Septic and the Tanks' debut albumReview
There are (I'm glad to say), many great original musicians around currently in our locale & one characteristic they share is producing a distinctive style which accurately reflects who they each are. No one could dispute I am sure that this applies to Septic and the Tanks whose long awaited debut album is out online today and which will appear in solid form on the 17th to coincide with their launch (at Just Dropped In Records in Coventry's Fargo Village supported by Stegosaurus Sex Party & Hedcheese (tickets are £5 from https://www.wegottickets.com/event/603161 or £7 on the door)). The band have worked as hard on the artwork as on the music & are keen to keep as much as possible under wraps until the launch as possible: so all I'll say at this point is how appreciative I am at the mention of "Hot Music Live" amongst the "thanks" credits.
As much as phenomenon as a band, the local music scene has taken them to their hearts. This in part is probably due to their quirky, distinctive style, but music history is full of examples of artists like that (especially in the punk realm) where affection for the eccentricities made up for shortfalls in musical quality. This certainly does not apply to Septic and the Tanks who have clearly worked very hard as a band both individually (bassist Sarah, drummer Sophie and banjo player Lucy are relative novices to their instruments in terms of years played) and in welding their playing together into a watertight and very powerful unified sound.
This general newness to being in a band (guitarist James is the one veteran) almost certainly contributes to their evident glee & enthusiasm on stage & record: which is a lot of their appeal. However that is merely the starting point I think: they bring a great deal more to the table, including love of music from long before they started playing, their personal values & a wit to put across both established ideas in new ways and even to invent ones (e.g. debut single "Dog's Birthday Party") which no other songwriter had previously conceived of.
Dualities, ironies, paradoxes and serendipities in fact abound once one has had the opportunity to listen to a collection of their songs one after another & I'll try to capture those for you.
We have reviewed "Dog's Birthday Party" and subsequent singles "Be My Feet", "Spiders" and "Seven" for you as standalones & I should hope that you are familiar with album closer "Get In Line" which has featured on ‘Hot Music Live presents Volume Ten'. However I let you down a bit with regards to "Degenerate Generous" which was featured on the Dammit Records compilation ‘Dam-Nation 238' and which I didn't review as it wasn't a direct release by the band as such, but which I now regret.
The other ones (which we've yet to review) you will get to hear when you acquire the eponymous album are "Hot!!", "Sky Snakes", "Cheeseboard Monologue" (a staple of their live sets as well as presumably their dinner tables) and "Continental Breakfast".
This is where the first dichotomy kicks in with relation to their complete body of work (and they do have other tracks like "Sympathy for the Cat" which have appeared in concert but not on record). Listening to their initial singles & reading their lighthearted social posts, one might be forgiven for focusing solely on their humour: well that's obviously a big part of who they are, but this is not a comedy band and as my review of "Seven" with its existential angst showed, they have a broader range and ‘Septic and the Tanks' does capture this well.
The next aspect which the broad picture review reveals is that musicality: one would forgive a band with so little experience for finding a simple template and sticking to it once they'd mastered it: at least for the moment. ‘Septic and the Tanks' shows however just how different the songs are. James does a lot of work not just riffing & providing the chordal structures but adding tasteful little licks & solos to give each song its own character (some have extended intros, others codas: there is no sense of "one size fits all").
I've written about how Sophie & Sarah anchor the band in other reviews & much of the profound thunder comes from their direction. However to leave it there is unfair on them as both are actual restless & imaginative players in their own right, weaving far more interesting parts than their limited experience would suggest to any observer with a limited faith & imagination. I personally wonder how much they might consider adding dub style into their songs in future: they certainly have the capability.
The instrumental wild card in this "DIY Banjo Punk Band" is of course the banjo and the band work this element into tracks in creative and different ways: often subversively: little riffs here & there, the odd bespoke solo (listen out for the intro to "Cheeseboard Monologue") and otherwise adding counterpoint parts to James'. Producer Jon Webb does a grand job with the whole sound, but getting the banjo right must be the hardest (as my recent live review stated, switching to a direct injection method has solved audibility issues onstage); the solo parts work fine but it must have taken plenty of mixing skills when the banjo was playing against the other stringed instruments.
