Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Spills Uncoil With Occam's Razor

There's something happening in Wakefield (United Kingdom) that's almost hard to describe. The city has been working toward its vision to be a distinctive and vibrant center of Yorkshire, sure. But along with this change, there is a DIY culture thriving there, where few ever expected it.

Almost overnight, Wakefield became the third hottest music scene in the country. A new independent record label, Philophobia Music, is flourishing there with mostly local acts. Cool guys — like Chris Morse, music promoter and at The Hop and Bank Street, and Dean Freeman, editor of music fanzine Rhubarb Bomb — launched the city's first three-day multi-venue festival called Long Division. And alternative talents like Emma Pollack from The Delgados and Stanley Brinks from Herman Dune turned out to support it.

Yes, there is something to watch for in Wakefield. And one of them is an up-and-coming indie rock band called The Spills. All four members are thrilled to be part of the scene.

The Spills uncoil their love for all things alternative in Wakefield. 

Although the band was founded in 2006 and released their first single in 2007, they've had time to trade up their original angst for haze, finding a fuzzier indie rock sound in 2009 with the release of I'm Scared I Might/Faux Pas Ha Ha. This single was followed up with a 5-track EP, Smoke Signals.

As good as those releases were, none of them really compares to their latest effort. Occam's Razor is a sharply cast full-length album filled with haze and abrasion. Ten tracks of indie rock goodness.

"The entire album was recorded on analog at Greenmount Studios in two days [10 days total] because it was recorded predominantly live so the record sounds like us," says frontman Rob Slater. "Greenmount is a cool-as-fuck studio with loads of classic vintage equipment like a desk that belonged to Bjork and a tape machine from Island Records. Jamie [Lockhart] and Lee [Smith] are amazing, and really good friends of ours."

Friends is a word you can expect to hear when talking to The Spills. 

The band members are longtime friends, hooking up in school after Slater and Sam Smith (guitar) bought a 4-track recorder and attempted to record some demos. None of it was very good. So they decided to start a band instead.

"Chad (Daniel Charlesworth, bass) and Joe (Grayson, drums) were the obvious choices because we were all really good friends," says Slater. "Then we just took it from there really. Well, when we first got together, we were just kids and couldn't even get proper gigs."

All that is changing. The Spills are currently touring the countyside, recently playing London, Leeds, and York (among others). They're packing in as many more gigs as they can into three weeks this November to support the album. And they are open to adding dates. So far, so good. They love to tour.

"Previously, we were limited while finishing our degrees at the university, even when we wrote the Smoke Signals EP," says Slater. "But now we're going to keep doing what we're doing. We've already started making plans for the next album and writing new stuff."

Occam's Razor tracks stack up for a hazy and abrasive debut.

Since Smoke Signals, there is no question that the band has matured, even while their approach to music has remained. Song writing is usually sparked by Slater or Charlesworth, who come up with ideas or bits of melodies and chords to write a song. Afterward, the band works all the disjointed fragments together. And this is where The Spills truly shine.

"It usually takes more than one of us, if not all four of us, to finish a song," says Slater. "These parts and ideas get thrown around in the practice room and everyone will chip in with how it's going to work. The main thing is that we are just loads better at writing songs."

Occam's Razor proves the point. Jury's Out is a fuzzy indie rocker about hiding behind hero worship, and trying to model yourself after someone else. It sympathizes with those who avoid self-acceptance, but still dares people to do something about it. Lockets deals with change and departure, feelings of loss and regret in the face of life events with an apprehension for the future. Summer Vibes is about trying to "grow up" to become a better person, while asking if anybody really changes.

"It's like thinking back to a time or incident when you realize you acted like an idiot," says Charlesworth. "But you then you think about it some more and decide you were right, even if you acted like an idiot. Maybe we change, but we don't change that much."

Occam's Razor By The Spills Cuts Deep At 7.9 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Jury's Out, Lockets, and Summer Vibes deliver the best diversity, but the entire album is worth the download, with the exception of maybe Silver Bullets and Newton's Flaming Razor Sword. Those songs get by, but are nowhere near the strongest on the otherwise brilliant debut.

When you give them a listen, don't let openers or samplers fool you. The Spills have all sorts of embellishments that rise and fall inside every song, shifting in and out of being pop sensible. Charlesworth credits Greenmount Studios for much of it, but there's more to be heard lurking here. It makes all the music less predictable, rightly disrupting the direction (but not the melody) with screeching guitars, heavy bass lines, and short runaway drum sets.

Occam's Razor by The Spills is available on iTunes. You can also download Occam's Razor from Amazon. Buy it from bandcamp and enjoy an eleventh track. Nobody here has heard it yet, but chances are it rocks. For everyone else on this side of the pond, keep hoping they have cause to visit the States.
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