It’s a pretty safe bet that no band whose early work has been compared to Mission of Burma, The Pop Group and The Minutemen has previously been reviewed on AUK. This is also likely the case for any band whose main songwriter cites nomeansno, Fugazi and Sonic Youth as key early influences. However, that has just changed with the release of this vinyl-only third LP from Ireland’s Glimmermen on Greyslate Records.
‘Here I Stand’ continues the progression seen on second outing ‘Breakin’ Out’, further narrowing Glimmermen’s sonic palette but broadening the range of techniques used to apply their musical colours. There is even less of the intense, fiery and angular post-punk in evidence here and more of their tautly proficient, melodic roots-pop decorum. The new LP is thus ready to take its place in the congregation of the broad church that is Americana.
The journey from fierce punk-ish declaiming to rootsy philosophising is one we have seen many times – ref perhaps Mike Ness, John Langford with the Mekons or John Doe with X for starters. Less travelled is the road from post-punk noisemeister to purveyor of earnest Celtic barroom formalism but that is what we have seen from Gavin Cowley (guitar, lead vocal) and his comrades in The Glimmermen (J Bassetti – bass, Phil Murray – drums, Dave Prendergast – trumpet and Orlaith Gilcreest – sax & vocals).
With notable timing, just as the rest of the musical world is waking up to the glory of riotous Irish post-punk (Fontaines DC and Murder Capital), Glimmermen choose to stroll away from that sound and produce an LP of austere, vaguely sardonic roots-tinged tunes. Their commitment to the cause of artistic integrity has to be admired, if perhaps not their timing or career acumen! As we know, though, music-making is about hearts not wallets, so more power to their ethical elbow.
The first and overriding musical impression of ‘Here I Stand’ is the almost relentless rhythmic ‘chug’ of the record, with its brittle drumming, stirring bass and recurring thrum of guitar. It could be noted that this ‘chug’ gives the record a real feel of Canada’s wondrous but now sadly “cryogenically frozen” Weakerthans.
Like their Canadian predecessors, on ‘Here I Stand’, Glimmermen do suggest a certain boredom with the strictures of their punk-ish past. However, they don’t experiment for the sake of experimentation alone. None of the arrangements on the record appear driven by the need to present themselves as clever or sophisticated. This makes the record an honest and engaging listen but also, occasionally, a bit of slog to sit through.
There are moments which engage more directly such as the Arcade Fire-like build to the end of ‘Meet Me At The Corner’, the campfire mouth organ of ‘Something To Be Said’ and traces of almost Trembling Bells-like psych-folkiness (‘Sleep Walkin’’). What stands out most about the record is the presence of trumpet and sax as core instruments throughout. They are integral to the band’s sound, driving the melodies and creating the mood, not just adding colourful fills here and there. The horns extend beyond the role of uplifting mood enhancers and also seem to underpin the downbeat, almost despondent, nature of much of proceedings.
This musical light and dark reflects the record’s lyrical interest in trying to get to grips with life’s struggles, its ups and downs. Cowley’s songwriting focus inclines to the personal rather than global, his lyrics seemingly at once enthralled and appalled by the experiences they contain. He does, as most of us seem to do, tend to see more of the downs when presenting our life to the outside world; witness the album introducing itself with the line “I’m feeling oh so low, I feel like I don’t know”.
We might expect Cowley’s personal songwriting and the music’s rhythmic and melodic tenacity to have a more direct emotional impact. However, more often than not they don’t and there seems to be something about them that keeps you at arm’s length. Perhaps Cowley hints at why when he sings “I’m not known for big displays of sentiment” in ‘Meet Me At The Clearing’.
Whilst it may not have ground-breaking ideas saturating every moment, ‘Here I Stand’ remains a solid, well-presented and pleasingly fetching rock record with a fair number of hooks and refrains to keep us diverted. It may not change our world but it is good to have it around. As they acknowledge with the lyrical manifesto of track two: ‘It’s Nice (When People Accept You for Who You Are)’.