All words: Colin Wilhelm — All photos: Haley Plotkin
What makes English accents so intrinsically charming, and every word in them somehow more interesting? Especially Liverpudlian ones? It’s amazing more bands from the hometown of Beatles and Reds don’t find international superstardom if only due to the hypnotic powers of that accent. “Hullo, we’re The Wombats from, um, Liverpool, England,” said singer Matthew Murphy at least slightly channeling Hugh Grant. “We…apologize for the shit weather, we brought it with us from Liverpool.”
The Wombats haven’t quite attained ‘bigger than central religious figure’ status yet but have achieved a solid following on this side of the Atlantic due to a skill for writing guitar and synthesizer hooks. Synths often can seem a bit contrived; bands pick up on them because they hear them on another band’s record and enjoy them, or because electronics have increasingly crept into music since Pink Floyd and contemporaries started aggressively incorporating them into their songs.
For the Wombats those synthesizers, used during most their set, not only weren’t contrived but also formed the backbone of their show, and their greatest strength as a band. That can be seen from a couple of perspectives: they write catchy, hook heavy songs built around those synthesizers, or that those hooks and synths mask a lack of exceptional musicianship.
That criticism’s not meant to sound as damning as it may come across. After all, The Wombats still write those songs and overall their set was entertaining. In particular “Techno Fan” which, shock of shocks, features synthesizers in a leading role, and the bass/synths/pop chorus bombardment of “Tokyo-Vampires and Wolves” stuck out as highlights. “Our Perfect Disease” began the set strongly, with an energy and focus they occasionally found difficult to match, especially on the slower or more guitar driven songs of their set. The synths and dance-punk beats at moments slightly evoked late-era Dismemberment Plan or Foster the People (yes, “Pumped Up Kicks” has been played so many times that it’s become the societal equivalent of being locked in a closet during a fraternity pledgeship with the same three note loop on for three hours, but it was a decent song before your co-worker/landlord/great aunt started mangling the chorus within earshot of you), though I would not put The Wombats at the same caliber as either of those bands; Foster the People, another electronic and hooks heavy band, writes songs that lean less heavily on repetition than The Wombats while the Dismemberment Plan generally used synths more abstractly than The Wombats.
None of this is intended to totally damn The Wombats with faint praise. They’re a fun band that puts on a decent live show, and their fans, of which there appears to be a diehard contingent, certainly seemed to enjoy the show on Monday as they
bounced along to “Tokyo” or (during the encore) “Let’s Dance to Joy Division”. Their singer had a strong voice and stage presence, and in general you could spend a Monday night in far less interesting ways. One could do significantly worse than to pick them as a favorite band. However their songs trend towards overly repetitious, and really suffer without a synthesizer. These are things that separate decent bands from good or great ones. That and clearly annunciated, charm-laden accents—which they can check off the list.
Unfortunately I did not see enough of The Static Jacks or Flagship to adequately judge them. Give them a listen (in Flagship’s case I can confidently say they were not prog-metal band of the same name that you’ll find on Spotify…send us your URL or post it in the comments guys) and see what you think.
- The Static Jacks