There is a certain bittersweet inevitability about the final chapter in the Grammatics story - they were a complicated proposition right from the start. In a recent interview Owen Brinley suggested the band had set out to be "purposely niche". Mission accomplished! Their last release was made available only on the Pledge Music website where the artist has to reach a pre-arranged financial target within a given timescale before the various purchases can be given life. This, the latest mutation of the fan:musician relationship in the post-BitTorrent age.
Singer/guitarist Owen's voice has often flickered between Expecting to Fly-era Mark Morriss and the more adventurous notes of Mansun's Paul Draper. Grammatics never seemed to make any concessions towards establishing a consistent image. In fact they didn't really seem that bothered about what you thought at all. There was also the somewhat haughty presence of a cello on stage, which was always going to be a deal-breaker for some.
Their first (self-titled) album recently featured at number 44 on Drowned in Sound's Top 50 Albums of 2009. DiS's original (8 out of 10 rated) review now comes with added user comments that touch on an issue that would go on to cripple the album's launch. As one anonymous poster suggested, "You can find [the album] on uTorrent you know... This review is generous to say the least." Leaked copies of varying quality became available prior to the official release and the band often lost the measured balance provided by James Kenosha's careful production. These non-director's cuts would go on to corrupt the public's perception of the album and are now cited by the band as a contributory factor in their demise.
Seen more simply, this is just another case of an under-appreciated local band, signing off with their valedictory record to clear their debts. Five more tracks to bookend a short lived existence that was high on praise but low on sales. It feels as if it could have been so much more...
Grammatics' bio is almost too perfect a fit with the stereotypical British narrative arc - where lofty ambitions are punished swiftly with devastating tailspins. They do not shrink from the challenge here, even if there is nothing much left to fear now.
"Stalinesque" will be viewed as the default single. This is the track the band chose to make available to fans first, prior to the main release, and it is also the EP's opening track. It is triumphant; a three minute master class in layered hooks that are constructed together in a slow build.
The title of second track "Mutant Reverb" could have been a sly nod to the Leeds scene, but that tack's unlikely to carry the requisite Grammatics depth. Either way its repetitious sub-Muse chorus means this is the EP's only real misfire.
Thankfully their more familiar epic and inventive style is restored on "Church Of The Great I Am" and "Cedars-Sinai". Religion, sex, corruption and death; all the usual touchstones are here. The mood finally descends for good on Grammatics' final ever track, the aptly named "Krupt", which almost steals the show entirely.
Sometimes it is difficult, though probably advisable, to avoid over-analysing the lyrics of a posthumous release. Even carrying that belief I cannot resist citing a couple of lines from "Stalinesque": "Underneath the radar / Cannot be detected. Hidden in the margins / We are not born / We are not".
Tracks featured on this EP (such as the aforementioned "Stalinesque") were already part of their live set during the recent farewell tour, a little before the recording was completed. Grammatics last official appearance was on a late-summer evening in a local Yorkshire social club, screaming through a hail of smoke, over the erratic sound of cheap equipment, as their instruments, pedals and speakers began to fail once again.
At the height of punk The Stranglers sang "Whatever happened to, all of the heroes?" These guys here, they got the ice pick. The EP they left behind is just another Pyrrhic victory.