New-new romantics

New-new romantics

British labels such as Jeepster (Belle and Sebastian) and Jetset (Mogwai) are a quintessential part of the international pop underground’s questioning of post-Nirvana musical intentions – though the consistency of their output is still a matter of debate. Two new bands, Tram and Sister Sonny, offer two arguments as to the strengths and weaknesses of the new-new romanticism.

Despite the drab-green industrial landscape that graces its album’s cover or the daunting title of the record itself, Tram is interested in telling a rather well-mannered set of stories about regret and malice. An inconsistent expressionism, perhaps, but one that seems to ring more and more true as the band works through its highly deliberate arrangements, spackled together by an oboe, some strings, a basic drumbassguitar feel and a lyrical delivery akin to a screen-testing Thom Yorke.

Tram’s male vocalist (sorry, no proper credits given) quietly intones on "Too Scared to Sleep," "It’s there for the taking / but I don’t have the strength," incorporating subtle dramas with gentle handclaps, keeping the lyrics in focus while getting the heads to nod. In the lyrical closer, "Reason Why," Tram gives its lyrics some space before finally closing the song with an intense, repeating coda, lifting the lyrics into a passion play of heartache and selfishness: "My mind’s working overtime / to find the reason why / I’ve walked 500 miles / to find a place to hide / you won’t see the best of me." A gorgeous effect from a strongly knitted record.

Sister Sonny takes similar attitudes in its musical delivery, slowing the pace of things down to subglacial while filtering its sonics – heavy on the shimmering guitars and tape-loop effects – through a more dampened sense of melancholy. Amid the swirling low-fi is a blackened heart (male vocal – again, no credits) that mumbles through the atmospherics. I can only help with lyric fragments peppered through the songs: "where is the savior," "are you dreaming of monsters / can you remember waging war all day (?)," "compare the trigger to the gun," etc.

But at the end of all this emotional and sonic molasses are two moments – "Audience," followed by the suffocatingly brilliant "A Girl’s There, Her Boyfriend’s There and She Says" – which almost make the whole noise-meets-nausea thing worth it. But a three-minute false ending that leads into a low-fi guitar tune up with illegible vocals and a static-heavy radio broadcast slams the door on any ideas of musical progress.

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