Tribes – ‘Baby’

They've exploded out of Camden with an addictive debut

Grime versus glam. Grunge against gloss. A perfect ‘Aladdin Sane’ flashbolt smeared with grisly [a]Pixies[/a] gore. [a]Pulp[/a]’s shiniest synth hits dipped in diesel. Dissect [a]Tribes[/a]’ filthy/sweet dichotomy – that delicious clash of bright melody and dank garage noise – whichever way you like, it’s as ravishing as a pack of supermodel she-wolves.

And bang on time. The past 18 months have seen a flood of bands finding that the most doe-eyed pop tunes sound even lovelier if you smother them in tarry guitars and scuzzy electronic fuzz and roll them down a muddy hill into a ditch. [a]Sleigh Bells[/a], [a]Foals[/a], [a]Fixers[/a], [a]St Vincent[/a] and dozens more have been dressing up their musical [a]Lana Del Reys[/a] as Frank Gallaghers and gritpopping their way into our hearts, but more than anyone Tribes are twinned with San Francisco’s [a]Girls[/a]. They share the same glam-folk core, the same rag-shirted disregard for personal hygiene and the same lust for dense distortion, deeply deployed. And they’re both as dizzying as a tightening belt at your throat.

For the best part of a year Tribes have been teasing us with their enigmatic brilliance – a dirty diamond of a demo about an ancient Greek lesbian poet here, a glam blammer about growing up in the ’90s there – but while ‘Sappho’ and ‘We Were Children’ (for it is they) were doing the festival rounds, most who heard them seemed apathetic or, worse still, suffered a total inability to remember who the fuck Tribes were in the first place. Worry not, though. With ‘Baby’, their long-awaited debut album, Tribes have roared back fiercer than ever.

It opens with noises culled from Leatherface’s workshop, a goth-pop bass throb, a wave of Joey Santiago mutilation and visions of handcuffs, ice-cream on shiny leather and streets licked clean. This is the ear-scorching, cart-wheeling ‘Whenever’, the song [a]My Chemical Romance[/a] think they’re playing when they’re twatting about being post-apocalyptic desert biker-punks. The shadow of a perky pop Pixies hangs heavy, but Tribes create a brand of sordid, soiled imagery all their own, more rubber love turned tragic than Catholic guilt gone psycho.

If anything Tribes try to out-grunge Pixies, which is why the anthemic ‘We Were Children’ feels like being sucked into a supermassive black hole at the centre of ‘Where Is My Mind?’. But the archaic Yankisms are offset by Johnny Lloyd’s Ziggy Stardust bawl and the scarf-rocking refrain of “We were children in the mid-’90s”, an era so synonymous with Britpop, lad culture, ‘Three Lions’ and lagery nationalism that the gravelly choir chanting the chorus drenches the song in all the glory and grace of This Is England ’94. Even though, for Tribes at the time, it was less ‘Cigarettes & Alcohol’, more Scalextric and Calpol.

Yet just there is the other dichotomy that adds depth and dynamic to ‘Baby’. Tribes are not just filth versus flash, they’re innocence versus experience. A reflective Killers epic such as ‘Corner Of An English Field’, with its suggestions of a lonely war vet reminiscing over his carefree youth, rubs up against the fleeting teenage kicks of ‘Halfway Home’. A luscious ‘Starman’ lullaby to a broken drunk driving to oblivion through a godless universe, ‘Nightdriving’, gives way to the brilliantly vivacious ‘When My Day Comes’, a gleeful gawp at The Future that is essentially a rampaging street gang made up of Bowie, The Jam, The Boo Radleys, ‘River Euphrates’, The Undertones and ‘When You Were Young’.

It’s about making the familiar sound fresh, the weary wonderful. Tribes peer out at Britain – its lawless youth and its hopeless adulthoods – and rouse it to former glories. Not least with its newer, more ponderous tracks. A spectacular pop tune named after an ancient Greek poet about a mum absconding from her family for a new life of labial adventure was always going to be the lynchpin of ‘Baby’, but even ‘Sappho’ is over-shadowed by the stratospheric Black Mountain stomp and bluster of ‘Himalaya’, the Beatledelic ballad ‘Bad Apple’ or the psych-country wonder ‘Alone Or With Friends’, a carnival funeral march in which the hearse lifts off like halfway through Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

It’s this added meat and might that makes ‘Baby’ not only an early contender for album of 2012 but a formidable salvo in the guitar rock fightback, packing the power punch of prime Oasis, the pop preen of peak Suede and the sweet serrations of ‘Surfer Rosa’. Congratulations, Tribes, it’s a monster.

Mark Beaumont

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