The Longcut – Open Hearts [Album]

An edited version of this review was published at The 405, October 2009.

You’d be entirely forgiven for not recalling Manchester indie electro trio The Longcut and their excellent debut album A Call and Response. It’s been over three years since that record’s release, so to say they have considered their next move carefully is quite an understatement. This wasn’t entirely the bands fault, as they parted ways with record label Deltasonic and slipped somewhat off the radar in-between albums. That’s a shame, as A Call and Response was a fine record and their live show is quite frankly transcendent, with default frontman Stuart Ogilvie traipsing this way and that, to the mic or to trigger electronics one moment, to pound away behind his drumkit the next.

Open Hearts is an album on which The Longcut try steadfastly to reconcile the differences between their often astounding material and the record’s troublesome gestation. Lead single Repeated is a case in point; comparatively short and simple, but bridging many gaps between the dance and indie genres, experimentation and structure, words and music and so on. Repeated is also situated between two much more remarkable yet less immediate tracks, leaving it functioning similarly to A Tried and Tested Method, as a teaser to an album which contains far greater things. Beforehand, Mary Bloody Sunshine takes off from a stilted, see-sawing riff into a flurry of multitracked guitars and washing keys, happens upon a wheezing breakdown, then is off again with acoustic percussion. Afterwards, the bubbling, largely instrumental Boom demonstrates that The Longcut are perfectly happy to leave passages of the album wordless. Whilst on balance Open Hearts probably has more lyrical content than A Call and Response, there is more than enough going on to vindicate this decision.

A ‘call to arms’ might have become something of a cliché when it comes to describing album openings these days, but in Out at the Roots’ case it’s fairly accurate. “Put on those dancing boots, we’re gonna tear this place right out at the roots” Ogilvie urges amidst the flailing chorus. Whilst a lack of finesse means it isn’t the most beautifully crafted lyric of all time, this rallying cry captures and emulates a furious underdog spirit and resolve. A ferocious, razor-sharp bassline from Jon Fearon – like Muse’s Hysteria getting stuck in digital mud – slingshots the track along, free to breathlessly dip in and out of the chorus. Out at the Roots is a prickly and experimental opener, with its eventual multi-tracked run-in sounding like a significant step forward in The Longcut’s sound. Pulsating synths pummel Ogilvie’s imperfect – and slightly nasal – but well-projected voice on the much calmer Something Inside, more groove-based than Out at the Roots. A heavily processed chorus’ chopped up vocal begins to sound like Everything in its Right Place before the refrain segues into a frantic, clashingly loud climax. The droning guitar intro of Tell You So continues Lee Gale’s never-fail technique of finding an interesting chord shape and holding it for as long as humanly possible. The track peaks and troughs expertly, with saturated slabs of noise lulling into almost-vacant sections of calm, propelled along by relentless drumming.

Open Hearts really hits its stride from Evil Dance onwards, a techno keyboard intro and tinkling cymbals hewn by another strident bassline and glitching beats. After its drilling initial chant, the track knuckles down and offsets its bold bass with glacial synths into a danceable melee reminiscent of A Call and Response’s A Quiet Life. The snow from its rippling beat causes Ogilvie’s vocal to distort, as if he were singing into an electric fan. It’s an almost unintentionally good effect, akin to watching The Longcut on Channel 4 in 1989, and embellishing the album with a human, not-quite pristine atmosphere; always interesting in the relatively sterile realm of electro. Interlude You Can Always Have More picks up where the outro of Evil Dance left off, all propulsive drumming and hyperdrive tremolo picking, which crashes to the ground and Open Hearts emerges. It’s clearly, far and away the best track on the album and arguably the best thing The Longcut have done, beginning with a quiet and reserved picked guitar chime before going undergoing several thrilling stages of metamorphosis. The bass is fuzzier and looser than other tracks and is gradually caked with gently swaying keyboards in euphoric waves and pulses. Remix hi-hats and delay-soaked vocal loops become increasingly frenetic, before Open Hearts ascends into two minutes of sheer, sweaty, last-song-in-the-club, dance-with-your-eyes-closed joy before tottering off into the frosty, slo-mo night of At Any Time.

The Longcut have timed Open Hearts’ release rather well – unwittingly it would seem – as indie disco is so hawt right now, with acts such as Digitalism, Midnight Juggernauts and The Whip all doing brisk business. It’s comforting that Open Hearts as a track is their magnum opus at this point; it’ll certainly soften the blow that its parent album took a full three years from A Call and Response’s release to surface, with just a single – a morose cover of You Got the Love with Idiot Check as double-A side – and the Airtight Session EP in the intermission. Unfortunate though it may be, their star has definitely waned; the venues visited on their last tour are noticeably smaller than they’ve played in the past. Whilst the band’s sophomore album doesn’t scale the consistently immense heights of A Call and Response provided by A Last Act of Desperate Men, Gravity in Crisis and Vitamin C, anyone who enjoyed that record will welcome this release. Hopefully, The Longcut won’t take such an eye-wateringly excruciating length of time to produce a follow-up to Open Hearts and capitalise on its success.

8 out of 10.

The Longcut on Myspace
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