Subtleby Grant Moser
1. “relax, don’t think about the way I treat you”
The self-titled debut CD from Ambulance Ltd. states that they have arrived—strongly—and quickly demonstrates that they have the chops for more than the four or five good songs their previous EP contained. Indeed, the whole album is divine, from the oddly intense and atmospheric opening instrumental (“Yoga Means Union”) to the groove-laden tracks that follow. What the rest of the tracks have that “Yoga” doesn’t is singer Marcus Congleton, whose insinuating voice—think Lloyd Cole with a whole lot more range, or Elliot Smith with upbeat tones—expresses longing and restraint and sudden heights you weren’t expecting.
An amalgamation of Sonic Youth, Pavement, the Beach Boys, the Pixies, 90s alternative, and the occasional nod to the 60s and Motown, Ambulance Ltd. creates demanding songs that you don’t even know are demanding. They’re perfectly crafted pop/rock songs that you either sink into whole-heartedly while shoegazing or can’t stop bouncing to, thanks to the incredibly tight rhythm section.
“Primitive (The Way I Treat You)” is built around a seductive bass line that languishes, waiting for the escalating wall of sound that inevitably comes; Marcus’s voice rises perfectly to that spot right below where you can’t hold back anymore and things begin to crack. “Anecdote” channels the Beatles through Elliot Smith in a toe-tapping tune with sweet melodies that lull you until you forget that you’re floating because it’s become so natural. “Heavy Lifting” creates a desperate crescendo effect before it explodes into feedback heaven, while the singer soars.
And this mood just keeps going for the whole album. The only weak track I could find was “Michigan,” which was a sticky-sweet Lloyd Cole tune, slow and rambling. But to be honest, it really wasn’t bad. Throughout the disc, the changes inside songs are sublime and so, so beautiful that you are swept along before you realize something has shifted, but by then you just don’t care. It’s subtle, but completely moving.
Ambulance Ltd. expresses relief in their songs, and you just can’t stop grinning like an idiot sometimes: It’s a top-down spring day where life is just so damn great that you want to sing along; and it’s a warm shaft of sunlight full of the hint of summer. This CD—and this band—is a promise of many good things to come.
For more info, visit www.ambulancenyc.com
2. “it’s about time that I said hello to all the lonely people”
The brand new effort from the Beta Band, Heroes to Zeros, is full of layered vocals, sound effects, indie overtones, and no hesitation about where they wanted to go with it. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall when they got the idea for this one. “Heroes” is at once ethereal and mighty.
It begins with “Assessment,” sounding like early U2, full of bass and guitar and strength; it feels epic. “Space” follows with a jerky bass line, heavy drums, and the Flaming Lips and the Who stretching their arms out as far as they can and grazing fingertips. It’s like shoegazing—up at the stars. “Easy” brings the funk, “Wonderful” starts with a Coldplay–orchestra expansiveness that de-evolves to a sweet, lowdown cosmic melody. “Troubles” is psychedelic Beatles, and “Out-Side” is a galloping tune that would have fit Trainspotting to a T.
Heroes is a complete, comprehensive, consistent album. The energy sways and dips and soars, but the lyrical repetition, tonal sounds, and back-and-forth of loud and quiet captivate you. The album is subtle, but it reaches you quietly in places you had heard rumors about but never established as fact.
This feels to me like an odd child of Tommy and Dark Side of the Moon: challenging, different, and beyond expectations. It’s a not-so-soft lullaby to the 21st century and all us lonely mortals inhabiting it. You feel something wonderful is happening here, and while you can’t quite pin it down, you listen again and again. I like to think this is what Wilco might have sounded like if they’d grown up in Scotland, never wrote Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and played with some funky grooves.
I told you, subtle.
For more info, visit www.regal.co.uk/beta/ie.shtml
Grant Moser is an art writer and frequent contributing writer for the Brooklyn Rail.