The Xcerts - In The Cold Wind We Smile
They say that first impressions are all important but, certainly as far as the Xcerts are concerned, they don’t tell the whole story. Their debut album creeps up on you gently, with opening track In the cold wind we smile gently floating into the room. Mogwai are the obvious initial reference point but whereas Stuart Braithwaite’s Glaswegians would let the track build, gradually developing its own soundspace before mashing your skull with a wall of noise these young bucks from Aberdeen shoot their bolt within a minute and the Mogwai references are consigned to the bin with some mucky tissues. So much for first impressions then.
Track two Home versus Home gives a more accurate account of what the band are all about; crunching guitars underpinning a tale of loss and desperation. I must, at this point, admit to having a soft spot for bands that sing in their own accents rather than some mid-Atlantic drawl, and the Xcerts get top marks for this; without ever lapsing into Glasvegas'occasional Rab C Nesbitt parody.
Nightschool follows and appears eager to evolve into the Manics’ Australia but is restrained from such anthemic excess by a more ascetic, earnest emo sensibility. That said, it is not a great surprise to discover that longstanding Manics collaborator Dave Eringa is behind the majestic production of the album. Cool Ethan is the first real head turner on the album and hints at something a bit special which differentiates them from the pack. I can’t put my finger on what exactly that is, but in debut terms it is as startling as when I first heard the Stereophonics' Local Boy in the Photograph. Not that they sound anything like the Stereophonics mind you.
As if to underline that point the album then throws up a gentle tune in the form of Lost but not alone. This sleight of hand is quite unexpected as, having experienced the pounding aural assault of the band live in recent weeks, I was unprepared for the degree of light and shade exhibited across the album. Again, I don’t think that you can underestimate the impact of Dave Eringa on their sound. They should take him on tour.
Listen but don’t panic is good fun, an angular, spasmodic number which works as an excellent counterpoint to recent single Crisis in the slow lane which is a considered exercise in anthemic melodic dynamics. But it is the next two tracks which really define the album for me and they really couldn’t be more diametrically opposed to each other. First listeners are compelled to bounce around the room by Just go home which is an epic 3 minute pop tune featuring a catalogue of ‘woo, woos’ that Brian Jones would no doubt appreciate and a pop sensibility to rival the Cardigans. Before you’ve time to recover the album shifts down a few gears, veers off the road and plunges into the woods. Aberdeen 1987 is a compelling 5 minute, impassioned acoustic number which belies their tender age and showcases the appeal of the band far more effectively than the fallback high octane thrashing.
Inevitable the album then concludes with some high octane thrashing, with closing track I see things differently failing to live up to the expectations created by the preceding tracks although the closing salvo, a barrage of military drumming, rips into the cortex and ensures your attention is held for the brief reprise of In the cold wind we smile.
The Xcerts have surprised me with the depth and breadth of this album and I’ll let them have the last word.
Come on, come on, come on just listen