wears the trousers magazine

scanners: submarine (2010)
February 4, 2010, 12:47 pm
Filed under: album, review | Tags: , ,

Submarine •••

We all have a sell-by date. It might not be marked on a plastic wrapper that encases us but there is no mistaking our disposability. Scanners frontwoman Sarah Daly reminds us of this fact on ’Jesus Saves’, the opening track of their second album Submarine. Reminding people of their inevitable end is an uncompromising way to begin, but it’s fairly typical of much of what follows. Scanners don’t live in a hearts and flowers kind of world it would seem. Formed in 2004 by Daly and guitarist Matt Mole, the quartet have been rumbling around on the indie scene for a number of years without a significant breakthrough into the mainstream. Sometimes it’s hard to understand why; in Daly they have a charismatic lead and the music they produce, while peculiarly angular and rarely cheerful, has both credibility and accessibility running right through it.

So, 2010 might be the year they have to make good on their early promise, and Submarine duly finds them primed for wider listening with a more rounded sound than was displayed on their debut Violence Is Golden. The evidence is there right from the outset on ‘Jesus Saves’, whose synth and bass-driven, disco-friendly rhythms persist right through to its playground cynic singalong conclusion. Here, Scanners take a swipe at the unquestioned surface perfection of mundane lives, the shallowness of contemporary celebrity, and the ephemera with which we concern ourselves with in order to avoid facing our mortality. It’s not Jesus that’s doing the rescuing on first single ‘Salvation’ but the divine dark eyes of a passionately craved lover. With the twisted Gregorian chant of its rising “woah”s , the song has a gothic feel, not least when Daly promises to drag the object of her attractions into her grave. Thankfully, there isn’t too much straying into undead territory elsewhere on the album. ‘Baby Blue’ is a standout track; its expansive, late ’60s sound and delicious vocal performance stirs up images of clear summer skies and hopefulness in new beginnings. With harmonic guitars and a more complex arrangement than is found on the rest of the album, it’s an interlude of inventive ambition and ripe with potential. Too much of this would perhaps be defeating the object if Scanners are intent on climbing the ladder of commercial success a little further, but it does leave you longing for a little more boldness on what follows.

Handclaps and girl-group “dum-dum-dum”s signal the jagged slice of regulation ’00s indie-pop that is ‘Sick Love’, its Franz Ferdinand/Gang Of Four spliced riff and passionless deadpanned lyrics standing out only to the extent that it ultimately sounds so familiar. Elsewhere, ‘We Close Our Eyes’ evokes comparisons with The Organ with an instantly hooky chorus and the band again make use of the voice-of-doom harmonised chanting, only this time it’s lower in the mix with less of the menace and more like someone humming Joy Division to themselves in the bathroom mirror after a hard day at work. These surface again after a Hounds Of Love fashion on ‘Strangelovehate’, an otherwise fairly mundane and forgettable mid-tempo, mid-album number. ‘Goodbye’ is more interesting, lyrically at least, filled as it is with a very personalised venom. The echoing arrangement and synth-laden chorus sounds like a less-pompous Editors, and while it’s passable fare it’s hard to not have hoped for better.

And better arrives in the shape of ‘Sleepwalking Life’, a tale of two halves. Almost akin to X-Ray Spex in its defiantly hollered and largely tuneless beginnings, it suddenly shifts into a sunny uplifting melody full of the kind of lyrical positivity we’ve not heard much of up to this point. “If you want to survive,” Daly warns, “you’ve got to have thick skin”, but that doesn’t stop her peeling back the layers to reveal someone who finds it strange to feel so fine as the pieces of a life unexpectedly fall into place. Whether or not the pieces will all fall into place for Scanners on the back of this release is another matter. They’re less portentous than some of their male-fronted peers and arguably more interesting, yet too often Submarine sounds workaday, as if caution won out over ambition and experimentation. It’s as a live band that Scanners really stand to win new friends; Daly impassively stares into the eyes of the audience as she reaches the very back of the room with a voice that rips right through to your emotional core. That they haven’t yet been able to transfer this evisceration into the studio is a real shame and may be what ultimately stops them from achieving all they should. The parts are all there but the sums only rarely seem to add up.

Martyn Clayton
UK release date: 16/02/10; www.myspace.com/scanners


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