I was first introduced to these “cult London troubadours” on the release of their debut ‘Bathtime in Clerkenwell’ and subsequent long-player I Lucifer in 2002. On first listen this was an obscure gem that was to glisten more on subsequent listens. This time I’m given the opportunity of engrossing myself in the first in a series that is to be their swansong – Blood – and what was once considered unusual, has now become accepted. What I observe here is that these sounds referred to as “antique beat” were ahead of the curve, becoming familiar in circles far beyond their London home. Producing a mix of almost trip-hop in this bygone setting, the sounds that envelope the listener encourage those who bear witness, to stick around.
Kissing off with ‘Blood Knuckled and Dusted‘, this could almost be Amy Winehouse in her prime; the sleazy vocal offered by one of the female vocal contributors is glorious. In fact, this entire album slips down as easily as a glass of Irish cream, hardly pure, but the combination suggests wickedness that can’t be overlooked.
A five-minute instrumental ‘Too Much, Too Soon’ follows, leading into founder and producer Stephen Coates’s smokey vocal on the band’s cover of Lady Gaga’s ‘Poker Face’. This version is put to Coates’s signature swing-beat, which works better than you might think from its high-energy foundation. It’s like Tom Waits was heard coming out of the Ministry of Sound, but instead of being snapped by the paparazzi, had his tuneful response bootlegged and streamed on SoundCloud.
‘Silicone’ is the next number, and it’s this tune that might raise the wryest of similes as G.G. McEwen presents the chorus “…you look like love, but you taste like silicone.” Perhaps a remark on today’s fashion of plastic surgery first, this is a wonderful slice of Coates’s “Haunted waltzes, piano interludes and cinematic electronica” that will find themselves absorbed into the self, which might make the daily drudgery a little more palatable, especially if the humour is served in such a way.
In ‘What Happens Next?’, this could almost be Jarvis Cocker delivering the performance, but it is of course Coates who is offering the narration in this sad tale. I’m mistaking the vocalist Stephanie Llo on the next number ‘Promises, Promises’ with Black Box Recorder’s Sarah Nixey, as she slides up to the mic tempting the audience with the lines she crafts, “Don’t promise me your love, I don’t need it. Don’t swear you’re all I want, I don’t believe it…”, every phrase is like turning the pages in a book, the vocal leaving the listener hanging on every word, her performance matching the smooth delivery of the brass section, her clipped vocal the timing of the beat. This is a sleazy tale of a woman enticing her lover for more than just a game of scrabble I’m sure.
Through ‘The Floating Man’, a tale of the doomed trapeze artist, to ‘Torched Song’ another number which sees the return of G.G. McEwen, starting with the audible strike of a match, ‘Skeletons in Waiting‘ and finally ‘Killers’, a fitting close to the first in this trilogy of recordings that we are told is to be their last. I would suggest the most important consideration is what will come after these have hit the mat, as from this set of songs I’m hearing a very fertile composer.
Blood is out now through Antique Beat.