Empty Pools, Spectres, Oliver Wilde.
The Louisiana, Bristol.
14th March 2013
Empty Pools have been turning heads in all the right places since they first arrived on the scene proper with their debut single a little over a year ago. They’ve made giant steps in the intervening time & last week saw the launch of their latest & undoubtedly most assured release yet. And despite it being the busiest night of the year in terms of gigs, this was a launch Louder Than War couldn’t miss.
Who remembers how, in days of old, (like before t’internet became the widely available, universally used & generally ‘taken for granted’ thing it is now), cities used to put on occasional showcases of some of the best bands around the area at the time & all your A ‘n’ R guys n gals would storm up from London to scout the best talent & to possibly sign em up for their label? I do. I was in Hull around the “London 0 Hull 4” era & it used to happen all the time there then. Boy how we’d snigger behind these people’s backs cuz we knew that The Housemartins were an anomaly & that these guys n gals were signing a load of crap to their labels mainly cuz they didn’t want their 6 hour journey “oop north” to be a wasted one. We all used to pile down the Adelphi on these nights to support these bands in a usually successful attempt to try and convince these A ‘n’ R’ers that everyone loved them locally & that, if given a chance, the ‘love’ would obviously be replicated nationally.
Twenty years ago this gig would’ve been like that, the London mob would’ve been scrambling over themselves coming to check out all these bands. “Momentum” & “buzz” has been building behind all three of them; on a local level in the case of Oliver Wilde, on a national level in the case of Spectres (see last weeks Drowned In Sound review of their new EP ‘Hunger’) &, for Empty Pools, an international level (P4k gave last years Empty Pools track Absentees a big ole well deserved hat tip at the end of 2012).
The remarkably assured (despite the fact that his debut gig was only a few months ago) Oliver Wilde kicked the night off. Twas back at that first gig, that I began to hear a buzz begin to build around his name & since then it’s swollen to quite ridiculous levels. If it weren’t for the fact that I’m pretty wary of “buzz” in general (esp local “buzz” when all the people “buzzing” probably know the artist) it would have taken a minor miracle for him to live up to expectations. Or, more accurately, for “them” to live up to expectations as it turned out “Oliver Wilde” didn’t take to the stage on his own but rather as a five piece. (As an aside, it’s not the first time I’ve taken a band’s name too literally – imagine how disappointed I was that time I turned up to see The Brotherhood Of Man & found out there was only four of them). I guess it’s inevitable that, with Oliver Wilde’s music being so multilayered & complex (albeit superficially pretty simple), replication of it in a live scenario was going to mean going down one of two routes – the ‘full band” route or the “stripped down” route. On this showing it would appear going with a full band was the best decision.
“Oliver Wilde” is a chap who’s quite possibly the very embodiment of what you might imagine a contemporary gentle giant to look like (i.e. a traditional gentle giant with a scruffy beard on him) and despite a streaming cold which he understandably (but unnecessarily) kept apologising for, he proceeded to dazzle this evening with a rather wonderful set. If you closed your eyes & listened to him then what’d immediately strike you would be the tender, soft, muffled vocals & the tender, soft but not so muffled acoustic guitar playing. The lo-fi fuzz of the guitar / vocals are perfectly & sensitively, complimented by understated synth loops which add to the general “downer pop” (© Oliver Wilde) ambience of the set. Golly I enjoyed their set, & considering I’m a person who, live environment wise, feels most comfortable in a room full of people diving into the crowd off the highest point in the room, mic grabbing, floor punching, trying to suck everyone else into the roiling mess that is the mosh pit (as per last years Trash Talk gig) it’s fair to say I was a bit surprised with how much I enjoyed him / them).
What can be said about Spectres that I haven’t already said in the review of their EP (and that I haven’t got round to posting yet because I’m too busy getting other people’s copy on the site)? Well, for a start I’ll say that live Spectres shine even more so than they do when recorded (because of how very good they are live & not because they aren’t great recorded). The EP referred to above is astonishing & not only will sell out soon so ffs dont wait for my review (buy a copy). Despite an audience who’s primary reason for being there, it appeared, wasn’t to see Spectres, (lots of standing around hands in pockets from the audience – the opposite to their EP launch) they still put their backs into it & although to a certain extent it was workmanlike, when the workmen are this good it’s still flippin’ great stuff. Spectres know what their strength is (guitars, and the teasing / abuse of such) & play to it with the vocals low enough down in the mix that those guitars, dancing between shimmery playfulness & perfectly timed ‘walls of guitar noise’ (© trad), were what dominated your conscious. I’ll leave most of my gushing to the aforementioned review of Hunger, but rest assured this was confirmation once again that these guy’s stars are still way in the ascendancy & boy is everyone going to go “fucking hell” when they reach the zenith of that ascendancy thing.
And so to the headliners. Empty Pools first entered my ken some time ago, irritatingly being brought to my attention by some arm of the music press outside of Bristol. Irritating because it should be me telling the rest of the world about Bristol bands not vice versa. First time I heard them live I was the other side of a flimsy wall at one of the cities occasional venues. The DJ had been playing Yuck & so seamless was the morph from that to Empty Pools that I didn’t realise the band had started. That may not sound like a compliment (depending on whether you like Yuck or not) until I continue that my thinking as I was listening to what I thought was the Yuck track was “I didn’t realise I liked Yuck so much, this is brilliant”. Just as I was thinking that I poked my head round the wall & realised my mistake – that it wasn’t Yuck being brilliant at all, it was Empty Pools being brilliant & sadly they were doing so to around 10 people.
Empty Pools have come on a hec of a lot since that first time I heard them. Despite the fact that their live show has come on leaps and bounds it’s their recorded sound that shines (compare with Spectres above). Indeed, the single being launched tonight is as strong a single as any I’ve heard this year I think. Both tracks on it, Small Talk & Televised. It’s one of those 7″‘s that you put on loop even if you haven’t been asked to review it. There were times live, too, when they came close to this brilliance but what shone live was totally different to what I was impressed by in the single. Recorded what you get are two perfectly poised articles of graceful guitar pop. No messin’, no chaff, succinct, concise & as near a perfect an example of their genre as you’re probably going to find. (lol – I’ve just checked the length of Small Talk & it’s over 5 mins which just goes to prove how flippin’ good it must be – for a pop song to hold one’s attention for over 5 mins & for it to still leave you wanting more is pretty impressive; for it to do so & for me to write that it’s “succinct” & “concise” even more so).
Live Empty Pools are at their best when they start riffing on each tracks nuances, jamming basically (even if it is pre-meditated jamming), pushing the tracks past the self imposed boundaries of their recorded counterparts. They took each song’s separate elements & played with them, turning them into something even more exciting. The at times euphoric funkiness of the bass was pushed & exaggerated, as was the lithe scattergun snapshot attack of the trebly lead guitar & the two sounds, which you’d normally not consider so complimentary, do just that, compliment, so that together you get a kind of airy free jazz feel before it sinks back down into the more bubbly & simpler zones of the core poppiness. This approach works so well because the band members are so respectful of each other. On top of the bass & lead guitar, when vocalist Leah on the other guitar joins in it brings the whole together. Hat tip to drums too of course, the foundation of the whole.
They rattled through their set, charming everyone in attendance not only by their music but by acceding to requests from the audience, one of which was, unbelievably, their first ever encore.
Empty Pools are going to be the soundtrack to one of your hazy summers some time real soon. Indeed, if Small Talk receives the press coverage & airplay it deserves it could well be the soundtrack to this hazy Summer (he says, being ever the optimist).