Monday, June 13, 2016

You Can't Have That Band - They're Mine!

Last month, I conducted an informal music survey to find out more about how we consume music here in the UK. The final question on this survey was this optional extra:
Recommend me a great album I've never heard before.
148 of my 217 respondents rose to this challenge, and irritatingly enough, most of them were successful - that is, the vast majority of those 148 people did indeed recommend albums that were completely unknown to me.

This left me with a long, long, long list of albums that I now feel honour-bound to check out. Excluding the few albums I already knew like Wolf Alice's My Love is Cool, I've managed to listen to 4 of those recommendations so far, the first of which was Earth & Earthly Things by a Nothern Irish outfit called Cutaways.

I made Earth & Earthly Things the first step on my journey of discovery for one simple reason: it was free. It proved to be a good choice: the album is packed with great riffs and melodies, and its general feel is reminiscent of a slightly more approachable Los Campesinos! which is a big plus in my book.

A shame, then, that Cutaways disbanded several years ago, and that Earth & Earthly Things is the only proper album they ever released. They seem like they would have been great fun live, and one wonders what sort of music they'd be making now had they stayed together. Perhaps they would have gone the same route as Los Camps themselves, packaging their second CD in a box that doesn't fit on any CD rack known to man before releasing a fantastically cynical third album about why love is a lie and life is meaningless.

Of course, splitting after a single album isn't necessarily the worst move a band can make if they're gunning for legend status. Indeed, Christopher McBride - the survey respondent who recommended that I listen to Earth & Earthly Things in the first place - wrote a blog post on his own site the other week about his hope that the Cutaways will eventually achieve the same recognition and acclaim as all those other acts who only got famous once they'd disappeared for good:
"Earth & Earthly Things didn't catapult the band to the heightened success that I would have hoped for, and the band eventually called it a day in 2010. However, I didn't let this get me down, for I knew in my heart of hearts that this was a very special album indeed, and that years in the future, as word of mouth spreads and people who were inspired by Cutaways begin forming bands of their own, then the album would be re-evaluated, re-appraised, and within several years it will be held up as a classic record."
Christopher McBride, The Metaphorical Boat 

It's a nice thought, and truth be told, I was slightly humbled by Christopher's yearning to see Cutaways belatedly reach a wider audience. There's no doubt their music still deserves to be heard, and obviously we all want our favourite bands to make it big, but in my experience that latter feeling is often superseded by a more selfish desire to keep a good band all to yourself. I hope I'm not alone in getting a warm, smug glow from feeling like I'm the only person in the world who knows about an amazing artist; whether it's because I enjoy feeling like the singer is speaking to me personally or simply because it's fun to have knowledge that other people lack, I've always found a slightly perverse pleasure in imagining that awesome yet obscure bands are somehow mine.

And as great as it is to see your favourite band become massive, it always stings a little to have that illuson taken away. Arcade Fire are a good example from my own musical odyssey: I loved Funeral and Neon Bible (neither of which particularly flew under the radar, but bear with me here), and yet when The Suburbs came out and the entire world - including several friends of mine who had previously dismissed the likes of Rebellion (Lies) out of hand - realised how much they loved AF, I was so put out that I trashed the band's new record in a scathing review on my exceedingly popular and influential music blog, much to the band's chagrin I'm sure.

This is obviously a stupid, childish way for me to behave. People who make great music shouldn't have to voluntarily languish in eternal obscurity for fear of alienating smug, jealous shut-ins like myself who will morph into the male narrator from Don't You Want Me as soon as the general public gets word of the brilliance that's just a click away. With that in mind, I'd like to take the first step towards a more positive attitude, so here's an actual review of Earth & Earthly Things. Hopefully this will be the album's first baby step towards becoming a belatedly-recognised classic à la Just Another Diamond Day, or at the very least a cult classic à la Plan 9 from Outer Space.


Earth & Earthly Things came out in the final months of the roaring noughties, a decade now remembered for the explosion of NME-approved guitar bands and post-punk revival acts that happened somewhere in the middle of it. This album sounds like it was recorded in the very dying moments of that boom, as if Cutaways were frantically trying to pack in every glistening keyboard pattern, every punchy guitar riff, and every disparate musical idea they had before it was too late. It's a last-gasp attempt to board a train that's chugging away from the platform, but rather than coming off as embarrassing and barrelscraped, the results are a jerky, nervous joy to behold.

As you might expect from noughties indie's frantic last dance, there's a gorgeous sort of melancholy underpinning this album's best moments: Wrong Cause, Right Words (my favourite track) is a great example, as is the pining synth melody that appears throughout I Don't Understand What You Don't Say. When the singer repeatedly yelps "Are we having fun?" during the climax of the latter track, he sounds less like he's trying to get his audience going and more like he's strung-out and searching for an answer that he doesn't even know himself.

Stuffed with tempo changes and sudden melodic shifts, Earth & Earthly Things isn't exactly the smoothest listen, but its restless feel and the bumpy path it takes only serve to heighten the album's emotional impact. Here we have a band who seemingly knew that their days were numbered, and so they made a hard-hitting yet infectiously fun album that desperately yet winningly scrabbles to make as many points and punch as much air as it can.

As previously mentioned, Earth & Earthly Things is available to download for FREE from Cutaways' Bandcamp page.

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