Album review Scottish albums

Spare Snare

As I do so often, I’m going to start this review with a disclaimer. Spare Snare are a band that I fear that I find it hard to be objective about. From those early 7” singles resplendent in hand-painted sleeves to the thrilling early shows to 2007’s excellent Garden Leave and two rather memorable shows that accompanied that album’s release in Dundee and Glasgow, I’ve pretty much been in love with their music, their reluctance to ‘play the game’ and their distinctively unique world view tempered by a love-hate relationship with the music industry along with a self-deprecating view of the world and their place in it as the ‘43rd best band in Scotland’. 43rd? I’m damned if I can think of many better let alone 42!*

I Love You, I Hate You, Spare Snare’s seventh (eighth if you include the must-own compilation, Love Your Early Stuff) since 1995 slipped out a few months ago with little fanfare and no hype and has discretely insinuated itself into my life like picking up the threads of an old friendship with someone you care for, have a shared history with and whom, after a few hesitant false starts you realise that you still get along with like a house on fire with more to share than just a few hazy nostalgic reminisces over a misspent youth. Spare Snare 2009 still share a lot with the younger model but they’ve changed as well, grown-up even. They still sound charmingly ramshackle and rough around the edges, they still have a dirty, beating pop heart and a keen ear for a catchy melody but sound more robust, experienced and even, at times, a little world-weary.

Relax though, this isn’t a cynical album, just one that sounds as if its protagonists have had a few dark days and is tempered by a sense of freedom and exuberance, even sheer joy at points. At heart, Spare Snare are still skateboard punk-rockers.

I Love You, I Hate You follows on from Garden Leave with its growing use of electronics and keyboards and pummellingly inventive rhythms. ‘Tracked’ kicks things off, beginning with just Jan’s voice and some flickering keyboards as the song describes the pleasures and ennui of commuting mixed with a sense of paranoia about a world of surveillance and movement where ‘As I travel from A to B, I’m being tracked’. The song gradually builds up momentum like a speeding train with a dirty guitar riff and clattering percussion hurtling down the tracks to a nasty conclusion. ‘We Know The Truth Don’t We’ begins with a squally guitar and atmospheric sounds before bursting into a lurching, catchy post-punk song with the lolloping, substantitive bass line competing with the guitar and a chorus to die for. ‘How Dark’ is a gentler tune but has a pretty dense mood and atmosphere, a looping, sweet guitar line sketching around a skeletal framework, leavened by melodica and Jan’s most world-weary vocal. It’s a restless, lovely song, kind of confessional yet giving little away, equally poignant and unsettling.

‘Qwerty For The Masses’ (a fun title to type) in contrast, is a veritable piledriver of a song, from the swooping, expansive electronic opening to the rawer body of the song, a Velvets sound buoyed along on a powerful bass line and some mad but cool backing vocals all churned up with what sounds like an ancient Speak and Spell machine prattling away to itself. It twists and turns in on itself several times, a loveable, scuffed pop song with a lopping rhythmic structure, a simple guitar refrain and a cranky, distorted vocal full of despair yet oozing melody particularly in its lovely chorus of ‘The world’s turned round once more again’ where the sense of a bad day gives way to the hope that tomorrow will at least have the potential to be better.

‘Get Out’ initially displays a fractured, discombobulating sound and structure that eventually coheres in the semblance of a distinctive melody. It’s a strange sounding song, introverted and claustrophobic, swathed in weird sounds, disturbing and intriguing. ‘Dirty F’ has an equally dark and eerie atmosphere, full of buzzing electronics and distortion, a discomfortingly disembodied voice bemoaning ‘All the dirty fuckers’. ‘Kicking up The Leaves’ lifts the mood with its warm, autumnal feel, exuberant rhythms, joyful keyboard line and sweet, sweet melodies all vying for attention giving the song a bright feel despite a darker edge to the lyrics as Jan sings ‘Hold me down so I don’t breathe / Give me something to believe’. ‘Spot The Difference’ is an odd song, lifting the pace again with its jagged, murky sound, revealing a lovely tune and arrangement while the high pitched vocals swoop above the mix in a way that is initially quite unnerving but works well.

‘How Do You Control?’ is another strange song with a reverb soaked guitar battling it over the keyboards and drums. It seems to turn itself inside out until only the bare bones are left carrying the song to the end. ‘How I Try’ is possibly my favourite song on the album, pushed on by a melodic bass that twists and turns all over the place. It has a neat groove, some fierce guitar and a fabulous rhythm. Jan still sounds as though he’s pushing against something tangible but unidentifiable as he sings

Do you still want to know
Where does the time go?
How can you be sure
We’re going to make it through?

Musically though its an exciting, exuberant, discordant and joyful song, twitching and jerking like an awkward but enthusiastic dancer blissfully unaware or uncaring of the flashier, more studied but less original other occupants of the dance floor, preening and primping their pre-rehearsed moves self-consciously under the bright, flashing lights. ‘Signs’ has a more spindly sound, built around a wired guitar and has a rough and ready feel to it, seemingly flying by in a blink of an eye but lodging itself in my head.

I Love You, I Hate You may be the work of an older and (possibly) wiser band but it is still recognisably the Spare Snare I love, same but different as John Peel once said about The Fall. There’s a bitter kernel at the heart of many of the songs and an urge to continually challenge expectations but ultimately this is a great album that can sit in my collection with considerable pride of place, not only amongst its siblings but with their peers.

* I understand that this is a slightly (hugely?) outrageous statement as there are and have been many great Scottish bands over the years (and I’ve enthusiastically raved about many of them in these pages) but I do have a huge love for Spare Snare’s wonderful records and a great respect for their quiet persistence in getting along quietly with making wonderful if somewhat underrated records over the years.