album review for the skinny
In theory, Glasgow (via Livingstone) trio Super Adventure Club could be a nightmarish proposition: they have a singer/guitarist, Bruce Wallace, who screeches, wails, screams, howls and croons; sometimes he sings too; and they have a drummer, Neil Warrack, who shifts between rhythms in a song like a girl trying on dresses in a shop. It could add up to a hellish noise, but in fact their second album Avoid Zombies is a scarily imaginative and hugely amusing trip, the most incongruous thing about it being the final track, a pre-emptive self-defence against anticipated criticism that really isn't necessary.
Before that final track, Super Adventure Club have spent the preceeding half-hour being totally unselfconscious, showing a buoyant disregard for any sensitivities that might get in the way of their fun. Some bands don't seem to know it, but making music is supposed to be fun. The intro to Avoid Zombies' first song -- Hip Hop Hot Pot Pot Noodle -- is five seconds of fast n' mindless single-note pinging, before an unexpected eruption of noise as Wallace and bassist/singer Mandy Clarke crazily rave "If you can read this, your head's on fire". The mania of it is startling: a few bars into the album, they've already asserted their presence, declared their intentions, and shown more personality than some bands manage in a whole hour.
When the singers aren't ranting and the guitars aren't in overdrive, SAC like to slow it down with some breezy, light-hearted laments. Pick Up Sticks provides such a counterpoint to Hip Hop etc's abrasive full-tilt intro, as Wallace wonders aloud about being stuck in a rut, and in My Other Brain he considers extreme measures to deal with sexual frustration: "...but John Wayne Bobbit did alright, and his looks like it's stuck on with Araldite." Best of all is SAC Attack, sung sweetly by Clarke over a fantastic leaping bassline and a scratching, scathing guitar: "phone your mum, make the tea, avoid zombies," she reels off her to-do list for the day, "lock the door, feed the cat, avoid zombies". Always set achievable goals; that's just good advice.
And don't worry too much about what other people think of you; that's implicitly advised throughout too. When a band is described as inoffensive, it doesn't mean others go around abusing the ugly, it means this: others, like Super Adventure Club, take risks knowing they might lose as many fans as they win, and they don't much care about that. Nosferatu is the seven-minute multi-part centrepiece of Avoid Zombies; it's very funny, full of ideas, and honestly a little baffling on first listen: it's Super Adventure Club in one song. Starting with an incomprehensible rant over a quick-breathing bassline, it slows into something eerie about spontaneous combustion, before shifting gear again in time for Wallace and Clarke to abuse someone for looking like Alan Carr (wait, what was I just saying?), then calming again for a guitar solo that fades to almost complete silence halfway through the song. For no apparent reason, just because they want to, and then they fade back in again and there's another twenty parts before the song ends.
But SAC's indulgent tendencies -- like beginning an album with a heart-attack-inducing shock and fading out to near nothing halfway through another song, not to mention the soloing and tempo shifts -- aren't a negative, they're intrinsic to the band's appeal. Other apparently good-time bands would be too self-conscious to try half this stuff, so it wouldn't be convincing. On the contrary, you know Super Adventure Club are having the time of their lives, because they're not stopping to think it over, analyse it, write down their options, arrange a meeting, draw a graph, run it by the boss. Time flies when you're having fun because you don't stop to check the time. Super Adventure Club's brio is natural, most of their risks pay off, and the joy is contagious.
Until we get to the appendix, the apologetic Pointless Self-Indulgence, ironically their least indulgent and most pointless song. It's like a new best friend saying sorry for one corny joke. It's actually quite charming, when taken on its own. Two minutes, no big deal.