Gregor Samsa - 27:36 (Own Records)
On principle, no-one here at Rhino Towers is going to get hessy with a completely new band on a completely new album unless they're obviously total wankers (they're filed under 'w' in the archive). Being embarassingly intimate, ourselves, with the struggle and the angst and the pain and despair of those early days of trying to carve a niche, we do try - honestly! - to go for a positive listen to newbies, and reserve the juicy splenetic stuff for those uppity twats who deserve it (the ones who see a third-album signing to a major as an excuse to junk creativity in favour of advanced pharmaceutical abuse and hotel-room-trashing - don't you go all innocent on me - you know who I'm talking about).
So, setting firmly aside those ink-bottles labelled 'acid wit', 'tart superciliousness', and 'citrus sarcasm', I twirl my goose-quill around in the pH-neutral ink of pure philharmonia and say - you know, I have a feeling these guys could be really good one day.
(Ever heard of damning with faint praise?)
Gregor Samsa (aside from being the only character in a Kafka novel not to be called 'K') are an anonymous collective from Richmond, Virginia, debuting on a rather interesting Luxembourg label called Own Records, and developing a healthy live following in Germany, apparently. Their only other release is a 2002 untitled EP on Bostons Iodine Recordings with three untitled tracks, the third of which seems to be either an earlier mix or possibly an earlier recording of the first track on 27:36.
As it stands, this short (27 minutes and 36 seconds - well, who'd-a-guessed?) album, containing three untitled tracks (do we see a cryptic mystique developing already?), sounds like a somewhat saccharine hybrid of a set of fairly transparent influences (GY!BE, Set Fire To Flames, Mogwai, Cocteau Twins, Sigur Rós) and a few less savory ones (Abba? Sonny and Cher?). But whereas a band like Explosions in the Sky can get away with their particular brand of Godspeed Lite because there's a ready audience for the sound skimmed of the politics (and this is neither the time nor the place for that discussion), Gregor Samsa's evident aspiration to emulate Sigur Rós is quite, quite doomed. No-one - no-one - is ever going to get within a gnat's whisker of understanding what makes that band work, and all attempts at cloning will inevitably fall foul of the same soulless Frankenstein's monster situation.
Nevertheless, having said that, there remains something to be heard in this album, something held in the background, behind all that cosmetic imitation, that suggests better things to come. Whether its current inevidence is due to ill-judged caution or simple laziness is anyone's guess. Hopefully, for instance, future metamorphoses will address the lyrics (at which Mogwai, too, are famously inept, of course) - presently, these seem to have emerged from the stoner school of poetics that says that anything that comes to you in a dream and that you manage to decipher in the morning after scribbling it down in a half-awake daze must be meaningful: you taught me how to sleep / now I run where I please and you loved me more than I will ever know for example.
Perhaps these straight comparisons are a tad unfair: everyone starts out by imitating someone else - at least these guys have great taste - and the third track on this album wouldn't sound bad in any half-decent chillout compilation alongside people like Low, Lamb, Labradford and Tarentel. Also, there's really so little here to assess them on. I mean, a three-track debut album? Brave? yes; bold? yes; arrogant? certainly; ultimately misjudged? yes; but in parts quite ravishingly beautiful, and impressively self-assured. I say again, keep checking back on this name - one day I reckon they're going to metamorphose into an is, instead of just a like.
28th March 2004