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