Chances are you haven’t thought about The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster in some time, and no one would really blame you. They were very much a band out of the musical loop in the early-to-mid-2000s peak, peddling an indie-psychobilly mashup while rock’s top players stuck to big, quintessentially British post-hardcore. It’s also unlikely that Piano Wire, the new project of guitarist Andy Huxley and bassist Sym Gharial, will bring up any memories of their previous band. On their debut full-length Dream Underground, their sound is more indebted to garage rock and post-punk with the only similarities being the noise and creeping sense of darkness that runs through.
What’s more, Piano Wire have already laid a perfectly stable foundation right out of the gate – Dream Underground is a strong little album that will probably be unfairly ignored for no adequate reason. It’s not exactly the sort of stuff that’ll make this band radio darlings – the grimier atmosphere, particularly in the thick basslines, is too far removed from the most scrubbed-up radio-rock – but with the pivot to a more organic sound coming thick and fast into the mainstream, Dream Underground is a near-perfect capitalisation on these more real sounds that Piano Wire contort into an addictive, compelling listen.
That’s mainly thanks to Huxley and Gharial being such an effective team. For as unashamedly literary as the songwriting influences are, and for the number of benders that Gharial goes on in his lyrics, either metaphorical or otherwise, there’s never a feeling of anything but abjection, mainly thanks to Huxley’s muted, grounded vocals. It’s misanthropic as all hell in its tales of jadedness and self-medication, but the distinct feeling of resignation gives it a real human quality that does work here. It’s brilliantly reflected in the instrumentation too, especially when they get a bit more reckless like the scuzzy garage-punk of Hooligans In The USA or the slight Nirvana influences that peek through on Liquorice Junkie. There’s barely a moment here where Piano Wire don’t show how adept they are at blending fuzzed-up, propulsive post-punk with melodies that are a lot more playful and pop-oriented. It’s even more surprising how well it works, like on the loose, low-hanging groove of Red Electric Flower, or Get A Life with its juddering, garage-rock spring.
It’s just a shame that Piano Wire don’t have more modes to show off than this. They’re damn solid at this sort of ragged sound, but it’s not particularly nuanced, and after twelve tracks it can all feel a little blurry and repetitive. Even when they threaten to try something different it always ends up gravitating to the formula that rests at their core, like Weird Heroes which tries for a woozy acoustic vibe though still ends up entirely in their wheelhouse, or especially Gangs which, after a false start of acoustic strumming for a few seconds, goes right back to business as usual. And while the depth that this album relies on is placed on the shoulders of the lyrics, the rather one-dimensional sonics don’t do it justice a lot of the time. There’s a reason why most garage-rock bands are the most lyrically verbose, and by going against the grain in that respect, it’s a shame that Dream Underground slightly wavers as a result.
But that’s not to deter from the fact that Piano Wire’s proper introduction is still impressive. Groundbreaking this most certainly is not, but Dream Underground has a ragged charm and the sort of realistic yet stylised lyrical focus that’s hard not to be swept up in, and without any real low points there’s some real staying power here that bodes well for the future of this band. With a bit more versatility next time around, Piano Wire’s next album could be close to essential listening.
For fans of: Fat White Family, Future Of The Left, Pulled Apart By Horses
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Dream Underground’ by Piano Wire is released on 17th February on Hanging Houses.