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Mourning Birds – Exile (The Preservation Society Presents)

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Kent-based trio Mourning Birds have been kicking around on the live circuit for a couple of years now, popping up here and there on cooler bills in the capital and beyond. Their blend of kickass rock ‘n’ roll, with its speedy, short and sharp songs, is always an entertaining prospect, but at the same time it’s often seemed as chaotic as it is energetic.

What a pleasant surprise, then, to encounter their debut album and discover that while they’ve done nothing to dampen down the aggression levels in the studio, something has happened to transform them from mere rabble rousing rebels without much of a clue into a keenly focussed class act. Perhaps it’s all those hours spent munching motorway service station pasties while they clock up the miles on the road. Or maybe it’s the work of producer Rhys Downing, who twiddled the relevant knobs as the band apparently “smashed it out in a week” at Foel Studios in Wales, that has had a truly transformative effect.

Because from the moment the album leaves the starting blocks – the title track ‘Exile’ – showing all the hurtling speed of a joyrider being hotly pursued by the local constabulary, you’re struck by how big and impressive a noise they make. Rather than scratchy garage rock, the multi-layered guitars of frontman Jimmy Gilder, juddering bass of Bill Williams and percussive thunder of drummer Sam Mitchell come together with all the amphetamine-fuelled heaviness of Motorhead or early Damned classics like ‘New Rose’ and ‘Neat Neat Neat’.

The songs are short, sharp shocks, which announce themselves loudly and then ratchet up the intensity even further. You’ll hear echoes of a whole array of great guitar bands here. ‘Breathe’ and ‘Sunday’ both draw on the sprawling grunge of Mudhoney and Nirvana, but equally Gilder’s wonderfully gruff vocals could have been equally inspired by Metallica as Cobain. ‘Belinda’ has the searing discordant guitar jaggedness of one of the greater Pixies moments, but also a headbanging metal edge that makes it their own.

Other highlights include the Arctic Monkeys-gone-rockabilly thrills of ‘Oh Yeh!‘, surefire live favourite ‘Come Back’ and the album’s only downtempo moment, ‘I’m Sick’, based around simple acoustic strumming and a comedown vocal delivery from Gilder that sounds so battered it’s a miracle it even manages to escape his throat.

The reference points are familiar, sure, but Mourning Birds prove here that they the songs to leave their influences behind them and stamp their own authority on their sound. Refreshingly free from the restrictions of genre – at least, you can see them appealing to the garage, punk and metal crowds in equal amounts – this is an invigorating debut brimming with spontaneity and guts. Watch them fly.


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