So So Modern's live shows are a thing of calculated, intense beauty. Taking to the stage in primary colours, clad in shamanistic cowls and cloaks and with banks of primal synthesisers in front of them they tap into our collective cultural memory banks in an almost quasi-pagan ritual of Day-Glo pantheism. Playful and subversive, these Antipodeans have been kicking around the UK and Europe for a while now and released a singles and EPs compilation in 2008 (Friends and Fires + 000 EPs which was also released via Transgressive), but this is their first album proper. Having toured extensively they have honed their skills across the best part of a thousand shows, and their music is predictable tightly rendered as a result. Herein lies the perennial question surrounding the majority of over hyped, strategically positioned modern music; can an exciting live proposition bridge the gap and deliver on their promise and make a first album that doesn't quell the hype or incite the naysayers?
Across the album a template emerges of taut, angular post-punk interspersed and lacerated with driving polyrhythms, gang vocals, Afrobeat guitars and math-rock pretensions. If we're going to be cruel, So So 2005...there is even some woodblock hitting malarkey on 'Be Anywhere' that wouldn't sound out of place on a Rapture record. But to paint them as revivalists would be disingenuous and unfair. Immediacy is the key on tracks such as 'The Worst Is Yet To Come', which is a blast of off-kilter synths and cacophonous vocals, like Liars on uppers, which slowly convalesces into something much prettier and harder to pin down. The drone of noise that welcomes 'Be Anywhere' offer a dislocated, unhinged texture while the gleefully humanist approach of 'Island Hopping/Channel Crossing' is nicely counterpointed by a breakdown that slows and regresses the song to its core element.
Where the album really makes sense is on the longer, more progressive tracks. Opener 'Life In The Undergrowth' possesses tautly meshed guitar lines that are underpinned with a disconcerting wash of synthesis that gradually weaves in and out of key. Oscillating bleeps of noise, pulsing bass and a reverb soaked guitar figure add to a sense of tumultuous decay. 'Berlin' is the touchstone, the heart of the album. Rhythmic sequences of motorik arpeggios collide, eliding time. Euphoric rushes of synthesis and guitar rise to meet each other before a subtle key change stretches and elongates the song, eventually completely folding it in on itself, providing a glimmering layer of sound that expands then contracts. It captures the mechanised, industrialised pulse of a city; white lights on grey concrete, the sense of movement and of being part of something but also the converse of this - the 'lack' that is at its heart. Connection with the environment around is is promoted but there is a stilted emotional distance present. 'Dusk And Children' is in comparison languorous in tone, structured around a deceptively simple combination of harmony, melody and samples that eventually surges into a crescendo of optimistic rapture.
Music can be an aurally coruscating experience, and this trio of songs feature an ambivalence of melody and emotion that is both invigorating and perplexing. In their words the album "explores the burden of optimism in a constantly 'apocalyptic' reality". Without wishing to further burden the arid wasteland of semi-intellectualism their music is a response to the pressure of postmodernity and its incumbent cultural practices. It's all about togetherness. Or something like that.
Crude Futures is an album of immense promise and satisfaction that is contagious, fun and involving while the signposts for exciting new tangents are also evidential. There are blemishes and rough edges, but that is part of their charm, and amongst the differing and varied musical spheres traversed here they are on their way to finding that elusive sonic identity all of their own.
This article was originally produced for http://www.thelineofbestfit.com/. To view the music review of Crude Futures by So So Modern and to explore the rest of the site, please click on the article title.