Monday, May 01, 2006

Kicking The National Habit

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Grand National are a British duo whose debut LP Kicking The National Habit was released in the UK and Europe in August of 2004. It's only taken two years, but it finally came out here in the US in March. I first heard them a few years ago on an old Jockey Slut compilation - Playing In The Distance was the song. It's killer bass riff and tight drums make it club friendly, but it's lyrics and ultra catchy hooks make it a great pop tune. For whatever reason I never bought an import copy of the album, so when it finally came out I picked it up. It has been expanded for the US with 7 extra tracks - 4 new songs and 3 remixes. After spending a month with it I have to say that it is rapidly ascending my personal charts and could be a contender for the year end top ten list. I like it a lot. It is quirky and literate, full of memorable pop hooks and glorious dancefloor embellishments - a perfect mashup of club music and indie rock and guitar pop.

Here's a bit of a mashup of the duo's bio from - Rupert Lyddon and Lawrence 'La' Rudd were members of a band performing cover versions of Police and Queen songs in pubs and bars around West London and Brighton. They combine the angular guitars, pounding basslines and heady euphoria of New Order and the Mondays with the metropolitan nouse and witty introspection of bands like Blur. After getting a bit of free studio time courtesy of Primal Scream, the Grand National sound came together. As for Grand National's music, they argue that it has an ambiguous quality: "There's a duality to it. It's half-light. Melancholic. British people do that well." But it can get confusing, as La explains. "Bands like The Smiths weren't depressing, that's bollocks - they were uplifting. New Order, too - that's celebratory music."

I've taken a few namechecks from the bio that pretty acurately sum up this album's vibe - "It's a cross between New Order's 'Regret' and The Flaming Lips' 'Race For The Prize"." "Choppy rhythm guitar that is pure Bernard Sumner via Nile Rodgers of Chic." "'Roxanne' meets 'Born Slippy' with Alan Rankine of Associates on keyboards." It's also got the best trumpet solo on a pop record since Teardrop Expodes' "Reward" . "Neo-ska that betrays a love of The Police, The Specials and The Beat," "Dream meeting between Dr Dre and Joy Division." "Imagine AR Kane and Talk Talk jamming in pop heaven, all shimmering guitars and aching chord changes."

I don't usually do such extended write ups on bands but as I mentioned before (and you've probably figured out by now) I really like this record a lot. Trying to pick a tune to share is very hard because they are all worth hearing. That being said, here a couple of my favorites this week...

Cherry Tree - the chorus is glammy '70s disco with steel drums and big diva vocals, and the verse a pretty, melancholic indie guitar rock song. Seems like a mismatch, but these guys make it work.

Rabbit Facts is one of the bonus tracks, and it is spine shivering-ly good. The opening piano melody slays me as it drifts into a moody, lush pop song that is reminiscent of '70s blue eyed soul - 10cc, Hall & Oates. It's fantastic - just listen to all of those dreamy guitars drifting in and out.

You can sample a few more tunes here . Then you should really go and pick it up for yourself so you can hear all the rest of it's tasty goodness.

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