It’s refreshing when production doesn’t get in the way of a good song. Phil Spector, he of ‘wall of sound’ fame, achieved his greatest moment in knob twiddling on John Lennon’s first solo record. The songs sounded like they’d come straight from Lennon’s mind and found their way onto the album through infantile brilliance alone. It appeared as though Spector had done nothing but sit at the mixing desk reading his copy of Melody Maker. The tracks were clean, crisp and raw and there was a sense of clarity which most records simply can’t replicate. Similarly, Martin Hannett, producer of Joy Division et al, favoured sparse production techniques in the 70s and 80s, the sum of which would often be to tell his musicians to play “faster, but slower”.
While occupying a different musical dominion, the debut EP by This Place Is Death, ‘Low Light’, has a comparable spacious quality. The songs are raw and organic sounding. You can hear the skew of the strings hitting the frets, the white-noise, the feint crackle of electrical current on the amps. This is the way it should be from a new band and the immediate impression is that this is the way the Cork band would sound in a live setting. No gimmicks – just guitar, bass and drums.
Instrumental Divide is gritty and gruffly melodious. The layered rhythm guitar beckons you in before the ante is upped just a notch and the bass and beat become the driving force. The climb from tender melancholia to a euphoric crash is par for the course.
Blue Crystal is dark and brooding, a track that one could presume will become the signature tune from this release – a set opener. Title track Low Light presents an unsettling beauty in the opening notes before ascending into a harsh rocker. Misery is like My Bloody Valentine re-imagining Queens Of The Stone Age through psychedelia and, somehow, it’s incredibly exhilarating.
The vocals on Soundtrack are quite fragile and needlessly so. It’s a fine song but when it hits the chorus, the crackling guitars embed the vocals too deep and the potential for a scorching signature tune is not realised. Ghost is slightly monotonous when placed alongside the inventive song-writing on display elsewhere on the EP, but these are minor blemishes.
This Place Is Death are essentially a heavy rock group, but never is volume a substitute for melody and the songs are crafted well. The production allows them to breath and showcase their potential. Nothing to cover up with a ‘wall of sound’ here.