Ambient-rock trio South, on the verge of releasing their first stateside-album, drip with pretense. You can buy From Here On In on Feb. 5, but good luck tracking down any of South”s previous releases on British label Jagjaguwar. The band released three 7-inch singles and a 12-inch EP, all on vinyl. These limited-edition vinyls were recorded on a four-track and left alone, purportedly to preserve the raw edge of the sound. Though basement recordings have a place in the heart of anyone associated with indie rock, South thankfully went into the studio to make From Here On In. The release is a partnership between Kinetic Records and Mo”Wax, two labels usually known for their electronic rosters.
South have both American and British roots. The band was formed in Richmond, Virginia, but the boys met in English grammar school. Playing together since they were wee chaps of 14, South”s sound has been cultivated by the studio practice of trading instruments. All three members Joel Cadbury, Brett Shaw and Jamie McDonald are adept at guitar, bass, drums and keyboard. Cadbury handles most of the vocals, and the instruments are wielded with panache and sophistication. Just take a listen to “I Know What You”re Like,” an acoustic, slide-guitar driven blues number that would make Eric Clapton smile.
Toss in a pinch of the Stone Roses, add a shake of Ian Browne, top off with a healthy portion of Radiohead, and you have South”s From Here On In. And what a magnum opus this album is a 16-song, 70-minute tour de force of source-borrowing, guitar-playing, and computer-fiddling.
“Here On In” is an attempt at a pop song, featuring female backing-vocals with a frenzied climax and denoument reminiscent of the early days of Oasis. Cadbury”s voice even has a taste of Liam Gallagher”s Manchester accent and rasp a good thing, by the way. “Sight Of Me” showcases the harder edge of Cadbury”s range and the ability of South to fuse efforts at rock and roll with efforts at ambient electronica. And “By The Time You Catch Your Heart” is an excellent acoustic ballad with a melancholy arrangement of bass and cello. Four tracks later is a reprise, one of South”s strategies for linking the album together.
It would be remiss to analyze From Here On In song by song indeed, the most thrilling aspect of this album is its quality as a whole. South have made an album in the most visionary sense of the term: Tracks flow into and out of each other, and the disc is strung together by segues and excursions that link the songs musically and thematically. Tracks, on the average, run past the four-minute mark, but not once do South aimlessly wander or noodle around on the guitar or computer. The aforementioned “Sight Of Me,” for instance, veers dangerously close to eight minutes long, but South knows what they”re doing layers are added and stripped and there”s no impetus to the skip button.
Some tracks do stand out, though. “Southern Climbs” is soulful and beautiful. The three-part instrumental “Broken Head” is fantastic, as is the reprise to “All In For Nothing,” which comes before the eponymous song.
Cerebral touches like that hardly hinder From Here On In. If anything, the bit of artistic pretense South seem to be after only mars a fine effort at genre-bending music.