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O'Messy Life - Challenger

Posted on Friday, 9 August 2013 | No Comments

...hey, is this thing on? Phew. Apologies for the longer-than-planned summer hiatus there: life does have a habit of getting in the way sometimes. Anyway, there's plenty of articles (or, if you're a moron, 'content') coming your way in the near future. For now though, here's some words on the new EP from O'Messy Life to welcome you back... 
Funny thing happened on the way to this review: this record played a part in a nightmare. A few nights ago, some dread combination of the summer heat and my own crazed subconcious jolted me awake suddenly, because somewhere in my head the melodious closer to O'Messy Life's new release Challenger EP The Rebel in Love hit some kind of insidious locked groove, it felt like the whole bedroom (for this is where this most mundane of night terrors was set) was shaking as in some '70s disaster movie, and then I was upright and awake, jolted and alarmed by a) an increased tendency towards unwelcome dreams in my life at present, and b) that even in those, I'm a dreadful record geek. Which of these revelations is the more unwelcome I'll leave to the eye of the beholder. 

But yes, as you'll have already gathered by now, I've been giving this EP a fair amount of time and thought of late. A large part of that of course is thanks to the band's pedigree: while their very earliest ventures may have resulted in some fairly undistinguished Americana, somewhere prior to their superb third EP O'Messy Life & The Quarter Life Crisis of Conan, they hit upon their own brand of fuzzy, hook-filled, emotionally resonant indie rock and transformed themselves into one of the best acts the North-East has to offer, both live and on record. Subsequent singles Escape Velocity and Little Vehicles/Space Holiday refined the formula further and cemented their gift for smart power-pop gems.

For their fourth EP however, O'Messy Life have veered away from the more immediate sounds of these last few releases for something darker and more subtler. Anyone expecting another Escape Velocity sugar rush may feel a moment of buyer's remorse: "hey, who put all these piano ballads and post-modern grunge epics about detectives tracking down their own past in my rock band?" Needless to say though, after a few listens all settles into place as Challenger reveals itself as a deeper, more immersive set of songs from the band, and one that cleverly expands the boundaries of the O'Messy Life sound.
The luscious, Jeff Buckley-via-Will Oldham guitar pickings that open Heat Shield signal the more intimate atmosphere of the record from the off, and as the song floats by on yearning vocal harmonies and the occasional blast of traditional O'ML distorted riffing, it takes the ambition hinted at on six-minute single Little Vehicles and takes it further. The title track itself unfolds as a scrappy indie rock take on Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac before exploding into grand Weezer riffage, its lyrics dealing with the the Challenge shuttle disaster from an oblique, personal angle (as does the record's superb artwork). There's also the two shorter ballads that round out the collect, the piano-driven wintery stillness of On the Cancellation of the Constellation Program and the electrified campfire sing-a-long of The Rebel in Love - the gentle, soothing closer that found itself looped into frenzy in my dreams, curiously enough.

Between those however lies the EP's centerpiece Invincible History. The song's conceit of a detective attempting to track down his earlier self to punish his own mistakes already has all the Paul Auster credentials you could want, but the scope of the lyric is more than matched by the music, with hushed guitars interposed with grand organs, soaring leads, traded vocals and a line in quiet-loud-quiet-loud-nothing-REALLY LOUD dynamics that would do Mogwai proud. It's a track quite unlike anything the band have attempted to date, and the success with which they pull it off proves the level of songwriting talent that Dave Littlefair posesses and just how tight a unit they've become.

In summary then: one of the region's best bands continues its proud evolution, and if you miss their EP launch gig at Cluny 2 on Thursday 29th August...well, have a good bloody word with yourself. The whole EP is available to stream and order from Tiny Lights here: just take care, and don't have nightmares.

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