When new bands form out of the grey ashes of old ones, it can be very difficult to escape comparisons with what came before. New Order just about managed it. Test Icicles are still mentioned in every other Lightspeed Champion review. Ryan Jarman had the ignominy of appearing on an episode of Saturday Kitchen with Johnny Marr where the host asked question after question to the ex-Smiths guitarist, ignoring the original Cribs member. The past is a ghost that haunts our future.
And so it is with The Northwestern, formed from the much missed Hope of the States. Since their demise in 2006, the members have gone on to various projects, from Troubles to Blocks to Pyxidis. The Northwestern contain only two members from the original group. Does this herald a new sound?
Not really. This is mainly because one of them is frontman Samuel Herlihy. It's hard to create a new sound when a distinctive vocalist remains. His timbres run through Ghostrock, from the swarming horn filled chorus of 'What Did I Do?' to the cruising indie gloss of 'Ghosts On VHS'. One of the theories floating round the demise of HOTS was that it was due to being crushed by commercial expectations, after being gilded with the unobtainable plaudit “the new Radiohead” by the NME. These tracks seem to prove it - they're similar to HOTS, but with a daytime Radio 1 feel. Unfortunately, they're the least interesting thing here.
Criticism has to place the subject in context – and the context of The Northwestern is Hope of the States. These references are inevitable with 'House Of Bees', which could easily have slotted into Left, with fuzzed out guitars, a slow mournful march time signature, and its pleading vocals “Miracle cure / Won't you tell me where you are.” 'Redthreads' is almost as good as anything Herlihy has ever produced, building from a simple acoustic line into a shimmering multi-tracked chorus, with those wailing guitar pedal effects that HOTS made their own.
The Northwestern pose a problem. Despite being a new band, they have history, they have a reputation. They have a prefabricated fanbase, a luxury few groups releasing their first EP have. It's also a bind, tying them to at least keep some semblance of the old group in their blood. This is no fresh start. The tracks that are least successful are the ones least like Hope of the States. Thankfully that band had their own unique sound, and a brilliant way with a melody that Samuel Herlihy hasn't forgotten. There's nothing like nostalgia.
7James Lawrenson's Score