The (Much) Beta Band

You could put it down to the fact that they're in the throes of an identity crisis, but, Hanson haircuts aside, Brothers in Sound are happening
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The Independent Culture

If the betting is now open for 2001's Mercury Prize shortlist, seekers after long-range value could do a lot worse than a modest wager on fresh-faced Bournemouth trio Brothers In Sound. Their name has the imposing, corporate-branded feel of crack US dance production teams like Masters At Work and Brothers In Rhythm, but their music is an individualistic and contradictory cocktail of acoustic electronica. Its clearest contemporary reference point is probably Regal Records label-mates The Beta Band (A comparison rejected by the band themselves on the persuasive grounds that "it's like comparing an apple to a banana; we've got nothing in common except that we come from the same bowl".)

If the betting is now open for 2001's Mercury Prize shortlist, seekers after long-range value could do a lot worse than a modest wager on fresh-faced Bournemouth trio Brothers In Sound. Their name has the imposing, corporate-branded feel of crack US dance production teams like Masters At Work and Brothers In Rhythm, but their music is an individualistic and contradictory cocktail of acoustic electronica. Its clearest contemporary reference point is probably Regal Records label-mates The Beta Band (A comparison rejected by the band themselves on the persuasive grounds that "it's like comparing an apple to a banana; we've got nothing in common except that we come from the same bowl".)

In a certain light; oh, alright then, in the dark, a mild but nonetheless disturbing physical resemblance to teen-idols Hanson has also been remarked upon. For some reason - perhaps the thrill of being chased through the streets of their hometown by gangs of short-sighted adolescent girls - Paul Hanford, Ed Dowie and Andy Gutteridge choose to exacerbate this impression with a strict regime of geometrically ascending hirsuteness (Dowie claims "hair-measuring sessions" keep everything in proportion: "If we ever get a drummer, he's going to have to be bald"). Creatively, the band aim a little higher. "If you're a plumber," is their collective motto, "you've got to want to plumb in space."

But how to realise such lofty ambitions in the unsettled climate of early 21st-century British pop music? "By making a record," Gutteridge avers grandiosely, only half joking, "that will be remembered for 20 years alongside the classic albums of history." "The sort of album," Hanford continues, "that when someone got to be 17 they might really feel they should own."

Brothers In Sound's current long-playing release Family Is For Sharing, is the first step along the road towards that worthy goal. Though it's actually just a compilation of their first three limited edition EPs (1998's "Just Like A Day", last year's "Barelyafterwake" and this spring's "The High And Low Show") with a couple of judicious remixes thrown in for good measure, the act of taking the songs out of chronological order and resequencing them "as if we were making a compilation for our friends" brought out new strengths. What might have been a stop-gap measure now works beautifully as a complete entity in its own right.

Like Badly Drawn Boy and the aforementioned Beta Band, Brothers In Sound are benefiting from being allowed to develop at their own pace by a sympathetic record company. While other new bands rush-release half-assed product in mortal fear of getting dropped, they've been given time to conduct important sonic experiments like listening to the beginnings of Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here" and De La Soul's "Three Feet High & Rising" simultaneously on two separate stereos.

"I did that again the other day," says Dowie cheerfully, "and it still works. For some reason there's exactly the right amount of space there, so you can concentrate on both records at the same time." Brothers In Sound records seem to have the right amount of space in them too, reflecting the new creative freedom opened up over the last few years by the combination of cheap sampling technology and old-school instrumentation.

At their best, they manage to evoke the tinny euphoria of Vince Clarke-era Depeche Mode, the sombre grandeur of Joy Division, the looping rush of Orbital and the wistful anglicisms of Robert Wyatt; sometimes within the space of a single song. "I don't think people listen to one type of music any more," says Hanford. "People use music now more like they use food - in the way that you'd have your daily sugar or vitamin intake, people put on something to rev themselves up before going out and then come back from a club and put on a Nick Drake record."

What food group does Brothers in Sound represent in this sinister lifestyle nutrition analogy? "We could be in any," Hanford insists. "A lot of people seem to think we're quite... monged out [general laughter] but that's just a reflection of the fact that a lot of the music we've released has been recorded at home very late at night. Since we started playing live, everything's got a lot more energy."

They didn't play live much to begin with. First, because there aren't all that many places to play live in Bournemouth (Recent attempts to reinvent their hometown as Hampshire's answer to Ibiza find little favour: "There was one incident a few years ago when Bournemouth was trying to hype itself up because we have a sandy beach and Brighton doesn't," Gutteridge remembers shame-facedly. "The local newspaper took some Bournemouth sand, stuck it on their beach and put a flag in it.")

More importantly, Brothers In Sound "didn't want to get trapped into becoming a local band: playing Britpop covers in pubs or whatever". "There's a lot more control in recording stuff first rather than starting out playing live," says Dowie, "because you're not trying to punt it to everyone before your identity is formed".

When they finally saw themselves reflected back in other people's eyes, did they get a shock? Hanford nods: "We weren't ready for what we were actually like: we came across a lot more as ourselves than we thought we would. When you're younger, you have this idea of how you're going to be in a band - you're looking in the mirror going [assumes unconvincing showbiz voice] 'Hey... yeah' - and then when you get up there", he grimaces, "you find you're the same fuckwit on the stage as you are off it."

Brothers In Sound play Leeds Cockpit, tonight; Nottingham Heavenly Social, 1 Aug; Liverpool Lomax, 2 Aug; Tunbridge Wells Forum, 4 Aug; Sheffield Leadmill, 5 Aug; Bath Moles, 7 Aug; Oxford Pressure Point, 8 Aug; Manchester Roadhouse, 10 Aug; Glasgow King Tut's, 11 Aug

'Family Is For Sharing' (Regal) is out

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