11th May | The Station
An overwhelming white light is cast, as if artificial reproduction of crepuscular rays in the sky, embracing Bristol duo Poisonous Birds as they draw out the brash closure of their second track of the night. The duo quickly build on an atmospheric mood that’s heightened and emboldened by sudden warbling synth turns and the pinpoint drumming of Finn Mclean.
Live, they possess something tangibly dissonant, but no less emotively compelling, perhaps making for more unrestrained composition. They weave together disparate sounds, exploring modern, industrial pop as much as the atmospheric ambience of post-rock. It makes for something accessible and indulgent in equal balance.
Scalping introduce themselves with immediacy. A grinding, striking synth roves into view before meticulous drums ignite the dynamism the group possess together. Thus begins the set of the year so far from Bristol’s best live band.
They are unmatched in their balance of accessibility and sheer experimentation. For 45 minutes, they deliver unflinching and supremely irresistible music. Scalping evoke the hypnotic brashness of techno, yet have the tangible potency of a live band.
Without any resemblance of a break in their performance, the five-piece twist and dissect intense, seamless phrases that know exactly when to simmer and when to burst into ecstasy. For how furiously driven they sound, the basslines are loose and expressive, the individual guitar sounds absolutely colossal within its minimal protrusion and the combination of the ticking drums and constantly eroding synths each stand out assuredly. Yet what completes Scalping’s aesthetic is their fluidity as a group, thriving as they descend into a trance, the highly professional and demonstrative visuals completing the comprehensive exhibition. They stand unparalleled.
If there is a band that could perhaps follow something so immersive and eviscerating in equal mesasure, it’s HMLTD. Presenting new songs alongside their surprisingly linear-sounding previous singles, their sound deliberately jars and protrudes with roughness and an exasperated energy. Glitching synth and course beats carry sodden, eerie stabs of guitar. Leader Henry Spychalski surveys a swaying crowd assuredly.
While on other occasions this has proved to be powerful and expressive, tonight it feels garish in comparison, marred by a lack of engaging hooks in early songs. “This song is dedicated to anyone that’s ever masturbated,” Henry exclaims, embedding a forced sense of attitude that eventually leads into a more fruitful middle-set. The songs begin to exude some focus; a minimal, grooving machination sees Henry slowly scream, “this is what you wanted” with wild abandon.
It leads into the six-minute ghostly waltz of, ‘Satan, Luella and I’, which at its eeriest pulses with a punch, as Henry bellows, “soft, gentle stranger” to a now baying front row. What can’t be denied is the drive and absurdness behind this group, as they finally find some cohesive middle ground for all their penchants.
Nevertheless, it stands true that HMLTD, at this point, have more pomp than purpose. They seem to have reached a juncture where they desire to have their music be the focal point of the set, and they cannot yet match the gusto and bravado that their live show used to offer with music that can similarly engage an audience.