We’re often spoilt for choice when it comes to gigs in Dublin, and on Record Store Day that applies more than ever. Twisted Pepper – home to the wonderful record hub Elastic Witch – went all out and crammed in over two dozen different live performances and DJ sets throughout the day. Stop All The Clocks, the evening session’s openers, don’t really stand out among them.
A three-piece fronted by a mismatched pair – one axeman looks like a Mohican-clad monk and puts on a head banging performance, while the other spends his time crouched staring at his strings for the intricate guitar pieces – they’re a technically adequate instrumental rock band, but a few tracks short of breaking through in a locally crowded genre. Rather than crescendos, the tracks tend to alternate between blaringly loud and subtly noodling. While plenty of that noodling is adventurous and adept, it’s simply not interesting enough next to the comparable And So I Watch You From Afar or Adebisi Shank. Perhaps we’re just spoilt for choice.
Bouts are a different prospect, a marginally abrasive rock band whose deeply-laden riffs are on the up if tonight is anything to go by. Having half-written their second album, due in September, the four-piece take the brave decision to give the new tracks a live airing, complete with lyrics that often consist of chunks of mumbled “la”s. On paper it’s a ridiculous idea, but their new tracks have infectious summer melodies, driving rhythms and – while they’re not yet about anything at all, at least perceptibly – are clearly a step up from the already impressive Bouts EP. It does no harm at all that front man Barry Bracken sings in a way that threatens to destroy his tonsils on the way out, or turn him a shade of January blue. They’re not the borderline grungy outfit they once were; instead we can look forward to being served something riff-tastic to welcome the sunshine.
There’s no doubt who rules this stage tonight, though, even if returning experimental rockers Overhead, The Albatross can barely fit all six of their number upon it. Having spent a large chunk of early 2013 locked in a rural corner of the Czech Republic producing a long, long overdue début album, tonight is like a confident leap into the unknown, one with the kind of bravado behind it that suggests this band know they’re unveiling something special.
And special it is. Based around swirling guitar peaks and hugely emphatic rock crescendos that see de facto front man Joe Panama – as far as you can be a front man when there are no lyrics beyond a primal bout of screaming to close – lifting himself over the crowd and confidently slamming through some monstrous riffs. The strength, those, is in the detail. There’s a subtle but essential electronic edge to Overhead, The Albatross’ direction, with the three-piece guitar set up backed with keyboards and laptops, and generating a complex layered sound that’s pulsing, head-spinning and a comfortable entry into the ranks of the best new music we’ve heard this year.
The set shimmies and shakes its way through songs that overlap and blur into each other, reaching a nodding high when the guitars sit on top, then adjusting to the realms of pure beachside trance for some laptop led trickery backed with far subtler string play. The morphing approach means the live set is never less than captivating, and in Panama they’ve got a natural crowd pleaser, playing sheer energy off against the quieter technical brilliance of the rest of the band. Overhead, The Albatross aren’t new to the scene, but returning with such flair suggests they are about to stamp their influence all over it. As for tonight, there are moments so glorious that Joe can’t help chucking manically through the middle of songs, presumably at the sheer pleasure their sound evokes after a 9 month live absence. Let’s call it early: if Overhead, The Albatross do finally get that début album off the ground, it has to be a serious contender not only for nomination for next year’s Choice Prize, but to win the thing outright. Considering the opposition, I need say no more.