Civil Civic – Rules (Civil Civic)
By Chris Razor
Before The White Stripes it used to be that three was generally considered the smallest number of people required to form a rock band. After all, the classic Power Trio line-up of guitar, bass and drums that has served everyone from the Jimi Hendrix Experience to Placebo seemed, on the face of it, to be the minimum requirement for rock music.
But the current economic climate has splintered new acts in one of two directions: smaller units (so what money there is doesn’t have to go so far), and sprawling collectives (where, presumably, there is little expectation of getting any money at all, but on the flipside it doesn’t matter if, on any given occasion, half the band doesn’t turn up). You can still make exciting music at a unit size of a single human being – Alexander Tucker puts on an amazing one-man show, creating loops and running madly between instruments – but rock requires an inner dialogue between people.
An Australian instrumental duo based in London, Rules is Civil Civic‘s first album, made with funds drummed up from people like me who were impressed with the dynamism and God. Damned. Catchiness of their early singles.
Since Civil Civic music is about melody above all else – in fact, it’s rare to come across a band so resolutely dedicated to it – drum duties have been delegated to a beatbox and the two players take up guitar, bass and keyboards as required. It’s not that rock’s propulsive power has been sacrificed, rather that most of it is generated with guitars.
So this isn’t Rock in the Carducci sense, but then neither were Big Black. Nor is it clank: the harmonies are too Western; the instrument sounds lacking in saturated colour; the rhythms too square, owing no debt whatsoever to dubstep or whatever passes for drum and bass these days. Instead, CC cling to the belief that timbre and pulse are the scaffolding upon which melodies are hung, not of the music but jogging alongside egging it on.
As a listener, it’s a strange feeling having invested your personal money into the existence of a recording. On the one hand I want to root for it no matter what; on the other I feel singularly justified in giving it a critical kicking. Fortunately neither extreme is necessary. Where I expected an album of guitar riffs, like ‘Run Overdrive’ or ‘Less Unless’ seemingly syphoned directly from Thurston Moore’s imagination, Rules demonstrates an unexpected breadth of spark. I hear Broken Social Scene on the calmly pulsating ‘Mayfield’ and Darediablo in the relentless bass figure of ‘Street Trap’, while the TV theme bounciness and organ swirl of ‘Grey Nurse’ evokes the sheer melodic joie de vivre of the first Go! Team album. ‘Sky Delay’ and ‘Lights On A Leash’ both bring Trans Am to mind, but although Civil Civic are drawing on similar melodic stimuli to those post-Rock minimalists, they are cheeky rather than arch, inviting us to join in the fun, rather than stroke our chins in wry amusement at some Krautrock remnants.
There seems to be a lot of instrumental rock around at the moment, but while Rules may lack the technical chicanery of Three Trapped Tigers, I’ll Eat Your Face or Battles, that could work in Civil Civic’s favour. There’s nothing especially original here, but that also means there’s nothing to ‘get’, no trick to wrap your head around, just a genuine love of guitar melody that goes straight from ear to heart.
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by Chris Razor