The Young Knives, Camden Dingwalls, London

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The Independent Culture

"This is our Top 100 smash," Henry Dartnall says, introducing the band's current single "Terra Firma", the first sign of a follow-up to The Young Knives' Mercury-nominated debut, Voices of Animals and Men, but which has signally failed to set the charts alight.

The Young Knives' insular, odd world was never built for mass success anyway. From their beginnings at school in Ashby-de-la-Zouch a decade ago, they have always favoured England's hidden, unfashionable corners. Middle England market towns are their natural landscape, leading to Peterborough's straw bear gracing their album cover, and the quiet patience of tailors inspiring that record's most affecting song.

They are preceded on a thoughtful, good value bill by Reading's similarly eccentric Pete and the Pirates, and The Outside Royalty, a mostly American sextet who recall Arcade Fire and Roxy Music in their strings-backed, urgent glam-pop. Both are on the way up. The Young Knives, by contrast, seem stuck in a rut. Their grey suits suggest Seventies Reggie Perrin dreamers dabbling in a beat group.

Their music remains post-punk, with pre-Merseybeat moments, and it is that influence, reinforced on Voices of Animals and Men by its producer, Gang of Four's Andy Gill, which most holds them back. Those jerky, late Seventies rhythms sound dated all over again, after the glut of similarly influenced bands with whom The Young Knives arrived in 2002. The new songs they begin with tonight include one in which a rustic psychedelic groove grows out of this template. Otherwise, on first hearing, little seems to have changed.

"Up All Night", a quizzical look at celebrity culture, is unmemorable. "This is England... this is stupid," they sing on a better, unnamed new song, concluding "I will turn tail and run". This sense of defeated outsider-dom lingers when they return to their first album, in the surreally clothed New Forest horses of "The Decision" , or the depressed Midlands fantasist of "Loughborough Suicide", in whose voice Dartnall sings: "I believe in sorrow."

These old songs are played with real urgency, driven by brother Thomas " House of Lords" Dartnall's clipped basslines. But the siblings' wry patter gives an ironic veneer to the most heartfelt lyrics. It's as if this whole band thing is a jape. They finish with what they already seem comically resigned to being their one real hit, "She's Attracted To". It has been a likeably unassuming night. But with no musical highs, and where nothing seemed to matter.

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