Working For A Nuclear Free City - Working For A Nuclear Free City
Tim Miller 28/08/2006
Working For A Nuclear Free City (hereafter WFANFC, because it's a big effort to type each time otherwise) take their name from a sign in Manchester, a sign presumably meant to reassure; but for those who can think outside the box a little, such a sign would probably cause anxiety as well. 'Why aren't we nuclear free?' those living in The Smiths' home city might well ask. That mix of comfort and slight unease exist on this record, WFANFC's eponymous debut. It conjures images of said location's grey industrial cityscape: expansive, barren, forlorn; and ultimately slightly on the dull side.
Instrumental opener The 224th Day is deep and broody, sighing with the weight of inevitable comparisons to Explosions in the Sky, with atmospheric strings and filtered guitars swelling in a similar manner. These short, vocal-less, pieces appear throughout the album, with arty titles like Pixelated Birds. At first apparently interludes, things become less clear later, as will be explained.
The industrial electro soundscapes become the mark of the album; wispy, far-off vocals portray Troubled Son, whose beats are smothered in whirring electronic bass. Dead Fingers Talking, with emotionless synthesised voices on top of clanging beats, does indeed sound like the product of detached, robotic hands. More passion is manufactured in Quiet Place, a smooth bass-driven progression with pleasant, echoing harmonies and gentle drops of guitar, and also The Tape, the first song to resemble something more pop-driven. Its dreamy guitar lines sweeping in and out of each other provide one of the album's outstanding, more enchanting moments.
Fleetingly, on one minute and seven seconds long England, WFANFC remind the listener distinctly of Blur, an interlude with harmonious Albarn-esque vocals and descending basslines. Things are then mixed up a little with the warehouse electro of Over, driving into an upbeat, Killers feel outro, and another peak in the album, So; whose jangly guitar beginning belies a hissing, crashing song of earth-moving bass, and melodic colour added (for once) by the vocals.
However, drum-machine based Innocence, aptly named for its rather naive organ soundscape and lack of edge, begins the album's demise, followed as it is by Home: another song around the minute and a half mark; this time just simplistic guitar strumming and vocals, as though recorded in a garage. More distant vocals fail to provide the edge that's desperately needed on Fallout, before WFANFC redeem themselves in time with haunting, trickling streams of guitar on Forever. Finally, though it does seem like forever, the shifting strings arranged on track 14 The Tree ends the album, which has elapsed in its entirety in only 41 minutes.
Resembling a 'work' divided into movements, rather than an LP clearly separated into songs, this debut does flash with real beauty at times, but this only serves to highlight some major flaws in WFANFC's sound. Each of the 14 tracks, be it one or four minutes long, makes use of atmospheric soundscapes, through which melody struggles to emerge. Within the songs, hooks are built up to and instantly deconstructed; some songs don't have any notable melodies at all. When they do appear, they appear vividly, but this happens sporadically at best. The fragments of instrumental interludes, while very nice, begin to differ in no way from the instrumental songs, and the vocals fall short in dissecting the musical fog in which this album eventually loses itself. Thus, frustratingly, Working For A Nuclear Free City's debut provides only snatches of brilliance; like the occasional haze of sunlight breaking through a blanket of cloud, this is not so much Explosions in the Sky, more Damp Squibs.
Though for some people this might be a delightful concoction, adding a vocalist to their line-up just two days before their first gig, WFANFC seem cautious about the importance of a focal point in their music. Indeed, Phil Kay, one quarter of the foursome, states: “I still think instrumentals are important. Sometimes it just doesn't need words”. With memorable hooks within the music, that can be the case. But with the vocals on this debut only disappearing among the smothering arrangements, and melody hard to come by, this album just does need something more.