POP MUSIC / Then they contradict themselves: Echobelly - Dingwalls

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The Independent Online
Squeezed on to a stage barely wider than the face of a dice, Echobelly still feel like a fabulous secret, though of course they're not. Their first album, Everyone's Got One, grazed the Top 10, and Morrissey has promised them a place on his US tour. But they shouldn't start neglecting joints like Dingwalls, an airless bar tucked into a cobblestoned north London courtyard. Watching them this close, the idiosyncrasies fudged by the album's candy coating are pronounced, and those songs that seemed jolly but workaday fizzle when you see who's pounding them out.

You'd think them perverse for departing with the fuzzy 'Scream', latticed with gnarled guitars from the Smiths' 'How Soon is Now?', had you not witnessed the entire set. Make no mistake - there is nothing very simple about Echobelly. They are a jumble of contradictions, two black girls, three white lads (one Swedish) investing jaunty English pop songs with the savagery of the Cramps.

Guitarist Glenn Johansson looks like Derek Beacon's godson all right - he's a skinhead in army surplus garb - but when he launches into heartfelt backing vocals on 'Today Tomorrow Sometime Never', his granite face is cracked by a choirboy swoon. Still, Debbie Smith, credited on the album with providing 'noise', must have split a few lips in her time. She drags on a fag which never goes out, and cooks up the feedback through which the vocals slice like a Kitchen Devil.

The broth of sweat and smoke can't blunt Sonya's voice. Lyrically, though, she couldn't cut it butter. Her roster of big issues is forgivable - it feels like a new talent purging itself of baggage. But the lyrics marry slogans, epigrams and sixth-form psycho-babble ('Let the fear dislocate / Lest we frown upon the female aggressor'). How disappointing that a writer given to unusual eloquence in interviews should be in such dire need of a good editor.

The cornerstone of the set is 'Insomniac', a terrace chant for people too timid to attend football matches. Its urgent, stuttering drums and spiralling guitars announce Sonya's plaintive clarion-call - 'Carry me home]' - and when a lurching bass kicks the song out of its stop-start mid- section, the goosebumps raise the shirt from your back.

In 'I Can't Imagine the World Without Me', Sonya sings 'I may be lost, I may be blind / But that's half the fun', recalling the cosmic chaos of another writer in another country 139 years ago. 'Do I contradict myself?', asked Walt Whitman. 'Very well then I contradict myself.' From a gay carpenter in 1855 Brooklyn to the first Asian indie star in 1994 London - who would have thought that a band could be summoning ghosts so early in their career?

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