Wednesday, February 1, 2006

Records In Review: Maximo Park--A Certain Trigger

More fruit from the new wave revivalist tree, courtesy of Newcastle's Maximo Park. A Certain Trigger is the debut lp from The Futureheads' down-the-road neighbours and genre cohabitants. And it is good. Hot damn good.

I almost don't want to analyze the record too closely, 'cos it's such fun to listen to and I don't want to kill the mood; but, I s'pose I owe it to posterity and the kids. This five-piece does have many traits in common with the F-Heads beyond the superficial resemblances to early XTC, but, as usual, it's the differences that are most interesting. There's more of a pop sensibility here courtesy of The Jam and the mod set in general, more sense of flow (despite myriad stylistic references), and a less elephantine sound. They've a full-time keyboard player, and that certainly makes a difference; the sounds used are mostly upper-range chamber organ and buzzy new wave synth, adding some space-age feel--well, what was considered space-age in 1978. Guitarist Duncan Lloyd utilizes lots o' sounds (see "Graffiti"), and the rhythm section is lively and self-assured.

Maximo Park are a band with exceptional musical instincts. All of the material, with very few exceptions, works, even when by rights it shouldn't. Songs come at you with a TON...sorry, TONNE of influences in consecutive sections and don't sound garish even when the contrasts are at their most extreme. I'm thinking here of the appropriately titled "Now, I'm All Over The Shop," which in the course of 60 seconds runs through mid-'70s Queen, Go 2-era XTC and The Housemartins. I think the reason it works is that the approach is consistent (a couple of exceptions, which I'll get to), even when the material isn't. I can't explain it better than to say that the songs are always moving forward with no dithering or wallowing. You'll just have to listen to hear what I mean. Also helping immensely is singer Paul Smith, who performs a skilful balancing act with his slightly wavery crooning, bringing neither too much sweetness nor gruntiness. I'm kind of glad that both Smith and Futurehead Barry Hyde don't try to play the tough guy--which might be tempting with this kind of music--because I have to shamefully admit that Geordie and other Northern accents in pop music often make me laugh; just can't stop thinking about my late grandmother and Dales farmers. The vocals also blend repetitive hook-based lines and looser melodic ones really well. The lyrics usually involve seeing or imagining exes with other dudes.

I have new favourite tracks on ACT every other day, but my current ones are: "Apply Some Pressure," which is fairly hell-for-leather with at least one foot in Futureheads territory; "The Coast Is Changing," one of the gentler numbers with an '80s-style picked bass and very nice and simple vocal melody; "I Want You To Stay"--a jerky, staccato Devo-ish keyboard rhythm gradually evolves into something completely different; and "Once, A Glimpse," which has the most overtly punky chorus, but also a very unexpected Chameleons-like ambient guitar section in the middle. "Going Missing" might move a bit too far in the modern rock direction, but it's far from banal, particularly arrangement-wise. I said that there were one or two exceptions to the band's consistency of approach: the last couple of tracks. "Acrobat" is the one example of atmosphere over energy on the record, reminiscent of The Stranglers' silky, spoken-word "La Folie." Very good, if a bit out of the flow of the album. The closer "Kiss You Better" is the weakest link and far less nervy than it needs to be.

A Certain Trigger vs. The Futureheads is pretty much a toss-up in the battle of fabulousness; it depends on whether you prefer gently bouncing up and down or doing the (theoretical) post-punk spazz dance. Either way, you win. Highly and wholeheartedly recommended.

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