Touch each other in black and white

I recently wrote of how the 2005 apogee of the post-punk revival was responsible for me getting into M83. This got me thinking about how disposable many of the scene’s bands were, and, in general, how true the conceit is that many people are capable of writing one solid album, but that this does not a fulfilling career make.

Alongside Bloc Party and Maxïmo Park, who definitely fitted this mould, were The Futureheads, who peaked even earlier. Their sparky eponymous debut was released in 2004; a stark and sombre second album had a lengthier gestation but was received mutedly. Two years after they had burst onto the scene, they were unceremoniously dumped by their record label: the band have since recorded two more albums, but the magic has gone.

All this takes away from the brutal energy of The Futureheads at their most powerful, on The Futureheads. Sometimes, they were charming enough to come across like a jagged Beatlesy tribute group, as on songs like “Robot” and “A to B”, which recall “Paperback Writer” and “Eight Days a Week”. At their stodgiest, however, they more resembled Black Flag and Fugazi, with coruscating sheets of dissonant guitar, stop-start rhythms and lyrics that spat venom at capitalist structures. In the verse of “Alms”, a simple descending vocal melody is made more foreboding by the growling and atonal pair of guitars in the background; both “He Knows” and “Trying Not To Think About Time” begin with ear-battering squalls of noise before comparative elegance is restored. Key to The Futureheads’ winning formula were the intricate multi-part vocal harmonies which were always easily at hand, to sweeten the deal when the riffage became too intense. They were so good at the vocals, they even recorded a nearly a cappella number, “Danger Of The Water”, which might just be the most chilling piece of barbershop ever written.

Right at the end of the first album is “Man Ray”, as near a distillation of their complete sound as you can find. Beaten-up guitars that propel the first verse give way to a pre-chorus powered by close harmony and handclaps. Near the end, a cacophony of shouted whispers gradually consumes the vocal prettiness which has characterised the previous thirty-five minutes, before the song implodes in deservedly dramatic fashion. It sounds like the band expended all their energy on “Man Ray”, given the three albums of play-it-safe that followed.

Good news? Later on this year The Futureheads will close the door on their first four albums with a special release called Rant, which will be all a cappella, and will feature new versions of old songs, new versions of other people’s songs, and will hopefully usher in an exciting new era for the band.

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