Typical. Just when you think 4/4 indie guitar pop has little left to offer society, other than the slow decomposition of 30-year-old ideas, along comes a band with “death” in their name and suddenly it feels like you can breathe again. Evans the Death must surely be one of the most exciting prospects on the circuit, and predictably they’re already being pigeonholed as a result, specifically as something halfway between C86 and the late ‘80s “blonde” scene.
Get over the fact that singer Katherine Whitaker is, by virtue of a startling coincidence, blonde, and this turns out to be meaningless. Their debut album (the excitingly-titled ‘Evans the Death’) both over- and under-produces their trademark frayed messiness with nods to far more diverse influences. Tonight, the whole thing’s distilled to a critical mass of ragged, nervy riffs and springy basslines, most of which sounds like it could unravel at any moment.
Whitaker herself is a superb vocal talent. On the album, her drawly style highlights the terribly English bathos of ETD’s lyrical matter – love in a world of lie-ins, microwave meals and kitchen sinks. But seconds into ‘Threads’ – a squawking disarray of curves and angles about a scary documentary – she’s moved from almost dismissive, low-pitched utterances, through breathy high notes, into a full-powered, scathing howl and back again. A false start to ‘Letter of Complaint’ leaves her looking a touch dissatisfied, but there’s something life-affirming about a band as young, edgy and coolly dispassionate as this.
Technically it should be possible to be as excited about This Many Boyfriends, whose new record (the thrillingly-monikered ‘This Many Boyfriends’) is another corking contribution to 2012’s pop canon, while also successfully rhyming “letter”, “newsletter”, “lettered” and “sweater” in one stanza. Bits indeed live up to expectations – ‘Everything’ in particular marrying detuned, crackly musical elasticity to the predilection of Richard Brooke – their diminutive, barrel-chested singer – for flat, David Gedge-like delivery in the refrain “You don’t want what I’ve got”.
But from the moment they bounce onstage with the proclamation “Hello London; you’re very nice, aren’t you?” TMB largely abandon their idiosyncrasies in favour of striking the pose of a bunch of mates having a bit of a laugh. After repeated stops for inaudible in-jokes it all gets a bit irritating. Worse, songs like ‘(I Should Be A) Communist’, Morrissey-esque in its lyrical movement from the sublime to the mundane, end up almost wilfully undermined by a performance more characteristic of a knees-up in a working men’s club.
Whether the result of nerves or irony, you’ve got to wonder what the point of this throwaway take on their own existence is. After all, pop history is littered with great bands who sounded northern and out of tune. It’s also got a proud record of short, odd-looking frontmen. Freddy Mercury’s multiple conquests of the world spring to mind, but they weren’t achieved by him and his band behaving like a novelty act.
And ultimately, it’s also littered with the debris of artists whose disposable indie disco fodder thrilled scenesters one minute, only to end up as yesterday’s news the next. It would be a crying shame if TMB, whose smart, sophisticated songwriting deserves better, end up the same way. They’ve often said they’re in this for fun, and quite right too. But if this really is just about having a laugh, it may not be too long before they wake up to discover that people don’t want what they’ve got for real.
Words by Tom Kirk