Some bands shall forever remain underground, overlooked or simply forgotten. Back in 2006 two bands from Manchester were working to separate themselves from this group; Nine Black Alps and The Longcut. I mention NBA because the two bands became close friends, often gigging together at clubs and even house parties - one particular party in Longsight was used as the video to "Transition". While NBA enjoyed a fair amount of success with their first album, their popularity has dwindled. Of the two however, The Longcut is undoubtably the more interesting.
The Longcut formed in 2002, whilst studying at the University of Manchester, and earned their chops gigging often over the next two years. By 2004 they gained the attention of listeners with their ears to the ground and Liverpool label Deltasonic through their energetic, emotionally charged blend of post-rock, indie rock and electronic music. Following the release of two eps, the band stepped into the recording studio with Jonny Dollar (the man responsible for Massive Attack's "Blue Lines") in 2005 to record their debut "A Call And Response".
Album Opener "A Last Act Of Desperate Men" kicks off proceedings in rambunctious style: a loud, layered song containing a heady mixture of simplistic - yet effective - guitar work from Lee Gale, steady, distorted bass from Jon Fearon, Stuart Ogilvie's Joy Division inspired drumming, ever present keyboards and shouted vocals. It's here the vocals need to be explored. Whilst The Longcut are predominantly an instrumental band, most songs contain some vocals, some more than others, and they are an acquired taste. Think Yourcodenameis:milo though not as easy on the ear. Perhaps an english equivalent of Fugazi styled vocals, just nowhere near as present. To me, Ogilvie is at times great, often average, and every so often terrible, depending on your leanings. The album opener builds and builds as the track runs on, but not in a way akin to say a GY!BE song: the songs energy is vital here, not a meandering to a great payoff or an elegant fade out, but the sound of music which needs to be played, and needs to be played loud.
"Gravity In Crisis" is another standout track on the album. Focusing around Gale's exploration of certain chords which build and shift in melody and execution as the track progresses. Gale's guitar work bears mention here: though not exemplary or technically impressive by any means, what Gale does very, very well, is create ideas which sound right. Right in the right way and wrong in the right way. Whether it be a gently morphing picking idea or an eerie, emotionally ambiguous tone/section, he just sounds great. This track in particular feels as though it has been used throughout the years in countless films, documentaries and advertisements though I doubt it ever actually has been. It's very cinematic in feel. Following the initial section of the song, Gale and co. turn in a splendidly eerie section: gale gets a tone, using reverb and echo to great effect, which is both disturbing and hypnotic albeit simple. This guitar work is complemented very well by some less-is-more drumming and grounding bass as Ogilvie sings:
"As we applaud ourselves, the theft remains. We're walking into those old familiar traps again.
As we applaud ourselves, the hate remains. We're falling into those old familiar traps again."
His vocals suit the music completely and add to the overall emotional pull of the song.
"Holy Funk" is the the albums first bump. Though not a terrible song in some respects, the yet again simplistic (But not interesting) idea is repeated through the entire song. In fact it is the entire song, with the only diversions being the continual additions of different instruments playing slightly varying versions of the original theme.
After the greatly Joy Division inspired "A quiet Life" where Ogilvie sounds similar to Ian Curtis and borrows heavily from the bands rhythm section, the album finds arguably it's best song, "The Kiss Off". Beautiful, rolling guitar work is complemented perfectly by Jon Fearson's bass as the drumming ties the song down and Ogilvie delivers, without doubt, his best vocal performance on the album:
"Hoping it's my way, an infinite highway
It's not like I said I'd take you anywhere
It's not like you'd help me with it anyway
Honey honey, can't you see I'm being fair
Can't you see I'm doing this for you
It's not like there's no other road for you to take
I think you're strong enough to get through this
Don't cry oh honey please stop cryin now
Please stop crying on my brand new_
Taking it my way, an infinite highway"
He almost whispers these lyrics, creating yet another hypnotic moment on the album which can raise hairs. This eventually gives way to some chanting, more akin to a sombre monk than a popstar's idea of chanting, which sounds fantastic. And then, Gale turns in his best moment on the album, an eerie idea which sounds more like a wavering violin or a woman crying in the distance. This is joined by yet more chanting and is my personal favourite moment on the album. The track reaches a "Heavy" climax and leads into "Lonesome No More!"
This track is another standout. Showcasing some very humble vocals from Ogilvie, walls of sound, more simplicity and complexity (Textures and tones mingling) and energy. The perfect follow-up to "The Kiss Off".
"Spires" ends the album after "Vitamin C", a bland track which uses the same idea-repeat-repeat-repeat structure of "Holy Funk" and fails in exactly the same way, though it does have more variation. "Spires" though not a standout track on the album, and not a terrible song by any stretch of the imagination, lacks something. Be it the cinematic qualities portrayed in "Gravity In Crisis" the energy from "Transition" and "A Last Act Of Desperate Men" or the emotional pull of "The Kiss Off". Either way, the album finishes with a run-of-the-mill song, as far as The Longcut go, following some of their conventions and offering up some good and even great moments whilst still failing to end the album in a totally satisfying manner.
Overall "A Call And Response" is a hidden gem in many ways and bland in others. It will likely remain overlooked or forgotten by many. A great album worth a 3.5 or a 4 depending on your mood (my rating often changes). Give it a listen on last.fm.