Just as the Mayan prophecy predicted - musically at least - 2012 felt like the end of days. Obviously, it wasn't all bad, but for every transcendent moment from Frank Ocean or Swans there were risible efforts from Kreayshawn, The Killers, The Whigs and of course, those three (three??) Green Day albums. Yet, amidst these dark times, some gracile highlights emerged; one gem in particular was Ninetails's second EP Slept and Did Not Sleep.
A thoughtful slice of intelligent leftfield pop, it flickered to life with more inventive intensity than most bands could muster over the course of a full album. And while some of the more scattergun moments proved it wasn't destined to be their definitive work, it showed huge potential. However, since then it's all gone rather quiet, with little sign of the quartet capitalising on that modestly positive acclaim. So, as they return with their latest EP Quiet Confidence, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the intervening year has been tumultuous, with the four-piece reduced to a trio after the exit of lead singer and guitarist Ed Black.
Obviously, the fallout from the departure of any bandmate - not least the singer - is a setback, but rarely more so than for a fledgling group; fresh-faced aspirations buckling before they've begun to develop. But what might have spelt an unceremonious end for another band, seems to have been Ninetails' catalyst for change, forcing them beyond the confines of their earlier work and - rather than simply ploughing the same furrow - driving them to expressive new sonic heights.
The key to unlocking the EP lies in opening track 'Radiant Hex', which is - according to the trio - the account of an exorcism. It shivers with backmasked guitars and darkly propulsive percussion, while harmonic wails and muddied field recordings intertwine at its heart. If this all sounds a little claustrophobic, it is - but it's alleviated through brass refrains and angelic harmonies which rise into the aether and light a way through the darkness. These densely layered waves of sound offer a catharsis which reverberates throughout the six tracks; if this is an exorcism then it's demons of the past that are being cast out.
This sense of an emotional purge is what bleeds into 'An Aria', which feels like an extension of 'Radiant Hex'; similarly recursive themes spilling across the tracks, but explored here in a more expressive and organic tone. Sombre pianos and impenetrable dubstep-esque beats building walls of ambiance; only to collapse on one another in blissful sonic chaos, leaving nothing but a stark trumpet solo in its wake. 'O for Two' amends this disarray with cohesion; juddering with a darkly alluring progressive R&B that wraps itself in elements of electronica - concluding the first half of the EP with their most conventional but bewitching song.
The latter three tracks drip with an increasingly discordant mood which - whilst undeniably enthralling - can feel wildly tangental at times. 'Quiet Confidence/Pure Utopian Moment' switches between off kilter prayers of devotion and gleaming ambience, beats shimmering around soft vocals only to be shattered by a ominous sonics. The indecipherable autotuned vocals of 'Hopelessly Devoted' are nestled by fluttering melodies and deep bass groans coalescing under the arcane poetry. The EP's closer - and its most oppressively complex moment - 'Sinn Djinn' is spectral and undefined, part night terror/part redemptive coda to the feverish dreams that have preceded.
If Ninetails could channel greater focus into the more esoteric passages of their sound they might just transcend into a very special prospect indeed. But for now they have every right to remain self-assured. Quiet Confidence marks the work of a different group to the one we saw in 2012, taking into account their past and filtering it into something new and - at times - luminous; making evolutionary strides that foreshadow exceptional things to come.
7Tom Fenwick's Score