Death to the strangeAs someone who grew up with the screams of Kurt Cobain in one ear and a stream of brilliantly unpredictable Radiohead albums in the other, I’ve reached an unfortunate plateau of boredom.

I’m bored with bands that bafflingly become increasingly popular for being vaguely ‘vintage’ and ‘indie’ without being either vintage or indie at all. Lazy DJs offer up a bit of relentless plugging, soon after comes a hit single or two and within a year they are national treasures, secured in their status by people not remembering, or really caring, where they came from in the first place.

Hearing, for example, “I will wait, I will wait for you” sung on a loop for ten minutes with self-conscious precision, with concentration and control from under the rim of a pork pie hat as plaid shirt-ed hands flail up and down a keyboard/across the strings of a banjo, just doesn’t make me sit up.

It lacks everything that is, or should be, inspiring and trouble-causing about original music. Each element of these songs, these bands, has been done before. Which is fine. But each element has been done before and much, much better. Which is not fine.

People now ‘watch’ gigs through shaky camera phones, Facebook everyone to tell them they’re having a great time instead of having said great time and wave electronic cigarettes in the air in place of lighters. Karen O has gone blonde. Iggy Pop flogs Aviva insurance.

Apologies – pessimism done with for the time being. Everyone likes a Disney ending and it came to me this week in the form of Sign On, the debut EP from Death to the Strange.

Gig-goers of Manchester and Salford will be familiar with the band, who have been gracing the stages, pubs and back rooms of the two cities for several years and are now gaining the attention they want and deserve.

On paper, Death to the Strange could be just another young northern outfit – picking up threads from the likes of the La’s and The Coral, their tracks sprinkled with fifties riffs, harmonies and references to being down-and-out and on the dole.

However, paper isn’t music and Death to the Strange aren’t rehashing the past. Rather, the ballsy Salford five-piece are in the business of deconstructing their influences and mixing the parts they like with their oddball, well-honed sound.

Lyrically, Death to the Strange are a band with reasons to make music. However, rather than adopt a solely political agenda, using their art as a vessel for discontent, songs such as ‘Sign On’ and ‘Openshaw Blues’ are laced with plain fun and the type of wit that grows from nurturing your apparently underdog roots.

A statement of discontent expressed with relish through sarcasm, title track ‘Sign On’ unashamedly nods to the La’s, three-chord rock n’ roll and, in sentiment rather than sound, the spirit of punk rock. This mid-century homage reaches its peak with skiffley ‘Paper Nest’, a track that’s all very ‘Saturday Night, Sunday Morning’, but lyrically retains a non-assuming ambiguity.

Ending the EP is Charlatans-esque number ‘Drink and the Devil’, a regular feature of the band’s live appearances. With its Hammer-Horror echoing vocal and twisty riffs, this is the fun showpiece of the band’s catalogue and a safe bet to close.

Without any departure, any re-interpretation, the Merseybeat, rock n’ roll-era influenced formula would be a safe, but dull stab at mass appeal. However, throw in some enjoyable nonsense, snatches of full-on harmonies and the odd werewolf howl and, while not reinventing the wheel, Death to the Strange have stayed true to their instincts and created something worth getting excited about.

The product of years of gigging and waiting for their metaphorical porridge to be just right, ‘Sign On’ is a firm announcement that Death to the Strange are now ready to see you.


Release Date 06/05/2013 (Danger In Sound)