Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Dark Horses Can Jam For Greatness

The Nightjars - Stay Focused (Home Recording)

It’s that time of the year when all the tastemakers come out and make their predictions of who is going to make it big in the pop charts this year. I notice that these lists, despite coming from disparate publications, generally seem to feature the same names, and I have started to wonder if there isn’t some meeting that all music journalists must attend, where they are told which band’s are going to be heavily bankrolled and are therefore pretty much guaranteed some semblance of success. Of course you want to back the winning team if it’s your livelihood at stake (would anyone have any respect for a racing tipster if he kept on backing the wrong horse?), but it’s not exactly sticking your neck out to suggest that Mika might sell a few records this year is it? I think he’s actually Number One as I type this. Or what about The View, who are celebrating their first top 10 single and are probably only days away from their first NME cover? Jamie T? Cold War Kids? They’re everywhere already. Nope, these are the easy predictions to make, with considerable momentum already behind the acts in question.

So, in the search for some darker horses, how about the Nightjars then? The Manchester four-piece released their debut single ‘Cease to Exist’, on Derby’s Reveal Records’ offshoot Kiss of Death right at the end of last year, having built a following off the back of some incredible live performances across the city. This isn’t just any old Manc guitar band though - this lot found themselves improvising on stage with Can vocalist Damo Suzuki at only their fourth ever gig. Whereas some bands name check Can as an influence in a deliberate attempt to make themselves seem more interesting, the Nightjars don’t just cite Can as an influence, they’ve actually jammed live with Damo, and, despite being terrified on the night, pulled it off to the extent that the crowd roared for an encore.

And yeah, I’ll confess – I’m not exactly sticking my neck out by tipping this lot. I’m lucky enough to have been sent a CD of demos, home recordings, studio outtakes and even an excerpt of the Damo-jam, so I know how good they could potentially be. I’ve yet to see them live (but I’m hoping that will change this year – if any London promoters are reading this, book them NOW!), but journalists in Manchester have been getting excited about these boys for a while. And in the track ‘MDMA’ they have another great drug song to add to the canon, with a rambling stream-of-consciousness lyric that nails just how it feels –

I never want pain, I won't take it. I never want to go to work again. I never want to act coldly. I want the moment to be crystallised, I want to stay with the MDMA, I'm in love with this city, my girlfriend’s so pretty.

These aren’t rabble-rousing anthems, but then again, they aren’t introspective torch songs. This is genuinely original guitar music in the greatest tradition of the city, with cerebral lyrics and intricate anti-song structures played by talented musicians who can only get better. There’s something about the Nightjars that reminds me of Cable. Not at all ‘sounds like’, but just in the way that they take predominantly American influences (Sonic Youth, Pavement), yet still make music that sounds so resolutely English.

The track I’m posting is a proper exclusive, yet to be heard outside of the circle of the band. It’s a home recording, so probably closer to what they sound like live than the single that was released, retaining all the buzz and raw energy that often gets lost in the studio-mixing desk. ‘Stay Focused’ starts gently, with a softly strummed bass and frontman Ollie’s vulnerable delivery, before the drums fall over themselves and the chorus comes hurtling in, with ferocious guitar pyrotechnics and an impassioned vocal that dips and spirals out of control.

The band are performing three songs (including the awesome ‘MDMA’) live on Marc Riley’s ‘Brain Surgery’ show on BBC6 Music this Thursday (25th January), so tune in, check ‘em out and make your own mind up.

The Nightjars website
The Nightjars at My Space
Buy the red vinyl 7” of ‘Cease to Exist / Disabuse’ from Norman Records
Damo Suzuki’s Network