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neumu
Tuesday, September 16, 2014 
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South
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From Here On In
Mo' Wax/Kinetic Records
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By now I really should know better than to believe the hype machine that is the British music press, yet I still seem to be regularly suckered into buying a heavily promoted album that just doesn't deliver the goods. A case in point is From Here On In, the debut from English band South, three lads who, based on the wide variety of influences they show across these 16 tracks, must have some pretty diverse record collections (from Nick Drake to the Stone Roses to the latest mainstream electronic releases).

South initially made news as the first "rock" act to sign to James Lavelle's Mo' Wax label, better known as a haven for DJs than for guitar players. A number of limited-edition vinyl-only singles garnered ecstatic praise, including some from the late Melody Maker. which commanded that we "Buy all their records forever," and the NME, which enthused about the band's "raw guitar loveliness and savvy beatmanship." Mo' Wax does seem an appropriate home: the cut-and-paste approach of modern DJs is evident throughout From Here On In, which ranges from acoustic folk to funky instrumental jams to the occasional full-on psychedelic freakout — sometimes in the course of a single song.

The album starts well with the brief instrumental "Broken Head I" emerging through layers of keyboards, drums, and a bit of bass before a sampled announcer's voice intones "It's a disenchanted, restless, insecure generation continually searching for new kicks." With that, the tasty single "Paint the Silence" begins via a heartily strummed acoustic guitar and singer Joel Cadbury's rather thin, very English voice, echoing predecessors like Stone Roses' singer Ian Brown and Oasis' Liam Gallagher. Heavy drums, pulsing synths, bits of piano, a thick bass line and a repetitious guitar riff on the chorus make this the album's high point — wisely placed up front.

From there South tread through a few valleys, beginning with the very retro-sounding "Keep Close," the mildly menacing, slide-heavy "I Know What You're Like," and the instrumental "All in for Nothing (Reprise)." (This last track appears in an improved form with vocals later on the disc, curiously flipping the conventional notion of what a reprise is.) South then hit one of the album's peaks, "Here On In," a mellow, folksy track that makes good use of organ, a flute sound, and a female vocalist.

From Here On In rises and descends in both tempos and tunefulness, from ambitious, wanna-be rock epics like "Run on Time" and "Sight of Me" to some fairly moving ballads, such as "By the Time You Catch Your Heart," "Live Between the Lines (Back Again)," and "Too Much Too Soon." Fifteen cuts in comes "All in for Nothing," the song that most successfully blends South's passion for acoustic guitars, mechanical rhythms and icy synthesizers.

I had high hopes for South, but repeated listens have revealed few hummable melodies, and no memorable lyrics outside of the occasional chorus. There's an intriguing contradiction at work with this record; while South often have trouble sticking to a consistent musical idea for the space of a single track, the album ultimately clocks in at well over an hour, leaving the listener ultimately feeling as fidgety as the band is. In the future the restless, insecure South-men may perhaps harness their broad tastes into a more cogent sound, but From Here On In finds them a well-produced but overly expansive mess.


by Steve Gozdecki




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