Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Review: There Will Be Fireworks - S/T

It was Factory Records Svengali Tony Wilson who initially cottoned on to the cyclicality of modern music. Often scorned for his gun-slinging (or blood-signing) approach to contracts - a failing that eventually brought the pioneering stable to its knees in the late 90s - the former Granada TV presenter’s belief that pop scenes formulate in 13 year waves seemed eerily bang on the money, particularly in his beloved Mancunian heartland. Of course, the reality is rather more subjective than the late Wilson had us believe. After all, who can truly pin down a cultural phenomenon’s crystallisation: A soundbite-chasing foreman of a wilting label, perhaps?

Cynicism aside, the Scottish music scene is two years into this Wilson-coined lifecycle. Front-running centurions have been recruited in Atlantic-hopping Fatcat pairing Twilight Sad and Frightened Rabbit, while artist’s like Broken Records, Meursault and We Were Promised Jetpacks supply the necessary armament to turn an uprising into a full scale insurgency. In fact, so kinetic is the country’s musical grid at present, the vibrant hub Postcard’s Alan Horne stoically lobbied for seems to have finally found a light switch after years of darkness.

It would be easy to ascribe Glaswegian quartet There Will Be Fireworks [TWBF] as just another node in this industrious circuit-board. To uninformed ears, their cliff-face of guitar and percussion resembles The Twilights’ immeasurable boom; their introverted missives chipped off Scott Hutchinson’s self-effacing block. But TWBF have their aural tentacles pitted further afield, lending themselves to the escalating post-rock bulge of Thee Silver Mt Zion, Aereogramme’s elegant guitar-plaiting and the opaque story-telling of Jeff Magnum.

By fashioning and then accessorising these borrowings throughout their self-titled debut, TWBF have crafted a record that cradles an innately Scottish tone but, in terms of arrangement and execution, pushes the bar higher than anything their contemporaries have thus far achieved. Introductory cut “Colombian Fireworks’ carves out this ambitious scaling. Arriving with a music-box led séance composed around novelist Kevin MacNeil’s peculiarly enunciated readings, the track descends into a thrilling maelstrom of reverb and drums that blueprints much of the proceeding endeavours.

Not that that’s a bad thing. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

The feral guitar caterwauling that bookends both “So the Story Goes” and “We Were A Roman Candle” is eased in via an accumulation of brass, percussion and key that purrs with deft touches before blowing into a frenzied cacophony. Bold and dramatic, these numbers are orchestrated, not played; their tempo aligned to the emotive vocal strains of conductor Nicholas McManus. Tracks like “Headlights“ or “A Kind of Furnace” feel more like ambuscades that cast off pretty harmonic hooks before combusting as bombastic throbs that subside only to a victorious parp of brass.

A three-song sweep represents the mid-album summit and encapsulates TWBF’s more philharmonic predilections. The triumvirate’s opening salvo, “Guising”, is a naked acoustic lament that finds McManus crowing dreamily about matters of the heart before segueing into “Off With Their Heads”’s barbed-wire agitation. Here, McManus vehemently demands decapitation of his adversaries while a jinking piano and whipcracking riff tussle in the background to create a invigorating rancour that’s as thrilling as it is wretched. More downtrodden in manner, “I Like The Lights” is blushed with wilting strings that steadily climb through tinkling ivory keys to gracefully wrap up this remarkable run.

Once album closer “Joined Up Writing” rears its head - steeped in the retrospect that’s become a Scottish band staple lately - time appears to have completely dissolved. It’s as if the seamless soundscapses have transcended beyond the seconds and minutes that make up this 13 track offering. Oddly, such a lack of distraction could be perceived as one of the record’s few flaws. Whereas The Twilight Sad’s Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters demanded repeat plays to actualise its brilliance, TWBF acclimatises without rankle, indicating that, despite its enthralling tapestries, a lack of stylistic gear-shifting may stunt any long-lasting appeal.

Yet, this grievance seems almost moot when a debut LP is this compelling. In a period where myriad Scottish albums have captured the music loving public’s imagination, few have done it with such consistency or poise. And as the tartan-clad music scene continues its drive through Tony Wilson’s self-styled lifecycle, There Will Be Fireworks have proved themselves to be much more than just passengers.

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