- The Washington Times - Monday, June 12, 2006

The Futureheads

News and Tributes

Vagrant

The Brit-pop quartet the Futureheads opened for Oasis during that band’s 2005 tour. For the casual fan of snappy guitar-driven power pop, this is recommendation enough to pick up the Futureheads’ sophomore effort, “News and Tributes.”

The emphasis here is on “Tributes.” There is nary an unfamiliar note, scheme or progression. If you like Oasis, the Pixies, Nirvana, Franz Ferdinand or any other purveyor of danceable angst, you’ll be right at home here. Indeed, the band to date has made the most noise in the United Kingdom for its cover of Kate Bush’s “Hounds of Love.” This is not a knock on this very young, talented and very tight band, but its most innovative work is likely ahead of it.

Three of the four current members began to play together in 2000, having met while serving as instructors at something called the Sunderland City Detached Youth Project, a program designed to introduce at-risk youth to the healing powers of music. Many government-underwritten arts projects have produced far worse results.

Singers Ross Millard and Barry Hyde tap into a tradition of British bands sharing vocal duties, dating back to the Fab Four. “Back to the Sea” is a perfect example of this. Both singers revel in their northern England elongated “e” and “a” sounds on lines such as, “Did you stop to think/when we lived by the sea/ when the seasons changed/ when the seasons changed/ they changed for a reason.” The flatted “o” and “u” sounds recall the early Beatles before they retooled their accents for an international audience.

Even as the guitar parts dominate on “News,” there is a distinctive lack of indulgent solos. Instead, twin lead parts play teasingly aroundthe vocals.

The hit single is “Skip to the End,” which features a distorted chord attack contrasting with a sweet chorus of “na-na-nas.” It’s a rhythmic, foot-tapping track that hints at a lot more thematic depth than its lyrics actually deliver. But that’s almost the point as the singers sing, “There’s nothing to rely on/ C’mon, skip to the end/ There’s nothing to fall back on/ C’mon skip to the end.”

They seem to be daring naysayers to chide them for rehashing the sparse and upbeat but vaguely haunting sound that has characterized British pop since Oasis broke in the early 1990s.

“Fallout,” the track just before “Skip to the End,” mirrors its chanting, backing vocals and driving rhythm-guitar part. It is harder, angrier and more distorted. At the same time, it is a radio-friendly three minutes and features a snappy if downbeat backing-vocal part that jibes with its post-apocalyptic theme: “If you have to fall out we should fall out together/ cause we’ll have to find a shelter.”

“News and Tributes” continues the trend of Brit-pop that blends alternative pretense with an entirely unobjectionable sound. Music fans waiting for the next sound that will anger authorities and inflame the establishment will have to look elsewhere.

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