From [i]The Rolling Stones[i] to Arctic Monkeys, the history of debut albums is the history of youth's fleeting fire being used to temper and forge what often proves artists' most visceral, engaging work.The thousands of punters off to see Oasis's current tour will – like the band – be willing themselves toward the deception that the creaky-ribbed millionaires' are still channeling the magic of Knebworth '96, The Water Rats '94; Bono recently caused the deaths of a couple of hundred of the world's poor (er, maybe) by taking a chunk out of a day's planet-saving to post a wistful reminisce on the Rolling Stone website about the lost innocence that fuelled U2's Boy; the rise of Skins, the Underage Festival et al have all served to underscore the fact that, right now, youth carries as much cultural weight as it's ever done.
The funny thing about Hysterics, the debut album from Rolo Tomassi, Sheffield's famously light-in-years posse of art punks (singer Eva Spence is, like, seven or something), is that it doesn't really sound like the work of a young band at all. Not that they exactly come across as preternaturally aged; just that next to the spunky spazz of their self-titled EP, the band's first full-length isn't quite the eccentric gas one might have expected. I can't help but wonder if playing out their teenage years as an avant-rock cause celebre hasn't somehow sobered them up. When some of your most vocal fans are serious-minded thirtysomethings, maybe creating songs as exuberantly demented as the EP's 'Film Noir' or 'Seagull' seems unduly flip.
None of which stops Hysterics being a good record. It's just that, unexpectedly, its most arresting moments are rooted in slow, stately builds and the newfound dynamic possibilities afforded by Eva's throat-clutchingly harsh vocal repertoire expanding to include a ghostly coo. The record is bookended by its two best tracks: 'Oh, Hello Ghost', a gothic exercise in tease and restraint that rises from nothing like mist in graveyard, haunted keyboards swelling and swelling and swelling and then KABOOM: 30 seconds before the end, Eva finally suckers us with her full madwoman-in-the-attic fury.
Even better still is the 14-minute expanse of closer 'Fantasia' which ignites in eviscerating spirals of slo-mo guitar, flim flams through about ten different kinds of mentalism, before finally concluding in a sombre, twinkly coda that sounds not unlike an eyelinered-up Radiohead.
So quarter-hour long goth workouts – no problemo. The short, noisy headspinners that were previously this band's bread and butter? Perversely therein lies Hysterics' chief downside. Only the furiously odd death-lounge of 'Fofteen' really scales the EP's unlikely heights; elsewhere it feels like their hearts weren't quite in it – certainly the loud-quiet-loud yammer of 'I Love Turbulence' is the closest they've come to bashing out generic moshpit fodder, while keyboardist James Spence's manifest increase in musical proficiency has seemingly spelled an end to the showers of bleeping randomness.
Basically, Hysterics sounds like a transitional record - pretty impressive going for a debut album. If you want this year's deepest hit of screaming WTF-core, you're probably better checking out Ponytail's magnificently unfathomable Ice Cream Spiritual; Rolo Tomassi have done what they felt they needed to do with the flame of youth and are apparently intent on moving on to something darker, grander, greater. The day they catch up with themselves will no doubt be the day they turn in their masterpiece; but with a combined age probably still less than that of Smoosh, it'd be a shame if they didn't have fun on the way there.
7Andrzej Lukowski's Score