I don’t think I’m being blithely reactionary or un-astutely apathetic in saying that British alternative music is in a state of total and profound confusion right now. Where are the movements? Where are the standard-bearers? Who are the genuine maverick innovators (as opposed to the tiresome Kate Bush-lite wannabes and the fashionista bullshitters)? Where is the underground? Where is the mainstream-independent divide? Where is the coherent narrative of any kind? Is the traditional four-piece instrumental group a completely outmoded concept? Is the entire genre an outmoded concept in light of genuinely relevant and progressive modern musical developments such as grime, dubstep and US r’n’b-pop?
In a situation like this, without any discernible infrastructure or starting point from which to begin, the rational analysis of new independent band is a task fraught with objective-judgment-testing quandaries. It’s likely to give rise to a number of question, questions like is this the sound of a daring, experimental, technology-abetted future, or is it the sound of a group of desperate and immature young men trying to sound like Duran Duran, or the worst bits of Michael Jackson, because a self-consuming, pastiche-obsessed 20-year stretch has left them with nothing to rip-off but the sleaziest dregs of pop history?
This was the sort of debate taking place in my head as I watched Post War Years the other night. I couldn’t really make up my mind as to whether they were purveyors of a laudably edgy futurism, or a kind of horribly confused post-Klaxons, ‘80s funk-reviving, synth-driven mess.
On the plus side, these lads from the Leamington Spa ghetto are doing interesting things with the orthodox four-piece set-up, alternating between samplers, keys and (most intriguingly and successfully of all, on the excellent ‘Black Morning’) a twin-bass guitar + sampler + drums arrangement. They’re also a significant improvement on vaguely similar-sounding coevals Foals; they know how to take the post-rock/electronica template beyond one-dimensionality by way of an awareness of melody and harmonic development. Thus, a vogue-ish tune like the very Foals-y ‘Whole World On Its Head’ is redeemed by a powerful vocal line (a welcome contrast to the guileless ‘post-punk’ LDN yelping of Yannis Phillipakis). A further salvaging boon lies in the fact of their willingness to experiment with a wide variety of textures and stylistic touchstones, from the Hot Chip-redolent prog of ‘Soul Owl’ to the ambient grace of tunes like ‘White Lies’.
However, there were moments on Friday night this subtlety got buried under a hailstorm of gratuitous synth tackiness. Perhaps this was a live vs. recordings issue, perhaps there’s something fundamentally wrong with translating into a live context tunes which have obviously started-off as experiments in bedroom tech-manipulation. Whatever it was, there seemed to me to be something incongruous at the heart of the experience, something hollow in the sight of four trendily-dressed young men running through a routine of clichéd indie-band ‘moves’ (stagecraft, I believe it’s called) as part of a Levis-sponsored gig complete with a VIP room packed with mojito-toting music biz wankers who couldn’t even be bothered to muster much of an applause at the end of each song. Surely this is just about the most inappropriate context imaginable for the sort of music that Post War Years produce – music that is grounded in sonic experimentation, textural shifts, complexity, and studio adventurousness. In this context, the synth elements really did seem like the work of a naff Duran Duran-like pop band, rather than of radical innovators.
Context is everything, and bands need to be a darnsight more aware of this if alternative music is to become interesting and worthwhile again over the next few years. Because there is a very real risk that the time-worn British tradition of radicalism and idiosyncrasy will die with a whimper if these sorts of conditions continue.
For all that, the set concluded with the aforementioned ‘Black Morning’ and I began to swing back to a more sympathetic mindset. This tune was soulful and expansive, with a sublime melody and a piano sample that got the human being-tech ratio exactly right. In the end I made my mind up. Post War Years are a laudably futuristic band. Even if the kind of context they’re operating in works against the genuine worth of what they’re trying to do, they’re still a massive step-up from the sort of archly-conservative garage rock these shores were blighted with in the wake of the Strokes. They’re trying to push things forward, and they have ambitious creative horizons.
They’re on the side of the angels. Just.
(but whatever you do, DON'T CLICK ON THIS LINK)