GULF are a band just six songs into their career of as many months and, though promising, they are undeniably a band at the embryonic stage. That said, the five-piece have already begun to be saddled with the heavy weight of potential, the current buzz-thing subjected to the hype-machine’s perpetual churn – in Gulf’s case, they are “enigmatic”, “mysterious” and “elusive”. Until recently, the band had next to no online presence, but there’s little in the way of a scheme behind it. Gulf are remaining relatively anonymous not to perpetuate a marketed mythology – as a snowballing gaggle of groups from The Residents onwards have done – but simply because they just don’t want to be rushed, preferring to speak via little more than sheer proficiency.
All that aloofness does, nevertheless, generate at least a little apprehension when encountering such a band in the flesh. Writers are, after all, ever champing at the bit to get their mitts on the big reveal. Approaching the Baltic Social to meet the group on a sticky late-summer afternoon, it soon becomes apparent that it’s a sense of modest introversion – as opposed to any kind of antagonism or self-importance – that has kept Gulf away from rafts of prying eyes. An opening question on the subject of the so-called mystery surrounding the group garners neither a scoff nor outrage, but a long, shy and slightly awkward pause instead.
“We’re not really into social media. I think it’s nonsense,” drummer Josh Gorman eventually surmises with uncharacteristic curtness. “I’m not sure it’s that good for actually building an audience, Facebook.” As we find sufficient quiet in a disorderly rehearsal room upstairs, their Facebook page is two days old; there are, at the time of writing, still no posts. “When you start a band, you’re expected to have a Facebook page and a Twitter before you’ve got any songs, whereas we were the opposite way. We put it out on the blogs first and then thought about it later,” Josh continues. “It’s very important for some bands. I just don’t think we want to concentrate on that side,” concedes a more measured Jake Brown, the band’s bassist.
The band have six tracks recorded and, though in name the half-dozen are merely demos, they are the sound of a band that, musically at least, seem fully formed and entirely at ease. Recorded with Darren Jones, whose CV boasts prior work with Bird, Bill Ryder-Jones, The Maccabees and The Fall, the demos recoil, shimmer and groove, led by thick, viscous bass and a smooth, collected vocal; these are no throwaway bedroom efforts. “We just want to get good quality stuff out there, and we’ve still managed to achieve a good-quality result doing it our own way,” offers Mark Jones (Synth, Guitar, Vocals). “We’re going to go with the demo approach, post them on SoundCloud, see what the reaction is, rather than official stuff,” adds the drummer.
“I think it’s good because you’re in control, aren’t you? We’re in control of how we record it, when we put it out, when we do the press,” continues Josh on the subject of such an approach. “Also, the idea that it’s a demo means it could be better; it’s not the mastered, final, be-all-and-end-all label version. It’s just the best we could do with the budget we had at the time.” It does seem a little unusual, however, that the group feel no pressure to release something ‘proper’ – there are, as of yet, no plans for an EP, video or official single – even though their track Emitter has just premiered as a “single” on Les Inrocks. “If the music’s there the music’s there, whether it’s official or not,” says Josh when I ask the band if they’re worried about being overtaken by their considerable attention. “I see what you mean, though – obviously hype’s important, but I don’t think it’s getting ahead of us,” adds Mark.
That hype includes national press, an arguable zenith being a feature in NME and, though they might not have the web savviness to buttress the build-up, the undeniable excellence of their outings thus far would seem to be backing enough. Emitter sees a full-bodied propulsion into the realm of psychedelic pop in modish and inviting fashion, with alluring, capacious synths rippling and washing atop an irresistible groove, colliding with a cool, stylised vocal. Prime, meanwhile, the track that initially set bloggers alight, is perhaps their most direct: layers of weaving guitars and eddying vocals dovetailing in a crescendo of pop, before ebbing back to a rich vocal centrepiece. These tracks are in similar company with the band’s other material, and though the back-catalogue may be slim thus far, with just a few demos to go on, Gulf’s craftsmanship is evidently deft to say the least.
That the band sound so fully formed so soon out of the gate is just one of the reasons that the plaudits continue to rain on Gulf, yet that itself is explicable in that Mark and fellow guitarist Femi Fadero had spent three years in a trio, jamming in the old drummer’s house and “just getting the sound right,” until the group expanded via word of mouth around the hivemind of the Liverpool scene that is Elevator studios. “This building is like, everyone,” says Jake. “There are tonnes of people in bands around here so it’s easy to find people. I had just heard there was a band looking for a bassist.”
When asked to describe their own music, the band begin to struggle, cluttering through a dozen genres until Josh is the first to compose himself: “Psychedelia is a main influence, but then you’ve got pop music and soul… and also a bit of funk.” “It’s more like the sounds, the effects, a lot of, dare I say, the ‘sonics’ of [psychedelia]… A lot more sort of soundscape stuff,” expands his frontman. And therein lies the chief virtue of Gulf’s material. Though the finished article is effortlessly tight, their kaleidoscopic sound amalgamates a host of styles into a piece that’s immediate and demanding, yet still has enough subtlety to draw the listener back. Take Tell Me Again, for example (though any of their tracks can boast similar craftsmanship): at heart the tune is a nimble three-and-a-half-minute pop number, yet beneath an accessible veil of lively songsmithery is all manner of depth, from the funk-infused backing guitar line to the whispering dash of a sporadic counter-melody from the synths. Listen to it on repeat and there’s even more subtlety to be delved.
Though the tracks – which are to be released in stages leading up to a November headline show at London’s Old Blue Last – draw on an abundance of influences, there’s a musical elephant in the room that has to be addressed: Gulf sound a lot like Tame Impala, perhaps ample justification for dismissal from some. “We always get compared to Tame Impala; I think that’s pretty obvious,” says Josh, and those comparisons are sure to continue as long as Gulf’s particular penchant for louche psych pop follows suit. There’s more going on than a well-packaged tribute though. Winter Sun, in particular, boasts an ephemeral segment of echoing walls of guitar that draw to mind a more tightly-bottled blend of one of The Horrors’ more epic segments, and there’s even an understated fondness for all things dance. The group find common ground with fellow acclaimed Liverpudlians Outfit, the two sharing an infusion of dance in their predominantly indie leanings, and with London shoegazers Childhood. “I think we’re more like The Flaming Lips [than Tame Impala] actually,” says Mark. “There’s a bit of the sound of The Flaming Lips with beats from Motown and things like that.” Predominantly then, though undeniably led by firm similarities with those psychedelic Aussies, Gulf are something of a cocktail, with an astounding amount to draw on for a band so young.
Unfortunately for the clickbait headlines, Gulf are in reality not particularly enigmatic people, nor are they all that mysterious. Rather, this five-piece are simply a very good band with a healthy aversion to the platitudes of online saturation. To focus on that aspect of the group, however, is to slightly miss the point. What’s great about Gulf is a sense of straightforwardness, that no faux-outrageous quotes or endless, perpetual publicity drives precede the songs themselves, and that those songs stand up as very, very good. Perhaps the group have yet to properly free themselves of heavy outside influence and properly push their own boundaries, but for now we can content ourselves with some truly marvellous material.