REVIEW: Lilac Ambush - "Earthbound"

By J 'Hirez' H-R

Chain Border

EarthboundThere are few things on this planet quite as splendid as scratchy, drum-machine driven post-punk. From the sound of angry young Leeds in the early 80s where the Three Johns wrote songs of left-wing insurrection and drinking, and the V1.0 Sisters of Mercy sang about substance abuse and drinking; via Big Black's righteous midwestern anger and the Mute Drivers' (who were indeed van drivers for Mute Records) odd kind of Hawkwind/Loop-influenced drone-rock; to the pop-gothpunk of Children on Stun. It's all top stuff which seems to have fallen from favour of late.

Which leads me not-terribly-neatly-considering-I-wrote-the-damn-thing to the Earthbound EP by Lilac Ambush. (Which reminds me of 'Sinister Hedges,' 'The bushes scream while my daddy prunes' and Stephen 'Tintin' Duffy for reasons slightly too tedious to go into here.) The best description I can come up with is "If in another, less likely, Liverpool, Andy McCluskey had guested vocals for some friends who'd borrowed a drum machine for the weekend..."

So we have tinny guitar, rat-a-tat drum machine, synth patches from the box marked 'glacial strings' and curiously mannered vox in the OMD style. I'd imagine the youth will have heard nothing like it - there's no shouting, no evidence of baseball caps, no depth to the guitar and no pretense at non-mechanical rhythms. However, for sad old gimmers like me brought up on the Peel programme, Joy Division and The Three Johns, it's like doing the time-warp (again).

It's splendid, ear-unclogging stuff. While there's a place for lush, overproduced soundscapes - it's called 'The 80s, in a sleeve with the name 'Trevor Horn' on the outside' - when that sort of thing turns up elsewhere it's usually unwelcome. I suspect there's a tendency to fill in every silent nook and cranny in a song with, well, whatever comes to hand by the sound of some bands, so as to divert attention away from the lack of tune or songwriting. Or, like Lilac Ambush, you can set the production values firmly at 'bedroom' (or basement or wherever) and leave the audience to wander round the shiny sparsenesses of their songs in mute confusion. Or absolute old-school joy, depending on generation.

Of course, given that it's 2002 and pop has been busily eating itself, it could well be some retro prank by a set of bored art-students: "Ha!" They will think to themselves, "that reviewer fellow has fallen into our little trap! Little does he know that it took days of painstaking work with Protools to make it all sound that cheap and nasty, and now we have the attention of Sensible Music Purchasers rather than a hoard of screaming kiddywinks, we can fulfill our evil plan to make records that sound exactly like Meatloaf and thus take over the world!" Though hopefully not.

Anyway. This is good stuff. Give it a listen.

Contact Information:
Post: Twisted Spinach Records, PO Box 2053, Gloucester, MA, 01931

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