No matter what I did it never seemed enoughIt would be wrong to read too much into this, but Spare Snare have just put out their second album in two years. That hasn’t happened since their first two, Live at Home (1995) and Westfield Lane (1996), after which a further three took them all the way to 2004’s Learn to Play. Which is a great name for an album by a decade-old band, and not unjustified by the subtle sound of its contents. I love Learn to Play to bits, but everything they have done since has been a process of unlearning, from the fumbling-acoustic Garden Leave (2006), through the noisier but still sentient I Love You, I Hate You (2009), which actually sounded pretty radically messy when it came out last year, its drums hard-panned like Krautrock, Barry’s bass back from politeness, metallic and super slinky. It was a lot like the thrillingly scuzzy live band who transformed Garden Leave’s quiet contemplation into out and out pop glory when they played in support of it at the end of 2006 and blew it out of the water. Helped a little by a revisited ‘Bugs’ which segued into New Order’s ‘Temptation’ so you couldn’t even tell which was the better song.
He said I was lazy, I said I was young
He said, how many songs did you write
I'd written zero, I’d lied and said, ten
You won’t be young forever
You should have written fifteen
(Lou Reed & John Cale, ‘Work’)
Victor ups the momentum and accelerates the decay. Now, Spare Snare never gave a fuck, ever, but this is unbelievable. To ease the listener in gently they begin, at least, with a song which sounds like it was written. ‘And Now It Is Over’ is a fight between Jan’s two-string guitar and Barry’s bass to see who can make the most noise, but it is a fight with rounds and a referee. Beginning: ‘What have we done? / How do you [something]? / How do you [cease? seize?] / You’ve got all that I see / And now it is over / And now it is over’, and though you can’t hear half the words this is solid stuff. Too solid, too sullied. This is a sound you have to climb inside, an agony you want to share. All the tunes of all the parts are such basic units but they mesh and they tighten and they explode. Three quarters of the way through is the sweetest prettiest reverb guitar solo. And then it is over. Except in your head (that solo can echo for days), and you’re drawn back to another play, and the sound, which drives it further home. Very possibly the Snare’s greatest three minutes, right there.
The rest of the album doesn’t even try to live up to ‘And Now It Is Over’. Not in terms of tunes, anyway. ‘Zappa is Sound’ is a sort-of instrumental, a muscular bass riff, textured, whacked out drums and synth blips and splurges, and Jan contributes deadpan ‘Na na na’ backing vocals and close-mic’d vocal sketches for places where words and tunes might have gone, given a bit of honing. ‘Gold in her Hands’ has impressively manic rhythm guitar clanging away stage left, a dead-ringer for Low Life era New Order. ‘All The Little Things’ has more not-quite-finished singing, but in more of a yowling register. The record lurches through these rough sketches which reveal snatches of song only fleetingly, but which build up into a big black storm cloud. ‘Didn’t Know Much’ – which is still really moody – pricks the tension bubble with some ukelele, and paves the way for two songs which share a childhood theme. ‘In A State’, anxious and paranoid, casts its eye on a sleeping child ‘clutching your soft toy, it doesn’t disappoint’, and broadens out to observe ‘people come and go / quiet is not wrong’. ‘My Mister Men’ is one of those split-stereo vocal affairs, with Jan listing Mr Men book titles in one channel, and someone I mistook at first for Paul Daniels talking in the other about how such apparently simple books can provide a challenge to a child’s imagination, though they are limited by their reliance on magic.
‘Excuse My French’ rounds things off nicely, in a purposeful monotone. The cloud has lightened to grey, and the Snare ride off in sou’westers. I don’t exactly know what it is they have done here, and it doesn’t work all the time (which might be part of the point), but I know that it is something which no-one else would even think to attempt. Most unfairly ignored Scottish band of the nineties / noughties? It’s not unfair, they encourage it. Clap your hands. Shake your fists.
Victor is a bit of a bargain at £5, from here. None of it is on their MySpace page.