Spencer Park, 2011, CD album, 37m 25s, £7
This album contains, but does not start with, the follow up to TFATD’s initial release, Part 1, an EP consisting of a single eighteen minute track called ‘Part 1’. ‘Part 2’ is only a little over five minutes in length, but it does cram a remarkable amount of dramatic incident into that span. What this band does, to unfairly summarise them, is texture and dynamics: rhythmically they evince a measured, regular propulsiveness, that reminds me of driving, and melodically they are conventionally tonal, though inventive. But their textures are works of careful sonic craftsmanship, and the totality of their sound is so unassumingly engaging that when their arrangements swoop through steep gradients of changing density and volume, the listener is carried along like a twig on a tsunami.
This is instrumental rock, but it is not your daddy’s instrumental rock. Where are the overtly complex stop time passages? Where are the schlong-waggling stratospheric guitar solos? Where is the pointlessly shred-tastic bass solo from a player who has gone ba-dum on the root for the rest of the album? As you can tell, my first exposures to instrumental rock did not impress me much, but at some point in the nineties, some musicians began to get more interested in exploiting neglected areas of the guitar band’s potential soundworlds, laying a stylistic and creative foundation (frequently labelled ‘post-rock’) which TFATD take as a point of departure.
First a word about guitarist Matt Stevens, since his voice is the main source of sonic variety. He’s not a virtuoso: he’s an extremely fine player, but I’d know his sound anywhere. A virtuoso is a player who can play anything, precisely as its composer requires, and can act the part of any player on demand: as soon as Matt plays a single note line, his note choice, his phrasing, and his ethereally light, slow vibrato betray him. In other words, he has personality as a player. He does not, however, have the arrogance to think that his personality alone is enough to carry an LP sized album, and he makes liberal use of his strongest asset, one that has enabled him to record hours of highly listenable music with just an acoustic guitar: his imagination.
The sheer range of approaches and methods to sound production on this album is impressive: there are picked and strummed chords, using sounds that are processed to various degrees (‘The Wait’, ‘Daddies Little Helper’); there are eBowed, or otherwise finagled attack free, arrhythmic soundscapes (‘Hotel No.6’); there is distorted tremolo thrashing, as in the crescendo of ‘H.R.’, and semi-random atonal insanity in ‘Landcrab’ that reminds me of Gregg Ginn (of Black Flag). While Stevens messes about, Kev Feazey (bass) and Stuart Marshall (drums) steer a path that is necessarily exact and rectilinear, but not without its own moments of frothing intensity, as in the noise-rock riot that is ‘Landcrab’. Here Marshall eschews fills and rolls in favour of clattering trills and flams that lift his beat into jackhammer territory, while Feazey uses the kind of clanking, overdriven sound that used to require a Rickenbacker in the days before digital processing. Contrast this with the incredible subtlety of Marshall’s involvement in ‘Hotel No.6’ (and Feazey’s absence).
The way I’m going on, you’d think this was an electric Matt Stevens album, and that Feazey and Marshall were his sidemen. In fact, the album sounds very much like a band album: the rhythm section is more than a supporting character. This is mature, multi-faceted music, and there is a lot more to it than a succession of textures and dynamic levels. Compositionally, that regular, rectilinear bass and drums sound structures these pieces overtly, like the external girders and service ducts of High-tech architecture. They almost seem to say: ‘here’s the music. That Matt Stevens is going to decorate it.’
These two supremely solid and locked-in players do not play fills: I don’t think I can recall a single outbreak of engine room lyricism anywhere on the whole album. I can’t speak from personal experience of the drums, but unless you are a bass player you have no clue how difficult that is for Kev Feazey! What they do is deeply expressive, nevertheless, in the way that they work with rhythmic stress patterns: they do this in a way to develop forward motion, certainly (and this album is hugely kinetic), but also to build tension, utilising the subtlest of syncopations and note length variations to establish expectations and atmospheric directions. They provide an object lesson in how to put meaningful content into simple, functional musical structures, without resorting to technical showmanship.
On two tracks the three core members of TFATD are joined by saxophonist Terry Edwards, who has played for Lydia Lunch and Nick Cave, among other notables, and who seems to be a fellow traveller, aesthetically. On the predominantly gentle ‘Daddies Little Helper’ he focusses on manipulating his tone, and on making simple, pleasing note choices. He also picks up very effectively on the angularity of the rhythm section, and trades funny noises with Stevens in the final section, giving the album its sole moment of recognisable humour (other than its title). On ‘Andy Fox’ he builds slowly, with the track, until he is honking, squawking, frantically trilling and generally going mental, until he seemingly runs out of breath, and the tune expends itself in a gentle wash of harmonic colour, which fades away, and with it the album.
This album sounds very much a part of the same creative project as their first release, from January 2010. It has a similarly dramatic, cinematic quality, and although it is broken into short tracks, it has that same epic sense of journey. For a relatively avant-garde, creatively uncompromising piece of work, If It Carries On Like This We Are Moving To Morecambe is a strikingly entertaining listen. Its emotional tenor is not of the jolliest, with a tense, ominous and melancholy atmosphere, relieved by moments of cathartic, angry thrashing, but there is such a strong sense of narrative that the effect is not harrowing, so much as moving. I hope this band receives some recognition, because this kind of intelligent, soulful, undiluted creativity deserves exposure, and could teach a few vocal guitar bands a thing or two about arranging.