Monday, 31 May 2010

Exit Calm - Hearts & Minds

Wednesday 19th May, 2010; The Buffalo Bar, Islington. Displaced northerners jostle for space at the bar with local heroes, The Tamborines. A pair of gloriously provocative groupies vie for the attention of (support act) Dorias Barraca's beaming guitarist, and a fat bloke pinballs his way around the dancefloor, scattering too-cool-for-school scenesters like an excitable Bill Beaumont. The place is packed.

The root cause of such giddiness is the on-stage arrival of Exit Calm. A band long-lauded as South-Yorkshire's-best-kept-secret have arrived in the capital to launch their eponymous debut CD and to remind the rest of the country that when it comes to swaggering indie-rock, nobody does it better than our northern neighbours.

The album itself has been greeted, almost universally, with warmth. Indeed some reviewers have literally fallen over themselves to lavish praise on it, bracketing Exit Calm in the same league as other cherished debuts such as Unknown Pleasures and The Stone Roses... Acclaim almost as improbable as red-top, tat-rag The Sun giving flagship single Hearts & Minds 'single of the week'.


So what's the fuss all about, eh? Well, it could simply be that we've needed an Exit Calm for a little while now. As lead singer Nicky Smith prowls around the stage like a credible hybrid of Liam Gallagher and Richard Ashcroft, there's a genuine sense that a real rock 'n'roll band could be about to explode again. Sure, the cliches are there; you won't find a single album review that doesn't name-check The Verve as an influence, whilst some of Rob Marshall's echo-delay pedal trickery throws up (entirely commendably, I assure you) references to early U2. But there's also something very now about Exit Calm.

Let's get one thing clear, Exit Calm don't write three-minute pop songs. Seemingly every track on their album is a six-minute, sonic monologue. Experimentation jostles for place with stylish referencing to combine a blissful montage of shoegaze, indie, post-rock and pop. The end product is a record that sounds like it was mixed in the Hydron Collider.

If the album is good, then as a live act they are, at times, breathtaking. A four-piece sounding like ten, they wade through a barrage of thundering, distorted riffs, backed by an urgent, omnipresent rhythm section which rarely pauses for breath. The support they receive from the crowd is remarkable. A genuine love affair, and one that bodes well as support for the group continues to swell.

At the heart of the set is a climactic cameo of Hearts & Minds. Whilst an edited down, radio-friendly version has been released as a single, it's the sprawling full-length album version that gets the live treatment. Self-indulgent, uproarious and soulful, the track is the high-point of a terrific night.

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