Darlington. It’s good at bridges, railway history and being quite close to where Lewis Carroll lived, but not at rock ‘n’ roll glamour. If you search Google for Darlington musicians you get Zoe Birket from Pop Idol and, um, no one else. Keep looking, and it’s not long before the internet runs out of knowledge and starts muttering rabidly about “people and animals … [being] allegedly drowned or eaten alive by the Pikes and Eels”. Oh, dear.
‘Tis probably fortunate, then that Darlington’s We Start Fires scorn the ‘drab realism’ school of musical endeavour. Instead, their eponymous album is a technicolour evocation of a disco-lit nightlife: escapist electro-punk-pop set in a permanent Saturday night where the monochrome grind of the 9-to-5 has no business intruding, thank you very much. Pure indie punk guitars (with the odd effects pedal-driven detour into the sound of warping metal); vocals switching between call-and-response pop harmonies and gleeful riot girl yells; handclaps and drum fills fighting over the rhythm section; and synths freewheeling between swirling sci-fi laser zaps and acidbubblegum pop – all woven into sharp-edged pop with a headstrong, independent attitude.
In keeping with the indie-disco sounds, the subject matter is dancefloor based: brief encounter tales laced with the wild-yet-fragile exuberance that wells up in one at that point in the evening when the night’s festivities seem to come to a head inside you and the world outside the disco wall fades into insignificance. You’re still vaguely aware there’ll be hell to pay tomorrow, when you’ll crawl into work with a hangover so bad that people in neighbouring counties seem to be invading your personal space; but right now, while the music plays, that fact seems blessedly irrelevant. A thread of bittersweet melancholy runs through the album, raising its head every so often as an acknowledgement that, yes, this is fleeting; that escapism is a short-lived thing – but whatthefuck, this is still some tune! Intelligent, realistic-daydream pop music which makes the evening feel more important than the daytime even if it is more fleeting and ungraspable; that, my friends, is a fine pop album indeed…