“The past, like the future, is indefinite and exists only as a spectrum of possibilities.”
We’re talking retrophilia today, or to lift a definition straight from the internet – “The attraction to and preference for that which is from or characteristic of the past.”
It’s a trend which increasingly dominates not just music but culture as a whole. Look at fashion, it’s probably the most obviously backward glancing industry around, it’s a never ending cycle of trends. The 70’s are back, the 80’s are back, the 90’s are back, the 40s’ are back, every era is back – and nothing remains that is today, that is modern. Modern fashion is whatever retro fashion is in at the time, and that’s just accepted.
Music’s different though – you’ve got to be pushing boundaries and, to quote Chris Martin, “re-inventing the wheel.” Which is quite odd really, we’re happy to look like we were alive 100 years ago, but our ears always need something new? They always need to be challenged, to be pushed. To be interesting it’s got to be new, to be relevant it’s got to be unique. Which is clearly nonsense right? Well partly, if every band were just The Beatles clones, or singer-songwriters doing Bob Dylan impressions (see most open mic nights for examples!) then it wouldn’t be much fun, but neither does all music need to be cutting edge and entirely devoid of influences.
The key to making anything exciting is not to make something entirely new, but to make something that’s entirely your own! To take an old musical style and infuse it with your own spin, your own ideas, your own world view. It’s why you can still sing country songs and not just be Gram Parsons, you can sing a punk song and not be the Sex Pistols, you can write a grunge song and it won’t be Nirvana! The world would be a dull place if everything was routed in the past, but it would be pretty dull if we just forgot about it all together as well.
MENACE BEACH – RATWORLD
Listening to Ratworld, the debut album from Leeds’ Menance Beach it’s pretty easy to have a very good go at guessing how old they are. There’s something decidedly early 30’s about the influences and sounds on show here. They sound an awful lot like your ever so slightly older brother’s record collection distilled into an album. So there’s hints of the back-end of grunge, a smidgeon of shoe-gaze, the more interesting bits of Brit-Pop when Blur ditched the comedy videos of The Great Escape for the low-end, grubby very American guitar lines of their self titled offering. There’s the scuzz of Sonic Youth, the hazy joys of My Bloody Valentine, hints of The Smashing Pumpkins, even a touch of Elastica in places.
Menace Beach revolved around the twin titans of Ryan Needham and the superbly named Liza Violet. If Ryan’s vocal sounds oddly familiar you may well remember mid-noughties also rans Komakino, life in the second chance saloon seems to suit him though! Whilst in his Komakino days he was a slightly immature song-writer, here he’s flourishing, the songs which were once exciting but unsophisticated are now delightfully fully formed, and in the stunningly clear harmonising of Liza he might just have found a perfect foil for his raspy, distorted vocal stylings.
The album also sounds absolutely fantastic! Produced by the production man of the moment, MJ from Hookworms, it’s another example of his ability to coax the perfect tone out of an instrument, the organs in particular are stunning! They go from heavily distorted fairground style blasts to gently layered hazy backgrounds. The guitars too seem to be so perfectly judged, distorted just far enough without ever becoming a muddy fog of noise. Melodies are given room to breather without ever sounding over produced or too clean.
Over the course of it’s 12 songs, that only clock in a little over 30 minutes, there’s a world of ideas on show, in fact if anything it’s a slightly too disparate collection. Tastes Like Medicine is sunny, jangling indie-pop that recalls a less yelpy Los Campesinos, Lowtalkin starts off life with an intense blast of rhythm with yelped repetitive backing vocals that are at once reassuringly familiar and oddly hard to put your finger on before somehow cramming a lovely prog outro into a song that’s less that two minutes long, whilst title track Ratworld is just a blast of big rock chorus and feedback, drenched guitar twiddling.
Fortune Teller is a mix of a hooky guitar line, and beautifully textured vocals. It has the feel of shoe-gaze song whilst still carrying a strong melody and a sense of purpose sometimes lacking in the genre’s more languid moments. The star of the show is Liza’s perfectly produced vocal, processed and distorted it seems to fade in and out of the music, drifting effortlessly around the song entwining with the instrumentation and Ryan’s lead line.
Come On Give up bounces along with a surprisingly energetic guitar line, before an ear-piercing squall of feedback and a dense layer of what we can only really describe as scuzz come into picture, the two vocals harmonise beautifully on the ambiguous chorus line “come on give up, get lost with me now.”
The best moment here though is the absolutely sublime Blue Eye, Liza takes lead vocal duties, singing over a walls of gently fuzzy guitars. It’s a hazy, beautiful, dreamscape. All the pent up angst on show elsewhere resolves into four minutes of gorgeous, blissful abandon. At one point the gradual build of noise threatens to slip into a screeching mess but it’s allowed to just fade away, gently washing over you whilst still maintaining a sense of anguish and unease, the worlds collapsing around them but it’s only in that destruction that the simple beauty is able to shine through. It’s just a wonderful moment, oddly tucked away in the middle of the album.
You could easily listen to this album, perhaps this band, and play spot which 90’s Alt-rock star it sounds like, but if you’re sensible you’ll just enjoy it! Let it wash over you, suspend all scepticism and this is just a very good record by a very good band. They’re not yet pushing boundaries, but they’re discovering a sound and when they manage to shape their song-writing into their own image they’re going to be absolutely spectacular!
Ratworld is out now on Memphis Industries. They tour the UK throughout January, including a show at The Sebright Arms in London, and a homecoming show at The Brudenell Social Club.