Friday, 15 February 2008

SPIRAL BEACH: Teddy Black


And here is the next future of music from Toronto that you need to know about; Ball is Spiral Beach's second album and the first to come to my attention, if not the first copy to enter Britain. They are a quartet who if the CD booklet photos are anything to go by seem more comfortable with jelly than graduation; and yet these thirteen songs, collectively clocking in at a shade over half an hour, have sufficient insolent newness and sparkle of adventure to make me wonder for the thousandth time why British groups waste so much time thinking things over - plotting demographics, working to the precepts of a useless manual - instead of just getting on and innovating.


Handsomely produced by the Hidden Cameras' Mike Olsen, Ball works all the better for defying any reasonable attempt to pin them down stylistically. You may randomly think of the B-52s of "Planet Claire" (for instance, on the exactingly exciting closer "Man Moon": "WHAT'S IT GONNA COME TO?") or X or possibly a non-existent skinny tie/No Wave '79-80 crossover, although I prefer to handle them as a New Pop, Kim-dominant Pixies, since Ball has the same rapid turnover of grab-or-miss ideas and expressionism that Surfer Rosa had, but even that wouldn't be adequate in itself.


The credits remark about overdubs being made "in uncomfortable silence" but while Spiral Beach clearly love to make a meaningful racket - see the swirling yet sharp mirror of "Made Of Stone" ("You've broken every bone you're made of!"), nicely offset by elements of what I will continue to term for the sake of convenience rather than Christgau "hi-life," or the radiance of the handclaps on "Kind Of Beast" or the dolorous oboe on "Two Black Eyes" - they are also skilful users of silence; see the remarkable start-stop-start-meditate-start progression of "Red Shoes" with its deliberate echoes of '68 and the "never never ever ever satisfied" which leads back into thrash tumult. or "See Some Ghosts" which is the B-52s remixed by the Cocteau Twins, alternately absurd, cute and unfeasibly moving (it ends up as a Ventures-ram-Meat Puppets surf guitar derby). "Pedestrian" swaggers as righteously as the Kaisers or Fratellis cannot ("Where we come from's not our fault" - it's high time that pro-pedestrian protest songs got a toehold in pop) since they don't look over their fringes to make sure the audience aren't exiting. There is the staggering "Astro Girls" which seems in part to be about bulimia - another sadly noble ballad with a 6/8 James Carr tempo and slowly intensifying guitars (as well as an unlikely interpersion of Madness piano a third of the way through) - with its refrain of "She doesn't light up" escalating to a distorted "She'll never make it to sleep" as synths and guitars go suitably woozy and unbalanced. The aforementioned "Moon Man" indicates another tendency which runs through Ball; the near-vaudeville (or Weimar?) singalong with unexpected and poignant chord changes (Weill meets Bley indeed).


Yet for now my favourite track is its opener, "Teddy Black," with great thumping bulldozers of drum splashes, fantastically focused electroclarity and Emily Haines harmonic modulations (Metric also come into consideration here, of course); keyboardist/singer Maddy Wilde, who is clearly the focal point of punctum in the group, leads the onslaught (OMD halfway through being genetically re-engineered), crying about I haven't quite worked out what yet, though its general air of insolent defiance and refrain of "We don't want him back" suggests that the Black in question might be (thankfully no longer Our) Conrad. It is tangentially thunderous; the other members are the brothers Woodhead - Airick on guitar and co-lead vocals and Daniel on drums - and bassist Dorian Wolf, their rationale can be found here, and this is a potentially enormous album which deserves to be heard by all shiny yellow ears everywhere.

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