Released 2000 on Shifty Disco
Reviewed by Fatalist, 02/06/2003ce
I saw Nøught supporting the somewhat ludicrous Oxbow at the ICA a few months ago, and mentally logged them as a band to check out further (though my opening comment reveals the sorry state of my memory these days). It wasn’t exactly clear what the massed ranks of Nøught were trying to do up there on the stage, but they were certainly making one hell of a noise, with exhilaratingly complex riffs occasionally bursting through the general audio assault. My abiding memory of them from that night was of their bearded electric piano player frantically bashing his keyboard in a bid to be heard above the din his band were making.
And so a few months later, I find that fate has put a copy of Nøught’s first album in my hands. It’s got a nicely artful/impenetrable sleeve painting and blurry video stills inside that scream ‘here be post-rock’. The fact it’s on Shifty Disco might seem a bit odd considering that label’s (unfair-ish) reputation for churning out under-achieving indie pop, but they’re an Oxford band, and the label is nothing if not a laudable supporter of its local scene.
Anyway, to the music. This isn’t Slint-indebted post-rock: Nøught are something else entirely. While there are certainly precursors for their sound and approach - the brilliant (if pretty much unknown) avant hardcore dub rockers Blind Idiot God immediately spring to my mind (their eponymous 1987 debut on SST is utterly essential) - Nøught ultimately pull off the enviable trick of combining their influences into something new. One definite innovation is that, alongside the standard rock band line-up, they also deploy both string and horn sections…but without sounding like Godspeed You Black Emperor.
For a start, the first thing that strikes you is their rigour and discipline. The poor acoustics of the ICA didn’t prepare me for quite how well orchestrated these songs are - the sound might be slightly grungey in places, but there’s no unnecessary flab or ponderous five minute introductions to any of these tracks (oh, and no singing either – Nøught are totally instrumental). In fact, the whole album stands up as a shining example of the virtues of basically ‘going for it’, the strings and horns rocking out as much as the guitars, and not just functioning as tasteful adornments.
Opening track ‘The Fans’ starts sedately enough as a pulsating soundscape underpinned by jazzy drums, but it’s not long before the guitars are tearing loose, firing off angular riff shapes that gradually gather momentum before the whole band kick in for a full-on race to the finish. As I said earlier, there’s something exhilarating about hearing music that refuses to yield to simplicity yet maintains an absolute vision of where it’s going, pulling the listener along in its wake.
On saying that, ‘Nøught I’ (later reprised as ‘Nøught II’) strips things down to the bare essentials of evil-sounding guitar riff and thunderous percussion, before ‘Cough Cap Kitty Cat’ ups the complexity ratio again, strings and horns propelling some fiercesomely twisty passages punctuated occasionally by pastoral guitar interludes. ‘Redrag’ is similarly dense, a series of hardcore basslines driving the song into a concluding maelstrom of circular riffs and apocalyptic drums.
But it’s the three-part ‘Goddess Awakes’ that’s the real centepiece of the album. In particular, the opening trumpet-dominated section sounds like the greatest and heaviest TV theme tune ever - in fact, it’s not a million miles away from sounding like a steroid-enhanced version of the old ‘Sportsnight’ theme! Yes, that good. The tempo (if not the tension) drops for the next section, and it’s here that Nøught really wear one of their most obvious influences on their collective sleeves, as this could easily be ‘Red’- era King Crimson, the grainy final section even introducing some nicely jazzy Fripp-style guitaring.
The rest of the album mines a similar vein of tightly wound guitar and string constructions loosened up by some nice excursions into prog jazz. ‘Stain Stones’ is notable for relaxing into a saxophone and vibes led groove reminiscent of Soft Machine or (gulp!) a more muscular Camel, while ‘All The Time Ha-Ha’ returns to TV theme land, though bizarrely the music from ‘The Young Ones’ seems to be the template this time.
‘Heart Stops Twice’ sounds like it’s wandering down a dark avant-rock alley, but its actually a vehicle for Nøught to indulge themselves in a joyful tribute to Michael Nyman’s Peter Greenaway soundtracks, another clear touchstone for the band. Finally, ‘Ignatius’ toys with the idea of dub rock before reverting to form and hurtling towards the album’s end, apparently glueing together all the bits they couldn’t previously find a place for during recording.
‘Nøught’ is simply a great and treasurable album that deserves a lot more attention than it’s got so far. To bring up to date and continue the influence-dropping theme, fans of Billy Mahonie’s ‘What Becomes Before’ and Sand’s ‘Still Born Alive’ albums should buy it immediately (and if you aren’t aware of either of these two crackers, buy these too!).
I’ve no idea what Nøught are up to at the moment – their website (www.noughtmusic.com) lists a couple of upcoming gigs… but that’s the only information there. It took them four years to release this first album and they haven’t put out anything since, so with any luck, new product should be in the pipeline soon. Two interesting factoids did pop up during my research though: guitarist and band leader James Sedwards is apparently some kind of fretboard genius (he’s even won prizes to prove it) and has been described by John Peel as ‘the first person who's not been a footballer that I've been jealous of’; perhaps less surprisingly, Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood are both long-time fans of the band, so Radiohead musicologists should definitely take note.