The Early Years, Xam Duo: Aatma, Manchester

The Early Years

The Early Years at Aatma in Manchester

Sonic Cathedral serves up a double-header of wild noise in Manchester, Getintothis’ Peter Guy hails the triumphant second coming of The Early Years.

Ten years is mighty long time in music.

Especially so in today’s perma-connected climate were attention-spans are barely held long enough between sips of ale or from a verse-bridge-chorus before the listener hastily reaches for their mobile to scroll through the social media abyss. We’re all guilty. There’s little hope of escape. We all know it.

Yet, ten years – or two Second Coming‘s for a Mancunian perspective (for that’s where we’re at this evening) is how long it took The Early Years to deliver II – follow up to their eponymous cult debut.

Having formed in Hackney, London in 2004, the band were marked out for their sprawling cauldron of monolithic noise which beautifully straddled progressive rock with easily discernible riffs and hooks. So much so they enticed the influential Beggars Banquet stable while simultaneously garnering widespread critical acclaim and championing from the heroes they were so indebted to as the likes of Brian Eno saluted their marriage of post-pop with Klaus Dinger‘s rhythmic nous. Meanwhile, Can‘s vocal-boogie-wizard Damo Suzuki was so impressed he hired them as his backing band.

Yet despite adulation for their live shows over both sides of the Atlantic, the majority of the band were caught up in a blizzard of experimentation and Cluster albums and that elusive second album failed to materialised.

That was until 2014-15, as guitarist Roger Mackin reflects: “I got tired of endless synth noodling. When the other guys also got tired of it – about eight years later, that was when we started recording together again.

Push forward two appearances at Liverpool International Festival Of Psychedelia and The Early Years look set to avoid being rechristened the Nearly Years and it’s that second album, so prominent during tonight’s performance, which makes you realise what a special band they are and thankful they delivered on their promise.

With the twin guitar attack Mackin and vocalist David Malkinson the band are assisted with rocket-fuel propulsion of keys wizard Mylar Melodies who’s glistening effects are given full throttle during a blissed out Out Of Signal while the soaring Fluxus, with it’s oozing squelching synths, could have slotted into any of New Order‘s finest work-songs.

Indeed, their influences are worn quite intentionally and openly (see Nocturne channeling the concrete post-punk brutalism of Joy Division complete with David Malkinson‘s Ian Curtis-like monosyllabic drone-chant ‘a chance, a chance, a lie, a lie‘ or the harmonious echo-laden glide of Hush which wouldn’t feel out of place on the Spaceman 3 classic The Perfect Prescription) – yet The Early Years never stray into pastiche – instead they sound mighty, bold, confident and at home ploughing their own strident beginnings.

The best of which arrives with the one-two attack of drummer Phil Raines and Brendan Kersey‘s bombastic bass throb during For The Fallen‘s rip-roaring intro; all five minutes the wonderfully cocooned Aatma gallery – a largely wooden, intimate loft space suddenly appears transformed into vacuum of wide open spaces and hurtling white noise. It’s life-affirming, massive grooves – and sudden little drops in sound give way to a build and bridge beckoning in yet more waves and walls of colliding noise.

They close with Do It – Again – a hurtling, sax-assisted motorik charge. It is utterly thrilling stuff. A triumphant second coming, indeed.

Completing what proves a special Friday evening in Manchester, are Sonic Cathedral label mates, Xam Duo. Formed by Deadwall‘s Christopher Duffin and HookwormsMatthew Benn, there’s is a sound perhaps more in keeping with the studio designs The Early Years gotten so lost in; all tangled undulating ambience and cascades of fizzing textures, their eponymous debut is a wondrous slice of dense electronica.

The duo don’t hold back when it comes to treating us to the full works of their electronic broom cupboard wheeling out what looks like The Open University’s physics laboratory such is the vast array of wires, circuitry and electrical devices on display – and for 30 minutes we’re lost amid their droning whirs and tumbling, liquid-like propulsions.

Completing what is a genuine treat for the senses, Duffin adds suitable blasts of saxophone (he reprises the trick later in the evening for The Early Years in the aforementioned Do It – Again) in what appears I Extend My Arms Pt I & II – yet while that track my prove the centre-piece on record, tonight’s performance is one slab of atmospheric experimentation which is as easy to get lost in as it is to wonder, quite how they’re actually doing it.

There was an important footnote to tonight’s affair as we learnt that this was to be the penultimate gig promoted by Manchester team Dots & Loops – after ten years of bringing live music to the city, like so many the strains and personal pressures which all-to-often run side by side of the music game had taken it’s toll and we were sad to learn this was nearly their last hurrah. They bow out having hosted such superlative offerings as Saint Etienne‘s Bob StanleySonic Boom, The Pop Group, Trans Am, Klaus Johann Grobe, Carlton Melton, Kikagaku Moyo, Plank!The OscillationEternal Tapestry and many more.

Fittingly, they finish on December 8 with their favourite band – seminal Sup Pop band Low who, while usually play to theatres, will entertain a capacity crowd of 80 at the Eagle Inn in Salford playing a set consisting of entirely new material. It goes without saying it sold out in a flash and there’s no entry without a ticket and the card holder. What a way to finish.