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Lola Colt
Away From The Water Ben Graham , October 27th, 2014 12:01

Like some moody, widescreen western hybrid of the Gun Club, PJ Harvey and Jefferson Airplane, the debut album by this London sextet rolls wall-eyed and black-lipped over the horizon. Singer Gun Overbye has a dagger in her voice, albeit one wrapped in a velvet sheath, and a movie show of stylish noir violence constantly playing in her head. And with a gang of five behind her to bring that film to life, Lola Colt's relatively well-populated line-up means they're never short of instrumentation or colour, even if that colour is always black, with slashes of red.

It could too easily be an exercise in cliché, in borrowed, threadbare style covering an embarrassing lack of substance. But Lola Colt are anything but one-dimensional, and avoid easy categorisation where so many bands positively cry out for it, jumping into a heavily-labelled box and passing you the tape to seal them in. Lola Colt may have spent hours practising their moves in front of a mirror, but then they surely smashed that mirror to a hundred pieces, and this album is that fractured, multi-faceted reflection.    Defiantly dark but cruelly seductive, the chemtrail guitars and tribal drums of 'Rings Of Ghosts' are vaguely psychedelic in the purely narcotic sense, evoking sunblind desert peyote trips and, with haunted organ emerging from tangled barbed wire feedback at the song's coda, the Doors of Apocalypse Now via the Sonic Youth of Bad Moon Rising. 'Heartbreaker' suggests the drive and pulse of the Black Angels, except that, while you sense the Austin band are too cool, or too stoned, to get worked up about much of anything, Lola Colt have a better understanding of dynamics and emotional expression, and sound genuinely agitated as a result. 'Driving Mr Johnny' reminds me of a smoke-hazy Savages, with its yelping tension and unravelling nerves, its thousand-yard stare and wailing coyote guitars. And while 'Highway' flirts with cod-Morrison clichés- "I'm a gypsy walking to the highway" indeed- it runs its tribal shaman shtick through a post-punk filter and comes through slow and jagged, like a fragment of cooling steel moving gradually towards your heart.

Reviving the goth mandolin on 'Moonlight', Lola Colt sail into dark waters out beyond the Bunnymen archipelago, as slide guitar carries us far from that northern kingdom and over the equator into sweatier climes, with riffs sharp and narrow enough to go surfing on. Similarly conjuring northern English city streets tapering off into the mid-western desert, previous single 'Vacant Hearts' chimes like the Chameleons in ten gallon hats, galloping on horseback towards Death Valley as confederate marching drummers bring up the rear. It's hard to know how much revered producer / musician Jim Sclavunos (Bad Seeds, Cramps, Sonic Youth, Lydia Lunch etc.) has brought to the table, but to describe his work as sympathetic does him the bare minimum of justice. The slow build of 'Storm' is a perfect example of the sonic space he's created around the band; all spring reverb and dry drums, the buried, resigned male vocals shadowing the impassioned female lead, the picture filled in with tolling bells and a virulent, distorted undertow.

Each song on Away From The Water shifts through distinct stages; just as you think you've got it pegged, it moves on to a different scene. Brief chapters switch from one viewpoint to the next, adding up to an abstract but consistent narrative rather than repeating verses or choruses, or the too-easy trick of maintaining a constant heavy drone. The only constant here is change; a fervid restlessness as every song struggles forward at torpid, fever-crippled pace, urgent and almost frantic but held back by the steady pulse of the hypnotic slave drum. Lola Colt keep moving but in ever-decreasing circles, bound on a long, dried-leather leash to an implacable wooden post in the centre of their sound.       

In the mid-80s, Alan Moore invented the character of John Constantine during his run on DC horror comic Swamp Thing. A northern English, hip but haunted working class occultist (and, we later learn, former punk singer), Constantine was embroiled in Swamp Thing's 'American Gothic' sequence before being launched into his own Hellblazer title. During that 1980s 'American Gothic' run, I do not believe we ever saw Constantine listening to a Walkman; but if he had, the music he'd have heard would, I imagine, have sounded very much like Lola Colt.