QUIZ SHOW – Flotsam EP

On the surface, Quiz Show appears to be a rather inauspicious name, but on their debut album, this band immediately showed a vast amount of potential. Then again, that’s something that should be expected from a gathering that originally included Guided By Voices drummer Kevin March with Shudder To Think’s Jesse Krakow and Chris Matthews. Their first release created a great buzz around the still new band, and despite a line up change – Joe Billy replaces March, who was likely busy recording one of the year’s twenty GBV albums – the three tracks that make up this follow up EP make it very clear why.

This short listen starts very strongly when ‘Super Concrete’ presents an abrasive lead guitar riff. Very much in the Joey Santiago mould – its repetitive approach is reminiscent of Pixies tunes like ‘Dead’ – Chris’s playing gives the arrangement a very solid core, but once that is augmented with an equally tough sounding drum part and a sneering vocal that very much casts itself back to the alternative 90s, Quiz Show literally explode into life. The fuzzy guitar riffs and vocal performance blend the best bits of Black Francis with other retro fare like Archers of Loaf, but naturally, the arrangement comes with more than an undertone of Shudder To Think’s past glories, setting the basis for a great track. There’s a great sense of melody here too, since the chorus ushers in a much broader vocal sound, and once the band hit a few rocky harmonies, everything sounds even grander without any temptation to become in any way grandiose. With the bigger melody pierced by the still angry lead guitar, it definitely strikes just the right balance between sharpness and accessibility, making it the perfect opener.

Opting for a much punkier feel during the intro and chorus, the buzzsaw guitar sounds that drive ‘Packin’ ’Em In’ share an influence from Husker Du that simply cannot be understated. Although the number uses a LOUDquietLOUD motif intermittently, which leans upon the predictable, as with the previous track, Quiz Show add enough of their own slant to the musical ingredients to make the track really spark. Against the hard and fast rhythm guitar, you’ll find a sharp edged lead that’s used brilliantly to deliver an escalating riff midway, whilst the frenetic vocal applied throughout gives the arrangement far more of a quirky feel. These two factors alone give Quiz Show a very distinctive style, and by the time the trio smash their way into the final notes, this doesn’t just sound like an EP highlight, but something approaching a genre classic.

Stretching out a little more, ‘China Glaze’ kicks off with a haze of distortion, over which a loud lead guitar hints at an impending melody. The number soon ushers in a mid tempo arrangement that allows a wall of guitars to further share a very forthright sound, but at the point where it all starts to sound like a tribute to the earliest Buffalo Tom with a slightly mismatched vocal, Quiz Show veer off into a couple of very different musical moods. Firstly, there’s a solid indie rock groove that’s driven by an unexpectedly funky bass – joined by a suitably buoyant rhythm – before sliding into an atmospheric instrumental section where flowing bass notes are overlaid by soaring guitar and distortion. At this point, Quiz Show take on the air of Sonic Youth experimenting with something a little psychedelic. Eventually returning to the rockier main riff, the listener is reminded that a strong melody and the importance of song remains at the heart of the best Quiz Show material, and by the time this number reaches its final notes, it sort of feels like something you’ve known for thirty years. It mightn’t be as immediate as ‘Packin’ ’Em In’, but it’s great on its own terms.

Despite the title hinting at the wreckage of things left behind, ‘Flotsam’ very much looks forward. It’s a recording from an indie rock band that’s absolutely on fire. Here, Quiz Show more than show why, in great musical hands, the guts of 90s indie rock – and, more specifically, the influence from the more melodic end of GBV, Pixies and Sebadoh – will never sound old. For those who enjoyed the previous album, this is required listening; for those who missed that, ‘Flotsam’ is a great primer. Whichever way you approach this, it’s a fine release, and definitely recommended for those listeners still hankering after those Reading Festival bills of the early 90s.

April 2024