REVIEW: Seatbelts – Songs for Vonnegut EP

8/10

The exciting new band, Seatbelts, derives from The Liverpool Indie quartet Hooton Tennis Club. James Madden and Ryan Murphy of the said band began their latest endeavour after a drunken phone call between the two sparked an idea to do a project together. That situation would eventually morph into a quartet just a scant few months later and the result would be the June 1st release of the EP ‘Songs for Vonnegut”. The goal of the band is to produce songs that are built with lasting appeal, providing more than a one-time listening experience. Seatbelt’s founders are intent on countering the spotifizing of the current popular music environment. To bring about this result the quartet utilizes vivid electronics and fuzzy buzzsaw guitars to construct engaging songs.

Co-founders Murphy and Madden have worked with each other for over 10 years. With Seatbelts, they looked to differentiate their new work from Hooton Tennis Club by creating an entity that is more fluid as a band structure. The pair recruited Abi Woods to provide keyboards, guitars and vocals and Alex Quinn to handle the drums and percussion duties fleshing out the sound. Songs for Vonnegut would be written over a period of a year and recorded in Ryan Murphy’s bedroom. The material was then taken to Parr Street Studio’s master mixer Chris Tambo Taylor for a final polish.

The album is dedicated to legendary writer Kurt Vonnegut who inspired many of the lyrics and themes found in the songs. Overall the band looks to fight against the current prevailing culture that is inches deep in its attention span and level of interest. Emphasis is made on the need to dig deeper into previous artists before you can claim an influence. This has been put into practice by Murphy who is building his musical education one band at a time investing both time and money into the back catalogues of Tom Waits, Bob Dylan, The Beatles and other seminal artists. When it came time to name Seatbelts Murphy had become so enamoured with The Beatles that there was a huge discussion about using some rearrangement of The Beatles spelling to moniker the band.

Songs for Vonnegut begins with the utterly addictive track Hey, Hey Tiger which uses the concepts and imagery of Snakes and Ladders to personify the rollercoaster of modern life and how nothing feels safe. The sardonic lyrics fight conformity as the fat bass throbs away with a rhythm that would make Flea proud. It is no wonder the track has gained the band radio attention with its catchy as hell off-kilter vibe. The title track, Songs for Vonnegut is a darker tune giving off a Velvet Underground/Brian Jonestown Massacre feeling. Brilliantly combined on the song are an insistent rhythm and quirky guitar producing a clever pop gothic, hallucinogenic selection. In the lyrics, Vonnegut’s works are presented as a guidebook to navigate our confusing world.

A World Drained of Wonder shows off the band’s structural craftsmanship. At first, it has a very jangle guitar /early REM sonic but becomes something more intricate with its oscillating tempo changeups. These changes ups perfectly support the ennui that is the topic of the track portraying people disappointed by their ordinary lives. The final track, It is as if I am A.I. is the most substantive track on the release. The song is the capturing of the isolation and disconnect of our society portrayed in lyrics like, “it is as if I am a part of someone else’s dream”. The entire song reflects on the feeling many have that they are at arm’s length to life, a cog in the wheel. This disconnect is underlined by the guitar work and an effective use of DIY Garage band ethos. The song is a strong closer to a very impressive release.

EP’s are meant to draw attention to a band without the burden of producing a long-form album before the entity is ready for their close up. Songs for Vonnegut successfully accomplished that purpose, creating interest and showing a band that is developing nicely. They have a well fleshed out palette of sonics and players. The band has stated they have more material they plan to release. If Songs for Vonnegut is any indication of the quality the band can produce I hope the wait won’t be too long.