Scatterbrain - The Xcerts Album Review
Failing to maintain a grin in the Granite City's cold winds and so relocating to the South Coast in the land of the pink pound initially proved a savvy move for this 'distorted pop' trio. Chased down by Sam Duckworth from Get Cape, Wear Cape, Fly after showing promise with their early singles, XCerts began to see their stock rise. Their debut album was well received, described as "inch perfect" and "charged with youthful hope and exuberance".
So after such a promising debut you would be entitled to think, or expect, more of the same wouldn't you? Well, 'Scatterbrain' is not a seismic shift but nor is it a minor adjustment either. "If we didn't sound different, I'd be worried" says lead singer, lyricist and guitarist Murray Macleod. The band's sophomore album is not only harder, more abrasive and "experimental" it is more difficult, has less hooks and no real stand out tracks. On the plus side it has no real stinkers either and as the band want it to be heard "as an entire body of work" then maybe their remit has been fulfilled.
The Xcerts have certainly brought in some big hitters to mould and manipulate the album into it's present form. 'Scatterbrain' has been produced by Mike Sapone, a former hired hand to Public Enemy, Brand New and Taking Back Sunday. It was then mastered by Emily Lazar whose back catalogue includes Vampire Weekend and David Bowie, as well as more recently Magic Kids and Chief. Macleod has described Sapone as "the fourth member of the band" and has credited him with the "Crazy ideas" on the album.
'Tar' leads off the album as if to leave you in no doubt about what to expect from the subsequent 10 tracks. The 1minute squall of fuzzy and frenzied noise sets you up for the albums title track. 'Scatterbrain' pelts along to the tune of jagged guitars, distorted lead vocalisations as well as layered backing harmonies. Drawing on influences from Slipknot through 30 Seconds To Mars to Arcade Fire, it certainly has variation. Even on generally slower tracks such as Gum, Macleod or Sapone, have muted the angry guitar sound but insisted on accenting it with screaming vocal interjections that are of little worth. Elsewhere 'Slackerpop' veers from Punk to Doo Whop and rests at Indie Pop whilst under using an occasional Killing Joke style guitar riff along the way.
Having been almost entirely written in 6 weeks may provide some clue as to why Scatterbrain is, as the title may suggest, all over the place. It lacks focus, comes across as hurried and lacking attention to detail and unfortunately has very little in the way of attention grabbing, memorable or particularly well written songs. The recent single Young (Belane) is as commercial or radio friendly as Scatterbrain comes. Even here the anthemic stadium leanings fall short. It breaks down just as you're expecting it to build - it starts to develop the chorus but changes direction and then finishes without concluding.
The Xcerts clearly had an idea of where to take their sound, what touchstones they were trying to emulate and how to move the band forward after their initial successes. Unfortunately 'Scatterbrain' may be an album that they are proud of, and one which they think has captured their spirit and emotion, but in the end it has also failed to connect with the listener. Disappointing but not damning, Xcerts can, and hopefully will, deliver better next time around.
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