As much as I can like Frightened Rabbit, I am not sure their legacy was particularly good for Glasgow bands. The number of pale imitations I have heard in the last couple of years has been rather disheartening, in much the same way that far too many London bands seem to still be trying to be the Libertines, and it got to the point where I just wasn’t listening to much guitar music.
Then, down South at least, lo-fi garage stuff started to appear, mixing punk and surf and even a bit of doo-wop occasionally, and the spell seemed to finally be broken. I don’t know if the Scottish Enlightenment can do the same up here, wean bands off the Frabbit teat, but I hope so, because I like guitar music and I want to start enjoying it again.
Which brings me to Johnny Reb. Like The Scottish Enlightenment and Kirkcaldy’s excellent Ambulances before them, they don’t do anything wildly or obviously different, but I immediately liked their stuff when they first pointed me to some scratchy MySpace demos, and I still do. The band have been in Portugal recently, recording with a certain Mr. Boz Boorer, who played guitar on some of Morrissey’s best stuff – most notably the brilliant Your Arsenal, which is where I know his name from – so there is now some new, shinier stuff to be enjoyed.
And enjoy it I do. The band describe themselves as having a 1995 fixation, and I reckon perhaps 2005 channeled through the spirit of 1985, which averages out at more or less the same thing I suppose. More specifically, and ironically enough given my snide remarks about the Libertines in the first paragraph, they sound a bit like an unknown late-eighties indie band the Libs might have been obsessed with before they started writing their own songs. Or Morrissey after three pints, as they describe themselves.
Presumably out of excitement about their new stuff, the band have been chopping and changing the songs on their MySpace player a fair bit since they got back from Portugal, so it’s a bit hard to keep track of what I’ve heard, what I haven’t, what I liked a lot and what I liked less. Of the two tracks they’ve suggested I post, at times Emile sounds a little too like London lad-rock for my taste, but Nine on the Line has grown and grown on me since I first heard it, and I liked it well enough to begin with.
Much like Ambulances and The Scottish Enlightenment, I really couldn’t pin down what I like about these guys. I like the vocals best when they veer closer to a croon, such as Nine on the Line, because it gives the warm nostalgia of the guitar sounds a comforting counterpart. And I suppose that with this kind of thing, the challenge is always to update the older styles you’re interpreting, and to make sure that the songs are strong enough to stand up on their own merit, irrespective of the actual style of the music.
It’s hard to tell when a band don’t have all that much material, but they are heading back to Portugal to do some more recording in the Spring, I think, and it all sounds promising to me so far.