Reviewing Meet Me In St Louis’ debut album for DiS is a bit like reporting on News Corp if you work for The Times. Such has been this site’s endorsement of the band that you’ll be expecting a barrage of praise from this review, and perhaps there still will be, but it’s important that we nail our colours to the mast right at the start and make every effort to be as objective as possible.
First up, here’s an initial, guttural reaction to Variations On Swing: it’s exhausting to listen to. Rarely has a band shunted through time signatures so rapidly and so carelessly, sticking two fingers up to pop formulae and challenging the listener to try and keep up. Within the first two minutes of album opener ‘The Torso Was Severed In Mid Thorax’ there are at least eight major tempo shifts._ Eight_. And you’re not even halfway through the song.
This pattern is continued throughout the record, and it seems to be the band’s way of distancing themselves from their influences. Cable, At The Drive-In and Minus The Bear are all deeply ingrained in the pores of the Meet Me In St Louis sound, but each of those bands had (or, in MTB’s case, still have) a greater passion for giving their audiences an easy ride: Cable’s choruses leap to mind, Meet Me In St Louis… well, do they even have choruses?
That’s not to say they don’t love a tune, though. This is an album of tiny nuggets of intensity, rife with melody, where the formulaic thread has been binned. It’s like a pack of popping candy to Cable’s Wham Bar. And there’s the key point - while both are sweet, the former often leaves its mark for much longer. You remember the experience, it sets a benchmark, and it’s then up to you whether to experience it again or not.
And now we arrive. Meet Me In St Louis are bold. They shun everything that’s easy, pouring all their energies into making music that kowtows to no one and therefore defines the mood of these times: chaotic, uncertain, fidgety. It’s both aggressive and good humoured; welcoming and isolating. It’s a fuck-you to our shite attention spans.
Variations On Swing delivers on all the promises that the band have made since their conception. Once you succumb to the ride and just let go, it will carry you through. And on the way you can enjoy the fantastic talent on display - tangled riffs and spliced rhythms that you only wish you could dream up, let alone play. This is a challenging, unsettling, superb debut… but then you knew we’d say that anyway.
8Mike Haydock's Score