Saturday, 24 September 2011

ALBUM REVIEW: S.C.U.M. - Again into Eyes

Choosing a band name is like choosing a partner. Get it wrong and you’re in for a whole world of pain. So, mess them both up and, well, you might as well throw in the proverbial towel, make for a delapidated drinking den and douse your liver in acrid, stomach pit burning grog. To say Ian Cohen - better known in Daily Mail reading circles as Peaches Geldof’s other half - and the rest of his S.C.U.M. cohorts have a lot to prove, then, is something of an understatement.

Contending with an appellation that smacks of hipsteratti desperation is one thing (it’s short for Society for Cutting Up Men, a term coined by radical feminist and attempted Andy Warhol killer Valerie Solanas), but finding yourself in the middle of an awkward PR-stunt conjured up by your frontman’s flavour of the month (Geldof recently gobshited to the world that she has 'no intention' of joining her boyfriend’s band) spells S.U.I.C.I.D.E. for any outfit looking to score pretention points with the chin-stroking elite early on.

Yet, S.C.U.M.’s debut LP Again Into Eyes is a surprisingly uncompromising affair that’s made of sterner stuff than the inflated brouhaha suggests. Bound in melancholy and introspection, it’s an album that steers into hopelessly bleak terrain, clearly tailored by Sisters of Mercy-era ambience and a smearing of dirt black mascara. Yet, below the slit-wristing exterior there lurks a band with an ear for tender rolls of melody and colossal soundscapes.

The gutter-scraping thrash of ‘Summon the Sound’ offers little indication of the band’s softness. A cloying, pavement-gobbing brawler, its apoplectic percussion and gyrating guitars traipse the depths of horror-shlock rock‘n’roll. ‘Amber Hands’ is equally rancid, galloping into a blackened soup of cathedral keys that converge as a clattering, snarling psychedelic swamp.

Such proto-punk blustering inevitably draws parallels with early-days Horrors. And in the scuzzy, roughed up aesthetic of basal numbers like ‘Days Untrue’ the resemblance is unavoidable. But that’s where it gets interesting. Much like the Faris Badwin’s ensemble, S.C.U.M. are at their most intriguing when shunning razor-sharp shtick for velvety sheen, purring with nuance and subtle shifts in tempo.

With more gothic furnishing than a Victorian-era burlesque house, Again into Eyes was never going to be a futuristic masterpiece. But, congealed with Thomas Cohen’s joyless intone, the band’s creaking instrumentation is deployed impressively. Opener ‘Faith Unfolds’s warming glow is chalked with a soft complexion of synths and drums, laying bare a misty-eyed anthem of grandiose range; while 'Sentinal Bloom’s austere framework exudes a brevity that stretches beyond archetypal graveyard signatures.

More captivating still is the slow-burning opulence of ‘Paris’. Awash with despair, the mournful keys carve an arctic backdrop that freezes out Cohen’s fading wails of “I have nothing”. It’s intense, thoughtful work; an ambitious arrangement of wide-angled sound and heart-gnawing atmosphere that ribbons into the record’s most graceful swoon.

Glorious album swansong ‘Whitechapel’ flips the record into one final elated throb. Built around ministerial synths and a deep, pulsing bassline, there’s more than a hint of devoted Eighties styling to the industrial disco beat. It’s an infectious, almost irresistible affair that underlines the band’s ever-evolving capabilities while it waggles its hips with the androgynous grace of Brett Anderson in a downtown brothel.

So forget the name; forget the celebrity girlfriend; forget those meticulously fringed press shots and vacuous interviews. S.C.U.M. are a band blessed with stealth, steel and, as much as they loathe it, an overarching sense of the indie mainland. Rest assured, their world of pain is being put to good effect.

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