So the twenty-first of December 2012 passed by as innocuously as any other twenty-first of December in recent history. The world didn't end, there were no solar flares, Planet X didn't collide with the Earth, nor did its geomagnetic fields reverse, and the alien colonisation predicted by Chris Carter and the creative team behind The X-Files failed to occur. Which isn't surprising, considering all were complete fiction. The only difference being the latter was the linchpin of one of the most successful science fiction series of all the time, the rest ramblings of self-publicising, attention-seeking fantasists/people with the IQ of an orange – delete as appropriate.
So all the nonsense peddled and perpetuated over the last year by new age mystics, cult leaders, UFO hunters and The Discovery Channel turned out to be just that; nonsense. The vast majority of it stemming from a (deliberate) misinterpretation of an ancient Mayan cyclical calendar. There is much confusion as to exactly what significance the thirteenth b'ak'kun or 126.96.36.199.0. (21/12/12 on our Gregorian calendar) held for the ancient Mayans, but it's a fitting title for This Town Needs Guns' new record, as it's a confusing album. From the bizarre song titles ('+3 Awesomeness Repels Water'), cryptic lyrics “Red wine and tan lines/Colour our differences/You feel less satisfied/The more you acquire” and increasingly intricate guitar lines, it's a detached and often impenetrable listen.
The effects and distortion present on their self-titled 2008 EP had been all but abandoned by the time they released their first full length Animals the same year, but the loss of their second guitarist in 2011 has streamlined their sound. That's not to be confused with simplified, though. The restless, syncopated drumming is still present and Tim Collis' twinkling, tangled guitar leads remain the focal point. But unlike, say, Foals who effectively translate their math-ier tendencies into lurching, stop-start dynamism, This Town Needs Guns let said tendencies drift aimlessly - complexity for complexity's sake. Songs tend to slide by in showers of spiralling, complicated riffs and glitchy drumming, often lacking punch and life.
The loss of vocalist Stuart Smith further hinders 188.8.131.52.0.. His transatlantic yelp helped add distinction to previous efforts, sounding more akin to post-hardcore hero Anthony Green than any of his British indie contemporaries with their over accentuated 'keep-it-real' local accents. New singer Henry Tremain performs competently throughout, but ultimately just sounds a lot like that guy from Two Door Cinema Club. 184.108.40.206.0. is frustrating. Its fervent technicality can leave it feeling soulless, lacking grit, bite or real emotion. It can become stifling and songs tend to blur together.
But there are moments of beauty too; the short instrumental 'In The Branches Of The Yggdrasil' is a welcome moment of (relative) simplicity and '2 Birds, 1 Stone And An Empty Stomach' is the album's lovely, lilting mid-point. Opener 'Cat Fantastic' is deceptively catchy, revealing its hook after repeat listens and 'Left Aligned' effectively juxtaposes rippling guitar wizardry with sparser, ambient sections. This Town Needs Guns have the potential to be refreshing, interesting and pretty. And considering just how homogeneous the mainstream media portrayal of 'indie rock' is - if you're not a reformed Nineties Britpop giant, channelling Bob Dylan or The Clash or don't have Gallagher as a second name you're unlikely to grace the cover of NME any time soon - then much credit is due for at least attempting the road less travelled, even if the musical terrain here can feel flat.
5John Watt's Score