The UK Guardian Picks NewVillager As 'New Band To Watch'
NEWVILLAGER In The UK Guardian:
Hometown: Brooklyn and San Francisco.
The lineup: Ben Bromley and Ross Simonini.
The background: The three most hyped (or self-hyped in two cases) bands at
the start of this year – Mona, Brother and the Vaccines – drew attention for
their back-to-basics approach. They offered crude propositions and simple
pleasures. But there are others daring to be different, making unusual
connections, being anything but obvious. Last night, for example, we went to
Heaven in London to watch Crystal Fighters, a three-piece creating a hybrid
of Basque folk and techno out of indigenous instruments, dance rhythms and
the poetry of a friend's deceased, insane relative. It hinted at what a
collaboration between Federico García Lorca and the Chemical Brothers might
have been like: vivid and joyous, if a little crazed.
NewVillager are equally determined to stand out from the crowd. They
describe themselves as "an artist collective". The core duo of Ben Bromley
and Ross Simonini are complemented by "visual director" Ben Dickinson (LCD
Soundsystem, the Rapture), plus live drums and a cast of thousands – well,
maybe a dozen – whom they draft in as and when required to work on whatever
ancillary drawings, animations, performances, films, lectures, books and
writings are needed to augment the music.
Wait – as Blue Oyster Cult once said – there's more. Bromley and Simonini,
recently hailed by NME as "pop shamans taking meticulous steps towards a
mysterious, musical nirvana", use the various media at their disposal to
espouse their "NewVillager mythology". This comprises a "10-part cycle
exploring transformation, teenage-hood and the formation of new ideas". As
if that weren't enough, their shows include various installations,
"integrated events" and "immersive rituals" which "explore the concept of
the boundaries between different communities".
Meanwhile, their forthcoming debut album, they have promised (or should that
be threatened?), will be a "song cycle" based on "not so much a narrative
but a lens or a model for looking at any kind of transformation – how does
something change from one state to another state? What kind of a process is
that? What are the perennial tensions in that process?" When they started
going on about the "structural shifts, including the main shift from Cocoon
House to Black Crow Boy to Light House" intended for the album, we got a
little irritable and couldn't help wondering: yes, but what about the tunes?
See, every so often a band comes along with ideas about subverting the form
(yer actual pop music) and adding multimedia facets to the otherwise rote
ritual of release single, release album, tour. Remember Sudden Sway, the
mid-80s clever-clogs who issued eight versions of one single, followed by an
extravaganza by the name of Spacemate which included a double LP, a book, a
poster, a set of cards and an instruction manual, all packaged together in a
soap-box container, after which the plan was to devise a "soap opera
musical" called '76 Kids Forever? The conceptual carapace was inviting but
by the time you got to the music it was a tad anti-climactic. Needless to
say, their attempts to make the packaging of pop interesting failed to sell.
NewVillager are a bit like a latter day American Sudden Sway. When they
finally get to discussing their music, they call it "new pop" and claim it's
a cross between Michael Jackson and the Beatles. This is risibly wide of the
mark. Lighthouse has chanty vocals and a quasi-religious feel. Overpass is
also white gospel-ish, with churchy organ. Bad Past Gone Away is what
happens when indie boys do soulful. Genghis On is Scissor Sisters-style
retro-disco, while Rich Doors is hooky synth-funk that recalls Hall & Oates
when they worked with Arthur Baker on their album Big Bam Boom.
More than anyone, they remind us of Polyphonic Spree, another outfit intent
on bringing a non-rock purity of spirit to pop who, having seemed at first
to be rule-changing, eventually became Just Another Band. How soon it will
be before NewVillager buckles depends on their mettle, and bank accounts
(who's funding all their auxiliary ventures?), but you've got to applaud
their ambition even as you worry that their music is thus far a woeful
mismatch for their ideas.
The buzz: "They weave mythology throughout their music and art."
The truth: It's easy to scoff and be cynical, but at least they're Saying
Stuff, even if we haven't a clue what it all means.
Most likely to: Be bicoastal.
Least likely to: Go postal on us – they're too joyous, man.
What to buy: Their self-titled debut album will be released on 21 June by
File next to: Sudden Sway, Hall & Oates, Polyphonic Spree, Crystal Fighters.