot more how interlinked and focused their music was there - and I'm not just referencing the fact that each of those tracks was named after an animal - but on 13.0.0.0.0, This Town Needs Guns/TTNG show enough credential and attitude, and give an even greater sense of enjoyment, to suggest not only that they've lost none of their previous appeal, but too can take their sound in differing directions without experiencing any of that same loss, in effect. Just do me a favor guys, please don't leave it another four years before returning to the studio, OK?
~Jordan

7.7

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