Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Hidden Gem: Replica Sun Machine - The Shortwave Set (Wall of Sound)

I'm conscious I don't write about guitar music very much. Its not that I don't like it, on the contrary, there is nothing as thrilling as a fantastic new riff (Smells like teen spirit and Seven nation army being two recentish examples)to restore your faith in the mythology of rock n roll.

The problem is though that so much of it is so tired sounding - simply a rehash of what has come before. I can't be the only person that thinks the Libertines are simply an amalgam of the Clash and the Strokes or that Kings of Leon sound like a less good Lynyrd Skynyrd. The guitar bands that have stood out for me in recent years have been those that combine the classic guitar sound with other elements to create something new. MGMT or TV on the Radio's use of synth springs to mind, or Vampire Weekend's use of African highlife rhythms.

Another good example, if one that to date has had considerably less commercial success is South London's Shortwave Set. This is a band that not only combine modern and experimental sounds but also have excellent interplay between its two vocalists Andrew Pettitt and Ulrika Bjorsne. Like the critically aclaimed XX, they use female and male voices to create a musical chemistry over the space of a whole album.

The band released their debut in 2005 but it is their second album Replica Sun Machine, released in 2008 where their musical vision has come together most coherently to date. Producer of the moment, Dangermouse (The Grey Album, Gnarls Barclay, Dangerdoom etc)befriended the band and agreed to produce the record. His influence, while not immediately apparant,(there are no hip hop beats to the fore here)meant that the overall quality of production was far better than the average band's album.

The band's own songwriting (a genre they themselves refer to as Victorian funk)is a combination of pop melodies,fuzzy guitars, experimental synth noises, Walker Brothers-esque piano ballads and other sixties era psychadelia. If this sounds an odd mix then thats because it is. Having said that, the quality of the hooks means that the whole thing hangs together very nicely. Good songwriting is good songwriting and the use of effects which make the album overall more interesting, never detract from what is essentially a song-based collection.

Opening track Harmonia eases the listener in gently, slightly west coast in feel. Glitches n' Bugs meanwhile plays both vocalists off against each other and is quite lovely pop. Songs glide by in a gentle woozy haze but each lodges itself firmly in the listeners head. Replica starts with what can only be described as hippy chanting and a guitar riff reminiscent of the Who's Join Together while single (and BBC 6 staple at the time) No Social brings to mind Joe Meek or Scott Walker.

If there is a critism to make it is that perhaps we don't hear the soul of the band enough - the album is highly polished to the point that one can't hear a great deal of real emotion coming through. The nearest we get is perhaps on the final track The Downer Song, a slightly depressive tale of 'something wrong' although I'm no wiser as to what that something is. This is a minor gripe though. The quality of both songwriting and production as well as the heavy use of experimental sound make for a fantastic album. The band's third album is due to drop in the next few months and I for one will be very keen to hear it. If you like sixties style production and sound, good songs and well produced pop this record is well worth searching out.

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