Even As We Speak - The Black Forest

by Steve Rhodes Rating:7 Release Date:2017-09-11

Well this is a blast from the past. All the way from Sydney, Australia, Even As We Speak were the first overseas signing to Sarah, Bristol's fiercely independent record label, at the start of the 1990s, producing a number of jangly EPs and one full-length for the label, earning numerous plaudits especially in the UK, such as John Peel, who invited them to record four Peel Sessions in the early 90s. Sadly, despite some strong releases and some ingenious covers, such a beautiful rendition of New Order's 'Bizarre Love Triangle', success eluded them. After more than 20 years of silence the band has returned, appearing at NYC's Pop Fest in 2016 and now a brand new EP The Black Forest, which neatly treads the same path as much of their back catalogue to such a point that it feels like time has stood still for two decades.

'Clouds' is a summery, country-fied toe-tapper tune. Acoustic and electric guitars, a carnival-esque organ and a placid bass back Mary Wyer's quaint and folk-tinged vocals, which nod to Isobel Campbell and Strawberry Switchblade, with backing from Mathew Lowe's deeper vocal in the chorus. “Walking in the daylight, looking for a goodnight kiss”, the sugary vocals follow on from prime Sarah records territory and though it's not exactly a step forward lyrically or aesthetically it is a nice pleasant and poppy opener.

Outshining the opener, 'Our People Travelled Many Moons' is a distinct contrast, possessing more mystique. A distant bass provides backing for a treated guitar that wanders in and out of the track. The guitars feel spacious with more chime and echo, becoming more delicately fuzz-drenched in the dreamier/gazier, almost-mantric chorus, as the tempo and volume rises and the drums resonate through the track. A glorious track that is reminiscent of recent Dream-Pop lumniaries such as fellow Antipodeans Lowtide.

'Such A Good Feeling' returns Even As We Speak to the default position, with Belle and Sebastian or Voice of The Beehive meeting an upbeat Shangri-Las. Unashamedly poppy, but with more muscle that the Sarah years, especially with the grit and buzz in the guitar chords and a fuller bass adding weight to the track. Mary's vocals remain sweetly optimistic, like The Beautiful South unearthing Talulah Gosh and latter-day Ramones records.

C86 remains an inspiration for 'Slugman', with Mathew taking the vocal lead this time. A track that shares a quirky affinity with Misty's Big Adventure, the vocals are a bit trite though “I'm just a slugman I leave a slug trail, I'm just a slugman my friends are snails”, as the sugar-rushed guitars and drums drive the song along. Perhaps setting themselves up as Children's TV presenters in a future career drive, the cheery nature neatly drops out near the end into a Flaming Lips or Ween interlude before returning to joyous mode.

Tribal drumming suggests a new direction with closer 'A Walk In The Black Forest' before the track side-steps into chirpy major guitar chords and mid-tempo drums. A brief one minute track that neatly warms the cockles.

It's great to see Even As We Speak back in the fold after such a long time out. The Black Forest isn't exactly a huge leap forward, sticking safely to the core elements of Even As We Speak's back catalogue, with its jangly guitars, bubbly vocals and just a hint of experimentation, but it's a lovely, care-free distraction and a joyous antidote to these uncertain and ever-darkening times.

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