Dean Van Nguyen
posted on May 31, 2011 15:36
Review Snapshot: An uninspiring new project from Nine Black Alps' former bass player Martin Cohen, Yucca's fuzz-pop is tedious and unengaging.
The Cluas Verdict? 4 out of 10
Full Review: At a time when British rock music was feeling pretty good about itself as a slew of post-Libertine style bands dropped records of varying quality to the enthusiastic music press, Nine Black Alps were something of an anomaly. Most apparent was that, unlike most of his contemporaries, singer Sam Forrest didn’t perform in a heavily-accented style. Instead he drained any evidence of their Mancunian roots from his voice as the band looked to early-nineties grunge music for inspiration. Their output was sometimes absorbing, but these footpath-crumbling rock anthems didn’t sit well next to Franz Ferdinand’s disco stomps or Maximo Park’s choppy pop that were fashionable at the time. Despite some initial positive write-ups for their first album Everything Is, Nine Black Alps were for the most part ignored.
But that era is over. The UK music press are scratching about for new movements. Having finally decided that British rock music no longer needed Oasis some five years ago, now they once again look to Liam Gallagher to move issues and his new band Beady Eye have graced every rock publications cover, sometimes more than once. Meanwhile, editors and journalists were almost apologetic for building significant hype around The Vaccines, realigning their opinions before their debut record even dropped. All in all, British indie needs a re-up.
Perhaps sensing a tide change, Martin Cohen, Nine Black Alps’ former bassist (described as being on an indefinite hiatus from the band), has cut a record that goes slightly further back in time than the band’s major influences. Now under the name Milk Maid, he looks to My Bloody Valentine and The Jesus and Mary Chain-style shoegaze and fuzz-pop for inspiration. Nostalgic it may be, with revivalists like The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Asobi Seksu and Wavves sparking a full-blown fuzzy renaissance felt both sides of the Atlantic, for once Cohen’s timing might be just right.
Coming in a sprightly 31 minutes, covering 11 tracks, Yucca is a short sprint of gentle melodies over coarse and hazy instrumentals. Recorded in Cohen’s flat, the album does have a sleepy, bedroom feel, but rather than dreamy, the whole project feels lethargic and dull. Like Cohen needed to open a window so breeze could blow the dust off his dreary compositions. On ‘Oh’, for example, the melody follows the lazy, chugging guitar lead note for note. Single ‘Not Me’ rides a familiar chord progression and well-worn tune, all of which is fuzzed up unnaturally with a gritty guitar solo thrown in just for good measure. On both tracks Cohen turns the vocal effects way up and his transparent singing gets lost into the instrumental.
Fans of Forrest’s boisterous baritone will find little to enjoy in Cohen’s twee vocals. For the most part he drains his voice of any real melody, using indistinguishable mumblings as an instrument. And when he does allow sense to be made of his voice, the lyrics are often lacklustre. The folky ‘Girl’ sports the cleanest vocal, but is a disappointingly clichéd and passionless tale of fish-out-of-water romance.
Redeeming tracks throughout most of the album are few and far between. ‘Dead Wrong’ is tight, jaunty and charming, but the album’s final quarter is actually its strongest. There’s a welcomed change of pace with the fist-pumping ‘Back of Your Knees’. Despite its name ‘Sad Song’ is an enjoyable, ramshackle pop tune, while closer ‘Someone You Thought You Forget’ is a sweet, drum-less trance.
But Yucca just sounds too contrived for recommendation. Cohen’s clearly a student of fuzz-pop but he’s followed the user manual a little too closely, allowing any personality he might have to become lost in the recreation. My Bloody Valentine might have been a starting point, but this is love-less in a whole different way.