One of the joys of being back in London has been being able to immerse myself in the tons of live music that there always is on offer (I’m not sure I really want to count up exactly how many bands I’ve seen live in this city over the past three years, for the sake of my sanity when I realise how much it has all cost), and more particularly discovering new bands.
Ok, so quite a few support acts that I see are frankly dire – or in desperate need of more “development” before they try and start selling their music to me – but once in a while an artist catches my ear and I’m then keen on hearing more. Lightning Strikes The Empire State were one such band, discovered supporting Blindness back in January, and my review of them resulted in some e-mail exchanges with the band. All was quiet after that, until they once again got in touch to advise on a name change to The Comet Line (which will be how I managed to miss seeing them again the meantime, I guess) – and that they had their debut album imminent, and so this review is written following receiving a review copy.
What is clear from the outset is that this is a band not following the usual trends within indie-dom. There is authenticity here – of which more in a moment – but there is (thankfully) no move towards a folk-rock, M*****d & S**s ye olde type bullshit, and no dance music influence either, instead a muscular, post-punk influenced sound that is coupled with songwriting that lingers on doubt, regret and bitterness.
And that latter point really is worth making clear now. There is hardly a feeling of positivity here. The otherwise sunny, upbeat track If This is as Good as it Gets follows the titular line with “just kill me know“, while Lights Out suggests a deep distain and/or boredom with the usual British weekend activities (“go out get drunk and start a fight / if I could do it again / I’d change everything“), and then there is It’s the End of the World Again, which kinda speaks for itself.
Despite this gloomy outlook, there are some cracking songs here. Opener Lost In The Headlights has a punchy, taut sound, with guitars that scratch and squall over an impassioned vocal. Misery Guts – apparently about gatecrashing your ex-girlfriend’s wedding and getting the police called (that, frankly, I can only imagine is a true story!) – burns with embarrassed rage and shame, and like so many songs where it is all too personal, it is seriously intense. Despite this, they manage to shoehorn in a killer chorus.
Curiously, the single is the more restrained, slow-burn of Zeroes and Ones – which takes a few listens, and for me as a result is a strange choice as a single. Surely you want something immediate? In fact, something like the glorious Cicero. Another driving, bruising track, with a dense, crunching riff coupled with a great, hook-laden chorus that has been spinning though my head for days now.
And another thing: two of the best musical tracks here, interestingly, are the instrumentals (Failed States and Hot Snakes), which are both sadly too short, and the first at least seems to waste a marvellous melody – I’d be really interested to see if this ends up recorded with vocals at some point. Hot Snakes, on the other hand, is a one-minute blast that stops on a dime and leaves you wanting more.
The last song proper, Wait for Me, shows a more wistful side, with loads of harmonies and a gentler sound (less ragged, spiky guitars in particular, and drums that don’t hit like hammers – not that this is a bad thing!). As nice as it is to close things out, however, it is eclipsed by what comes before it.
What is really great about this album, though, is that it really does pay no heed to trends. There are influences from various points in popular music, like power-pop, post-punk, Talking Heads, even funk (particularly in the basslines). There are deeply personal, and angry lyrics, and a melodic core that will serve them well. I don’t recommend a great number of so-called “indie” bands nowadays – most of it is dross, particularly most of the stuff that makes it to the front of the likes of the NME – but this band I’ll recommend wholeheartedly. Give this a go if you need a new fix of guitar-led indie. You may be surprised at what you hear.
Watch the video for single Zeroes and Ones below.