Art and Music      


ARECA GROVE; Chew! Don’t spit!
KEIRON PHELAN:  At the Victoria, Dalston, a largely teenage audience cause commotion; jumping, shouting, screaming and generally kicking up fuss. Young women shrill “we love you!” On stage, the cherubic features of Areca Grove leader Charlie Wheatley crease into an evil grin resembling a youthful devil just handed his first box of matches. He has not, as yet, played a single note.
Tonight’s showcase (topped and tailed by the excellent Weird Menace and Omi Palone) heralds the limited edition, cassette only EP debut of this insanely fresh-faced band, talent spotted by on-scene guru (and Omi Palone frontman) Phil Serfaty as the flagship release act for his hippest micro-label on the block; Good Oscillations . At the grand old age of 27, Serfaty has decided it’s ‘do something for the kids time’, which means younger bands unfettered by excessive knowledge of the ‘rules’ and unafraid to make mistakes in pursuit of their singular paths. Whether Serfaty’s talent-spotting will continue to be this perspicacious only time will tell, but, frankly, he could not have hit target more accurately than with these wunderkinder
Named after a teeth-staining minority interest exotic stimulant, the 18-year-young Areca Grove are not half the band that they will be in two years time, but what they already are is something special. Advancing through their nine-song set it becomes progressively obvious that playing the customary ‘spot the influences’ game here is quite pernicious. Personally, I ‘caught’ early Floyd, the Jesus and Mary Chain, African highlife, the obscure but excellent Electric Sound of Joy, even shades of Christian Fennez haunting Wheatley’s fx-laden guitar colourations; yet many other imaginative comparisons would hold equal validity. Their youthful fans would doubtless insist that AG don’t sound like anyone else at all and, for once, they might be entirely right. Safe to say; this band has its fingers in so many different musical pies that they’ve, essentially, baked their own.
For a band whose default style is a form of up-tempo post-punk, AG are a strangely un-angular proposition. A singular musical fluidity enables them to switch between both sparse and saturated soundscapes and display a captivating trick of bailing out into slower tempo  just as they’re about to hit end-song escape velocity. In fact, listening to Areca Grove suggests the aural equivalent of a large shoal of fish swimming in harmonious tempo only to unexpectedly break rank, radically changing speed and direction, until gracefully re-coalescing into their original formation.
Primus inter pares, here; Wheatly’s cheap Dan Electro guitar playing is a master class of Syd Barrettesque pedal work, fusing primitive abandon with a constant melodic direction. Robert Eyres tackles bass with an authoritative concision redolent of the young Tina Weymouth, while drummer Joe Fergy demonstrates wonderful flexibility, utilising double floor toms and the (rare!) knowledge that drums sound best when played at varied volume levels.
Unsurprisingly, at this early juncture, some limitations show. They have yet to fully harness their live impact into recorded form and there is some tendency to hold lengthy pivot chords without ever resolving them; thus musically ‘jogging on the spot’. A more central question surrounds Wheatley’s vocals which consist of a heavily echoed basso-profondo growl. Inaudible lyrics, therefore, but as Areca Grove are only tangentially a ‘song’ band this is not of great import. Effective in its context, this mannered vocal style should hold good for a first album, but a ‘to sing, or not to sing?’ juncture will eventually arrive.
Nonetheless, pretty much since its inception indiedom has been littered with worthy bands lamentably unable to produce more than a second tier facsimile of their (invariably) excellent influences. A few, a very few, have succeeded. Areca Grove are that rarest type of indie band: originals.

The Good Oscillations label launch night was at the Victoria, Dalston Oct, 6 2012

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