Time for another album review from the pen of the Hellfire Gonzo Division. I start with my perfunctory album-review-custom of the rolling, lighting and smoking of one high-powered grass joint, the disc, with its cool design of cogs and eye-catching font and dark mysterious colour scheme, slips into the dusty CD tray (now reserved exclusively for album reviews, everything else being MP3, but to get the proper feel of a record you have to go through the motions, honed in pre-MP3-youth, of actually putting the record on). And we’re ready to begin…
…The album in question is the long-awaited, hot-off-the-press (think I might be the first reviewer, yes, that hot – just-out-the-oven-freshly-baked-hot) debut of Insectways. Consisting of the combined talents of
Cheryl Scott; vocals, Mik Banner; guitar/vocals, Mark O’Donnell; bass/vocals and Ross Nurney on the skins.
Local entrepreneurial radio station owner Cheryl Scott (KA Radio) is a considerable presence on the local music scene (Ayrshire and surrounding areas) so when she’s in a band you can guarantee the line-up assembled will be an ensemble of the best musicians around, Cheryl has her fingers in more pies than an amphetamine-fuelled baker on a Monday morning, so it’s probably fair to assume she has the pick-of-the-litter for players in Insectways. The proof though, as they say, is in the pudding – so let’s sample the first, freshly-baked, slice…
…The album is entitled ‘Time’, appropriate then, that the first bite is a track named ‘Tick-Tock’. A peculiar clock-sound leads us in, and then a nice strident guitar-lead and soon its injected with some harrowing vocals, almost putting me in mind of a female Joey Ramone, and there is a definite punk sneer lurking somewhere at the back of these aggressively delivered vocs, compounded by a wall of grunge-like solidness from the guitars.
Nice bridge, perking my interest back up, and then it hits all my erogenous zones (because I’m a sucker for a bridge that just keeps on bridging) and this is no exception, I think I can hear a sprinkling of nicely-delivered keyboard here, and they have already ticked (tocked) a major box on my personal checklist; I think the difference between a dirge, or a boring song, is the inclusion, or lack-thereof, of a few good bridges, preferably rapidly delivered – You see, a bridge turns a tune that someone’s had in their head, waiting to put down on paper as-it-were, into a fully-fledged composition i.e with added components – extra instruments, key-changes, whatever – if you make a song and it is the same song when you start playing as it is when you finish, then there’s no song there! A song must develop, it must take on a life of its own, especially once that initial thought is shared with the collective creative consciousness of the group.
Take ‘How Soon Is Now’ by the Smiths for example – a brilliant, brilliant, melody, but then after five minutes (and the song is 6:42 long), you’re bored to death with it! No matter how striking and magnificent your opening chords are, or how great your lyricism is, if you haven’t gone anywhere else within a few minutes, you’re doing something wrong, look how much your average punk band can fit into one typically short thirty-second or one-minute-forty-second track, if you don’t believe me…
…But I digress, my whole point here, before I went off on a green-fuelled tangent, is that just by the first track, I can tell instantly that these guys know how to make a good record, and so I can’t wait to hear what gems the next thirteen pleasant portions of this pudding will provide, ‘Tick-Tock‘ was a tantalising teaser, especially that way it really kicked in bangin‘ for the last minute, I‘m a sucker for that too…
…And before I’ve even smoked midway to the roach we’re onto the next song, fast-paced is a key-word here, this band aren’t resting on their laurels, they obviously feel they have a lot to offer, and therefore I feel it too, excited now. Although this album is quite grungy and in parts hard-hitting, as with any good loud-quiet-loud-quiet method it still knows how to tickle the teeny-bopper within you, with its salubrious melodies and varying vocal range of the singer, and she tends to get into her stride pretty quickly and deliver a well-rounded performance.
This track is called ‘Turn Away’, I really like the keyboard-playing in the opening chords, I love a keyboard when its played really well like that, the vocals kick in perfect again and I’m growing very fond of this album already, and I already know I’ll be listening to it again recreationally.
As a DJ among Cheryl’s flock, I feel relieved that I can go back to her with the proud judgement that the record is genuinely good, and I’m saying this off just hearing the first two tracks, I’m excited and warmed with Insectways’ achievement, one of KA’s own bands, a forefront for us, and one we can be proud of, so I know what I’ll be opening my next week’s radio show with, just need to get down to the joyous job of selecting a track, and there’s still eleven to go, so let‘s get on with it!
