Review Summary: An infectious antidote to dour Scottish stereotypes.
Even as a serial advocate of the Scottish music scene, it can be difficult to avoid the plethora of malignant stereotypes its bands have carved for themselves over the years. No doubt rooted with legends such as Arab Strap and The Jesus And Mary Chain, perhaps the most prevalent is what many view as a perpetual propensity for dour misery, be it through some long entrenched cultural identity, or merely the less than tropical climate they inhabit. It's an unfair - albeit somewhat understandable - perception, yet it's also one which current torchbearers like Frightened Rabbit and The Twilight Sad are hardly going out of their way to dispel, a pattern which ensures eyebrows continue to be raised on the odd occasion an act a la Man Without Machines does surface.
Formed around three years ago up in chilly Dundee, this five-piece is essentially the brainchild of founding member and principle songwriter Adam Lockhart, whose ear for a melody and fascination with European politics provide an effective motor for this full-length debut. Whereas many of their contemporaries seemingly take their cues from the Glasgow scene of the late '90s, Lockhart and company's hearts are set firmly elsewhere - namely the synth-led clamour of '80s England, and pioneering names such as New Order, OMD and Gary Numan. They're touchstones which culminate in the type of fiercely upbeat retro-tinged power-pop many would dismiss as revivalism, but the group's chemistry, along with their leader's unmistakable talents ensure its an approach which still yields plenty of thrills.
Characterised by the urgent rush of drums, the sizzling pulse of vintage electronics and a healthy dose of choppy post-punk guitar, their sound is one for which the term unashamed could have been coined; a beacon of accessibility with neither a hint of pretense nor an attempt to mask its influences in 12 buoyant, hook-filled tracks. Admittedly The Kreuzberg Press
can suffer towards its conclusion from a lack of variety, although that minor flaw is hard to dissent when the one true deviation, "Falling Star" fails to sufficiently shake things up. It does of course help that when Lockhart's formula clicks it truly works a treat. "Even Still Even Though" for instance is as direct and purposeful an opener as you're likely to hear all year, its refreshingly forward advances aptly showcasing everything that's good about Man Without Machines within the space of three and a half gloriously addictive minutes. "Something's Happening Here" meanwhile is melded from the exact same elements, yet is arguably even better, proving itself to be both an obvious and correct choice as lead single.
With such emphasis placed on the tunes, it's often easy to overlook the more serious and intellectual undertones many of these cuts carry. "Share The Love" for instance focuses lyrically on the current banking crisis, while the record's title derives from Lockhart's interest in German newspapers and literature; subtle references which add a dash of substance and prove invaluable in avoiding the clutches of cheesiness. It's hardly about to alter Scottish perception, but in an environment where counterparts such as Django Django have achieved genuine nationwide success, the singer's sprightly songcraft could eventually see him and his band go far.