Bands are busy, busy people. When they’ve not been slaving away to gather inspiration, or noodling those ideas out, they’re having to take their new creativity to the masses on stage. It’s certainly true too for those looking to reinvent sounds in their own image. Liverpool’s Real Terms have been mulling this debut—transforming and reimagining their catchier take on math-rock based on live reactions—for a long while. Phew, it’s a tough business. But now the awaited VANTAGE is here, ironically released though the lazy-sounding Sofa Boy label. Go figure.
An imprint set up by Delta Sleep—bastions of the UK indie-math scene—their long term mates here look to cultivate the genre with poppier leans. There’s still inspiration gleaned from prog-jazz drumming legends and Zimbabwe’s Sungura sound, but channelled subtlety into the trio’s existing mellow soundscapes. Speaking of mellow, the lulling starter of Improve manages to sound like a baby’s mobile, accompanied with glitch sounds and vocal harmonies.
Not that that dictates the whole record, nor the song neither—midway strums, hits and clashes make for a percussive clang. With all three members using their vocal chords at varying pitches, it’s almost a non-a cappella version of fellow Liverpudlians The Wombat’s Tales Of Girls, Boys & Marsupials. The three-pronged vocal hydra, and electronic implements, also plop throughout Veil Is Thinner, whose washed out outro tastefully backdrops the repeated lyrical refrain “So why won’t you stand aside? / Please, will you show some pride”.
There seems to be a personality clash throughout these tracks, two individuals not quite clicking as expected. Weird Arc, which features a fittingly disjointed, beatless start, emphasises figures that “live on the opposite side of the coin / We walk but a weird arc just turns us around”. Likewise, seeing acts without agency, the band addresses moments of limbo outside of their own control; Absentee, for example—“Linear time moves / Act like you understand, but walk in a circle / Wake with menial tasks, sleep in the sun / I’m just a ghost here.” But for all the doldrum lyrical aspects, the standout vocal “Sym-bo-LIC ab-sen-TEE!” transition into a sultry, mathy, breakdown riff is all the fun of the fair.
There’s also a bizarre brass instrument. Moments of weirdness crop up plenty, certainly making its left-field experiments seem even more so. The cryptically titled A Wall Of Milk states “it’s a weird irritation you crave / the mountain, the swamp and the wall of milk stay” to some confusion, while similar off-putting guitar lines in Half Alive sound like a musical exam improv under pressure. The vocal performance overall is also just a bit all over the place, jarring when a simpler melody may have sufficed. There are pinpoint moments that remain as fractious as the tales being told.
Its most straight-forward sections (driven by a drummer-first input) are VANTAGE’s finest moments. Closer Cacophony complements that, while the chorus of single Frantically Wrong best unveils the layered vocals that add a catchy pep to the muted, then ringing, string plucks. Granted, math rock by all definitions is off-kilter; adding a stripped back, unpretentious lilt to the sound, Real Terms’ task in making it accessible works. Making the more frenetic, jumpy moments flow with the poppier interludes is the next stage. But that should no doubt faze these musicians with crafty minds and that essential touring experience.
For fans of: TTNG, Foals, Hot Club de Paris
‘VANTAGE’ by Real Terms is released on 24th February on Sofa Boy Records.
Words by Elliot Burr