‘dark nights, cat fights, love bites…’
By far my elder brother in the Muso, (1) manicpopthrills, is in the habit of lobbing me recent indie music to listen to, and/or inveigling me into events he’s organised in darkened rooms with guitar-wielding types making assorted noises.
His latest gig, put on with co-conspirator Andy Wood, is in Dundee on 3rd October. Headliners are the inimitable Randolph’s Leap, a band who have featured heavily in previous reviews on this page (and who MPT interviews on his page currently); also on the bill, though, are a newish band, Blood Indians. I expressed approval of their sound one day in the office, and sure enough, the next morning, my clerkly thoughts of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 were distracted by the appearance of the band’s eponymous EP on my desk.
Here’s the thing about reviews of new bands: they assume a level of knowledge of the last forty years or so of popular music in the reader that sometimes just isn’t there. In my case, it isn’t even there in the reviewer. The most obvious way to describe a new band’s sound is to compare them with another, established one. I imagine this trait began in the Seventies, as so many things did, with lines like: ‘they’re a bit like Led Zep, only heavier, man.’
Nowadays, of course, rock reviews are a bit more nuanced. Descriptions often go along the lines of: ‘they sound like Jesus and Mary Chain bumped into Joni Mitchell at a Velvet Underground concert, drove home listening to James Brown all in the same car, and got married the next day with Kate Bush as the vicar and Marilyn Manson playing at the reception.’ (4)
Another, more shorthand way, is to use labels, often in combinations, to give the confused reader a sense of what influences are most to the fore, even if the labels themselves are opaque in the extreme: see, for example, nu-folk, math rock, drip-hop. Okay, so I made that last one up, just to check you were still awake.
It reminds me of labelling theory, the criminological concept that, if you’re labelled as, for example, a bad-ass no-good son-of-a-gun who’d sell his grandmother, it tends to be a self-fulfilling prophecy, and you behave in an anti-social, chaotic lifestylee, elderly relative retailing kind of a way.
Except, of course, musicians are tricksy critters, and the minute they get pigeonholed as one type of genre, they set about finding the fire escape out of the pigeonhole.
And so to Blood Indians. Vic Galloway has apparently described their sound as ‘goth surf folk.’ I mean, what does that even mean? Goth – yeah, well, any set of lyrics that feature the line I started with, and ‘You feel, I feel, scars heal, this won’t/hurt me…’ (both from ‘Cold Caller’) isn’t likely to be at the shiny happy poppy end of the spectrum.
Surf, though. Is that like, the Beach Boys? A quick listen to an online surf rock radio station suggests it’s that twangy, reverby, whammy-bar wielding, electric guitar sound that’s being referenced there. And folk – well, you can hear their lyrics, and acoustic guitars are also deployed. No hey nonny nonnys though.
So I guess if you unpack it a bit, that gives you an idea of Blood Indians’ sound, and to be frank, it’s a whole lot better than the namechecking of individual bands you might never have heard of outlined above. Still though, it implies a bit of muso-ish knowledge. So how do we do this? Blood Indians, oh Blood Indians, shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Probably not so much – more like a dark January afternoon, with the daylight leaching out of the sky by about three o’clock, and a cold tempest of brooding guitars brewing at your heels as you head indoors, catchy riffs tugging at your coat tails.
Or perhaps culinary references work better for you – on ‘Cold Caller,’ the wholemeal strumming of acoustic is quickly smothered in the dark bitter chocolate of the electric, with the female, Scots-accented vocals providing the chilli bite, underpinned by a creamy bass.
Not quite working for you? Me neither. My favourite of the three tracks is probably the middle one, ‘I Lie,’ which again builds slowly out of a single guitar and voice, before vocal harmonies and crunching guitars are supplemented by a whumping bass and hard-driven drums.
The last track, ‘Winter Ghosts,’ has indeed a chilly, ethereal quality that the (literally) mordant lyrics come right out of the middle of: dogs bite, nettles sting, empty lungs are caving in. Again, the fact the girls have avoided the decades-old trap of mid-Atlantic singing accents give the vocals extra emotional depth. It kind of sounds like they mean it.
The cardboard cover of the EP is fairly sketchy information-wise. There’s a bozo in a Native American headdress out front, looking moody, or perhaps broody. However, a paper insert contains a telling detail, with the biggest thanks reserved to the co-writer and producer, ‘who has worked so hard to get this record sounding exactly the way we want it to.’ It’s so easy to throw a few tracks together (well, not that easy, but you know what I mean) and say ‘that’ll do,’ before moving onto the next EP with the vow to do it right this time. This stuff is hard-crafted, and it shows.
Catch Blood Indians on the way up, at Beat Generator Live, Dundee on Friday, 3rd October. They might well be somewhere more expensive next time around.
(1) Extra points if you get the reference without the clue (2)
(2) Clue’s in the name
(3) Oh all right then! Robert Burns referred to Robert Fergusson ‘as my elder brother in misfortune, by far my elder brother in the Muse.’ I thought it was funny, but I wish I hadn’t bothered now…
(4) If you pushed me, I’d say they were a bit like His Latest Flame, only heavier, man. But you probably don’t remember them.
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