slow motion existential catastrophe (set to music)
Snide Rhythms for real: William Macconnaiche (guitar), Colvin Cruickshank (vocals & keys), Graeme Wilson (drums) and Olly Ridgewell (bass).
After line-up changes and a ‘difficult’ new album, Edinburgh’s favourite post-punk machine funk outfit Snide Rhythms play Kelburn on Saturday 4th July
Conventional wisdom on the ‘difficult second album’ syndrome is well-known; a lifetime’s musical ideas and development are crammed onto a debut LP, a potent distillate tough to reproduce for bands suddenly under deadline. Unlike The Stone Roses notoriously lost decade, Snide Rhythms released their second set 2nd Difficult Album a modest two years after their eponymous opener. Rather than allow their taut, punk funk vision to be blurred by over-indulgence, the Snides sharpened their sonic scalpels and set to work dissecting our decaying culture imploding under the weight of its own hypocrisy. There are entire songs here shorter than a post-gak John Squire guitar solo and all the better for it.
Clichéd musical orthodoxies aside, there is much to love here. Highlight tracks such as Desert Legend’s judicious use of those ethereal synthesised twinkles splashed across Joy Division’s classic Atmospheres gloss the record with a seductively authentic post-punk sheen. Frontman Colvin Cruickshank’s strident lyrical attack conjures the era’s dystopian ennui confidently; his unflinching agit-prop pop poetry nods to The Pop Group’s Mark Stewart while managing to evade clumsy sixth form platitudes. Cruickshank’s delivery is closer to La Dusseldorf’s Klaus Dinger’s hypnotic man machine chant than the Bristolian’s rebellious shriek. That’s not to say Cruickshank’s outfit are mere retro imitators, slavishly sacrificing their sound on the altar of some spurious authenticity. No, Snide Rhythms may well be kissing cousins to cult machine funk favourites such as Cabaret Voltaire and Fini Tribe but they are definitely on their own tricky little tip.
The clue, as someone once said, is in the name. The top end is underpinned with a drum-tight, propulsive rhythm section. Olly Ridgewell’s muscular bass lines unwind sinuously over drummer Sam Stokes’ insistent percussive drive to create that elusive Eldorado of sounds: the missing link between digital and analog, live and laptop. Imagine Jah Wobble jamming over 23 Skidoo’s sample-led tribal stutter or Krautrock’s relentless motorik engine room. Throw in the occasional old skool acid blart and vocoder and you have the kind of jam that slots in neatly to any underground deejay’s box alongside your Sheffield, Detroit and Chicago staples forward to anything on Optimo, DFA or Warp. Indeed, more uptempo tracks such as single Acid Alliteration with its infectious looping 303 riff or Four Colour World’s Dalek goes to art school vocal hook bridge the gap between analog and digital, funk and punk, house and new wave. This is not some gimmicky nu-rave pastiche however, rather a sincere homage to classic acid house originators bristling with the underground energy of the Gang of Four in their pomp plus that almost indefinable quality – heart. It’s a neat trick that has eluded many a higher profile act over the years and suggests Snide Rhythms enduring – two albums and counting – appeal. Rather than some hood-topped, charisma vacuums hiding behind banks of rack-mounted technology relying on air-punch semaphore to signal the drop, the Snides are most definitely a live act with songs not tracks and all the on-stage charisma that entails. Cruickshank in particular commands the stage with an almost feline grace.
But don’t take my word for it – though my cheques are cashed without question anywhere from Biarritz to Monte Carlo -check them out for yourselves at Kelburn next month, where among a host of your usual Scottish festival suspects, they will be up against genre originators Nightmares on Wax. While the Ambassador and I’s current state of genteel poverty looks likely to prevent us from attending the festival in person (we typically spend Saturday afternoons listening to Gardener’s Question Time while sipping Lapsang Souchong from cracked bone china tea cups and nibbling the Cartwright & Butler caraway cakes from Harrords the Ambassador is partial to), we expect them to more than fulfill their promise. So there you have it: Snide Rhythms putting the cult back into diffcult and doing it live.