Sunday 6 February 2011


Fri 27th Jan, Prince Albert

This was the one night I was able to make of the ‘Sea Monsters’ min-festival, “five nights of the most crucial Brighton bands”, laid on by the good folks of One Inch Badge Records.

I was alas unable to prise myself away from the sofa fast enough to catch the opening act Speak Galactic. (Though rumour has it that, despite their name, they are not actually fronted by Galactus.) But that still left three acts for your money...

From previous sightings The Sticks have been more numbersome, but were this time whittled down (geddit?) to a duo. This development did not seem to go down very well with The Sticks themselves, deriding one of their own numbers as “skinny” and finishing another with a loud raspberry. Perhaps this slimmer choice was less aesthetic than Hobson-like.

Far be it from me to claim to know more than the outfit themselves, but this self-criticism seemed strangely misplaced. For one thing, they were surely made to sound skinny - a pared-down drum kit as though only half-arrived through the installment purchase plan, straightforward guitar lines as if lifted from a play-in-a-day book. They are not called The Trunks for a reason, after all.

Their sound harkens back to the shimmering days of simple Sixties garage pop, as if played in black-and-white on a mono Dansette. But their take is so pared down that it veers towards the minimalist. Imagine an alternate universe where Steve Reich joined The Shadows...

Being something of a comics fan, I cannot help but compare musical lines to drawn lines. So I started picturing their music as drawn by a soft B pencil. (Don’t go confusing them with no H pencil!) The actual lines are defined and... well, stick-like, but they’re surrounded by resounding reverb like a pencil line’s edges turning to blur and fuzz. It sounds shimmering, warm and cold at the same time.

So, in short, this reduction in numbers had little negative effect on music quality. There may be one caveat to the story, however. As any artist knows, restrictions enable. But restriction can be contrary, one day it can turn on you and just restrict. The Sticks are one of those bands who are about their sound, the individual numbers exist just to demonstrate it. And it is indeed a great sound. But once you’ve got it, what then? Does it have the mileage to make the outfit long-lived? Soft B pencils blunt sooner than do H ones, after all...

This is them as a trio, at a different Brighton venue...

If I have less to say about Cold Pumas, that’s probably to do with me having less neat little analogies for their sound – in short, it’s not them, it’s me. The show blurb praised their “extended, mesmerising pulse”, which probably works better than anything I could come up with. Their tracks tended to pick up a head of steam and then make a bolt for it. Numbers didn’t advance from A to B in neat little diagrams but surged forward, took on lives of their own, merged into one another...oh wait, that’s what I said about Drum Eyes last time. Oh well, the point still stands.

Okay, back to Drum Eyes. This is the third time I’ve seen them now, and each time isn’t so much seeing them again as seeing them anew. Most bands are like films, you can go back for more but you’re just re-living the experience. This isn’t so much of a shift as was the leap between my first and second viewing - they still have the same two pounding drum kits, and Krautrock-like love of skewering riffs. But there’s still a definite sense of movement – a line-up shift produces a violin, a dub influence appears on some new tracks.

It all starts to remind me of a story from the old Liverpool punk scene. Punks would habitually paint band names or slogans on the back of their jackets. But Pete Wylie would only ever chalk his, insistent that the scene moved forward too quickly to get tied down anything else. Drum Eyes, I reckon, would appreciate that sentiment.

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