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Reviews

The Soundcarriers
Celeste Ben Graham , August 10th, 2010 10:26

Do we really need to hear that 'Mother Sky' bassline underpinning yet another opening track from this month's hot new indie combo? Do we really need to hear more journalists lazily tossing about terms like Krautrock and motorik, gradually devaluing them to bland, clichéd buzzwords? Well, yes- to the first part, anyway. 'Last Broadcast,' which kicks off the second album from Nottingham's Soundcarriers, may hang on that driving, neo-disco bass riff, originated by Can's Holger Czukay and, thanks to its blatant borrowing on 'Sea Within a Sea' by The Horrors, since reduced to the late noughties equivalent of the 'funky drummer' drum pattern used by every plodding indie-dance band in the early 90s, the reduction of a whole complex musical world to a single dumbed-down reference: jump the octave and hit the snare on the third beat = instant Krautrock! But the song itself twinkles with such winning, bare-faced naiveté and lightness of touch that, for it's five minutes duration, it sounds as fresh and thrilling as if the whole thing had arrived fully-formed with no discernable family tree whatsoever.

Rock n' roll was never about originality; how many great pop, disco, blues or metal classics are built on exactly the same repeated riffs? It's about what you do with it, and when. The Soundcarriers rummage through the same dream charity shop as Stereolab, Broadcast and the much-missed Electrelane, coming out with a similar bricolage of the aforementioned K*trock, easy listening sunshine pop, early electronica, library and soundtrack music and modern jazz. But they've also gone for the discs their older sisters thought perhaps too obvious to bother with- the classic west coast psychedelic rock of The Doors and Jefferson Airplane, and even a spot of Jethro Tull, evident on 'Step Outside', when percussive flute interludes break up the jazzy, soft-psych grooves and slightly off-key, breathy female vocals. The shimmering guitars of the propulsive 'There Only Once' suggest the cosmic hybrid of psychedelia, jazz and folk-rock that the Byrds reached for on songs like 'Eight Miles High,' and if 'Out of Place' and 'Hideaway' have a familiarly hazy, late-summer melancholy, the latter culminates in a burst of gnarly guitar soloing that appeals precisely because you couldn't imagine Stereolab ever getting quite so earthily vulgar.

Each piece on Celeste is also a well-structured song, and this disciplined traditionalism is actually refreshing, when so many artists working in this area use the possibilities of the virtual studio as an excuse to indulge in lax, lazy 'soundscapes' that just hang around aimlessly, showing off their painfully hip influences like an ill-fitting t-shirt before shuffling off round the corner again. Not so, The Soundcarriers; 'Morning Haze' builds on a stomping piano groove that escalates into a full-on Ray Charles meets Delia Derbyshire rave-up, 'Long Highway' leads into a delicious flute and organ jam that would sit happily on a Herbie Mann album, and 'Rolling On' borrows the train imagery and rhythms familiar from the hoariest old blues records onwards, yet wraps it in a sleek, neon-narcotic haze that updates the theme to some high-speed Japanese monorail journey.

Admittedly, once you recognise the field they're working in, there are few surprises here, apart from just how well-accomplished it all is. This may be a far less challenging listen than, say, Electrelane's Axes, but surely only the most hardline modernist would bristle at this while being immersed in the gorgeous, modal folk-jazz of 'Rise and Fall,' akin to Pentangle driving through the digitised urban landscapes of the 21st Century, any lingering pastoral romanticism long corroded to a mere meme. No, it's enough that The Soundcarriers are making the connections, conjuring fresh melodic joy from their sources and bearing the torch for this particular strain of cosmic music. While they may veer closer to contemporary easy listening than the shock of the truly avant-garde, this is a worthwhile addition to a still largely under-exposed and, despite everything, under-explored canon.

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