Husband and wife duo Exit Music took the stage in London last night, joined by a friend and his box of sounds, having come all the way from Hurricane Sandy-battered New York to do so. And on Election Night too, a big night indeed. They bring their unique sound; one half dreamy gothic folk, one half 4/4 beats and electronic wizardry, to this small venue which holds perhaps 60 people for the occasion.
Team SGTMT have been well aware of Exit Music for some time, but could not on the eve of the gig recall any of their songs. That’s odd. We’re not sure we actually got around to hitting ‘play’ as it happens. Our brows furrow. But, onwards! It’s been some time since we attended a show without a good idea of what to expect, so this would be interesting – we were all set to be wowed.
Opener The Sea glides past and our brows begin to furrow again. The Modern Age arrives next and we realise that we must have hit play at least once, very familiar as it is. As The Hours follows and our brows finally reach their fully-furrowed stage, we realise what’s wrong, and it’s three things.
Firstly, this sound is an interesting concept with potential for greatness. A combination of two disparate sounds welded together. We could have dance music with a genuine soulful depth (rather than the token melodies we so often hear bolted on). Or gothic folk with a powerful underbelly. Either way, very exciting.
It so nearly works, but the two halves of their sound don’t seem like happy bedfellows. The former seems an afterthought to the latter and tacked-on. From time to time, it clicks, particularly for one sweet passage where a little bit of bass is allowed to escape and the combination of beat, guitar, bass, vocal and synth envelop each other seamlessly and all is right with the world. That sounds good, we think, that really works! Sadly, it’s oh so brief and that’s the last we hear of the bass for the evening.
(We asked around if anyone knew the title of the song by the way, but nobody knew. We can’t blame them; it turns out all the titles are practically the same with The Sea, The Hours, The Night, The City and The Cold amongst others aired tonight).
The drums appear from time to time then disappear. They switch between half time and double time. The bass dropped in to say hello and then left without saying goodbye. So oddly unsatisfying. We say either let’s go for it, do it properly, open the traps and let these two sounds go at it, or pick one and be done with it.
We’re not in charge of course (luckily), we don’t make the decisions and honestly we don’t think we know best. But a scan of the faces in the crowd at various points showed many people shared our furrowed brows, or were stroking their chin rather than nodding their head. This sound is just not quite right somehow, at least in a live context. So nearly, but not quite. Frustrating.
Secondly, frontwoman Aleksa Palladino‘s voice is, we’d wager, very good. She won’t let us really hear it though. We spend some time working out whether the problem is her not singing in a comfortable register or whether its her refusal to let the sound out unless it’s through a mouth shaped like an ‘O’ so it sounds affected and uncomfortable. That’s the point, we presume, but it’s let loose once or twice throughout the night and, ah-ha we’re right! It’s a beautiful voice! Nuanced and delivered with a real intensity. Set it free, we say!
At SGTMT the last thing we want is for everyone to sound the same. But at this show it’s like Jeremy Beadle‘s withered hand – once you notice it, it’s hard to look past it.
Finally, one other thing stands out; a lack of hooks. They don’t have to interrupt the melancholy, but some of these songs could do with something to hang their hat on.
All this is so frustrating, because Exit Music’s recorded output touches on the magnificent, and from time to time during this show they reach their potential. Passage is a triumphant cacophony of noise and soaring guitars, for example. White Noise is wonderful, really wonderful, containing as it does something approaching a proper heavyweight hook. So good. Why is the rest of the show not like this?
Listen to Exit Music at their best. This is White Noise: