Ghostwood, The Crucible, Ghosts In Mirrors, XYEZ

20th June 2008

First of all, an apology, as I owe it. This month’s moan was a long time coming (and July’s late, I know…), but sorry, I’m old and have a life, so sincere apologies to everyone, especially the fop Randall, who has been patient with my lack of recent output on account of currently having no computer of my own on which to slouch in front of and pretend I have a purpose. Actually, I don’t really have much of anything possessions-wise at the moment, and that’s a good thing. Apparently. At least that’s what I’m supposed to say. Ah, rest assured all you young lovers out there (including our very own Baggers, who will tie the knot at around the time this article goes online. Love and congratulations to them both from me and all of us at Blam Towers, best wishes, big kisses, etc), I still believe that true love and marriage are the greatest things ever and life’s all about taking chances and embracing opportunities. When love happens, grasp it fully and the chances are, you’ll be happy for the rest of your life. But should things not quite go to plan, take comfort in finding out that it doesn’t have to be ugly and there is a positive lighter side to divorce, if you know how to find it. Knowing that by not having certain material possessions, I’m somehow more free, more independent, can start anew without all the trappings of a past life to tie me down and will have more time for other activities that I may have neglected, means that pretty soon I can have what Americans call ‘closure’, which sounds jolly fun compared to getting all miffed about things, I must say. So provided that I don’t have to start slobbering over people in group therapy or something equally ghastly, I’m all for optimism. But it doesn’t stop a chap missing certain material possessions he previously took for granted when he feels the need to write things. Or check out a band’s website. Or find a flat. Or knock one out. Or pay a fucking bill.

So, having limited web access, until tonight I knew nothing about XYeZ beyond the fact that I recall one or two people on the Forum message board being inarticulately but moderately impressed by the bassist last year. But nothing’s good though, right? No info, no comparisons, no specific expectations; the proverbial blank page upon which to draw one’s own conclusions without having that opinion tainted by someone like, well, me I suppose. Despite inevitable disappointments, there’s a real thrill to be had when discovering new music, whether it’s actually new or just new to you. XyEZ are in the latter category despite being a Stable band scoring highly enough in the Fan’s Choice to reach the finals, so a chance to find out is very welcome indeed, even though I know nothing.

Well, if Socrates was right and the only true wisdom is in knowing that you know nothing, then XYeZ’s sassy frontlady Hanna Webb must be a fucking genius. No, really, hear me out, because I’m not being a bastard for the sake of it, I’m just observing that the only possible excuse for young Miss Webb’s actions is blissful ignorance of what not to do, and how such actions could be interpreted. Not that she’s bad as a frontperson, understand, as she’s enthusiastic enough and let’s face it, also rather pretty. People are happy to do her bidding, given a chance, as she’s spirited and promisingly confident addressing a crowd. It just clearly hasn’t been explained to her that as the person fronting this bunch of Brightonian funkateers (and therefore being the main visual focus) there are some things she can get away with and some she can’t. Holding the microphone too far away to pick up her vocals when she realises she’s going off key in the hope that people won’t notice is one of them, and another is allowing bassist Lloyd to hog the limelight time and time again when it’s not his bloody call. Good you might be Lloyd, but please, we know. Stay at the side and do your fucking job you flash prannet.

Sure, it might be his band and his songs, and he might be an extraordinarily gifted musician, but when young Hanna’s trying to sing (after a fashion) and get the modest-sized crowd involved in some spirited funky fun, allowing him to repeatedly barge in (mid-verse, mid-chorus, anywhere he feels like in fact) and bask in the centre stage position just because he hasn’t shown off how fast his fingers are for at least 30 seconds…well, aside from emphasising how unimportant she is, it’s damn rude and she needs to give the lad a dry slap. Clearly she’s very used to it, because she uses these moments of being pushed temporarily aside to shake her arse somewhere else and pose half-heartedly with the microphone, trying to look as if she was meaning to do it, so when she gets back in position and they begin to behave like a band again, she’s only really killing time until he wants to be basking in vain narcissistic glory once more. Given that she’s barely audible, controlled, or tuneful anyway, it’s as if her place in the band is of no more consequence than the type of van they drove in order to get here, and any old screamer will do provided that Lloyd can demonstrate how flash he can be on his 5 string (yay for the 5 string bass – let’s give the 5 string bass some appreciation please – look, it’s got, like, 5 strings and that) and he can smugly enjoy the jealous mutterings from other watching bassists (such as our own Mr Thunderfingers himself, Funkydan) who begrudgingly agree that he knows his business.

