Basic Instructions EP
(Epitaph/Fantastic Plastic) 20 May 2003 30 September 2002
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A quartet of snarling English terriers snapping viciously between the wasted skinny legs of the much hyped so-called nü-garage rock saviours (all busily spanning sonic swathes from Sydney to Stockholm by way of the Motor City and NYC), London’s Ikara Colt have been described not so much as the Soundtrack of Our Lives than as “the soundtrack to the end of the world”.
Flinging art-punk attitude and the kinds of (b)rash assurances (they’ve vowed to split after five years) that are likely to hoist them on a petard of their own making (that five years has only one year left to run), and arriving on the heels of the well-received full-length Epitaph debut Chat and Business, the Basic Instructions EP was always going to be something of a measuring stick for that other ill-advised statement of intent: “You’ve got to move forward, otherwise you die creatively.” Incorrigible outsiders as they undoubtedly are, Ikara Colt likely don’t even care if it measures up or not. But for the rest of us deciding whether to hand over our hard-earned, the answer is a qualified maybe.
The problem is that of five cuts, only three are actually new. “May B 1 Day” from Chat and Business is included here twice. In some ways, except for some crucial moments, this EP is a mere footnote to that record. “Bring It to Me”, for instance, does nothing to suggest any evolutionary stirrings; sure, its ferocity is a match for any of their earlier distorted fuzz punk, but “a move forward” it certainly ain’t. Ditto “Panic” with its squealing feedback and Rottenisms. These are solid songs mired firmly in the dirty boy/girl mayhem-wreaking vocals, buzzsaw guitars, and driving beats that loosely delineate Sonic Youth territory. Or Fall territory, for that matter. All very kick-ass wise-crackingly authentic. But that, thankfully, isn’t all she wrote.
As soon as the first bars of “May B 1 Day #2” arrive with their deep roiling peril, we know other post punk specters are about to be summoned here. A rabid foaming electro bassline last heard on an early Sisters of Mercy 12-inch (but without the overt gothic glee) is joined by Paul Resende’s voice (still managing to sound simultaneously like Thurston Moore and Mark E. Smith), some urban bleeps, and a drum pattern too similar to Joy Division’s “Isolation” to be coincidence. Resende’s (and guitarist Claire Ingram’s) distorted, repetitive “all this has to add up” mantra brings a stalking predatory restlessness to this daring remix of the album cut. Their previous spit-and-snarl analog sound has given way to sudden, disorienting robotics. More spacious than the original (also included here, and plenty fine in and of itself), this version hints at something enticingly experimental in the band’s future.
The other crucial moment suggestive of an evolutionary leap into creative new areas can be found in the form of “Don’t They Know”, smack in the middle of the EP. Unlike the more generic punk standards “Bring It to Me” and “Panic”, this effort crackles with high-wire ambition on a more dizzying scale. As damn near anthemic as anything Ikara Colt have previously attempted, this tight fusion of all the aforementioned influences with their own snarling brattiness and a more keenly developed melodic vein running (and swelling like it’s tourniquet-ed) throughout, “Don’t They Know” is an angry yet coherent standout. It’s worth hearing for Dominic Young’s drumming alone, a veritable blitzkrieg of manic flurries. And when Resende both drawls and spits out lyric snippets like “you don’t give a damn” and “they can’t touch you now” over Ingram’s simple guitar melody and Jon Ball’s down-stroked paranoid (“Paranoid”!) bass guitar buttress, you begin to get the feeling this band could go places. Interesting places undreamt of by other leading lights of the so-called guitar-rock renaissance. But they’d better be quick if they really do have only a year in which to get there.