#41: Dawn Of The Replicants – Ten Sea Birds (1997)
The majority of tracks on this list – records hauled from the ether like that fairground stall where we’re all grim-faced children attempting to snare a rubber duck with a hook on a stick – are singles. Because singles – 7” vinyl spun on your Dancette record player, or the modern equivalent there-of – are catchy and immediate. They attract airplay, then garner accompaniment from the type of video where the dancers are in hot-pants or bikinis and jiggle provocatively in front of the camera. Selecting fifty tracks as if at random from whatever music institution or hipster bible dictates to be essential listening is a risible pastime, the degree of stunt we can all pull whilst our naked limbs are smothered in baby oil and we’re waiting for the director to shout ACTION… from whence we will all waggle our barely-covered bits towards the lens of the camera again.
Except that it doesn’t always work this way. Last week’s track wasn’t a single (if you exclude the Japan-only promo release), and this week’s Festive Fifty entry is hidden away on an album as if underwhelmed by degrees of focal point. But then again that’s typical of Dawn Of The Replicants, an at-times wilfully difficult band, fuelled by unpredictable cadences and an oblique take on the modern pop combo routine. When they get it wrong they sound like a half-drunk Frank Zappa covers band jamming in the snug of a rural Scottish public house. The type of venue where disinterested farmers eye up each other’s daughters over by the fruit machine.
When things fall into place, however – and they almost exclusively do on their first two albums, 1998’s One Head, Two Arms, Two Legs, and the splendidly monikered Wrong Town, Wrong Planet, Three Hours Late from a year later – there’s is a sound that soars, soundscapes gladly bedecked in colours unconventional and subversive. There’s something inherently graceful to a DOTR song, and my very favourite, ‘Ten Sea Birds’, exemplifies this perfectly. A track that takes diverse and occasionally dissonant motifs, then combines these elements, shapes them into something intensely satisfying.
I love how this kicks off; the interplay between guitars, drone-infused acoustic vs light and simple call-outs routed through the effects pedal. I love Paul Vicker’s otherworldly vocal, too grainy and an octave too high to be labelled pleasant, yet beguiling when applied to a song such as this. Lyrics strapped to a kind of Edward Lear-style surrealism are a constant theme in the DOTR canon, yet rarely does all this mambo jimbo detract from the whole; ‘Ten Sea Birds’ never drifts towards contrivance; I love how it’s such a simple composition, yet its all so intricately paced, tasty morsels of sound buried in the arrangement. And predictable or no (this is a LGM-authored piece, after all), I love the blow-out, two minutes forty in. Because it isn’t all in the dénouement, but it sure helps.
Dawn Of The Replicants / Ten Sea Birds