More Human Than Human

New EP by Misery Guts

Reviewed by Richard Lewis (24/5/10)

The new five track EP by Southport band Misery Guts contains the acoustic shimmer of the band’s live shows, along with some surprising elements thrown into the mix. The delicate nylon-strung acoustic guitars are high in the mix, boasting the trademark element of their sound.

Track by track, proceedings begin with ‘I No U No’ sounding like New York maverick Sufjan Stevens, before gradually turning into a mildly psychedelic version of Gram Parsons-era Byrds. The lightly skipping rhythm of the song - a hallmark of the EP - prevents the tracks becoming heavy-handed, the drums subtly propelling the tracks along.

Second song ‘If You Ever’ is built around a descending guitar figure and gently circling feedback is a highlight of the band’s gigs. Roughly halfway through it morphs into a close cousin of The La’s iconic ‘There She Goes’, the bridge showing off the group's understated psychedelic leanings, sliding into 1960s-style phasing.

Following on from this, ‘I’ll Be Home Tonight’, begins with a vocal melody vaguely reminiscent of Bob Dylan’s ‘It Ain’t Me Babe’, the band’s brush off to the folk crowd who had adopted him as their figurehead. The tempo switch a minute in and the interplay between the vocalists strongly evokes another Dylan connection, that of his former backing ensemble The Band. The delicate xylophone break, sounding like a Victorian music box is a highlight of the song.

Track four, ‘The World Turns’, bears a James Taylor influence, with the strident vocals of lead singer David Hirst well to the fore. Here, and on the rest of the EP the group sound mature beyond their years with the bare production exposing any would-be flaws in the sound. To the band’s credit there doesn’t appear to be a note out of place.

The closing song, ‘Watched Pot’, takes proceedings somewhere different entirely, sounding akin to Joy Division if they’d ditched their trademark bass sound and picked up acoustic guitars. Opening with an ominous tick-tocking guitar arpeggio, the cold electronic pulse of an analogue synth creates a compellingly bleak atmosphere. The darkest track on the collection, Hirst seems to be grappling with some unspecified inner demon, singing "Wait around/You know I’d rather die". The harmonies that arrive halfway through make the track sound like a cut from R.E.M.s 1998 ‘Up’ LP, where the Athens, Georgia trio augmented their trademark sound with buzzing vintage synthesizers.

Influenced by the aforementioned artists without being derivative, Misery Guts have carved out their own sound, capturing the simple beauty of their live shows with this simple, straightforward self-produced collection.

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