When I say live, I don’t mean some poncey, pretty-boy frontman, swanning about in front of adoring fans to milk the cash out of what’s left of their respectability, I mean it’s recorded the way good bands used to do it – in a fucking group, on a fucking stage. Plus there’s the fact that this is a debut offering. So, don’t expect ETC. to come with all the bells and whistles of a studio-overproduced LP, or that pain in the hole background noise you get from any mediocre live album, just hold it to the standard that it should sound raw, gritty, and real. It’s a high bar when you put it like that, but if people don’t jump for it every now and then, you forget how high it should happen to be.
From their bio, we’re told that they started off as a collective of musicians and at one point, decided to move-on and form a band. I don’t know what exactly a collective entails, but it sounds horribly wanky – let’s just hope that the music stands by itself and we don’t have a too many cocks (not a typo) situation.
ETC. – the opening track, not the band – is an intro without being an intro, while actually being an intro – yes, my head hurts and I’m the one who wrote that, but bear with me. Musically, it’s not going to blow the winklepickers off your feet, but it has the feel of a statement is what I mean. It’s not something you’ve heard and if it is, it’s not something you hear all that often – the kind of thing you should be looking forward to, if you can divine what seems to be waiting for you ahead. The lyrics could well be something your mate says to you down the back of a pub, so it’s hard not to get sucked straight into the quaint charm of it. In essence, it’s trying to capture something that would ordinarily be lost in background noise; maybe it’s the de-facto recording studio, maybe it’s the guys themselves, or maybe some sort of grandiose zeitgeist.
It’s followed swiftly by A Million Other Lives. A few words come to mind while listening to this. The Divine Comedy, Lou Reed, the Strokes are some of them. From those words comes a weird thought – that if you rolled all of them into a messy ball of ground-up flesh and covered them in breadcrumbs it’d probably taste like shit, but on the plus side, they’d probably produce a song that sounds something like this. That still doesn’t really cut it, though, as far as a description goes. Add in a bit of Supergrass’ nauseating 90-ness and you’re almost at the mark, but only a dash – it’s far from brit-pop, too. It’s a handy little number, all in all and it has me thinking that there might just be something to this.
Bring My Island to the Coast is track no. 3. For whatever reason, I feel like I’ve heard this before I’ve heard it. Maybe I’ve been drinking too much or maybe I’m trapped in some sort of sound-based Proustian nightmare. The violin makes its first appearance of the set-list and isn’t shy about leaving a mark. When it crops in the context of alternative rock groups, it’s forgivable to presume to start clawing yourself in the face; 9 times out of 10, it really is, but thankfully for ETC. this is number 10. It adds some drama to what is a fairly straightforward guitar line and a vocal melody that says a whole lot about not much, as far as I’m concerned.
Fuck Your Selfie is the best track so far; I’d even go as far as saying I really like this track. It’s all the things we’ve heard before, but with a bit of a John Lydon snarl and a message more people should fucking listen to. It’s witty in the way of those people who shoot from the hip and always seem to do alright for themselves. It’s cleverly playing on a pseudo-culture that’s popped up and blown-up (not that I need to tell you) and with a groove that’ll keep it in your head every time you see some arsehole update his profile on Twittergrambook, it has some legs.
I’m not sure where Sucker for Reaction falls on the spectrum; for me, it’s a spanner in the works. While there are things I like about it, it doesn’t fully gel. I’m not sold on the vocal oohs and ahs taking up as much of the song as they do, which won’t be the last time I think this before the album comes to a close, but at the same time, I fucking love it when they reach the point where they just explode into a violin-centric swell. It’s unpolished, but that’s what you want out of a live recording – not perfection, but balls, and there’s definitely some of those hidden in here.
As far as the lyrics go, I Don’t Think So has the potential to be one of my favourite songs on the album. It’s tea from the same pot as Fuck Your Selfie – laying out our times with a bit of a sense of humour. That punk attitude is shining here again, with some Iggy-styled grunts over what could well be a Stone Roses backing track.
No Smoking, Please is wry, like a lot of the songs on this release seem to be. It absolutely reeks of Lou Reed in the beginning, but taking that as an insult is like complaining about your beer being too cold. It’s not all more of the same, though; things take a psychedelic, darker turn come the chorus. You could read into it and the repeated choking literally, but try to use your head if you’re that way inclined. It’s a glimpse into another façade that ETC. might just be keeping under wraps for now. I’m still not sold on the vocal acrobatics, but it’s a minor detail.
Coffee and Sun Shine is tidy and airy, musically speaking. At times I’m not sure where the guitar ends and the violin begins, but that only adds to the floatiness of it. It could be vaguely reminiscent of the Kings of Leon, the Smiths, elevator music in the Urban Outfitters’ head office, or maybe even something trippy form the early 90s, I don’t really know how to pin it down. It’s rebellious on the pallet and there’s an aftertaste of oak – no, birch. It’s not one of the stronger points of the release.
Opening up with the sound of jacking in and a little feedback, to remind you it’s live, Some One Else’s Future certainly brings it all back to that experimental edge of alternative rock. It’s foreboding and slow, like a warning you should really pay attention to. But with a tempo change into a real meaty bastard of a chorus, it kind of kicks you up and back again before you even know it.
Not that anyone really cares, but overall, it’s a solid offering from the collective-come-band. You could accuse it of being a little derivative of some of the monoliths of Rock n’ Roll before it became an excuse to sell-out arenas, but even if that is the case, it’s hardly a bad thing. It’s not perfect, but there’s not a lot I’d change if I were given carte blanche; aside from the occasional vocal indulgences, I can’t think of anything, if I’m honest. Obviously, it’s not going to be to everyone’s taste, but that will most likely be because most people don’t have very much anyway. If you like the essence of music with electric guitars from back before Jimmy Page strapped in and dropped a 20 minute deuce of a solo all over rock music, this might just be for you, and if you don’t, listen to Rock N’ Roll Animal and thank me later.
ETC. are different, whether or not that makes them good is entirely up to you, but I for one, will be keeping my eye on them.
Did I mention you can listen to or download it for free? It may not make sense to a record label, but it’s a nice idea to us broke 20-something’s that still can’t work out how to illegally download some Bon Jovi.