Finally, an Anglo-American alliance has come about that isn’t a total fucking shambles (you heard me, Roosevelt). This ONSIND / Ghost Mice split 7” extravaganza was released on Discount Horse in June. It is apparently one of those ‘folk-punk’ records people keep banging on about.
But wait...hear me out. It’s very good and completely ear-worthy.
Firstly, the aesthetic of the split is immediately likable. Yes: Chris Clavin’s artwork is, I suppose, kitsch. But in a good way. Not like hamburger telephones or neon cocktail signs on garage walls / yuppie flats. Don’t worry: It isn’t Day-Glo and doesn’t feature any pictures of acoustic guitars anywhere. Instead, there’s a mummy. Excellent. However, you can’t judge a book (record) by its cover (cover), so...
ONSIND kick off the proceedings with "Call Me, If You Ever Feel Too Old to Drive." The production is crisp and pretty polished, without teetering over into James Blunt oblivion. Instrument separation is spot on and so their guitar interplay is fantastically realised -- particularly when the lead riff begins twanging away. It’s jaunty and somewhat beautiful without being ‘twee’ (i.e. bowel-rumblingly sickening). Then the vocals kick in and stomp all over the place. Low, scratchy, regional accents (north of England apparently, so no Johnny Rotten here) abound. My one criticism here is that the more raw production style of their full-length, Dworkin’s Bastards, would have possibly made this track slightly punchier.
"That Takes Ovaries!!!" is the standout track of the record. It’s concise, and has the same strong guitar interplay of the first, along with thoughtful and intelligent lyrics and some well executed (not shit) gang vocals. It would certainly be easy to criticise ONSIND for their dissection of an inherently patriarchal ‘scene’ when they lack female personnel. But there’s an explicit self-awareness in the lyrics, coupled with self-effacing humour. The generally male exclusivity of most punk and alternative music is just the tip of the iceberg, after all. In both songs, the way their vocal style jar with the melodic guitar lines without falling into the trap of sounding either gruff/hench or needlessly angst-fueled is just one of many ways in which ONSIND stand out from the ever-growing barrage of lazy ‘punk’ bands.
Not enough Billy Joel references on this side, mind you, but still top stuff.
Ghost Mice are, of course, a staple of the ‘folk-punk’ genre. If you haven’t heard them before (which you have) they are sparse, lo-fi, fun and sometimes cranky and disaffected. The great thing about the Ghost Mice side of the split is the chaotic and carnivalesque production -- particularly on "Live Free or Die Lame," which features Matty Pop Chart’s accordion and some sparse percussion. This style manages to add a satisfying sense of depth to the track, without overcrowding it. This approach strikes me as being akin to lite-Phantom Limbs or (dare I say) Gogol Bordello.
The guitar is abrasive but understated throughout, which really complements the tone of the violin. "Exit #3," especially, contains some fantastic near-discords between the instruments which blossom into more cohesive melodies. Some well-executed, interesting stop-starts in "Keep It at Bay" also maintain a sense of urgency and keep your head bobbing around in ascent.
The high-pitched nasal vocals aren’t really for me (but they’re probably for you). The slightly off-key harmonies, however, manage to work really well together. Although I can’t for the life of me work out why. I suppose it is the unassuming and honest nature of the delivery. The songs really exude that ‘gonzo’ feel -- the sort of sick fascination we have with how other people reshape events from their own (boring) lives and make them palatable. Right, the lyrics aren’t Seamus Heaney, but the innocence and (again) honesty of the writing makes them tolerable and kind of fun. Yes, even the word ‘jerk.'
The snappy nature of the Ghost Mice side never leaves you feeling bored (unlike this fucking review) and makes for repeated listening. Sort of like Cutting Pink with Knives, but not. More percussion on the first and last tracks would have been welcome, but you can’t have everything. Did I mention "Live Free or Die Lame"? It is fucking lovely.
All in all, the split leaves you wanting more (you greedy berk). The only thing this 7” really lacks is more songs. And that is the highest praise which anyone can bestow upon a small circle of vinyl. The restrained and sparing nature in which both bands approach their songs (and exploit their accordion playing/shouting friends) elevates this split to the heights of ‘very good’ music. Enjoy!