Two-man bands have been a staple to the post-alternative rock scene for the last ten or so years. I tend to make assumptions about the sound: blues-inspired grungy riff-rock. The names The White Stripes and The Black Keys certainly come to mind. I appreciate the straight-forward style and deceiving simplicity of much that this genre (is it fair to call it so?) has offered.
Much in the vein of the aforementioned bands, British band Hot Fiction, brings forth their sophomore effort, Apply Within, out October 18th. The band describes it as a “soulful awakening”, though I’m not sure if that “awakening” is meant for the band or the listener. Regardless of the intent, they better make their points quick, as the album clocks in under the 40 minute mark.
The band is comprised of drummer/vocalist Andy Yeoh and guitarist/vocalist Simon Miller.
The band has a comfortable feel. It certainly fulfills my expectation of blues-inspired grungy riff-rock. However it does consistently feel fresh mainly due to the tunes’ strong melodies (see Harder Than Before) and percussion work that has that pleasant clarity and subtlety of not being canned. The guitar work is appropriate for the genre (are we still good with this?) of two-man riff-rock, and doesn’t rely too heavily on effects to draw in the listener, which is something that I have found to be draining on my ear juice.
Yeoh’s voice is strange at times (Gotta Go); pulling in and out of pitchy, frail to bold, and even 1960s white soul to Nick Drake circa Northern Sky (see Broken In a Good Way). And while I’m trying to figure out and adjust, the vocals blend with Miller’s guitar work that has many of the same qualities.
Ultimately, what kept me interested in the songs was the constant push and pull between the simplicity and dissonance of the melodies (see Sweet Goodbye). There is a fluidity to this album, even though the separate tunes hearken to different influences, conscious or not, such as the afore mentioned Nick Drake in Broken In a Good Way, a less orchestrated and instrumented The Band in You’re Not Alone, and even a streamlined Blood Sweat and Tears on No Soul.
As a side note, this is the point where I am conflicted over the possibilities of more instrumentation verses the uncomplicated nature of two-man groups like Hot Fiction. On one hand you have such potential to show range and counter-melody, but on the other you have the ability to become highly cohesive and streamlined in approach and purpose.
Regardless of my ramblings, Hot Fiction has put together an album in “Apply Within” that grooves, moves, and flows. This is a band that I could see developing further from influenced to influential as they explore their sound and push away from the precedents.
I give this album 3.5 g-bears.