Label: Alcopop! Release date: 06/12/10 Link: Myspace I first saw Oxford-based trioUte play in February this year. Their performance at Cardiff’s Buffalo Bar alongside Cats & Cats & Cats was impressive, their musicianship and ability to grab an audience evident from the very start of their set. However the one thing that struck me was their obvious love of Radiohead. Not only was this manifested in their own sound, but the second song of their set was a cover of the haunting Radiohead classic ‘How To Disappear Completely’. It was a beautiful rendition, and as good as any I have heard before, but having uncovered their inspiration so obviously it resulted in much of the rest of their set sounding almost like covers rather than songs with a slight Radiohead influence. Yet I was also struck by the band’s craftsmanship when it came to creating an array of dynamics, the sheer amount of noise that they made as a trio and particularly their knack for unusual lyricism. In the 10 months or so since I first saw them play much has happened for the band, including numerous festival appearances at the likes of Truck, Secret Garden Party and BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend, an hour-long session on BBC Introducing Oxford and more recently their signing to Alcopop! Records, a move that sees them join the residence of Stagecoach and Johnny Foreigner. The Gambler is their debut EP and while it incorporates many of the things that impressed me that first time I saw them, they have clearly grown and found their own sound over the last year. As with previous single ‘Stitch Up’ much of Ute’s music seems to revolve around characters and individual songs often play out like self-contained narratives. These aren’t any old characters though, in ‘Stitch Up’ vocalist Oliver sings of a royal family-loving English gentleman who “only spoke in similes and metaphors/ like he’d read it all in a self-help brochure” who gets set up in a supermarket and sent to prison. Likewise on The Gambler one such protagonist within the first track ‘Innocent Tailor’ is blamed for killing a man and narrates his consequent actions: “We went nextdoor for an ice cream or get a chocolate-mint vanilla / I said ‘I don’t mean to alarm you darlin’, but I’m your husband’s killer’.” Not only does this line exemplify the assortment of apparent maniacs that seem to permeate Ute’s songs, it also highlights some of the wonderful subtleties that their lyrics contain, particularly when it comes to ingenious rhyming. This rhyming leads to many of Ute’s songs often resembling savage sounding nursery rhymes. The pace and flow of lines such as “She went weak at the knees/ ‘Oh why won’t you stop?’/ And he filled her up with Mr Whippy and stuck a chocolate flake on top” coupled with eerie, carnival-esque guitars, creates an aura of child-like horror, that continues with the inclusion of dissonant vocals that are added towards the end of the song. As if the sinister lyrics and circus-themed guitars weren’t enough, Oliver occasionally adds appropriate voices while singing the lyrics, most notably in the line “Oh why won’t you stop?” making the song much more theatrical and visual. The second track ‘The Refuser’ changes direction slightly and begins with clearer notes and pitch and a series of descending arpeggios. Here the vocals take centre stage with the rest of the instruments being muted whenever lyrics are present. This segues nicely into the shortest track ‘We Used To Be Friends’, which is a more mellow and acoustic affair. Smack in the middle of the record, this slightly stripped-back song allows a moment of reflection before the band descend into a tribal like series of “la la lahs” and hand clapping, something that is an integral part of their live performance, and is used to full effect as the song closes. ‘Brother’ begins with a similarly circus-like lilt to the guitars again. Weaving melodies and syncopated harmonies take over the song’s initial acoustic start, and in between the softer verses, the percussion takes on more of a life of its own, with both drumming and cymbal crashes taking on a leading role, and taking the song into new territories with every passing minute. The Gambler draws to a close with ‘Bunker’, a six-minute song that morphs and mutates within the listener’s ears. This is the one song on the record that hints at their Radiohead influence, as the electric guitars and the distorted vocals at the start of the song highlight. This initial distortion gives way to a variety of changes, from a capella moments with three-part harmonies, through to syncopated percussion, long pauses and a repetitive crescendo of “We’re going to a party/ I’m so happy/ We’re going to a party/ And you chose me” that begins softly, before looping into the more electric realms of guitar and adding primal-charged vocals and drumming. The song ends with waves of vague distortion before a diminution into silence as the EP finishes. It’s a beautiful way to end the record, one that seems to take its listeners on a journey through the minds of various characters, and with it interweave narratives and different musical styles. It is an interesting concept, and one that allows Ute to experiment and incorporate many different stylistic elements into just five songs. Based on this, only the band’s first release, it will be intriguing to see what technical styles and tales will be included on their debut album and to see what the next year will bring for the band. Photobucket