About Group - Start and Complete

by Rich Morris Rating:3 Release Date:2011-04-18

The spectre of side-project dilettantism hangs heavy over About Group, the band led by Hot Chip's Alexis Taylor and featuring members of This Heat and Spiritualized. Unlike band-mate Joe Goddard, who has pursued uncomplicated house-pop thrills with his side project The 2 Bears, Taylor's project is a decidedly ambitious affair. Recorded over one day with minimal preparation by those involved, Start and Complete seeks to wed smooth 70s soul to avant-garde improvisation.

 

Working against the record are a glut of mid-paced numbers, which leave ample room for self-indulgent noodling, and Taylor's rather wet vocals. His fey, trembling voice can work magic as a counterpoint to Hot Chip's enthusiastic, dense synth-pop on tracks such as 'One Life Stand' and 'Ready for the Floor', but here it palpably lacks the gumption necessary to give drive and focus to About Group's muso indulgences.

 

In fact, things only really come alive on closing track 'You're No Good', a 'reinterpreting' of Terry Riley's ground-breaking cut 'n' paste job on the Harvey Averne original. Elsewhere, we get endless tepid balladeering, as on 'Nothing But Words' and 'Sinking Song'. On several tracks, Taylor's whiny voice becomes quite intolerable, his relentlessly quavering vocals refusing to stay in key for any length of time. Setting artistic restrictions is all well and good, but surely Taylor could have spent a little time fine-tuning his singing?

 

Meanwhile, the supposed experimental quality to this music is difficult to locate beside the odd deployment of synth and spacey sound effects on tracks such as 'Lay Me Down', 'Repair Man' and 'There's a Way to End This Run of Doubt'. However, these mainly serve as window dressing or, at best, as a counterpoint to dirgy, trad melodies. Some interesting friction is created on the title track by the injection of some dissonant piano. This aside, these are the kind of solid, showy MOR soul numbers you could imagine finding a place on a 70s Joe Cocker album. Mercifully, many of the songs are brief, some just straying past the one minute mark.

 

Start and Complete is a dreadfully frustrating and slightly depressing listen since on paper it sounds like such a promising proposition. Ultimately, what we get sounds like a record of a pleasant day's work by some gifted musicians. It's great that those involved had a good time but it probably shouldn't have seen the light of day.

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