By The Savage Nomads
The problem with filling every spare minute with music is you'll read and hear more than you can retain. (Johnny 5, I am not!) I wasn't sure if I'd even heard their music and could only recall reading that Mick Jones is a big fan and that a fair bit of noise was being made about The Savage Nomads. So I approached the album blind and chose not to do any research. There'd be no DJ recommendations or website flexing its intuitive pectorals to guess I'd "like this band too" and I could just take it at face value. I could be about to kiss one almighty frog on the smacker (or worse!) or I could be about the find a (allegory formerly known as) prince! Which was it?
Before I get to that, I'll just say now that I've purposely left a couple of tracks out of the review because - and at the risk of negating the function of this or any future review I write - it's definitely more fun to dive into this album for yourself and see what you come up with. Anyway, back to business for those still reading and not streaming the album as we speak....
We all have styles of music we like, formative records that shaped our taste and heroes that define what we want from music. So not knowing who you're listening to, hearing something utterly fresh and being genuinely excited on first listen is a treat. That's how this album starts for me. Within the opening seconds of "A Statement" I was enjoying the flavour of something new and it left me wanting more. The emotive strings and uplifting synths crystallize the opener as a fanfare, a rousing call to arms and a solid instrumental introduction to both the album and the band. "The Shamanic Verses" follows, which shows-off some wonderful shifts in time signatures and at least four musical personalities to boot - almost a taster of the diversity to expect throughout the album. After the first full listen this was the first song I went straight back to for several repeats. It's completely different from anything else on my radar at the minute, buried under layers and for me was the marker for trying to understand more about their sound.
"The Magic Eye" and "Subsides the Shakes" are two of the only places on the album where I hear similarities to contemporary artists. In one there are echoes of the brooding build-up style of The XX, in the other I can hear the catchiness of a Vampire Weekend guitar lick and then in both songs I hear the grandeur of vocals not far removed from Wild Beasts. However not one of these elements detracts from the freshness of either song and before you can feel any familiarity with the direction of the music there's another shift. "A Dire Love" and "A Dire Dub" are a brilliant match; one part indie and one part dancehall, the latter carrying on where the former leaves off. Fans of Dub Pistols "Six Million Ways to Live" might like this one, in particular the "dub", as I did. I just wish it was a bit longer as what there is finishes a bit too quickly for me.
The choral bliss and down beat tempo of "Pineapple" make a fitting accompaniment to the spoken verses - almost delivered from a pulpit. "A Burnt-Out Case" starts with stirring guitars of anthemic proportions and drifts carefully into a sound of future desolation, steered by cosmic guitars and echoing vocals after more sermon-like verses. It's hard to say what the message is in this or in the other songs on first listen as there's so much else to focus on besides the lyrics but it definitely feels like there's one in there. (I'll keep listening and get back to you on that!) What I did understand though is that both of these songs show the band are as adept at down-beat as they are at up-tempo rhythms and the depth in the instrumentation is just as impressive in these songs as it is in the more contrapuntal "Shamanic Verses" or "An Empty Seat".
"Coloured Clutter" has attitude and skill aplenty and it's hard not to see this being one of the more successful records of the year. The album's both intelligent enough appeal to serious music fans and accessible enough to achieve a broader appeal which should help it reach a wider audience. Considering the only thing I thought I knew about the band was that Mick Jones was a fan, I suppose the only disappointment - if you could call it that - was that there are hat-tips to both The Clash and Big Audio Dynamite coming through in some songs. That said the range of influences I could hear elsewhere are so diverse that there's definitely no pre-occupation with emulating one sound here. If anything, each track on "Coloured Clutter" routinely takes on a different shape to the next or last and rather than sounding overly like anything else you'll hear at the minute or too similar to anything that's been before - the energy here is well-invested into making a genuinely different sound each time. I'm guessing that constant change of direction creates the very clutter The Savage Nomads were looking for on this album and if so then, job done. This is a very decent album and one that will be added to my bowed shelves any day now - just as soon as my copy arrives.