Album Review: S.C.U.M – ‘Again Into Eyes’

By biding their time, the east Londoners have found their moment

Two years ago [a]S.C.U.M[/a] were black of heart, soul and high-waisted slacks. Named after the bile-scorched screed of feminist writer Valerie Solanas (sample: “the male is an incomplete female, a walking abortion” – Caitlin Moran it isn’t), their sonic heart of darkness encased in a flinty ribcage of distortion was just the sort of thing for the crucifix-flaunting class of 2008.

But the London five-piece, mourning the (near) death of ROMANCE or the outcome of An Experiment On A Bird In The Air Pump, waited for east London’s dark summer to pass. ‘Again Into Eyes’ is their revised manifesto. Cracking the windows on the airless, claustrophobic sound of old, single ‘Amber Hands’ sees distorted guitars spiral, Loop-like, across a prow of droning synths. This defter touch is further developed on opener ‘Faith Unfolds’, which contains billows of synths and ringing guitars that sound almost celebratory over Melissa Rigby’s militant triple fills.

But we already knew [a]S.C.U.M[/a] could sculpt atmosphere. ‘Again Into Eyes’ finally gives credence to the idea that they can also write real-life songs that stand up without gratuitous strobes and cheekbones. ‘Paris’ is essentially a piano number from a cabaret at the end of the earth, Thomas Cohen’s baritone – now stripped of all but the most cursory of reverb – sounds earnestly fey as he whispers sweet abstractions (“To lie awake and hear/I was born in the wrong way”) while washes of sonic scree sweep like chill wind across heathland. You can practically hear the rain lash the piano.

It’s hardly subtle, but it’s a step up from the pantomime goth of ‘Visions Arise’. The same androgynous romanticism is employed in ‘Whitechapel’ (listen below), its knee-height funk frame anchoring chiming synths that blossom into a moment of lucid melancholia when the vocals cease. Not that they’ve have dropped the schlock completely: ‘Summon The Sound’ races like a heart in a chest of a paranoiac while guitars scythe and Huw Webb’s malignant bassline nips at you like a guilty memory.

But growing up brings fresh challenges. They’re dogged by comparisons to [a]The Horrors[/a] – who were also perceived as doctoring the style to substance ratio with some alright results – but who really cares if ‘Sentinel Bloom’ has a touch of ‘Mirror’s Image’ within its synth line? As the careening wig-out proves, no one band has the monopoly on machine-grafted psychedelia. [a]S.C.U.M[/a] may still have a way to go before they truly master their references and get a handle on their lofty metaphors, but their debut is a hymn to maturation. Solanas wrote that all men should ride the waves until their demise. [a]S.C.U.M[/a] have ridden it out alright, but the outcome is the exact opposite.

Louise Brailey