review archive

The Radio Dept / Great Lakes / I Was A King – Water Rats, 26th January 2007

I Was A King are a Norwegian band who tonight are using a couple of Great Lakes to make up numbers. These latter two have apparently been enjoying being mistaken for Norwegians, especially in Newcastle where they were urged to ‘Play more you Scandinavian legends!’ I Was A King play shimmering Paisley Underground-tinged power pop - their second song has an especially pleasingly revved up crunchy sound - with slightly Neil Young-y vocals and perhaps a soupcon of Dinosaur Jnr. on a fluffier day. They do a great song with bibbly beepy keyboards for which they are joined by Great Lakes main man Ben Crum. I am intrigued enough to buy their album which turns out to be a mere seventeen minutes long, but is a wonderland of skewed Elephant 6-style psychedelia wrapping itself around old style indie jangle and Joy Zipper-esque sunspaced wooziness. Don’t you love it when you discover the unheard of support band are a glinty wee gem?

I Was A King (now I am a scruffy musician)
Ben Crum, supercool glasses drummer in background

A few years ago we saw Great Lakes doing the rounds in support of second album ‘The Distance Between’ and there were nine people on stage, swapping instruments like billy-o and making us go cross-eyed trying to picture the complicated Elephant 6 related family tree they all represented. Tonight they are core Laker man Ben Crum plus a bass man and a drums man (the ones that were just in I Was A King, remember?). The drummer wears super-cool white framed glasses and gets his sticks flying all over the shop whilst bassman Kyle adds backing harmonies to Ben’s warm-hearted vocals.

They play a crackling version of groovy freak-beat tune ‘Sister City’ from ‘The Distance Between’ and I am very pleased. Songs from the new album, ‘Diamond Times’ are aired and seem more introspective and crafted, the sound of men who might have found something serious to say - grown-up in an intriguing way. ‘Farther’ is ferocious, infectiously stomping rock. ‘Hot Cosmos’ swings with a country twang. I often find the concept of ‘Americana’ and its associated guitar twiddling kind of tedious and contemptible, however, Great Lakes manage to create songs that could ostensibly be labelled ‘Americana’ – backwoodsy, ruminating, camp fire crackling, but when they do it they sound cool and dreamy and hey, they look like they’re having a good time. The last song breaks open a ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ wail that manages to be psychedelic, not widdly. Always a pleasing thing.

Being tedious and contemptible is left to the couple beside us who spend the entire set standing two feet away from the band bellowing horsily at each other. In a display of unparalleled rudeness, the girl spends most of the time with her back to the stage braying up into the face of her poshe bloke boyfriend. Both are so colossally self-absorbed, ignorant and arrogant that they utterly fail to notice the looks of exasperation and disgust being shot at them from all sides, including the stage. At one point a song is being sung off mic– creating you know, intimacy and atmosphere and stuff which is shattered by horse-face shrilling ‘I love the Kinks!!’ Utter wankers.

Listening to The Radio Dept. reminds me of Malmo on steely November days, and also of, er, sitting on a Greek beach toying with pebbles listening to ‘Lesser Matters’. Which is handy in a metaphorical kind of way ‘cos that’s what the band sound like – a comfortable gloom with bursts of sunshine. The music summons grey skies, but is meltingly warm and distantly sparkling. Tonight’s sold out crowd is pushed in close to the stage and I’m comfortably squeezed in a corner peering over the top of a speaker where I can feel the noize manifesting as warm waves of sound twisting from the speaker mesh. Johahahahan
The Radio Dept are three mismatched blokes creating powerful, aching music that is the sound of resigned sighs, emotions being muffled and catching the gleam of reality through a haze of medication. Then there are the lyrics, little bubbles of misery floating on the up-draught of oceanic sound. The drifting, gossamer strum of ‘Bus’ plaintively asks ‘What are you gonna do if nothing happens?’ ‘Ewan’ with its burst of righteous keyboards and low-slung Hooky string twanging sounds positively upbeat, almost anthemic, but listen to the words, ‘You've spent some time in the morning sun. But what goes up must come down. And you can feel the sunshine fading’
Twiddling nobs A drum-machine provides a rigid, ticking beat, stern and inflexible, over which synth and guitar fold themselves in luxuriant layers. There is no bass, just twin guitars woven tight beneath the keyboard sounds. Singer Johan holds back on guitar, so when he does play it’s jarring, startling. Live, the songs soar eerily, swooning around the room and roaring in your ears with a woozy, suffocating euphoria. ‘Pet Grief’ begins with a dippy bontempi beat and the screech of a train braking, before rolling out an expanse of blissed autumnal frolicking that loudly builds and builds until it sounds painfully ecstatic.
‘This Past Week’ has a particularly stentorian rave beat at odds with the fey indieness of the vocals. I look back to inspect the crowd – they’re standing apparently soaking it all up po-faced in the blast of juddery mechanised rhythms. This is dance music that’s been specially castrated for indie folks who prefer to confine movement to their brain cells. Truncated beats and curtailed rhythms and the caress of a mournful tune.
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