...promising a mouthful of blood and an eye to the keyhole isn't exactly the fast-track to the ’CD:UK’ studio...
At first glance, Sons And Daughters’ first proper album ’The Repulsion Box’ has more than a passing resemblance to the work of last summer’s mid-distance hopefuls, Dogs Die In Hot Cars. However, with a slight hint of Victorian-era nudge-nudge rudeness and a recurring fascination with murder and death, it’s closer to One Night Stands Die In Shabby Hotel Bedrooms. The band seem to be just as unsettled by the world their imagination is conjuring, as the album sounds like it’s been recorded with the desire to get in, set up, and get out as quickly as possible. Luckily, this gives the songs a rush rather than leaving them just sounding rushed; tracks delivered with the engine still running.
There are, naturally, a couple of tracks which might have benefited from a second look-over, most obviously ’Medicine’, which wants to offer an air of Oompah-Loompah menace but instead sounds like Rolf Harris breathing his way through ’Yummy, Yummy, Yummy (I’ve Got Love In My Tummy)’. Normally, though, the rip-and-burn approach, mastered by PJ Harvey producer Victor Van Vugt, pays off. Trusting to the purity of the first take and not looking over your shoulder too much delivers you a rough little beauty like ’Choked’. Sounding like a traditional Scottish folk song being worked over in a car-park by a gang of yobs with a rusty Ford Fiesta and a car jack, it’s frightening and thrillingly distressing. In other words, something rather marvelous.
They attempt to ape fellow Scots The Delgados (RIP) style of dueling vocals more than a couple of times, but it’s not a set up that works well for them; when Adele Bethel and Scott Paterson try to sing against each other on ’Red Receiver’, the idea falls flat and they suddenly find themselves drifting towards something frightening, but not in the way they probably intended.
The trouble is that while Scott has a good enough voice, it’s Adele who has the most adventurous style, and in a battle for supremacy, Paterson is quickly bested and has to resort to throwing everything he can into his act. He can dominate, but the listener is left with a track whose centre of gravity has shifted well away from the most interesting bits. It’s like sticking an elephant into a basket of kittens. When they’re not fighting, though, the plugging in of a pair of microphones pays off: Set Scott to supporting Adele, as on ’Choked’, they go together like an assault rifle and a school-shooting; and when he steps up to carry a verse on his own, he’s got that musical Johnny Vegas style about him. Adele is the powerhouse of the band, though, skipping and spitting and hollering like a kitten with a skyrocket tied to her tail. You can understand the comparisons drawn between her and Shirley Manson, but where Manson is stylish and controlled, even in the depths of range, Bethel is all reaction and edges. Imagine a Shirley from a Garbage who don’t fly first class and consider bunking together in a Travelodge a luxurious option, and you’d be quite a distance closer to Adele.
Taken as a full album in a single sitting, the drum-heavy tribal starkness of it all could be a little overwhelming; unrelenting, even; but the tracklist is just crying out to be dismembered and spread across your playlists like blood-spattering across a crisp white wall – when not bobbing about in a sea of similar tracks, it’s incredible just how bloody refreshing ’Royally Used’ sounds – the angry rockabilly track that Adam and The Ants never quite made before they went pop (in fact, if Amazon’s ‘if you like this, you’ll like this’ predictor works the way it should, a lot of Sons and Daughters fans will find themselves being pointed in the direction of Ants spin-off Chiefs of Relief). Of course, it’s questionable just how much demand there is for this sort of thing – promising a mouthful of blood and an eye to the keyhole isn’t exactly the fast-track to the ’CD:UK’ studio, but those who respond to their brain-wrong urges could find themselves signing up for a lifelong devotion with ’The Repulsion Box’.
Simon Hayes Budgen