The music made by Oxford based quartet This Town Needs Guns represents something of an enigmatic hybrid between lucid accessibility and stern technicality. Irregular time signatures lurk beneath swooning vocal melodies and densely knotted guitars are held together by precise, deliberate bass lines. Every moment of the group’s sophomore record 18.104.22.168.0 enacts a dramatic collision between the esoteric and the immediate, the cerebral and the visceral.
Although the band can be lumped together with the so-called math(s) rockers such as Minus The Bear, the tension between This Town Needs Guns’ two opposing interests enables their music to transcend somewhat the confines of that categorization. 22.214.171.124.0’s initial appeal may well come by virtue of its stunningly intricate detailing but its ability to continue to captivate is due to its delightfully warm, and unpretentiously simple, melodic core.
Perhaps the most remarkable quality of this group’s music is the continual play off between the rigorous interdependence and the erratic independence of each component instrument. Although making scant use of overdubs – save the occasional second guitar line – and even largely avoiding use of distortion and the like, 126.96.36.199.0’s sound can swell to that of many more than four players. The instruments continually intertwine and diverge, rarely seeming to be operating from quite the same page yet nevertheless coalescing into a coherent, shimmering whole. The unaffected vocals of the newly appointed Henry Tremain stand detached from the tangle of instruments, singing disjointed melodic fragments and abstract lyrics that, for the most part, manage to avoid descending into inane aphorism.
Long having been the signature highlight of the band’s well-oiled live show, the finger-picked guitars of Tim Collis weave frenetic paths around the other instruments, tracing volatile lines through the musical texture. Collis’ playing is technically impressive yet never devoid of a communicative thrust, sounding something like Marnie Stern if she developed a sudden penchant for melodic directness. On the acoustic 2 Birds, 1 Stone And An Empty Stomach (no, song titles are not this group’s forte), Collis displays a gorgeously tender side to his playing as his cascading melodies cloak Tremain’s lilting falsetto is a billowing haze of sound.
Yet, that track’s elegant beauty is somewhat let down by its decidedly underdeveloped structure; the song itself takes well over a minute to fade-out, ending an otherwise striking song with little more than a glimpse of what might have been. On the following track, This Town Needs Guns falters more significantly. The glitchy, IDM drum machine of Nice Riff, Clichard sounds like something that Richard D James could have knocked out in a particularly sound sleep: an ungainly, rather throwaway, foray into a foreign aesthetic that the album could easily have done without. After this somewhat perplexing mid-way point, 188.8.131.52.0 does manage to get itself back on track but the second half of the record fails to grab the attention in quite the same arresting manner as its opening sequence.
This handful of missteps notwithstanding, This Town Needs Guns’ second full-length record strikes a fine balance between complexity and enjoyability, forging an impressively unique path of their own design. Perhaps if 184.108.40.206.0’s frustratingly limp production packed more punch or if the sometimes overly reserved songwriting threw caution to the wind more often, then maybe this record would appear less as a display of promise and more as a significant artistic statement.