The Race

Matt F 02/04/2005

Fact: this is an excellent band who've so obviously Got It that it's almost ridiculous - in the sense of laughing aloud for pleasure.So this is going to be a hard review to write without sounding like a gushing hack with no critical faculties beyond smart-arsery, but sod it - I'm not proud, and it's rare to see such a beautifully-balanced set, where everything's played for a reason and everything's just… right, and seems effortless; it's hard to describe, but impossible not to recognise and respond to when you see it.What do they sound like? Well, there's five people onstage making this beautifully-controlled noise that's by turns delicately pretty, catchy - 'anthemic' even, because that worn-out old term truly applies here - and full-on blasting rock-out; sometimes it's all three at once when the music gets complex and adventurous without ever losing sight of a tune.

They've got big hooks and some lovely floating lead guitar melodies, the simple kind that are so hard to do well, a punchy but tuneful bass with a great sort of searching quality, a steely underpinning of rhythm guitar that chops out the songs with perfect economy, and a drop-dead powerhouse of a drummer who can do subtle or slamming at the drop of a big funky hat. This lot know just when to throttle back and when to let rip - it's done with gob smacking finesse and, rarer still, sidesteps predictability every time.And what about the singer? Dan Buchanan has a remarkably pure, clear voice that really projects, putting across some powerfully emotive stuff without once crossing the line into melodrama or histrionics, and covering the whole spectrum down to hushed fragility for the more reflective passages. Nice occasional keyboards, too.
In fact, to go out on a limb, think of it in terms of colours. A lot of bands manage one at a time - red roaring, grey dirges, VU black, sinister mouldy dark green… whatever. Here you get a torrent of bright silvery-blue shot through with flares of dark red and white sparks. How cool is that?On a less pretentious note, the gig: shallow as it sounds, another interesting thing that strikes you right off is what a diverse group they are in terms of appearance, clothes etc - I once read somewhere that all the best bands are an ill-assorted bunch - the kind of sweeping, generalised horseshit that gives music writing a bad name (see paragraph above), but it holds true here. What makes it engaging is the dedication and focus these disparate individuals bring to their music, all intent on the surging rise and fall without any room for grandstanding - there's a lack of ego both in the music and lyrics that's very compelling, as is the hammer-blow dynamic of the first song, followed by new single 'Raising Children' with its interlocking guitars and vocal harmonies, an irresistible flow (incredibly easy to imagine this one on heavy repeat on the radio, and I mean that in a good way).

There's a new song which starts with a great burst of cacophony which gives way to controlled, stabbing dissonance and feedback slipping skilfully into a chiming interlude (and some keyboard-mangling at the end that sounds fleetingly like early Fall - again, in a good way). A song about "care homes and incontinence" could either be cheap laughs or just hilariously moody, but here it's neither - there's a rockabilly springiness to the rhythm with an odd, almost music-hall vocal melody skimming over it - it's elastic and weird, and damn catchy. It's not contrived though - obviously they mean it, which shows through most strongly on the newest song with its snaky flow and belting drum finale, carried along on a roving bass melody, and on 'Go Figure' - here they slip into edgy glam-rock territory with as nakedly and honestly emotional a song as I've heard; the whole thing churns with romantic darkness and confusion.

This is a versatile, powerful band with a wild mix of discipline and imagination. Whatever kind of place they play, the music'll make an impact, but I've a strong feeling they won't be playing venues as intimate as the Hope & Anchor (ie. good and atmospheric but a bit, well, cramped) for too long. See them up close now or kick yourself later - your choice. Or to quote 'Raising Children':Why do you stay home?