Kingston-upon-Thames four-Piece Tubelord are an interesting bunch. They’ve self-described their music is “pop songs for rock kids”, but given its complexity (a complexity which never lapses into self-indulgence), that statement often seems far too glib. Their debut full length ‘Our First American Friends’ (released on the independent label Hassle Records in 2009) owed a debt to Mansun – in particularly their ambitious second album, ‘Six’ – with its combination of indie jangle, adventurous time signatures, occasional electronic leanings, oblique song writing and great harmonies.
For this follow up EP, Tubelord enlisted the help of legendary producer Steve Albini and relocated to Berlin. The opening number, at first, features sparse acoustic work coupled with a razor thin vocal (both courtesy of Joseph Prendergast) accompanied by bass drum. Once the whole band kicks in, harmony vocals really flesh things out. David Catmur’s drum part gets busier (more than a shuffle, not quite a full blown rock approach) and the acoustics get increasingly sharper. An okay number, but not quite the Tubelord you could have been expecting… Could it be they’ve scaled down their approach and gone for something a bit more user-friendly?
I’m pleased to say the answer to that question is a resounding no! If anything, on this EP, Tubelord have expanded their repertoire of influences and styles. The second track, ‘Ratchet’, is absolutely superb. Combining ringing bell keyboards and washes of darkwave synths (of which Gary Numan would be most proud) and a gorgeous harmony vocal, there’s something here which instantly pulls the in the listener. The between verse drum parts take on a more urgent rhythm, but still fit well. Following an unexpected trumpet break and quiet interlude, the band returned to the previously used musical themes, this time with trumpet accompaniment.
‘Bazel’ is the most aggressive number and undoubtedly the one which most resembles material from Tubelord’s full-length album. Driven by by Catmur’s busy drum arrangement and featuring a sound which finds itself between Coheed & Cambria and mid-period Mansun, if you came looking for Tubelord at their most uncompromising, you’ll enjoy this. The vocal is fairly high pitched and occasionally unsettling (particularly during the second half which utilises two or three different voices singing different lines against each other), the guitar work is sharp and the bass rumbles inconspicuously. Frankly, if anyone tries to tell you that Muse and Matt Bellamy’s tuneless untrained wailing represent the best progressive music of the early 21st Century, point them in the direction of Tubelord.
A demo recorded during the Albini sessions (and included as part of the download version of this release), ‘De2’ employs a Tool-esque drum part, punctuated with rhythm guitars. At under two minutes, it sounds a little abrupt. Maybe there was meant to be more, maybe not. Even though it’s not as essential as ‘Ratchet’ or ‘Bazel’, that drum part is great.
A couple of the songs here are better than anything from Tubelord’s previous work. Although only a stop-gap, naturally, it’s short length leaves me wanting to hear so much more…if you’re someone who understands Tubelord’s combination of art-school indie rock and prog, you’ll likely feel the same way. Although only an EP, ‘Tezcatlipōca’ is a gem; one of 2010’s recommended listens.