Nine Black Alps have always been a band that has pulled no punches in their approach. At no point in their careers have they ever allowed their blueprint to be manipulated by any of the contorted cycles that rock music dictates you to adhere to, perhaps sacrificing commercial success in the process. True to their steadfast cult, though, the Manchester four-piece have continued to produce LPs laden with fast-paced, easily digestible chunks of grunge-ridden rock, and are still to beat around any of your hydrangeas. Candy for the Clowns is the band’s 5th LP, and is without doubt their strongest since their critically acclaimed debut (Everything Is) that made so many waves 9 years ago. The trademark fuzz and breakneck energy is more dynamic than we’ve heard before, song structures are much more tangible, and the raw, unabashed energy is as prominent as it’s ever been.
One thing you can always guarantee from a Nine Black Alps record is this; the opening track will be a corker. Novokaine builds from the bottom, with noxious guitars warring with a lead lick – one that is always shyer than its louder foe. Sam Forrest tests the capabilities of his pipes as early as the second chorus, breaking under the weight of despair. In the case of Nine Black Alps, you always know what you’re going to get, and this has led to the quartet refining their simple science for the best results possible, and ultimately, Candy for the Clowns excels in its consistency. Previous Nine Black Alps LPs (with the exception of the debut) have often, and frustratingly, fallen under the ‘good but could do better’ category, where large swathes of brilliance are diluted by weaker tracks punctuating the torrent of energy, but Candy for the Clowns has ironed out this recurring motif. Blackout follows Novokaine and is the Alps brand of grunge; suave and pristinely attired, complete with a clasping chorus without compromising any of the organics. Supermarket Clothes is bright, intelligent, and advances at pace. Forrest’s lyrics are better than ever throughout, clearly inspired by the lynchpins of grunge, and showing an unerring ability to channel the bands obvious influences into an authentic brand with a 21st century edge.
The band’s graduation, however, doesn’t truly arrive until tracks 4 and 5. Patti is a thunderous track governed by a huge rhythm section. An imposing bassline is matched by a frenzied assault on a drum kit, with more than a nod to In Utero as guitars pause and moan with tenacity. Something Else follows and races with itself, and provides the perfect crescendo for Forrest to shout himself to breaking point in an edge of control furore, ultimately ascending into the biggest hook of them all, with Forrest imploring ‘shine a light on me’ in an impelling release. The record remains strong throughout, with intensely palpable choruses and rhythmically dynamic verses in sync with solid song structures. Come Back Around is the long lost cousin of Ironside from Everything Is and Take Me Underground is slightly more cautious than its track-mates, but doesn’t sacrifice a hook in its reserve. Nine Black Alps have finally refined their raw materials into the critical manifesto that they’ve been capable of for almost a decade.
Candy for the Clowns is a hugely satisfying record not only for first time listeners of the band, but perhaps more notably, for the staunch fans who have listened to them from the outset and have known what Nine Black Alps have in their arsenal. The tools and raw materials have always been there, and the blueprint has remained the same throughout, but the execution has too often been lacking. Fresh with a 4th record label (Leeds-based Hatch Records), this latest coming is a dynamic, complete, and assured record, and an exhibition of how grunge music should sound in 2014, and there’s no frustration this time around. 79%.
*FIRST PUBLISHED ON NO RIPCORD*