But that’s all incidental, because if you wanted – and I mean REALLY wanted – strangers to visit your band’s Myspace page, how would you encourage them? Come on, think for a moment. Think about what would influence you as a potential fan. How about a new song that’s just gone up, exclusive downloads, the array of pictures and videos, or simply an invitation to get more info? Or would “Come and visit it because nobody else does!” do the trick for you? Hanna seems to think it will and doesn’t realise that it’s tantamount to saying “we’re not worth your time and nobody seems to like us”, but as I said, it’s just unwitting ignorance. Innocence, even. So maybe the old Greek fellow had a point after all.

As for Lloyd, well, as long as he’s got a chance to grin like an actor in a toothpaste commercial and show off those dancing digits, it seems he’ll be happy, whatever fate dictates awaits XYeZ. But it would be such a shame to let a talent like that stagnate in such unfertile ground. He really can do so much better, given a chance to get his ego kicked into shape, and I hope he does. I might be wrong of course and wind up making myself look silly, as I have no idea whether XYeZ are the bassist’s pet project and everything revolves around him at all, because when I eventually got online their Myspace page gave little indication of it. It just seems that way to the outside observer. I could be reading too much into it, writing late at night as I am, tired and allowing my mind to wander, so he may simply be more obvious than the others because he’s clearly the most talented member of the band. Factually incorrect or not, my assumption is based on one 20 minute observation which appeared to be of a bunch of yes-men (and one yes-woman) doing as they are told at the whim of an egotist. Apologies if I’m wrong, but I don’t think I am.

That aside though, XYeZ’s scatty spluttering funk rock is polished and danceable; it’s latino-flavoured rhythm section is balanced out by raw bloody-knuckled guitar work that can lift the bleakest of moods. Despite the limp vocals, they knock out dynamically soulful and chewy tunes, whether in the guise of sensuous soft rock for vegetarians and people who wash, or pumping granite-bollocked heaviosity for scuzzy bloody-mouthed vagrants. Because that’s the rub ladies and gentlemen; XYeZ have some very, very, good tunes indeed and damn right they sound commercial. Yes, you can actually hum them, and what’s more, remember them. “Above The Level” for example, is as slick as eel spunk, but they maintain an edgy funky freshness that goes beyond the usual dross inflicted by third-generation RHCP derivatives and they sound, well, as if they may be onto something. Unfortunately though, nobody apart from the bassist is remotely capable of truly bringing these songs to life.

Don’t get me wrong, they can all play, and earlier comments aside, Hanna’s still better than many of her girly Stable peers. It’s just that they’re all mind-numbingly drab and average and he isn’t. Sure, it has a glossy tint to it all, and they can get the job done, but that’s the point. XYeZ are nothing more than an adequate bunch of musicians. As a band they come across as a faceless vehicle for this extraordinary bassist, and although that’s not necessarily a bad thing, surrounding himself with musical mediocrity when he could be in so much less creatively limited company…well, that’s a bit different. It’s something akin to a racing driver behind the wheel of a clapped-out Rover, or the Prom Queen who surrounds herself with dowdy sorts because she’s scared of not being the centre of attention.

But hey, I know nothing, remember. Ignorance is bliss and all that.

Mind you, there’s always an excuse for knowing nothing. I’ve made mine, Hanna probably has hers, but Ghosts In Mirrors frontwoman France (yes, that’s her name. I’m thinking of changing mine to “England” just so I can have the word on my passport) has certainly got the best one in that anything is forgiven if you are foreign and cute. Look at The Cheeky Girls. France is cute in the way puppies and kittens are cute when they aren’t shitting on your floor, and what’s more she knows it. She’s acutely aware of the effect she has on teenage hormones (after all, young T** A***** wants to have babies with her despite being gay as a maypole) so what on earth is she wearing? I’m hardly one to preach on dress sense but that gaudy red black & white frock looks like curtains that were considered tastelessly vulgar in the seventies. In Poland. And it makes her arse look big. Mind you, I still would, and so would you. It’s just a pity she can’t sing really, although the rumour going round is that they asked around for a frontwoman who was ‘horny and mental’ but she misheard and thought they said ‘ornamental’ and nobody’s had the heart to tell her otherwise. It must be that saucy accent she’s got, as he could tell you she’s just shat in your bed and you’d still go all gooey, hoping she’ll say it again.

