Every once in a while the big labels get it right. Sure, seeing the name “Tiny Evil” makes it look like a small independent, but it is really a division of Universal (and what isn’t these days, might I add). And from the band’s sound you might have a hard time figuring out where they’re from. While some of their songs are decidedly British in tone, there’s a whole lot of America going on with the debut EP from Nine Black Alps. The truth is, the band is from Manchester, of course known for being a central hub of British music in the ’80s and ’90s, thanks mostly to Factory Records, but there is nothing “Factory” about the Mancunian foursome. Heck, even their name comes from an American poet, one Sylvia Plath.
The first track on the already acclaimed band’s debut self-titled EP is the only one that really feels British. “Cosmopolitan” has flourishes reminiscent of Franz Ferdinand or Kaiser Chiefs, with the memorable chorus of :
Will you spend the night
I’ll take my life
We’ll close our eyes
We’ll be dead by sunrise
“Over the Ocean” is a little more in line with American bands such as Weezer, or wannabe American bands like the Thrills. “Shot Down” has a schizophrenic feel to it, with Dinosaur Jr. like guitar bending during the verses, yet with harmonic Built to Spill like choruses. Despite its dichotomy, it is one of the best songs on the EP. “Llana Song” exhibits the band’s crush on Bleach-era Nirvana. Closer “Attraction” is the only “chilled out” song on the EP, a couple of acoustic guitars, a twanging electric, and slight drums. Although every song has a reference to something else, singer Sam Forrest’s vocals and the ability of the band to blend styles has made this debut a Nine Black Alps record rather than a sum of its parts.
It might not be a mistake that my favorite tracks off of the EP are produced by Rob Schnapf, being the opener “Cosmopolitan” and the twists and turns of “Shot Down.” Schnapf, after working with Beck, the Foo Fighters and particularly Elliott Smith, has become the producer du jour. Quite often, record reviews fall into one of three categories, the immediately likeable (of which there are few), the immediately hateable (of which there are also few), and then the last category, the “needs further listens” one. In that stage, I often weigh the reasons to dislike a particular artist with the reasons to like them and present both in the review. With Nine Black Alps, they did not fall into the rare first category or the second, but instead that all encompassing third, the difference being, I really couldn’t find any reason not to like them. They won’t change music or make you run out into the streets yelling, “you have got to listen to these guys!” Rather, they are simply a good band playing good music.
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