New Youth Bible sounds like a Wehrmacht doctrine, a call for order, and throughout 37 minutes of sometimes deafening, sometimes spine-tingling rock, it is entirely difficult not to fall under the spell.
1. Of Scottish Blood and Symphonies – is beautifully arranged harmony with Ashley’s vocals set before raspy, drone-like guitars. A typhoon of guitars suddenly engulf Ashley’s quiet lament, like lawnmower blades shredding nasturtiums, and the loud/quiet dynamic is reminiscent of the crunchy drone of This Will Destroy You; overlayered guitars, martial drums, bristling bass. Where that band’s sound is impenetrable, ESftD allow melody to splice through crashing waves of noise, and Ashley’s tuneful presence rises to the surface when least expected. The song ends on a wreckage of feedback, and track two ‘Kinds of Loneliness’ opens with her familiar swoon taking charge.
2. Kinds of Loneliness – is two minutes of distortion-washed pop interlaid with clapping, and the music in the background is distinctive in that it is firmly in the background: guitars are low-laid in the mix, sounding curiously as if they are played in an adjoining room — not to Ashley, but to the listener.
3. 13 Holy Crowns – is a rip-roaring storm of a song that could’ve come straight off My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless. Autistically distorted, heavy, like a musical bazaar it blasts along without respite, Kieran Naughton’s funereal vocals guiding the wagon. It is quite simply a song suited for stadia: straight-to-the-mark, bold, withering and undoubtedly one of the album’s highlights.
4. All Hands Lost – Naughton passing Campbell the reins for another gloriously understated slow drag. It sounds not dissimilar to Joanna Newsom’s artfully-composed harmonies — not that the nodules are similar, but the sensibilities of melody are strikingly familiar, though Ashley sings in a decidedly more mature vocal range. ‘All Hands Lost’ plays out before sliding lead guitar and quietly thumping bass drum, then leads into the computerised spoken word of ‘Love is Terminal’.
5. Love is Terminal – with its easy-on-the-ear, Apple pie American-sounding guitars (even down to Kieran’s Beach Boys-esque lead guitar) is as dissimilar from ‘Of Scottish Blood’ as possible. It seems like ESftD are keen to mask the aforementioned pop credo they so clearly salute to with sonic tricks like melting vocals and distortion. One can’t help but wonder what ‘Love…’ would have sounded like without the tricks. One suspects: an out-and-out summery pop number that Radio 1 might’ve plucked from a slush pile.
6. Run With The Hunted – inside six minutes, spoken word, ton-heavy guitars, shouted vocals and satire, with Ashley singing in a broad Americanised accent she thoroughly eschews elsewhere. “The only real memories are the memories of old,” she howls before Naughton’s electric guitar emerges from the dronescape walling up the exterior plains.
7. Lonely Hearts Beat As One – is as sugar-sweet as sherbet fizz, the denseness of the guitars and drums fading infectiously.
8. My Name is Scotland, I Am An Alcoholic – the social satire of this track is vaguely heartbreaking with its refrain of “and we drink and we drink and we drank and we drank ourselves into the ground” but it fails to build into the sweeping, angry cacophony it suggests, and the spoken word is concealed by the clear panes of the production rendering the lyrics mostly unlistenable. That is not to say the production is entirely disappointing during this song; the effect of Kieran yammering away in an airfield hangar to no one in particular is quite ironic (‘No one is listening’ is the eerie message) and abets the song’s mournful mood.
10. Untitled – is another gem. “I feel like a cigarette burn on the landscape,” sings Naughton, taking the helm for the final stand, and city noises chirp in the background creating the impression of the song being sung from a window ledge by Princess Square. Finally there is no drone, the production is minimized; Naughton and an acoustic guitar, a fragile melody, some genuinely heart-piercing lyrics (“Where there is death, there is immortality”). Dazzling.
Unmistakably uncompromising, with more than a hint of poppy dissonance, Edinburgh School for the Deaf have succeeded in making an album that is somehow both succinct and sprawling, heavy and light, tender and tough. Intelligent and ambitious, ‘New Youth Bible’ is the sound of a band firing on all cylinders.
Words: Ronnie McCluskey