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The Wood Burning Savages, Vanilla Gloom and Elspeth bare their souls. Steven Rainey passes judgement

The Wood Burning Savages – The Wood Burning Savages

Rock and roll in 2013 can mean anything you want it to. The internet killed context stone dead, and now all that remains is the song. This is something that Derry~Londonderry’s The Wood Burning Savages hope to benefit from with the release of their eponymous debut EP.

With all the frantic urgency of The Seeds or The Sonics, The Wood Burning Savages break things down to their basic elements, opting for a ‘less is more’ approach, where guitars scream, vocals wail, bass guitar thunders, and drums crash.

‘Living Hell’ suggests that there’s a perfectly competent and exciting Kingsmen-esque band here somewhere, currently hindered by production that is a little to clean for this kind of thing, whilst ‘The Duke’ highlights a much more original, song based sound that feels like a more comfortable setting, but one which will struggle to make as much of a visceral impact.

Context isn’t important anymore, but consistency is, and this release finds The Wood Burning Savages struggling to achieve a coherent sense of identity. ‘Living Hell’ suggests that there’s a perfectly competent and exciting Kingsmen-esque band here somewhere, but the production is much too clean.

Rock and roll can mean anything you want it to – now all The Wood Burning Savages have to do is work out exactly what it means to them. With their raw garage rock sound curiously out of time, yet entirely contemporary, this record should speak to the young and the alienated, if very few others.

Vanilla Gloom – Vexed

For Vanilla Gloom, grunge is alive and well, Kurt Cobain never took the easy option, Chris Cornell didn't cut his hair, The Screaming Trees are still going to be huge and Pearl Jam are not awful bores. It’s an exciting world for Vanilla Gloom. I'm just not sure about the rest of us.

'There’s a hole in my head, a putrid void of the things I’ve left unsaid,' coos Megan O'Kane on ‘Wolves’ (Shannon O'Neill sings on the other tracks), over a bassline copped from the Kim Deal School of Languid Melodic Playing, positively dripping with irony. The song ends with a blistering refrain: 'I hate you so much and I want you to know, how much it hurts to be all alone.'

Grunge was always good at circumnavigating the kind of over-the-top displays of emotion that categorised hardcore, and which came to define emo, and in the current music world, it’s impressive to see a band singing this kind of thing rather than screaming it.

‘Lemons and the Wine’ is even better than the opening track, a surging tide of Sonic Youth-inspired texture providing the backdrop for an absolutely delectable melody. It then explodes into a wall of shimmering distorted guitars. Vanilla Gloom have not re-invented the wheel here, but they have crafted the perfect calling card.

While is still boasts a pretty gnarly guitar solo, ‘Vultures’ is less impressive than the previous two tracks on this debut EP, feeling more like a genre exercise. But, at this point, I'm already sold. Assuming they can avoid being becoming a parody act, Vanilla Gloom have every chance of establishing themselves as a major force on the Northern Irish scene, especially with the grunge aesthetic evidently making a comeback.

Elspeth – Quick Exit

It’s easy to feel sorry for bands like Elspeth. Their debut album, Coax, was released in late 2012, and whilst it failed to set the entire world on fire, it was a perfectly decent effort. Elspeth's only crime, as the world then saw it, was that they were too in thrall to gentle, melancholic indie-rock – the kind of thing that people listened to in the 1990s, not now.

Or maybe that’s not the case. Suede, after all, are making a big return this spring, Elbow still provide the soundtrack to a billion emotional moments on television, and Radiohead remain the thinking indie kid’s band of choice. Evidently, Newry-based Elspeth were ahead of the game.

Next single 'Quick Exit' is a big, sweeping indie-rock anthem, the kind of thing that would be used to soundtrack a soap opera or independent art house movie, when two estranged lovers pine for each other, gazing out through window panes soaked with rain, their faces streaming with tears. You get the point.

Elspeth don’t add much to the formula, and without detracting from the quality of the songwriting, performances or production on this album, which are certainly impressive, it’s impossible to listen to 'Quick Exit' without picturing a field of lighters being waved in the air.

That’s not really a criticism of Elspeth, per se. But there is a distinct sense that there should be something more happening here. While Elspeth have been rightly praised for making unfussy music without bowing to trend or fad, there’s still a lingering sense that they’ve not been able to bring any of their own personality or character to proceedings, resulting in a kind of vague anonymity for them.

Maybe they should become vegans, or embrace a ‘right on’ political cause, because if they want to play with the big hitters of ‘bland’, then they’re going to have to add another dimension. After all, in the world of indie rock, a little personality goes a long way.

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