â€˜Fatherâ€™s Eyesâ€™, the first track on De Rosaâ€™s debut, opens with 14 seconds of rather muffled and mainly atonal noise. It acts less as an indication of what to expect than a call to forget what youâ€™re doing and listen. Itâ€™s superfluous, of course: a few bars later itâ€™s obvious that De Rosa are serving up something very special indeed. Listening is essential, not optional. The initial burst of noise gives way to a clean and simple four-note guitar line, doubled on bass. Simple, yes, but beautiful. And then Martin John Henry starts to sing.
Like so much of what De Rosa do, Henryâ€™s voice is understated but intense. And itâ€™s utterly beguiling, the sort of voice youâ€™d be happy to hear reading out a car repair manual, though â€“ as youâ€™d hope â€“ he has far better uses for it than that. His lyrics may be opaque and difficult to decipher, but enough comes through to show that he was a way with words and imagery and plenty of ideas. After opening with one of the most compelling tracks in recent memory, mixing the delicate and the frenzied in equal parts, the seemingly impossible happens: â€˜Mendâ€™ shifts up a gear. â€˜Cameraâ€™ starts quietly, with another simple guitar motif. Then all hell breaks loose and a wall of noise erupts behind it.
Similar patterns repeat throughout â€˜Mendâ€™, but not in any predictable way. In that sense â€“ although things flow more easily here â€“ De Rosa are still another band that owes something to the Pixiesâ€™ understanding of and redefinition of dynamics. While weâ€™re on the comparisons, itâ€™s notable that even at this early stage in De Rosaâ€™s career there arenâ€™t too many that are of much use. They have the same devastating power that youâ€™ll find in Sonic Youth, circa â€˜Sisterâ€™, and they have something of the evocative splendour of the Dirty Three. Yet they sound like neither, only themselves.
De Rosa spent an inordinate amount of time working on â€˜Mendâ€™, but they spent it well. Configured â€“ nominally â€“ as a guitar/bass/drums trio, the instrumentation extends far beyond that. In the hope of recreating this live, theyâ€™ve since added a fourth member. It remains to be seen how close they can get: much of their appeal comes from Henryâ€™s voice and itâ€™s often multi-tracked here.The De Rosa sound, in essence, is experimental but melodic art-noise built on beautifully crafted songs that have their roots in both punk and folk. Squalling walls of feedback and bursts of emotion are interspersed with mandolin, piano, synths, violin, melodica; the whole is held together with striking, intricate arrangements.
Though these are thoroughly modern songs, concerned with emotional truth more than narrative flow, they serve much the same purpose as many folk songs did in years gone by: they seek to make some sense of the environment they spring from, taking local places and events as points of focus. â€˜Cathkin Braesâ€™ dissects a relationship while looking over Glasgow from the hills south of the city; â€˜Hattonrigg Pit Disasterâ€™ explores the dynamics of a real-life mining disaster nearly a century ago.
The catch? Surely there has to be one? Well, â€˜Mendâ€™ lasts just 36 minutes. But thatâ€™s something youâ€™re only going to notice if you sit there with a stopwatch. It feels both longer and shorter, somehow outside time. That, again, is to do with the joyful intensity on display. While the songs and arrangements are always moving, always changing and developing, thereâ€™s scarcely a slack moment and the emotions always run high. Turn De Rosa up loud enough and thereâ€™s nothing to do but lose yourself.
Debut of the year? Itâ€™s far too early to say, but this much is certain: the bar has been set at a dizzying height.