Stressechoes - Bitter Acoustic Noise EP

In last month’s MAG review I teased Rufio Summers for naming his EP ‘Over It’ – an ironic choice, I suggested, for an EP that’s arguably a bit of a blubfest. It seems my sardonicisms can extend to February – the first chorus of Stressechoes’ ‘Bitter Acoustic Noise EP’, this month’s choice, appropriates a questionably relevant Dr Johnson quote most will recognize from Hunter S. Thompson’s ‘Fear and Loathing and Las Vegas’: “he who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man”. Artistic license and abstract interpretations considered, it’s still hard to understand why these guys would pick said quote to introduce an EP that’s only a few jaunty riffs and a twinkle-in-the-eye away from being Cheltenham’s resident authority on ‘the pain of being a man’. Someone call a shrink: Gloucestershire is in denial!

The shiny Belle and Sebastian train Stressechoes are skitching on – the one with the jaunty riffs and twinkling eyes – may have been hopped before but I’ll be buggered if it doesn't feel peachy. There’s a fresh, Autumn-day feel to it; a cleanness. If you can ignore the lead guitar's godawful scale-plodding wankery, there's satisfaction to be found in the layers' crisp unity.

A strange and mildly disturbing narrative dichotomy plays out in ‘Bitter Acoustic Noise’ – on one hand, there’s this confessional, heart-on-sleeve stuff – mistakes have been made and regrets are weighing heavy - it’s all very serious. At the same time, songs like ‘Most Delightful Day’ have a playful, almost naïve attitude to relationships. Then there’s the song about mass murder and arson - it’s an interesting stew of themes.

Other than the more obvious examples of borrowing (‘Uncomplicated’, for example, has ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ by The Cure written all over it), I can’t help but have the uncomfortable feeling that I’ve heard a lot of the hooks in this album before. I’m probably being harsh, but if you put these guys in a colander and watched Belle and Sebastian, The Smiths, Simon and Garfunkel and The Beatles trickle out, you may not be left with very much. There’d be an intensely personal lyric book, one or two unusual chord sequences and the mushy remains of some chewed up folk rock knee-slapping.

Maybe it’s unsurprising, given Gloucestershire’s amalgamation of young, hip students and hairy, beer festivalling country bumpkins, that folk music is at the roots of so much of our pop culture. After all, it may be prejudiced but lets face it, it’s easier to take Frank Turner’s Gloucestershire cousin seriously than Snoop Dogg’s. And Stressechoes, who have whipped those roots into a rigid, middle class shape that bears no trace of the rustic, really couldn’t sound any more Cheltonian.