Reviewer: Sam Cutbush
If you know Horseflies then you’ll know their visceral mix of tempo changes, wild dynamics and all-out rage make them a must see live band. The Portsmouth four-piece have just released their second album, Sea Control, and the live energy has been captured pretty well once again.
Opening track Waxwound starts with a gentle guitar riff which is joined by bass and drums before singer Joe Watson begins to attack the microphone. The build is gradual and restrained. Or at least it is until the song explodes into life with a jolt that’s akin to Queens Of The Stone Age’s Millionaire, and has a similarly juddering effect. Blowing someone’s head off on the first track should not be the best way to start an album, but really it is, and rest of the song powers along furiously, letting you know that you’ve begun a journey that’s fraught with danger and unexpected twists.
Second track Video Nasty I love, and not just because it reminds me of the Young Ones! Comparing the 80’s escapism of Video Nasties to current affairs shows this is a band with something to say, or scream anyway. Check out the accompanying video for this song too, as it serves to pour petrol on the touch paper they’ve already set ablaze in 3 furious minutes.
Next up is Modern Mind, and here is what I see as another nod to the 80’s in the form of Mike James’ guitar playing. Mike has opted for a gorgeous clean tone with a chime to it that reminds me of bands like Joy Division and The Cult. In an era when so many Indie bands have either no imagination or idea on what a distinctive guitar sound is, James has both the tone and the creativity to make everything interesting and atmospheric.
The theme continues into The Slow Choke, and while up to now the understated guitar has complimented Joe Watson’s raging vocals, this is the first time on the record we also hear him hold back and sing, before again tearing the mic a new one as the chorus kicks in. This adds another layer to the dynamics, as when Joe sings in his softer, more vulnerable tones you know he’s about to flick the switch and launch into another tirade.
Title track Sea Control is an instrumental intermission, and has a laid back, yet almost yearning feel to it, with Mike James’ E-bow the constant amongst stop-start percussion and bass. The serenity gives way to a tense urgency in Make It Look Like An Accident, which sees Joe Watson deliver an almost spoken vocal over staccato guitars and tempered by Matt Horn’s unique drumming style. Horn switches it up in the blink of an eye throughout the album, ranging from rock solid groove to crescendos of toms and cymbals that add brute force to the assault on the senses taking place.
Soft Focus is a gentle acoustic break that could seem out of place if you want wall-to-wall noise, but by this point you could do with a breather, and the plucked guitar part gives you just that. From acoustic beauty we reunite with the gorgeous retro guitar tone and Joe’s all-or-nothing vocals in Kill Jester, which weaves in and out of major and minor keys while bass player Dan Bush drives the song home, knitting the parts together as he has done throughout the whole album with a minimum of fuss. Bush again serves as the heartbeat in the sprawling Nailhouse as vocal and guitar fight for the limelight.
It’s impressive the amount of presence this album has without resorting to power chords and distortion, which is testament to Horseflies’ work ethic in finding the right sound, and also the production of Tim Greaves at Southsea Sound. Greaves clearly knows how to get a great band sounding great on record, and he’s harnessed the formidable energy and noise that Portsmouth venues are still recovering from now.
The volume and mood calms as we move to Statues, a haunting piano piece on a slightly – and I’d assume intentionally – off-key set of ivories. It’s another bold move by a band not keen on sticking to a formula, and a move that works. Bass and xylophone introduce us to Vampire Shift, a song that sees Horn’s drums and James’ guitar move up through the gears in unison until a combination of serene and erratic guitars take us to Joe’s softest vocal yet: “It’s so lonely/On the vampire shift”. The Sound Of Two Eyes Opening is the final track on the album, and it’s almost a flashback of everything we’ve been through up to this point, going from smooth to intense, to restrained, to breakneck, and finally, telling the listener “It’s alright/It’s OK”. And we’re done.
I’ve been looking forward to hearing Horseflies on record, and seeing how they take their live show and commit it to an album without losing their blistering energy and urgency. Not only do they achieve this, but they also add a little clarity to the chaos. As a result, Sea Control is outstanding, and has been in pretty much constant rotation since Friday, when it was released on Bandcamp. Alongside it is their first album These Halls Are Haunted Now, which was also recorded by Tim Greaves at Southsea Sound, and is also brilliant. Check them both out. Now.