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The Xcerts – Stairs to Noise: The Scatterbrain EP

Aberdeen and Exeter rock group The Xcerts exist almost as the antithesis for the majority of bands polluting our music libraries. With their unique blend of distorted pop, a masterful moniker by the way, their heart-squeezed ballads superimpose an uncanny knack for not being completely subdued, yet never crossing that line into incomprehensible mesh. Their sophomore album Scatterbrain, released last year, demonstrated a development both in composition and lyricism that some bands will only accomplish at the end of their tenures, made even more impressive by the fairly young ages of its three maestros; Murray Macleod (Guitar, vocals and lyrics), Jordan Smith (Bass) and Tom Heron (Drums).  So bestowed upon us now with the usual grandiose (or lack thereof) is Stairs to Noise: The Scatterbrain EP, a collection of six songs that were previously unreleased, a bit experimental or mostly miscellaneous in nature, acting as both a companion piece to the album but also as that guilty little something something for their die hards (though at this point might well be the entirety of their fanbase).

To link it to their previous release, I suppose, the title track (and third single) for Scatterbrain starts out the mini album; it’s hectic and unconfined structure still a sight to behold – or however you’d phrase that in regards to music – particularly alongside Macleod’s all-too-personal recollections that are dark, inspiring and eye brow raising. The accompanying music video, released back in January, is perhaps an example of the band’s visual art approach taken too far.

The follow-on Tear Me Down was a narrow miss out for the previous album, thus it definitely fits in with that diverse mix of morose and melancholy. The brooding guitar heard on its own initially maintains its presence in the noisier sections, with the classic mix of a larynx that laments and shouts away, subtly branding it an Xcerts’ track. Even when it is heavy it is a fair bit slow and thus it’s exclusion from the LP was understandable, but here it actually works well, more so following on from Scatterbrain.

Their cover of late singer songwriter Elliot Smith’s song Say Yes is very much an example of two way fan appreciation: as well as being the band’s tribute to the revered artist it comes as the result of an extended time in which Murray asked fans to request songs for him to cover on their Myspace (others chosen included Death Cab for Cutie and Bon Iver). In many ways it’s a perfect song for them to take a crack at, baring similarity to some their own acoustic pieces, the way the song originally contrasted in lyrical content to the rest of Smith’s discography by being upbeat and optimistic is somewhat replicated when you compare it to the Xcert’s body of work.

Let’s Run was originally meant to be a B-side to their single Slackerpop but instead ended up as a download for a limited time. Bearing this in mind it’s easy to see why it sounds far closer to that of their debut album In the Cold Wind We Smile than anything else here. As mentioned previously, the lyrics hint at personal tragedies within the songwriter’s life (the most recent of which have been cited many times by Macleod as the backbone of their latest album), making that kind of story book-esque serenade which drives you to seek the true story of its inspiration, though the sketchy details keep it interesting. Musically the song is beautifully paced and sung, though you might find yourself a little disinterested in the latter part’s heaviness.

Speaking of Slackerpop, the naming for that song has always been confused the fuck out of me. In some overseas radio plays it appeared as Mannequin Champion Slackerpop whilst the song’s chorus lines ‘I’ll be your mannequin’ and ‘I am the champion’ and the truly stupendous music video (in which they beat the shit out of mannequins) being even more misleading. Well the confusion comes full circle with this re-recording of the song titled Mannequin Champion. In terms of experimentation it’s the epitome for the band, using previously uncharted territory such as piano and strings, with a startlingly slower tempo that drags it out much longer than the original. It’s there for you to draw your own judgement on, but without the animalism it doesn’t work quite as well as before, yet the way a set of lyrics can be used for a song almost completely different in conception effectively speaks volumes for the scribbling of this tour tired trio.

Put bluntly this EP has variety going for it by the tar load, though it’s undeniably a labour of love for the fanbase, and if you played it to someone ignorant of The Xcerts they wouldn’t necessarily be swayed. It is however a startling retrospective of the evolving intentions of their music, as well as a small insight perhaps of what’s to come.

Words > Graham Ashton

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