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The Mountaineers: self-titled

Duncan White

The Mountaineers

The Mountaineers EP

Label: Mute
US Release Date: 2003-02-25
UK Release Date: Available as import

This untitled EP is the Mountaineers first release on Mute Records and serves as a taster for their anticipated full-length release this summer. The Liverpool-based trio have already released the Red Thong EP on Deltasonic (home of The Coral) to serious acclaim in the UK and they have carved themselves out a decent following in indie quarters.

The Mountaineers are two parts Welsh to one part Czech, and their individual backgrounds are rich in eccentricity. Drummer Tomas Kelar, the Czech element, is barely present on the album as he was off discovering himself in the Arabian desert at the time. The son of a Czech gypsy singer, he grew up with Ceri James and Alex Germains in Hope, Wales, and has now joined the band in Liverpool on a permanent basis. Both Germains' parents are classical musicians, and one set of his grandparents worked in a traveling circus. James, who studied electronic music at university, is part of a large musical family that encompasses a violin maker and a grandmother who played piano in the Vienna Conservatory.

This fascinating sphere of influence is at odds with a youth spent bored in the Welsh outpost of Hope, where the only avenues of entertainment were climbing Hope Mountain (hence the band name) and drugs (the evidence of which is all to readily available). Predictably, music was the escape. They will doubtless suffer comparison to the wave of Welsh music which burst onto the scene in the late '90s, but the only band that the Mountaineers resemble from that bunch are the Super Furry Animals. And even then, the comparison is insufficient. There are only six tracks on this EP, but there is a real statement of intent from band look to do something different.

"Self Catering" is pure pop, a fantastic intro to the album. Sounding like a hungover Supergrass, the boys bounce their way through an acoustic thrash, to the backdrop of infectious electronic effects. Building to twin choruses, it's instantly accessible and could even have been worthy of release as a single.

The second track is called "Clap in Time". "Ah, I can see where this going," I thought smugly. No chance. "Clap in Time" was not the foot-tapping fun-tune I had second-guessed. It's bloody miserable. A melancholy oboe kicks things off, followed by a distorted lament that recalls the downtime of Mellow Gold-era Beck. "Camped-Out" is similarly bleak and paranoid, with the same use of distorted, if slightly nasal vocals. However, the sumptuous piano backing gives it more duvet than its bedfellow.

This aside though, nothing had prepared me for the insanity of "Chicken" (Sample lyric: "Soul baloney engine racer / Sit back turn an ant to people / An ass to punish come on sue me / Grow you own man taste the skin crawl / Chicken"). Chicken indeed. Built around a heavy, spiky riff and what sounds like classical music played on an '80s keyboard, its sheer loopiness is utterly irrepressible. This album was turning into that episode of the Simpsons when Homer eats the Guatemalen insanity peppers.

"Radio Cat" was a genre jump again. Ceri Thomas' love for electronic music seems to have got the better of him in this tribute to French house. It sounds like a watered-down impersonation of Daft Punk or Air and is completely forgettable. But The Mountaineers have saved their best till last. The mournful soul of "Your Gunn is Sett on Me" suggests something far greater for the band than the role of charming nutcase-tinkers. With birdsong in the backdrop and ominously strummed guitar, the sound is assuredly restrained, and the vocal mantra is unshakeable after just one listen.

Not content to let the album end on this sombre note, we get an uncredited 'hidden' track. Great gloopy bass wells over the basic drum beat, as a kazoo wails on in a return to the insanity of "Chicken". The whole lot is topped off by the sampled refrain "I wanna fuck you in the eye". Barmy.

There is not quite enough here to sustain the band's claim that they are a truly 21st century band. The vocals are a little to nasal and whiny at times ("Your Gunn is Sett on Me" apart) and the trashiness of the sound often feels a little self-concious. However, there is a kernel of bona fide talent -� if the Mountaineers sustain their commitment to ploughing their own furrow, their debut album could be a real triumph for the care in the community scheme.

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