Simon Says: Tale of Two Cities - Oxford vs. Brighton

on Tuesday, June 26, 2012
Words: Simon Opie

Oxford and Brighton – two centres of musical invention with a knack of launching interesting bands. But which one is the better city? Well I guess the Seagulls would win a football match against either Oxford team, but musically it’s a tight call – or is it?

Of course the two scenes are not so similar – Brighton has a varied and ancient tradition encompassing many styles, whilst Oxford’s is somewhat overwhelmed by the mighty shadow of Radiohead. So here into the lists we put two newly released albums up against each other.

For Brighton, we have 'All Through The Sinew' from Soft Arrows who feature Tom Denney on Guitar/Vocals and Russell Eke on Drums in the classic two-up formation. And for Oxford, Von Braun’s new EP 'Cat Dog' featuring twin Guitars/Vocals from Dave Anderson and Adam Bates with drummer Gary Anderson completing a slightly more unusual line-up.

'All Through The Sinew' is an almost archetypal Brighton sound of surf/garage/indie-influenced shoegaze with a twang. The album opens and closes with an extended track – the discordant 'Beezark Mountains' to start and the ambitious 'Elephant Hide' to close.

In truth, both tracks are a bit overstretched in this two-man format, but entertaining nonetheless. In between there are seven three-minute ‘pop songs’ that benefit from a tighter delivery. I really like the more reflective trio of 'Spirit Animal Bones', 'Sunken Statues' and 'Pink Zombies' – a promising direction and a robust challenge from the seasiders to the Thames Valley.

Von Braun actually do have the ghost of Radiohead stalking them, but they match up to the challenge. They are also friends of The Rock of Travolta whose album I liked a lot when I reviewed it here, and apparently play live together, which would be fun to see. 'Black Saxon' has some guitar jangle and bass line progressions that recall the 'Pablo Honey' era of the godfathers.

'Melanoma Head' and 'Into A Hollow' also carry more than a touch of the same spiritual guidance. The standout cut for me is the title track, 'Cat Dog' that takes on a life of its own in a quite admirable way.

So two good and promising debuts – each in their way quite typical of their respective home towns. With the Brighton scene you get a melting pot of styles and an ambitious tilt at a challenging format. For the Oxfordians it’s a case of ‘Cosa Nostra’ – earning the right to set up your own family business, once you have paid due respect.

Well, everybody’s gotta start somewhere – and it’s good to see that both scenes have a habit of nurturing talent. Let’s call it a 2-2 draw and look forward to the replay.

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