One of my major reflective points in writing this was around Robin's vocals. There are probably what listeners will find hard not to focus on as concert goings do. The final element in understanding her method only fell into place after speaking with her.
Again, past reviews have highlighted her "I'm so sick of the subject I'm singing about that I'm having trouble not puking my guts up right here & now" which early singles showcased. "Seven" offered her ability to convey dep existential despair, yet on most tracks what is also there is a highly percussive style ("Get in Line" is a masterpiece) where, although the words are great, her singing goes beyond literal meaning as the sounds themselves are punched out to create new layers of communication: very much like Iggy Pop does. It also reminds me of how, for example, Lenny Bruce minutely calibrated his use of expletives in his act to finesse the rhythm he felt fitted his routine. Just like Robin does. I checked with her on this point & she confirmed that while being a singer in a band was new to her, in her teenage years she was a drummer: and suddenly it made sense. Part of her genius is to sing parts like a drummer would play them: and that, I want to be very clear about, is intended as praise. Beyond that her strength of voice & force of nature take her singing even further, which are other stories.
Interestingly, of the tracks I hadn't reviewed before, "Cheeseboard Monologue" and "Continental Breakfast" share not only a comestible theme but also turn the guns on bourgeois conventionality: imagine something along the lines of a twisted "Abigail's Party" with Beverley possessed by Pazuzu for the latter particularly. Pure evil is lurking in suburbia & Septic and the Tanks have identified and taken it on. With relish (there's that food reference again). It certainly sounds like a potential single too.
"Hot!!" is (I assume) something like a companion piece to "Seven" given that its plea for warmer weather sits well with the lament about the possibility of endless winter in the latter, though complementing it by approaching the subject from a different emotional angle: the pragmatic & prosaic rather than the metaphysical and so spat out vocals are appropriate this time rather than keening wailing.
"Sky Snakes" is so bizarre even by the standards of this band that it may test my powers of reviewing beyond their natural limits. The subject matter would seem to be mythical or apocryphal yet Robin throws herself into a song about these creatures with such commitment that I personally wouldn't dare to question their existence to her face. She credits them with such qualities as possessing eternal life & of saving the world and since the band back her up fully with one of their most extreme wall of noise/apocalyptic performances, they clearly are fully invested in them too. Quite remarkable. People will probably describe Robin as shamanistic and I'll second that.
"Degenerate Generous" is another track wherein the banjo is more prominent and as a popular live piece I really shouldn't have missed that earlier chance to tell you about it. In terms of that diversity of sound I mentioned at the beginning, this one goes to the trebly end of what they do & thrashes away rather than stamps heavily upon your senses. Variety doesn't half make albums that more easy to listen to. The duality is present here too: at one level possibly the most obviously political of their set, on the other hand evoking cold 6am feelings is pretty personal. Disgust as well as venom aimed at various targets cascades from Robin's mouth. No wonder Dammit Records rated it so much.
Amongst the many admirable qualities I detect in Septic and the Tanks is their careful development, setting themselves a series of attainable goals. Formation, instrument learning and band cohesion lie well in their rear-view mirror by now. Initial nerves over gigging must be disappearing as they are now positively in so much demand (look out for them if you are in the Weymouth area on March 30th. Their appeal is now much wider than just our local scene). I gather that recording the songs they had written was not something they necessarily had in mind when they wrote them, but getting them down for posterity had its appeal and so that came next, followed by singles, a video & now the album.
I don't know where they really want to go next, but I believe that they've banked up so much achievement & momentum by now that they've not only justified what they intended originally but built substantial audience expectations. I cannot see why more songs (and hence releases) should not flow out of them now they've got the hang of it and they are all articulate people with things which they need to say.
I hope a ‘Septic and the Tanks 2' will appear in time: I think the odds are shorter now and the band are kind people who'll want to assuage the demands of their growing public.
In the meantime, you have one of the most dynamic, witty, life affirming, confident and in many places downright terrifying debuts to enjoy. If you play it in your car, you'll look down at your speedo & notice you are well over the limit. I know: I was that driver.