Inspired by American new wave, Before Machines are outsiders looking in. Will their debut album win them more fans at home?
There’s a distinct sense of 'always the bridesmaid, never the bride' with Belfast-based indie rock band Before Machines, who have been performing on the Northern Irish live circuit for some time now. Critical plaudits have never been a problem for the band, but a wider awareness continues to elude them, something they clearly hope to remedy with debut album, Tundra.
Having been inspired by the mercurial inventiveness of legendary Washington DC label Dischord Records, who were responsible for some of the most important and vital American punk and new wave music produced over the last 30 years, Before Machines’ sound is typically angular, their lyrics typically intelligent.
In the increasingly populated Northern Irish music scene, it's inexplicable that a band as talented and consistent have struggled to capture a larger audience, despite having songs marked out by thought-provoking lyrics, captivating melodic twists, and produced with a keen grasp of sonic textures. And therein lies the problem; Before Machines are no hipsters.
Yes, the Northern Irish music scene is that fickle! Before Machines are a bunch of normal looking guys who enjoy writing and performing cerebral, intricate guitar music. No skinny jeans, expensive haircuts or big choruses. And their debut album will almost certainly fail to rectify their lack of a local following, which is a huge shame.
Tundra is a collection of strong, melodic yet challenging indie rock songs that are right up there with anything our American cousins currently have to offer. Opener ‘Little Lea’ sets out Before Machines' stall in a concise and direct manner, featuring rhythmically intricate drum patterns and tightly coiled guitars twisting and turning in ways that shouldn’t hold together, but somehow do.
With a lead guitar line that is tricky to follow – but, crucially, not impossible – the glue of the song is a concise vocal line directly delivered by frontman Andy Melville. 'I’m making concessions / When I should be making confessions.'
The arrangement is an encapsulation of everything that follows: a dramatic tension runs throughout the song, whilst a fractured sense of passion carries the vocal line. Melville can spit words out as well as anybody on the Dischord roster, but there’s something in his delivery that ensures his lyrics impact on head rather than the heart.
When second track ‘Ornaments’ kicks in, a major weakness of Tundra immediately becomes apparent – whilst each song on the album is strong in its own right, I can't help but notice that they all sound remarkably similar.
There is little ebb and flow here, and as Tundra progresses, songs like ‘Stalagmites’ and ‘Trembleur’ reveal their own miniature dramas, unfolding layers of texture and mystery, but never straying far from the Before Machines formula. Tundra is a collection of strong individual songs that fans of post-hardcore bands like Fugazi, Faraquet and Smart Went Crazy will lap up, but as an album, it somehow manages to frustrate.
One gets the sense that Before Machines still have a long way to go before they find the perfect medium to express themselves, but Tundra suggests that it will definitely be worth waiting for. As it stands, this is a great reference point on the map, but not necessarily the final destination.
Tundra is released on January 30, 2013.