Music is a complicated thing. Not everyone can understand or excel in it. But then a certain simplicity creeps into the industry as well (and I don’t mean X-Factor contestants). In an effort to give understanding, and market particular types of music, anything with a similar style gets lumped together in a genre, and labelled. And these labels can be very much “what they say on the tin”. Garage rock for example, stemming from bands rehearsing in the cheapest places possible, like parents garages, or hair metal involving lots of hair. But sometimes the names given to particular genres of music can be a little obtuse, particularly as you enter the world of dance and electronic music. Gabber, Jungle and of course House are not really accurately descriptive titles. And perhaps most confusing of all is Drum and Bass. For were you to give almost any DnB record a spin you would find it littered with plenty of other sounds other than drums and bass. So, I was certainly interested in being presented with a four track EP from Cheltenham duo GagReflex. For they create music using actual drums and a real bass, and just that, nothing else, bar singing. And that appeals to my rather simplistic nature. And also doesn’t sound anything like the dance genre.
But how can you create songs using solely drums and a bass? For are they not the unsung heroes of popular music, the engine room and driving force behind a song? Well yes, that is a true statement, but in the hands of the right musicians it is entirely possible to fashion tunes with melody from them, especially if you are not after precision, finesse or subtlety. And this is what GagReflex do, and with some relish too. Yes, it does sit at the punkier / grungier end of things, and at first listen owes a huge debt of gratitude to early Therapy? but this is only part of the story.
Careful and intelligent use of effects on vocals and bass lead to more than enough variety to keep the interest although by the very nature of the instruments and style favoured there is little in the way of refinement, preferring fuzzed up distortion to clarity and polish. Everything about the songs is abrasive and challenging, but in creative way. This is not a band that believes in making things easy initially for the listener. But, if you let your guard down and open your ears a little the core melodies are very accessible, the instrumentation clever and exciting, and the beats and rhythms are addictive (which shouldn’t be a surprise for a band made up only of a rhythm section).
At the very heart of things this is a band who can write songs. Admittedly these are songs that inspire thoughts of post holocaust landscapes and industrial settings rather than bubbling brooks and deep forests. But all the same they arouse strong and vivid responses to the music, which is not easy. Lyrically it is a challenge too, partly because the sublime onslaught playing behind them and partly because of the lo-fi, fuzzy stylised delivery that makes it difficult to catch a clear listen. But that is not to the detriment of the writing, as you soon pick up the gist, and with witty titles like What’s The Deal, Kim Jong-Il you know you are dealing with literate and intelligent writers. And sitting the vocals amongst the instrumentation works well, somehow giving an overall fuller sound and cohesiveness.
This EP has to rate as one of the most interesting, exciting and brilliant pieces of work I have heard in a long while, and anyone who has a love for contemporary punk, grunge, Lo-Fi music, Therapy? and their ilk or more artistically challenging music in general should give this a go, even if it is to listen in awe to the playing, which is inspired, original and excellently left-field. Whilst the main-stream is never going to be troubled by this duo (not that I suspect they are bothered by that) they should properly make waves on the underground.
Nails is out now at http://gagreflex.bandcamp.com/
More on GagReflex at http://www.facebook.com/gagreflexmusic