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Like many other bands these days, A Grave With No Name have a lot of bases covered; from the bubble gum melodies and angle-grinder guitars of the Jesus and Mary Chain all the way through to the bedroom-floor intimacy of Coco Rosie and Daniel Johnson. While A Grave With No Name’s songs equal the elegance of Billy Corgan’s ‘Siamese Dream’-era compositions and match Black Francis’ early Pixies tracks in their brevity, they have neither Micachu’s alchemical ability to conjure melody from lo-fi clatter, nor the brute ferocity of No Age. But what A Grave With No Name do establish is a distinctive voice of their own and ‘Mountain Debris’ is an extraordinary album.
A Grave With No Name are a London-based three piece led by chief vocalist and songwriter, Alex Shields. ‘Mountain Debris’ – released on No Pain in Pop, home to like-minded iconoclasts Nite Jewel, Deep Shit and Banjo or Freakout – collates unreleased material alongside tracks that have been available previously on limited-edition vinyl. The result is a surprisingly cohesive record. Songs are connected by short, ambient interludes and the sound of falling water becomes a motif that recurs at various points during the album, a bucolic counterpoint to tracks that could otherwise sound almost claustrophobically homemade.
From the panoramic sweep of album opener The Sun Rises, to the naval-gazing introspection of Underpass and The River Path which draw the record to a close, ‘Mountain Debris’ unfolds like the soundtrack to a half-remembered teenage adventure. As the stoned euphoria of We Parted at Mount Jade and Sofia give way to the plangent melancholy of the instrumental Pacific, the album starts to sound like a camping trip going wrong, as if the pills and mushrooms our protagonists have taken have somehow led to an irrevocable rift in the group. Instead of the bonding experience they anticipated, each spends the night wandering alone, shivering and paranoid, returning home in the milky morning light, unable to sleep, tormented by rushing endorphins and the crackling in their fizzing synapses.
With such a lo-fi approach to recording and production, there is a considerable risk that inadequate songs will sound painfully exposed. The Moldy Peaches, for example, penned some gems but they were responsible for some absolute turds as well, rendered all the more teeth-grindingly irritating by the fact that it sounded like the authors could barely be arsed to commit them to tape. You wondered why they had bothered. A Grave With No Name’s songs are the embodiment of eloquent simplicity. They build a hook, repeat it for a minute or so, stop, then move on to the next. The application of sporadic noise and the pervasive wash of reverb suggest that the recording, while intuitive, and never laboured, has involved considerable attention to detail.
‘Mountain Debris’ is a rite of passage record. It evokes the optimism, recklessness and unfathomable sadness of adolescence at the very last point before the disillusionment of the post-teenage years starts to become a reality. Perhaps A Grave With No Name will get beyond this stage soon and never release another record that sounds like ‘Mountain Debris’. That would be a shame. Maybe I just need to get out more.