Over the last few weeks we’ve introduced you to a number of great bands and artists to soundtrack your summer. Bands that trade in the sort of happy sunshine pop that we love to listen to whilst soaking up the serotonin. Problem is, summer isn’t all peaches and cream. Sure, there are fun times to be had, but the sunshine can’t protect you from the real world. There’s pain and suffering out there, people, and playing Frisbee at the beach isn’t going to change that. So after a care-free day listening to great bands like Cruiser or Modern Rivals, you may find yourself yearning for something a bit more contemplative and emotive. For this purpose I introduce The Bronze Medal.
This five piece from Bristol, England, specialise in the sort of heart-on-sleeve, earnest indie rock that can at times leave you feeling a little introspective - but in a good way. They combine a folk rock approach to melody and harmony with almost post-rock instrumentation. Their self-titled debut EP, released July 2nd, has elements of slowcore, reminiscent of at times of bands like Low and Gregor Samsa. Tracks like “Show Me Land”, propelled within an insistent drum beat, increase the pace and shows off the bands best attributes perfectly. It combines beautiful melodies and harmonies with tender lyrics and a stirring, building climax.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like these guys are dreary depressives - they really aren’t. In fact, from the four-track EP, two tracks, “Womb” and “Show Me Land” (which you can listen to below), will probably leave you feeling uplifted, and yearning to press the repeat button. And if you are ever lucky enough to catch them live, you’ll find them a louder beast than on record. If they might be slightly lacking in stage presence at times (a lot of long hair and ‘shoe-gazing’ at effects pedals), then they more than make up for it by assaulting the crowd with wave after wave of stunning noise.
I think it’s fair to say that The Bronze Medal play it understated and let the music do the talking. They’ve called themselves ‘The Bronze Medal’ – it could have been ‘The Silver Medal’, or they could have gone all out and declared themselves ‘The Gold Medal’. But no, they’ve gone for good old bronze: third place, pretty good, but not the best. After giving them a listen on one of these miserable summer nights, however, you’ll probably agree that they’re under selling themselves quite a bit.
Beak>, Bristol’s ungoogleable krautrock trio-du-jour, have returned after three years with a great new album in tow. Billy Fuller, Matt Williams, and Geoff Barrow (of Portishead; though Barrow has been clear that Beak> is not a Portishead side-project) have refined the menacing beat-driven jams of their 2009 debut and released a collection of songs whose consistency, songwriting, and level of professional quality should be a template for any band of a similar nature.
Krautrock is a loose term at its root. Some bands like Cluster and Faust are known for their lengthy, avant-garde, pseudo-noise pieces, while bands like Can and NEU! have employed more rhythmic songwriting methods. I suppose that in this perspective, Beak> is to krautrock what Battles is to math rock. That is, they make it an accessible, almost radio-friendly genre. They prefer to keep things short, rhythmic, and friendly instead of lengthy, noisy, and inaccessible, and it pays off handsomely for them.
On », Beak> have perfected their art. On tracks like “Yatton” and “Eggdog,” the noticeable melodic elements become memorable components of the overall rhythmic structure. In layman’s terms, it’s more interesting and enjoyable than any krautrock I’ve heard for quite some time, even more so than Beak>’s own debut album. Of course, the single best thing about » is the return of the band’s standalone single “Wulfstan” as a revamped, perfected “Wulfstan II.” This song is the best on the album by far, showcasing the band’s monolithic, dark rhythm in all its glory; washed out vocals drone over the top of chugging guitar riffs, stark and repetitious drum beats, and flourishes of feedback and dissonant synth stabs.
It’s these moments that make » such a standout album, both in relationship to their debut and to other albums of similar type. So, why just the B rating? Beak> are an exceptional, professional band, but they work best with a formula. Many songs like the aforementioned “Yatton” and “Wulfstan II” are great pieces, but the album fails to deliver on some of the more avant-garde songs like opener “The Gaol” and the drum-less “Ladies’ Mile.” Beak> makes a good attempt at making these songs work, but they actually end up disrupting the flow of the album and falling short of the expectations set by the other songs on the album. It’s a bittersweet notion. On one hand, it means that their music is formulaic, but on the other hand it’s really great music. In theory, krautrock is a rather formulaic genre, and a near dead one at that. In my opinion, it’s heartening to know that bands like Beak> still continue that legacy.