Review by Cath Aubergine for Louder than War
OPTIONAL WALLACE / MOUNT FABRIC / THE SLOW READERS CLUB
5th November 2011
Star & Garter Manchester
Indie rock in 2011: if ever there were a genre of music with a bad, bad reputation – and let’s face it, not undeservedly so. “Indie rock” for the most part has precisely fuck all to do with indie in its original sense and it doesn’t generally rock particularly either. Seen too many bands that sound like Shed Seven’s understudies at an Oasis cover night? So have we. But then we’ve seen far too many generic electro-chillwave type bands too (oh look, another fake faded polaroid record sleeve, great) and generic garage rock’n’roll bands (spare us the American accent, we heard you at the bar and we know you’re from Widnes) – every genre has its landfill, it doesn’t mean there aren’t good bands if you know where to look. Optional Wallace are one such band, but we’ll get onto them in a minute because they’re also damn fine fellows full of punk DIY spirit – and thus for this their single launch they’ve got a couple of great local bands to warm up for them.
THE SLOW READERS CLUB have been around for a couple of years in this guise, although most of them were formerly in great mid-00s Manchester band Omerta. Their modus operandi is the seamless blending of Puressence-ish atmospherics with the alternative-pop feel of early Killers, and their secret weapon is a clutch of bloody good songs. “One More Minute” survives from Omerta days, danceable and upbeat but with a seam of melancholy running through Aaron Starkie’s slightly world-weary vocals; “Block Out The Sun” is spine-tingling even without the keyboard sweeps of the recorded version (they didn’t think there’d be space for the keyboard tonight), whilst “Follow Me Down” is stunning, Aaron’s voice leaping an octave effortlessly. When his guitarist brother Kurt’s darker and more melodramatic voice gets involved as well they’re even better. Tight as anything, too. By the end of their short set they’ve drawn everyone in the pub into the tiny front room that’s serving as a live venue this evening. They release their debut album themselves on 5th December, and you can have a listen to all 12 tracks now on their website.
MOUNT FABRIC have a sound so expansive the little space can hardly contain it, and it’s not an easy one to pin down, which in itself is a good thing although it means reviewers can’t just describe them in terms of other bands and have to write things like “leftfield progressive prog-indie-pop” instead. OK, so that was actually me, a few months ago, but I’m standing by it. Throughout 2011 this band have been getting better with every gig; now five strong the addition of a dedicated keyboard player the dynamics are the key to their brilliance. Complex arrangements mean they’re the sort of band you can’t really get by half listening, but make the effort and you’ll be richly rewarded. Singer Alex is incredible – there’s a certain mystique to his rather understated stage presence, half hidden under his trademark wide-brimmed hat, but what a voice. Their last song in particular is excellent, all the instruments spiralling up into a big post-rock-ish crescendo.
OPTIONAL WALLACE come with the Steve Lamacq seal of approval and it’s not hard to see why – they’ve got a fire and passion about them that’s lacking from all those landfill bands as well as a way with a rousing, punch-the-air chorus that harks back to the golden age of post-punk indie rock, simmering with frustration. On “Generation”, the single they’re launching here tonight, the target of their frustration is indeed those self-same bands who don’t appear to believe in anything much, the “generation with nothing to say”. For musical references think equal parts post-Chameleons thunder and Manic Street Preachers’ angry wall of sound. And it’s not even the biggest song in their set – that honour goes to “Can’t Explain”, whose almighty rhythm section could shake the walls of any arena you care to mention. They’re wilfully unpretentious without ever being dull, and their belief in the simple power of their songs is backed up by genuine quality.
No gimmicks, no hype, no posturing – just three decent bands playing in a pub. What more do you want from a Saturday night?