Review: Living in a bottle

Arab Strap / Electric Sound Of Joy

Flapper and Firkin, Birmingham

Kicking in with a fashionable Bontempi sound, "Country Piano" introduces us to the relatively new wares of Electric Sound Of Joy. There's the usual Krautrock resonance; the waltzy feel is steeped in the aura of an avant- garde tea dance ("Stress Kills"), but other moments such as the shimmering slivers of guitar recall the traits of "Porcupine" era Bunnymen, and "Don't Waste My Time" brings to mind a kind of leftfield Roxy Music. On the whole, these are dark, broody instrumentals with a distinctive hook; spiritually morose, yet full of zeal and strangely uplifting. There's quite a bidding war under way to recruit the services of this prodigious combo, who look set to create the same sort of cultish ripple that bands like Stereolab have prospered from. Electric Sound Of Joy also dabble briefly in other flavours; there's an undercurrent of funky Parliament-esque grooves on "I Can't Wait", and a hint of a glam rock-out at various other points during the set. Their confidence is astounding, as is the quality of their brief repertoire. It's only a matter of time before they're snapped up, and once they've had time to experiment in the studio we'll really be able to see their true worth. A representation of musical genius beckons...

Aidan Moffat, singer with Falkirk's perennial soaks and lo-fi exponents Arab Strap (pictured above), looks podgier than the last time I saw him. Facially, he bears the curious hybrid features of James Garner and Eric Cantona, with a ravaged complexion that's surely a testament to alcohol; it's the perfect foil for the Strap's slo-mo, bluesy narrative. His perfunctory voice is somewhat difficult to distinguish above the conversational noise of the crowd, (who are packed into every crevice of this sardine cellar) but Moffat's sprawling streams of consciousness and rambling monologues - although at times incomprehensible - still manage to convey a feeling of bare realism, a fidelity of suburban representation interspersed with austere beauty. You get the feeling that he's become accustomed to being talked over. Generally, it's kind of Nick Cave meets rustic Joy Division, imbued with the anecdotal soul of Tom Waits and bundled together in a hastily sealed louche package; subliminally bleak and suitably gritty. The minimalist instrumentation allows Moffat's sub-stoned discourse to become the focus, whether it be the gentle vibrato of the organ or the rotational piano and guitar loops; there's the occasional frenzied distraction as the musical narrative is punctuated with fleshy slabs of guitar fuzz, heavily laden with cauterised white noise. Much of the evocative lyrical portraiture is lost to the rafters, but a scent remains. Moffat wanders off to make a headstart on the beers and spirits, leaving guitarist and cohort Malcolm Middleton to finish up the throes of "Deeper", a sonic epic packed with reverb. This runt-of-the-litter Tindersticks have left their mark, woefully bereft of a single violin. Wonderful.