Hackney Working Girls Club @ Old Blue Last, London
Thursday August 1 2013
No Cars don't seem entirely sure where the soundcheck
stops and the set begins. At any rate, there's a false start and a certain
amount of kerfuffle on stage before everything is finally sounding right,
and we can get the party started.
No Cars turn out to be rather fun, in a slightly twee not-quite-a-novelty-band kind of way. They make guileless, faux-naif indiepop in which guitars tumble and jangle and much bounciness ensues. They have a song called 'Sellotape' in which the band festoon themselves with strings of sticky tape, as if making merry with christmas decorations.
Fun though they are, I suspect No Cars would become
rather annoying if I saw them on
a regular basis. I have a feeling the experience would be like being forced
to watch multiple episodes of a hyperactive children's TV show. One
episode is a laugh, but you wouldn't buy the DVD.
Taman Shud name themselves after a mysterious dead body - and, if a brief reference in Wikipedia is to be believed, they're not the first band to do so. Unless the Taman Shud we have on stage before us now actually is the "progressive rock and psychedelic surf band formed in Sydney, in 1967". But no, they're all a bit too young for that, and I certainly don't discern any surf influences. Psychedelic, though....yes, I hear a bit of that. In fact, it's all gone a bit kosmische.
Taman Shud generate a heavy duty krautrocky hypno-groove,
rhythms locked in ever-circling spirals. It's a dark, rumbling sound, lots
of shade and not much light, the Velvet Underground without the velvet,
Killing Joke without the joke. The bassist looks like she's entered a trance-like
state; the drummer leans into his microphone and hollers into a canyon
Scary stuff, in its way, although the effect is slightly mitigated by the band's bunch-of-regular-guys appearance. Why, the guitarist is even wearing shorts. I dig Taman Shud's cosmic doom disco, but one should always dress appropriately for the sonic apocalypse.
Zoëtrøpe are quite capable of kicking up a bit of an apocalypse themselves, of course. Their songs are built on a foundation of boldly walloped drums, over which a clamour of rhythm guitar and a thrum of bass stake out their territory. There's a lot of space in Zoëtrøpe songs. Even when the band ups the tempo and dives headlong into the thrash zone (which they do, with great glee, when you least expect it) they keep their sonic ingredients separate, and everything is well defined. They're more Au Pairs than X-ray Spex, although they're an Au Pairs with a tendency to go all speedfreaky freakouty at a moment's notice.
Zoëtrøpe are always in control, though. Even when the band gets thrashy on 'Debbie', the bouts of unruliness are employed as punctuation in a song that is, ultimately, all about structure.
'Don't Look At Me', with its outbreaks of full-throttle drum-thrash and shouting, sounds almost incongruous. It's Zoëtrøpe's one concession to unleavened punk rock-ness, an oddity from a band that otherwise neatly juxtaposes the visceral with the cerebral. 'Plague', with its almost Leonard Cohen-ish verses, interspersed with Bad Seeds-esque fuzztone blues grinding, possibly shows the way forward. In some ways, it's Zoëtrøpe at their most sophisticated.
I think, on balance, I want them to do more like 'Plague', and less like 'Don't Look At Me'. Not that Zoëtrøpe are about to take any notice of me, of course. They're ploughing their own furrow, weaving between an understated, rhythmically spacious intelligence and roaring noise. It's a bit of a zig-zag, but I reckon it's worth following their tractor.