A strange medieval melody opens the next track, ’Sister’, to throw me off, and throw me off it has, as the song seems to have morphed from that, into a folksy celtic-roots inspired tune. And as a huge fan of bands like, Waterboys, Culann, Flogging Molly, Pogues, etc. I am sucked in once again with a penchant for this kind of music, vocals once more wonderfully delivered by Cheryl, also weaving a heart-aching tale with the lyrics, which I got lost in for a moment or two there, definitely a fave’ so far and delivered as a mere short outburst before we get back down to business…
…Back down to business, because the next track, ‘Convergence’, has a moody feel to it, and Cheryl’s vocal range goes off in another direction again. And there’s the bridge, the guitar is so solid and consistent in this album, it gives it a good, concrete, grungy, emotive backbone, a centrifugal force for everything else to hang onto…And there’s another bridge! You see, never gets boring, meaning you can ‘drop the needle’ again and again. Some very insistent and competent drumming is also a bit of an unsung hero in the background – now that I think about it – providing some very good percussion, giving depth and added feeling, a multi-layered, multi-talented, multi-functional-band. The swiss-army knife of instrumentalists if you will. The sister track to ‘Convergence’, ‘Divergence’, would lead me to think there’s some very tight lyrical/conceptual structure to this album as a whole, for you to draw from as another added layer, and with a different singer again!
‘The Origins of Love’ starts off as lugubrious and quixotic as its title, but with Cheryl proving she can put some real poetic aching into her deliverance as well as proving she can certainly hold a note, and then it builds up tempestuously and we are treated to some weeping guitar, that hinges on Fleetwood Mac, in feeling anyway – it’s kind of like a poppier version of The Who in places as well. There’s a beautiful little outro to this song to walk you out into ‘What Does It Matter’ which sees the album taking another direction as a male vocalist Mark takes Cheryl’s place, and a nice little rolling infectious ditty is presented in its stead. Cheryl’s back again for the next track, and rolling-infectious-ditties are the order of the day now as ‘Soap’ is an out-and-out rock-and-roll-song straight from the golden days of music, with a Meat Loaf (at his best) flare to it, and its irresistible rhythm brings a smile to my face, the only thing that would make this better would be a rock n’ roll/cowboy-western style piano riff that……oh, there we go! Awesome! Really dig this track, and it continues, halfway through the album now, to prove Insectways don’t stand still and are wonderfully disparate!
‘The Days’, with Mik on the mic now, takes us back, after our wonderful detour through the genres that started at the third track, to the pop-punk-Placebo style that underlays Insectways – any fan of Placebo would like this album, and the penny drops, as I remember Insectways is a line from a Placebo song, isn’t it? ‘All Through My Life’ is the tenth track, definite concept-album-feel to this record, it’s poignant for sure, and good music needs to be poignant. The melodies and harmonies are well-suited within the individual members, whether on backing vocals or taking the lead, as Cheryl and the guitarists seem to share this responsibility, all the ingredients work well alone and together, which is obviously another great strength for them. Mark‘s back on the microphone with ‘Back Where I Began’ now, but we certainly are not back where we began as the music is still branching out, dipping its wick in diverse genres. We’re treated to a bit of country/pop/rock here, and there does seem to be a lot of good American-influence in the songs. The guitar solos are short, but sweet and consistent, and the harmonies are expertly pitched, there’s a comforting universal appeal to this song.
And we’re back into it again, mixing it up with some heavy hard-hitting riffs as ‘The Truth I Know’ powers in with a TKO. The bass gets the limelight in this one with a very plucky (no pun intended) bassline, this song is persistent and slamming in its deliverance, raucous, just how we like it! With some very nice guest vocals from Abi Banner. Abi and Mik are dueting on this one and their voices are demonstrating even more dimensions to the album cos’ this is f**king rocking! I’m surprised that, arguably the most energetic song on the album, comes as the penultimate track, when you would expect to hear it somewhere down at the first three, if not the opener, but hey, that’s refreshing, cos’ they’ve certainly woke me back up with a shock of lightning from the blue, and complete with a shredding guitar solo this is probably one of my favourites of the record.
Another surprise for you – a wee bonus electronic/dance remix of ‘Turn Away’ at the end. And so I am pleased to say that Insectways’ ‘Time’ gets the seal of approval, I will be revisiting it again for certain, and if you need a preview, I’ll be sure to play tracks over the next few weeks of radio (tune in at KA Radio, Chris Herron 4-6pm on Sundays [that promo there was just begging to be spun, can’t blame me!]) as this album deserves recognition and is worthy of the unsigned-side of my play lists, without a doubt! I’m pleased to be able to confidently recommend this album to those legends that support their local music scene by still going to local gigs and buying new albums, they are the salt of the music scene and the seed-sewers. Now that I’ve heard how good Insectways are, I’m itching to get out to see them live, so I’ll see you at the next gig they play, and obviously, in that case, there will be a live review in the pipeline. Oh yeah, now I remember – “Kind of buzz that lasts for days, had some help from Insectways” – See ya’ in the pit!
*Originally published on NHC Music 07/03/2014