By the time you read this, the dreaded ‘listomania’ period will hopefully be over. During late December and early January, the music press is obsessed with playing Janus, filling up its various column inches and word counts with list-tastic reviews of the year passed, and predictions for the 12 months to come. You should, by now, have a comprehensive knowledge of everything you liked and hated from 2011, and also be building a detailed portfolio of bands, DJs and scenes that you will adore in 2012. Independent thought is no longer needed for the mere consumer, as our tastemakers do the donkey work and spoon-feed us our opinions.
But, what the music press always forgets about at this time of year is the kind of talent that cuts through the bluster of hype and press suffocation: the internet sensations and viral videos that take YouTube by storm; the un-fancied goth band that reinvent themselves as the band of their generation. In short, what they’ve neglected to mention is the very thing that makes music exciting, the hidden treasures that you stumble upon via an obscure blog, or that are recommended to you by a mate of a mate who knows a band… What they miss is the mouth-watering golden nuggets that we’ll discover as we sift through the rushing waters of musical delights. What they haven’t accounted for is DEATH AT SEA.
Back in November at Bido Lito! HQ, we stumbled upon a video of Death At Sea’s Drag, and we were immediately smitten by its squalling, shoegazey charms. The equally scratchy sumptuousness of Sea Foam Green then followed, and a two-month hunt for the brains behind these songs began. We finally managed to track down Death At Sea’s main protagonists, Ralph Kinsella (Guitars, Vocals), Ruaidhri Owens (Guitars) and Sam Peterson (Guitars, Vocals), and sat them down round a table to ask them the question that had been on our lips since the first listen through of Drag: where did that come from? “Ha!” laughs Owens, his knowing smile splitting wide at the question. “We’ve known each other for ages and we’ve always jammed together. I always had the confidence that we’d form a band and do some great stuff, but we’ve only just got round to it. We’re made up with the response those two songs have had, but there’s so much more to come.”
Brought together studying for a music degree at the University of Liverpool, and bonding over mutual admiration for Deerhunter and Tokyo Police Club, the three are responsible for every aspect of Death At Sea’s output so far. All of the recording has been done by them in their flat-cum recording studio, with Newry-born Owens presiding over the production and mixing. The film reel videos for both Drag and Sea Foam Green trip along like stream of conscious slideshows, which marry up perfectly with the hazy, lo-fi warmth of the songs, which make you keep coming back for more. Put together by Edinburgh native Kinsella from original and stock footage, the video to Sea Foam Green depicts them in their hangout surrounded by homely trappings and empty wine bottles, with bursts of sunlight lancing through the hazy fug of cheap ciggie smoke and day-old blues. It’s an atmosphere that encourages the lazy melancholia of their sound to flourish, and overrides the rough nature of the recordings to conjure up a wholesome and scintillating sound. Peterson (Wirral-born, but now hailing from “down South”) has contributed illustrations to the project, highlighting the three friends as a creative trio striving to make each track the best possible sonic realisation of the sound in their heads. Since music is consumed over so many different platforms nowadays, I ask them if the visual element is just as important as the music, to engage the senses on multiple levels? “Yeh, that’s definitely right,” agrees Peterson tentatively. “That’s why we work on our own artwork and take time to make sure it fits with our aesthetic. We did inwardly groan when we saw that Lana Del Rey video though, as the videos looked very similar. But hers was super slick and intentional, whereas I hope it’s obvious that ours aren’t!” It’s encouraging to hear them talking about this, showing that they have a real handle on their identity, but not in a calculated WU LYF-ian way: Death At Sea are merely a close group of friends who want to make every aspect of their output as good as possible. And, what’s more, they’ve a clear vision for where they want to go with it.
Currently working on their debut EP, Life And Youth, the self-confessed perfectionists are poring over every last distorted guitar whine and snare hiss in the final mixing and recording process. “We hope to have the EP out online in early February,” asserts Owens. “I mean, it’s 99 per cent done, to be honest. We just need to re-do some of the drum parts for some tracks and finish the final mixing, but that shouldn’t take long. Then we wanna get out and play it live.” This is something to get seriously hot under the collar about, even on the basis of the two roughly-mixed tracks thus far, which contain the most minimalist drum parts since Bobby Gillespie sat down for the Psychocandy sessions. A full-time drummer has been recruited – Carl Davies (Jazzhands, Hot Light Fiesta) – as well as Peterson’s former bandmate in Bells For René, Neale Davies (Bass). With this new rhythm section, they have been able to expand their sound from those initial recordings, and with Owens’ penchant for lo-fi Sonic Youth, and turning the distortion up to max, the prospects are tantalisingly delicious. Drag has since been deconstructed and put back together again during these sessions, and the band are as excited about the new line-up as we are to hear the EP. “Carl’s such a good drummer, we’re delighted to have him on board,” nods Kinsella. “It’s given us another dimension.” Owens builds on this enthusiasm by looking beyond the immediate impact of the new band members. “We’ve got these five songs now that we’re working on for this EP. But we’ve got a whole load of songs that we’ve written or demoed but just haven’t got round to finishing off yet. There’s definitely an album’s worth in there. And we’ve scrapped a few tracks during this recording process that we’ll re-visit when the time is right.”
A February online release for Life And Youth remains their priority, to coincide with launching their new website, but don’t they want something more? “Yeh. We’d really like to do a limited edition vinyl run on the EP, make it look gorgeous and use some of the designs we’ve been working on,” confirms Peterson. “But we’re lazy and we’ve got no money!” laughs Owens. “We need someone to light a fire under our arse to get us moving. Maybe if we had a record label that’d fund it…”
As I sit there listening to a sneak preview of their latest song, a more insistent, motorik, ‘fun’ track that still manages to get pulled back towards bleak melancholy through Kinsella’s lyrics, I’m struck by the fact that this is only the third song of theirs I’ve ever heard. Have I been a bit hasty? Is this a reckless infatuation that will make me look a fool? Quite frankly, I don’t care. Death At Sea are the best band I’ve heard in a long time, and their soaring noise will undoubtedly blow a hole in Liverpool’s unsuspecting music community. Stick that in your list.