GRAINS OF OATS - The Movements (Alleycat)
Typical really. One of the cleverest variations on that over-claimed catergory called psych rock drops out of the sky and it takes us half of 2006 to get around to reviewing it. Apologies to all concerned (it was actually released in 2005) but half the reason for tardiness in getting a review live was that "Grains of Oats" got lodged in the car CD player and there wasn't a lot that could be done to remove it...
So you reckon you've heard it all when it comes to '60s punk (or whatever you want to term it) and you're probably right, but then something bright and shiny comes down the chute and lands in your lap. Case in point: "Grains of Oats" where its minor chord simplicity and energetic playing reel you in. You give it a few spins. And a few more and before you realise, you're hooked. The Movements don't as much teach old dogs new tricks as let loose the leash on something that sounds altogether new and fresh. The usual reference points abound but they're re-shaped, almost imperceptibly, to make many others ploughing this field sound like parodies.
The Movements are a five-piece from Sweden and their album is produced by Bjorn Olsson (ex-The Soundtrack of Our Lives). You can take out of that what you will. The first two spins left me wondering because the bottom end was thin in a "non rock" way and the guitar was mixed down low. The penny eventually dropped that understatement was an important part of the charm.
Gustaff Gimstedt's keyboard work is the bedrock on which this grain silo is built, and the often dominance of organ in the melody lines brings to mind Ray Manzarek. Movements singer David Henriksson has a soulful voice with great range but can also get down and dirty to match your typical sneering acid punker or blues shouter. Christian Johansson is the man whose sparing and inspired guitar pushes the music into outer dimensions. He plays with a warm, clear tone rather than cloak himself in layers of fuzz and there's much to like about his work.
Then there are the songs...hooky pop-rockers like the martial "Five Steps Ahead", Eastern-flavoured"It Starts With a Whisper" (the opener) and "Cry For You", the edgy "Looking For a Change" (my fave), the (not unexpectedly) spacey "Space Autopsy" and the airy "Being".
Drummer Thomas Sundberg has his chops down and sits just behind the beat, pushing the band on, but it's The Movements' understanding of knowing when not to play that's as important as what they do play.
And here's where Olsson's production comes into its own: Where others may have put the massed chorus of the wordy but worthy "Instead of Catching a Disease (I Caught a Thing Called Love)" right up front, the backing vocals are buried deep to throw the rest of the band into sharper relief. It's a taught rocker made moreso as Johansson whips out a tortured guitar figure midway through and a building interplay between the singer and one of the backing vocalists leads us through the outro. Simple but effective.
I read someone somewhere likening The Movements to The Strollers, a late and great Scandi band playing in a similar space where organ-driven melodies sat hand-in-glove with neat guitar figures and melodic vocals. No argument here. "Grains Of Oats" is one of the best of '06 and I'll still be playing it in '07. – The Barman
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