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Weekend Wig-out: Promise this!

13 Feb 11 | Re: Epic indie-dance jam

Remember hidden tracks? In the 90s it became fashionable for the last track on a CD to finish, have a long period of silence, and then have a little throwaway interlude to reward diligent fans or surprise people who happened to leave the CD playing. In the digital age, these tracks must be troublesome for iPod users, since a song with a long period of silence in the middle is entirely useless for annoying fellow commuters. Hidden tracks are rather format-specific, and their time seems to have passed.

Another side-effect of hidden tracks in the modern day is that they can be a source of false hope for the wig-out enthusiast. When a wigging fan first puts a new CD into the computer, he can’t resist looking down the tracks to see how long they are. If the last track on the CD is fifteen minutes long, his heart does a little leap of joy - it’s a wig-out! Imagine the disappointment on finding out later that, say, Cast’s Mother Nature Calls doesn’t end in a wig-out at all, but a long period of silence and thirty seconds of pretty but dispensible chamber orchestra music. Why, John Power? Why?

These minefields of disappointment aside, the digital age does have its share of delights to reward those of us who keep the wig-out faith. Take, for example, this week’s weekend wig-out:

The Promise by the Maybes?     Listen! Attend!

Don’t let the pesky question mark put you off: the Maybes? are quite good. This week’s jammin’ wig-out is the title track of their album The Promise. It’s an interesting choice of title track in that it both does and doesn’t define the album - it defines it in that it’s by far the best and most astonishing song on there, but it doesn’t define it because whereas all the other songs are quite good songwriterly Liverpudlian tunes in the tradition of the Las and the Zutons, The Promise is an epic instrumental indie-dance jam.

It’s the last track on the album, so has good wig-out credentials from the get-go. It starts up with a bit of echoing guitar, which is very quickly supplemented by drums in the time-honoured indie-groove style generously bequeathed to posterity by the Stone Roses. The drummer is good, and the track is quite danceable. The first few minutes of the song consist of a succession of increasingly electifying guitar figures laid over this groove; as it goes on, the melodic picking gets more and more euphoric. It must be great at gigs.

After a couple of minutes there’s a fairly brief breakdown section where the drums go half-speed and the guitars get a bit spooky, and then there’s a dramatic build-up and drum roll before we get back to the dance. Having shown their dramatic-breakdown ability here, the band return to the concept after around four minutes and embark on what may be the most artfully drawn-out breakdown I have heard. The drums drop out completely, while the guitars craft a sparse landscape of echoing crashes overlaid with an insistent bleeping that is Pink Floyd-esque in its unhurried restraint. Slowly, slowly the tension builds - after about two minutes of it the drummer comes back from the bar and starts hitting the cymbals, as several times the band feints to bring back the euphoria and instead pulls another build-up section from its box of tricks. Much wah guitar helps vary the effect.

Even when the groove comes back, the tension remains thanks to echoing guitar stabs and, at one point, some licks that sound a bit like Layla. They do tease their listeners - the Maybes? know how to vamp, but they always keep it interesting, telling a story with their false starts and last-minute-abandoned climaxes. Finally, more than ten minutes into the song, the earlier euphoric picking does return for a triumphant finish, supplemented this time by the continuing wah guitar, and takes us through to the end of the track. In the last twenty seconds the spooky echoing is reintroduced so that the final echoing chord contains notes of doubt to temper the triumph.

Have I missed something? Why yes: the drum solo! This comes after about nine minutes, and makes for a fine diversion as the percussion-beating is drama’d up by sparing guitar stabs and some EQ trickery.

What’s happening after three and a half minutes, when standard pop singers are finishing up and thinking about dinner? We are still in the midst of the opening section, with the six minutes of spooky atmospherics thus far only hinted at.

Time to rate this wig-out:

Total wig-out points: 24

That’s a very creditable score for the young Liverpool fivesome.

Posted by AB O' THE CLOUGH at 12:50

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