By The Dead Formats
The overriding characteristic of The Dead Formats' debut EP, is the complex and seemingly random use of main, backing and gang vocals, which gives each song on this six track EP a sloppy, oldschool punk vibe feel that's refreshing amongst the current trend for studio gloss.
EP-opener 'Again and Again' is a perfect example of this. Alternating between passages of clean vocals laid over a brooding bass pulse, and outbursts of churning riffs and hardcore snarls, it may seem shambolic, but some serious thought has gone into how all the different vocal styles slot together. Multiple layers of slightly-out-of-time gang vocals, and a vocal ricochet between the hardcore and clean vocals of co-frontmen Darren Ditton and Francis Waller, is a strong theme throughout 'Again and Again' and, indeed, the rest of the EP. The vocals are messy and chaotic, but deceptively well put-together. You simply won't be able to get them out of your head. Another unique vocal twist, is the two vocalists' London-town accents, which can be heard even when they're screeching and gnashing in full-blown hardcore fashion.
'Again and Again' may be roughly one minute too long, but its relentless ricocheting between shrapnel riffing and groovier, bass-heavy sections, and its intricate vocals disguised as rough-and-ready punk shouting and screaming, makes 'Again and Again' quite unlike anything on the punk scene.
EP highlights are 'Dirty White Shoes' and EP-closer 'Wind Up.' The former replaces the aggression that's characteristic of most of this release, with a more light-hearted vibe. It even has something resembling a conventional chorus, with headrush guitars sweeping beneath The Dead Formats' typically complicated vocals. In the spirit of this new-found sense of fun, they even treat us to a jazzed-up version of their clean/hardcore vocals, with Ditton and Waller screeching "bah-bah-bah-bah-da-da-doo." It's a much-needed moment of light relief, in an EP that sounds very annoyed indeed.
'Wind Up' is the sound of barely contained chaos. The chorus layers the slightly-out-of-time gang vocals over dizzily spinning riffs, which in turn keep shooting off on random, screeching tangents. Somehow, The Dead Formats manage to hold it together, and 'Wind Up's free-wheeling energy is infectious, rather than confusing. You have to wonder whether The Dead Formats can pull this off live, though.
On the downside, is an end-section of dodgy spoken vocals, which are kept uncomfortably high in the mix even when The Dead Formats draft in a full supporting cast of snarls, screams and gang vocals.
At the other end of the scale, 'Step It Up' is the one song that just doesn't hang together right, although it does stumble upon one moment of brilliance when it comes to the verses. Its mixture of throbbing bass, scratchy chords and pumping, piston-like percussion comes together to form an oddly dancey beat that could have made this one of the most maddeningly catchy songs on the EP. However, the vocals are at complete odds with this groove and, to make matters worse, when the chorus kicks in, you'll be struggling to pick out a single coherent beat amongst all that noise.
'One of The Faces' and 'Stop Talking, Start Dancing' are The Dead Formats at their most conventional.
'One of The Faces' is a relatively straightforward punk clatter, threaded through with a boatload of hooky riffs. Right from the get-go, 'One of The Faces' is out to worm its way into the listener's long-term memory, kicking off with a hooky guitar line that chugs along, before rising to a sharp, whining peak, then almost immediately plunging to dark, reverberating lows. It's a sinuous bit of guitar work that'll reel you in, and The Dead Formats know when they're onto a good thing, carrying this riff over into the first verse.
When it comes to the choruses, The Dead Formats alternate between circular saw riffing and stop-start guitars, with one killer hook as the vocals sharpen to a sudden, warbling peak that's a rare moment of clarity in an ever-changing soundscape. Like 'Again and Again,' 'One of The Faces' is a challenging song, with just enough hooks to make the struggle worthwhile.
'Stop Talking, Start Dancing's choruses of big, swaggering riffs makes this the EP's most straight-up rock track. There's also a reoccurring riff that's as irresistible here as it is on Lostprophet's 'Everyday Combat.' The more conventional backing track is accompanied by a greater predominance of screamo and clean vocals, which makes 'Stop Talking, Start Dancing,' The Dead Format's most accessible moment.
The Dead Formats' debut EP is one that takes some getting used to. The first-time listener is probably advised to stick to the EP's more immediate cuts - 'Dirty White Shoes,' 'Wind Up' and 'Stop Talking, Start Dancing' - before moving onto the other songs. It takes a few listens to work your way into The Dead Formats' world, but their messy energy and the flair they have with their vocals, means it's more than worth that initial effort.