Tuesday, October 25, 2016

MEANS tested


Given that they hail from High Wycombe rather than from round these parts, The Picture Palace presumably aren't named in homage to the legendarily eccentric cinema just down the road. Neither are they the pretentious, turtleneck-and-shades-wearing, subtitle-loving cineastes their moniker might suggest.

On the contrary, they're a bunch of teenagers/early-twentysomethings who appear to believe they've hit upon a USP. There's just one small problem: a USP has to be something that might actually induce people to buy. Confronted with the sound of Eric Clapton noodling over a third-rate Bloc Party, audiences are less likely to buy and more likely to want to fillet themselves with a rusty teaspoon. Salvage the basslines, scrap everything else and start again.

Anyone who's been driven to self-dismemberment misses out on witnessing FEWS play the final gig of their own headline tour before a run of opening slots for Pixies. Comprising a Brit, an American and a couple of Swedes, the quartet are sadly not quite as good an advert for the merits of international collaboration (as opposed to xenophobic isolationism) as we might have hoped for in the present political climate.

FEWS have been widely described as "post-punk". Whether the term should be defined narrowly, as a specific and identifiable style, is contentious - as Simon Reynolds' superlative Rip It Up and Start Again underlines, punk's messy demise in the late 1970s subsequently gave rise to a colourful and wildly divergent array of musical forms. Nevertheless, all of the signifiers with which the label "post-punk" has become associated, rightly or wrongly - needling and clanging guitars, motorik drums, a general sense of unease - are certainly present and correct.

The issue for FEWS, though, is that they're not sufficiently distinctive to really stand out from the crowd, remaining resolutely inferior to the likes of Savages, Viet Cong/Preoccupations, DIIV, Girls Names and the gloomy godfathers Interpol. As a result, I find my interest waning and mind drifting mid-set as one song slides into another, only slow-burner 'Keep On Telling Myself' arresting my attention, until twitchy, itchy single 'The Zoo' comfortably blows away everything that's gone before.

The evening ends just as debut album MEANS does, with 'Ill' and its intense wig-out - and with the feeling that, as good as FEWS can occasionally be, they're not destined to live long in the memory.

(An edited version of this review first appeared in the November issue of Nightshift.)

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