THE BARNUM MESERVE,
COLD WATER SOULS, SHORT WEEKENDS
ROUGH TRADE, NOTTINGHAM, 03.08.17
Sounds a bit Ibiza-y in Rough Trade Nottingham tonight. Not that I’ve ever been, but this is what I imagine it sounds like (I’ve seen Clubland adverts). Short Weekends are cycling through synth tones before they start their set, firing out bursts of hyper-compressed synth volleys. These young chaps are looking fresh in the face and fresh 2 death in the threads department, laughing and joking with a jittery excitement about them.
The Ibiza sounds quickly turn into a more subdued, rounded organ tone as they start their set, zinging my neurons into Depeche Mode. There’s a lot of space in their opening instrumental; snare hits come once per bar with an almighty snap and decay casually, while the guitars jink out scratchy funk riffs that weave around the bassline. SW build a complex sound and an engaging texture, before a chirpy, Wombats-y, indie pop groove bursts out and takes over. I have to admit I was quite excited by the initial sound and a little disappointed to hear it build and then drop, but with the average age of these chaps being just 17, it’s forgivable, more likely promising, immediately seeing them trying all kinds of different sounds and styles.
After a few songs, it becomes clear that the kind of stark texture changes we got from the first instrumental are a staple of SW’s fledgling sound. One moment they are cruising through pad-drenched, off-beat grooves a la Metronomy, the next they are chunking down into Cream-esque blues breakdowns, driving out single note riffs in unison with some disgustingly filthy bass moments stomping in to shake some earballs. You can tell these lads are not afraid to experiment with the kinds of soundscapes they can build and, with contributions coming in from the whole band, they litter their set with catchy little nuggets of melody.
Frontman, Cameron, sneers his way through the set, switching from low, slurred croons up into mournful wails. His lazy enunciation and simple hooks remind us a little of Adam Lazzara, relinquishing a layer of emotion for his words to sit atop the instrumentation.
Shuffling about on stage, Short Weekends give an endearing impression of a band that suspect they are actually really quite good, but aren’t quite sure of it yet. If there’s one thing we’d like to see, it’s them dabble deeper into their more complex textures, crafting out full songs based from these ambitious ideas. We’ve no doubt they’ve a unique sound there to be refined, that’ll naturally emerge as they churn out more shows.
Cold Water Souls, now then, a band that very much knows exactly what their sound is and doesn’t hesitate to plunge us straight into the most ginormous of sonic caverns. It’s tight. Real tight. If CWS were a pickle jar lid, we’d need arms like Arnie to have any chance of tasting pickle. Guitars are thrashed, screeching out tremolo’d octaves at a piercing pitch, drenched in delay and reverb that blends every note together symphonically. Beneath the swirling guitars, the drums are tanked sparingly, cracking out snare hits decaying slower than plutonium, whilst the bass thunders out ominous harmony. Vocalist, Dan, then comes belting in with the most magnificently powerful voice. I mean, fuck yeah, that’s a hoofing voice.
We’d spoken to drummer, Ben, before the show, and he’d said he wasn’t sure how to describe the band, but went with ‘ambient grunge’. We reckon is about right. While the ambient part of their sound comes from the spacious texture they use, the grunginess (that’s a word, it’s not even underlined in red) is implemented in harmony. A lot of major chords are subbed in where the natural chord in the key would have been minor (classic grunge tricks amirite), and there’s a doom-laden feel conjured by the use of chord progressions and riffs that descend in minor 3rds.
The standout moment in the set comes in the final song. Despite CWS megablasting their assured and accomplished style of ambient grunge for 20 minutes or so, it’s a slight change in the use of their ambient texture that sets this song apart from the others. While most of the set has been dominated by chords that seemingly blur into each other from start to finish, there’s a refreshing change in the sense that we get distinctive rhythms coming in. The drums thump out a grooving march feel, the bass fires out staccato bursts to form harmonic phrases with ample space between them and the guitars groove around in low, funky riffs. The whole thing reminds me a bit of ‘Inhaler’ by Foals, which just so happens to be a totally bangin’ choon.
CWS’s performance is squeaky clean and very professional; not only have they have crafted some excellent songs with colourful harmony (which sets them apart from a hella lotta bands) but the way in which they control and develop harmony is engaging. The vocal melodies are strong and the delivery is nothing short of sublime. We would love to hear some vocal harmonies to really give them a professional polish, further bringing out the ominous harmony used in the instrumentation, as well as a wider range of dynamics and textures as we saw so promisingly in the final song. Top job, chaps!
The Barnum Meserve. The. Fucking. Barnum. Meserve. Sweet chilli crispy chicken this band. They make us feel like none of our adjectives will ever be good enough to describe the absolute divinity of their songwriting and performance. Where’s that pickle jar we gave to Arnie earlier? Oh he passed it to Dwayne Johnson, who took one look at the people’s Barnum Meserve, raised the people’s eyebrow and handed it back. Ain’t no-one smelling what The Rock is cooking tonight.
The trio, Leon Wiley (vocals/keys), Dylan Griffiths (bass), and Paul Moss-Pearce (drums), swagger up on stage, take some indifferent swigs of beer and in an instant go from 0 to THIS BUILDING IS COMING DOWWWWWN. It’s absolutely colossal. Monstrous. Thunderous (shout out to the sound guy at this point, all the bands have sounded pretty LRG).
As soon as they’ve started, though, they immediately demonstrate their deft control of dynamics by dropping down into a mellow, plagal, trip-hop groove. It’s very Massive Attack. The keys are feeling out colourful, clustered chords with a round, hammond organ tone, and there’s some nice major/minor substitution that keeps the harmony unpredictable. There are so many instances of extreme dynamic change across the set, a masterful range on display, and like their use of harmony, it keeps us in the dark with regard to when the next wall of sound is going to flank us and floor us.
"We're still here, 10 years on."
Now that is a sentence, uttered by frontman, Leon, that makes as much sense as it makes no sense at all. This is the performance of a band that know themselves, their music and their instruments inside out. There is a plethora of crisp, full band, rhythmical moments sprinkled across the set; when there is intended silence, the sound cuts off a cliff face, and when they come back in, it is in total unison; not a molecule of air moved before it should be. And so that is exactly why it doesn’t make sense, that 10 years on, these guys are here at their hometown Rough Trade, and not on tour with Biffy Clyro, or Nine Inch Nails, or Radiohead.
Not only is this a phenomal performance of their songs, it is a showcase of some of the most dynamic, controlled, meticulous, colourful and accomplished songwriting you can find. There are moments where things even sound a bit West-End, such is the clever use of harmonic progression, vivid chord extensions and melodies that pick from a kaleidoscope of chord tones.
There is an air of dejection about The Barnum Meserve, a band that have slugged it out, dedicated themselves to originality, and refining a powerful, moving, tight as fuck performance. It’s a feeling you can sense in the vicious and screaming delivery of Leon’s vocals over TBM’s more expansive sections, just as much as the delicate, soft, stripped back moment’s. It’s raw emotion. This is a frustrated band, that know they are good enough, and have worked hard enough, to be bringing down arenas. For us, it gives them a edge that very few bands attain. They are absolutely oozing with integrity, which is reassuring when you see a band you genuinely think are doing something special. TBM are currently gearing up to record their 5th release. It’s going to be fucking good. We know that.
Written by Harry Christopher