Nevertheless, it’s damn convincing and expressive alt-prog for the first five or ten minutes. France may move like a chanteuse and sound like Amy Lee singing in the toilet while drunk, but musically its haunting, lyrical and imaginatively atmospheric stuff, full of elaborately intertwined vocal and guitar hooks that are both gripping and elegant when the lass is in tune. Traces of Nightwish and Within Temptation bubble up from under the surface as they become steadily heavier, but GIM retain a certain steady brooding groove of their own throughout making such references meaningless. However it gets a little tiresome as they only seem to have one trick up their sleeves, albeit quite a good one that wouldn’t be repeated so often if it didn’t work for them.

Their slightly gothic elements aren’t overplayed either, but aside from some fine ideas there’s little of the savage finesse needed to take them beyond the realms of drabness and after a while her voice will really start to grate on you, trust me. Even semi-narrating a passage PJ Harvey style through a megaphone only serves to emphasise her flatness and sloppy vocal technique, but she disguises it well enough simply by being French and saucy.

Still, for those of you that miss Imperium but wished that they were a bit mellower, Ghosts In Mirrors might just be what you need to scratch the itch.

From the murkier corners of the progsphere though, come the winners of ‘Best Three Piece’ at the 2007 Glasswerks Music Awards, East London’s The Crucible. It may feel like they want to revive the early days of Sub Pop, but this brash, loud, energetic trio are harder than a paedo’s penis in a playground. Although Guitarist/Vocalist Dan Isaac has a gauche and limited vocal style, their material veers between the austere rugged darkness of Alice In Chains and QOTSA’s tongue-in-arsecheek swagger, giving a Muse-ical polish to their proggy timings and thunderous drums, even hinting at dizzying low-end power rock a-la Black Mountain. All rather exciting really, as they unleash their thrashing rhythmic rippling menace on us, building it all up from subtle tones to bombastic extravagance in a few sweaty beats and turning new single “Beyond Driven” (out now on Sub Mariner. Buy it, it’s ace) into a gigantic hulk of a tune that does to the ears what a Chicken Phal does to the bowels.

. Their set is criminally short though, cut by time restraints but that doesn’t seem to hinder them tonight. They haven’t got time to be pissed off at the turnout and it ain’t there show either, so they simply get on with it uncommunicatively, trying to ignore the twitching bodies that pass for an audience and allow themselves an opportunity to get off on their angry flair, even if nobody else does.

Maybe it’s the late start that’s made things so difficult for Sydney’s Ghostwood, as it’s 11pm before they’ve even tuned up and most people have left to catch the last train. Or perhaps it’s because their faces indicate that they are about as comfortable as a hang-glider with diarrhoea. Hardly a good recipe for getting a small but workable audience on their side, but you see, they have a secret. They have frontman/guitarist Gabriel Navidzadeh, and he’s got the special ability to make all your cares disappear, along with your girlfriend’s underwear, so they can get away with doing pretty much as they please. A devastatingly handsome little furry fella, it’s as if Johnny Borrell and Russell Brand were grafted together with no thought about what bits would go where, but one glance from those tired dark-rimmed eyes as he shuffles nonchalantly to centre stage, and you’ll understand why every remaining female mouth in the room is drooling and concluding that walking home really isn’t so bad after all.

Ghostwood lurk in doomy wet darkness and atmospheric anxious melancholia, as if bits and pieces of JAMC, The Cure, Ride and My Bloody Valentine had been hammered together by punchdrunk yobs, which is something only Aussies seem to be able to pull off successfully. OK, so they look about as happy as a baby’s funeral, but when you have a voice and presence like Gabriel’s, such things cease to matter and your only bugbear will be that the set’s not long enough. It’s a gurgling, anguished bellow that sighs, hoots, growls and lurks angrily below the surface of that fizzy, echoing, swirly guitar sound; as hypnotic as it is commanding, like Jaz Coleman might have sounded if he ever decided to write about teenage jailbait and getting drunk on alcopops instead.

Sure, it’s twangy, slightly depressing shoegazing music for surly people whose parents don’t understand them. But if the Aussies are going to produce more beautiful poetic rock stars for the ladies to get all moist over and for the teenage boys to hail as new messiahs of misery, then Ghostwood seem to be pretty much their best hope. All we need is for them to remember that the UK shuts down at 11pm rather than starts, and they’re onto a winner.

Paul Mills