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The Facemelter blends a bevy of mathy bands, headed by Alright The Captain

Alright The Captain Iran Iran Porshyne The Facemelter June 2015

We’ve now reached the point at The Monolith where we just consider Chaos Theory‘s Facemelter nights a standing appointment in our diaries. Setting up on the first Friday of each month at Camden’s Black Heart, these events showcase rising talents from right across the alternative spectrum, with quality all but guaranteed.

It’s also worth pointing out right now that every band that plays a Facemelter show is recorded by Peter Junge. He produces probably the highest quality live performance videos I think I’ve ever seen, so kudos to him. I’ve included links to all three of the evenings performances here, but his YouTube channel contains an impressive back catalogue of over 100 bands from previous events, including other Monolith favourites like Hieroglyph, Sumer and Polymath. Go have a rummage and see what you missed.

The theme of tonight’s proceedings can be summarised in three words: Arc, Tan, and Gent. With two of tonight’s bands having already played at the math-nirvana festival, and the third sure to delight its clientele, we pitch up early to take in as much of the quirkiness as possible.

But a spanner has been thrown in the works: headliners Alright The Captain were ensnared in bad traffic, only reaching the venue less than an hour before doors. And, upon arrival, discovering that vital parts of the drum kit they were supplying to the supports had been left behind. These things happen, but with some hurried lugging, plugging and improvising, openers Porshyne take to the stage just a little behind schedule, and with drummer Chris gamely replacing an absent rack tom with a snare drum. There’s a first time for everything.

I’d been itching to see Porshyne again since they comprehensively blew my socks off at Mammothfest in October, and they did not disappoint. With three guitars jostling for real estate on the cosy stage, they fill the room with their sumptuous, Oceanside-esque progressive rock.

The trio of guitars weave together to produce a rich tapestry of sound in their well-crafted songs. It’s also quietly remarkable that even with those three guitars, there’s still space for the particularly imaginative rhythm section to operate. In particular, Chris deftly utilises the rims and shells of his kit to tease out interesting rhythms without dominating the mix. It’s an inspired move.

Their short set reaches right across the dynamic range, from quiet and delicate to loud and bombastic. The whole thing is then topped off by Fergal’s astonishingly soulful voice, dishing out line after line of memorable vocal hooks. Alongside fellow Monolith favourites Sumer, Porshyne are one of few bands capable of marshalling the tri-guitar line-up into something that isn’t messy and confusing. This is no mean feat.

Maddeningly, Porshyne still don’t have anything at all for sale past a small clutch of standalone tracks on their bandcamp page. But, fortunately, Peter Junge has added to this small pool of available material with an excellent recording of “Exit“. Check it out, and see why I pegged them as Ones To Watch this year:

Up next are quartet Iran Iran who, despite having one member fewer than Porshyne, spill off the front of the stage with guitarist Luke setting up on the floor. The sizeable bank of pedals at both his and fellow guitarist Steve’s feet are probably the deciding factor here.

Iran Iran kick out a series of dense yet surprisingly groovy instrumentals. Coming across not unlike Battles without the electronica, the tracks are warmly received by the room, which in the main is clearly familiar with their work.

The tracks are also instilled with an upbeat perkiness that might more readily be associated with indie bands than the more standard introspection one might associate with math-rock. This appears to be provided by the relatively straightforward rhythm section underpinned the heavily processed guitar acrobatics that lead the charge.

But however impressive the initial hit of their sound may be at the start of their set, they unfortunately fall afoul of what is for me an all-too-common issue for these types of bands. All too quickly, Iran Iran’s songs blur into one another, following broadly the same template. With hyper-processed and fiddly riffs galore, I’m sure there’s much to be discovered via closer examination of their recorded output, but in this setting there’s just not really a focal point for my attention, so it starts to drift.

Although it may be some form of heresy in certain math-rock circles, I leave the room thinking that their tunes would be better served by the addition of some vocals.

There’s a fairly lengthy changeover, with lots to unplug and plug in before Alright The Captain take to the stage….. Or not take the stage, as it transpires. Despite being only a trio, guitarist Marty and bassist Todd choose to set up their sizeable effects rigs facing each other on the floor in front of the stage. Whilst I realise that there is a certain romantic charm to a ‘floor show’, the flipside is that anyone beyond the first two rows that cluster around the band can see little past a couple of bobbing heads and the occasional headstock. I’m left feeling that, in this respect, the cramped confines of the Black Heart’s live room are probably intimate enough, even with the band set up on stage.

Alright The Captain peddle more of the oddball, glitchy instrumental mathisms around which the ArcTanGent scene has coalesced. However, they supplement these principles with a variety of extras that steer them away from any charges of sameyness. In particular, they throw in some pleasantly beefy garage rock riffing, best displayed in set opener “Bolognese Holiday” from their 2013 mini-album, which gets pretty much every head in the room nodding. These heavier moments pop up throughout the set, drawing me back in just as my attention starts to wander.

Marty and Todd bound around the space they’ve made for themselves, often joined by a particularly excitable punter (who can be seen in the video below, too) while marshalling their arrays of effects. Todd’s rig also includes a keyboard and sampler, and the final song sees him ditch his bass entirely, bouncing through the crowd clutching his sampler. Its a fun and fitting conclusion to the set.

Alright The Captain will be playing at this year’s ArcTanGent festival in a couple of months, and I’ll definitely be taking the time to catch their set. See you there, maybe?