The Screaming Banshee Aircrew
Titanic Verses (self release)
~review by Uncle Nemesis
‘Now with extra wreckage!’ says the slogan on the cover. Yes, indeed. This album is in fact a double-length compilation featuring not only the Titanic Verses material itself, but also all the tracks from The Screaming Banshee Aircrew’s previous release, No Camping. Then there are a few remixes and what-nots tacked on at the end, resulting in a bumper twenty track family pack of in-flight entertainment.
I call this release an ‘album’ above, but in fact it’s probably more accurate to regard it as a compilation of DIY demos. The Screaming Banshee Aircrew have been around since 2001, but they’re still very much at that ‘new band’ stage of development, putting together their music in time-honoured DIY fashion, and self-releasing it on home-burnt CD-Rs. The sleeve of this release has an endearingly lo-rez look about it - at a guess, I’d say it was designed by slapping together some 150dpi images from the band’s website, and pulling the resulting caboodle out of someone’s home computer printer. It must be said that the music itself does tend to suffer from the same problem, in that there are some good songs here, but the arrangements and production are often a bit too ‘home made’ for comfort. Listening to the songs, I don’t really get the impression in my mind of a band rockin’ through their material, sparking off each other, creating their music together. There’s a bit too much of a ‘computer in the corner of the living room’ feel to the overall sound, a feeling that most of what we’re hearing has been put together by someone staring at a monitor screen and moving little bits of music around in some sort of entry-level version of Cakewalk or whatever. That’s a pity, because many of the songs here are strong, and the band has a distinctly individual wit and charm, plus a kind of crazed humour which comes through very effectively. But you do have to adjust your perception fields to the demo-ish quality of the sound to get the best out of the Aircrew’s stuff.
But let me give you a bit of detail. We kick off with the title track, an engaging romp in which the band characterise themselves as a shipwreck in progress: ‘All aboard the sinking ship/You can feed the sharks when the iceberg hits’ they sing, in flagrant defiance of marine biology, unless they’ve discovered a new species of shark which lives in freezing polar seas. A female voice recites an emergency announcement - ‘ Due to overwhelming demand, complimentary lifejackets are currently unavailable’ - and the band gleefully predict their own destruction: ‘We’re the Banshee Aircrew and we’re sinking fast!’ It’s an entertaining mash-up of fuzzed-out guitars and an insanely catchy tune, although my enjoyment of the song is a little blunted by the relentless ticking and clonking of the band’s traditionally weedy bedroom-goth drum machine. Just what *is* it about that silly little ticky-ticky hi-hat sound that DIY British goth bands find so appealing? So many of them seem to smother their music in it. Frankly, it drives me potty, but unfortunately it crops up too frequently for comfort in The Screaming Banshee Aircrew’s tunes.
‘Adore’ is a somewhat more serious number, built around some eighties-fetish keyboards and the band’s trademark fuzztone guitar. Curiously, the subject matter at hand is exactly the same as the previous song: the Banshee Aircrew are once again singing about themselves. This appears to be their ‘Spirit’, inasmuch as it’s a song about the perils and delights of performing on stage. The vocals are a little muffled in the mix, but I can pick out some angsty soul-searching: ‘And we yearn for your approval/Won’t you chant our name?/Won’t you please adore me?’ I say, steady on, chaps. We’ve only just met!
‘Insect Boy’ is almost a junior version of The Cramps’ ‘Human Fly’, at least as far as the subject matter goes, but it’s a fine bit of comic-book horror-punk even so. Immediately afterwards, ‘Precious’ is a good old angsty rocker, although, unfortunately, someone’s had the idea of turning the tempo up on the drum machine at intervals, making it sound like a toy motor boat whirring away in the background. This, alas, gives an unwarranted ‘Chad Valley’ feel to a song which, if only it had a rhythm track as hard-hitting as it deserves, would be a bit of a showstopper.
‘Positively Punk’ is not, as you might guess at first, a song about the proto-goth era of the early 80s. Instead, it seems to be some sort of fetish anthem, in which our protagonists, er, indulge in some adult fun which apparently involves one of them pretending to be a dog, a bit of role-playing which, we're told, is 'positively punk'. Mister Ed, the Aircrew’s lead vocalist, sneers out the title words with a rude little upward inflection that, believe it or not, is very early-Adam Ant. I wonder if this is the band’s own attempt to conquer the punk-fetish territory that Adam abandoned when he decided that pirates and teenyboppers were where his future lay? ‘Hello Mr Hyde’ is one of the Aircrew’s best songs, an unashamed schlock-rocker built around a vintage rock ‘n’ roll motif (you can sing ‘Great Balls Of Fire’ by Jerry Lee Lewis quite effectively to the tune, which is a bit of a giveaway) and a big, scruffy guitar sound. ‘Fuck Me Slowly’ comes as a surprise after all the larking about, because in spite of the nudge-nudge title it seems to be an entirely serious song about death. It starts as a winsome little acoustic thing, and then, rather alarmingly, revs up into a full-on power ballad. If nothing else, the song illustrates that The Screaming Banshee Aircrew are somewhat more of a deeper band than one might at first assume.
Moving down the tunestack, we come to the earlier material, originally released as the No Camping album of 2001. The first song of this section is entitled ‘Banshee Aircrew’, which immediately clues you in to the fact that it’s yet another of the band’s self-referential calling-cards. Not only that, it appears to be essentially an earlier version of the song ‘Titanic Verses’, although here the band do not portray themselves as a sinking ship. Nope, on this one they’re a crashing aircraft - the lyrics are suitably different, but there’s an emergency announcement in the middle of the song which is suspiciously similar to the one in the later number. Curiously, the drum (and cymbal) sound on this track is much more convincing than on the later material.
‘My Lovelies’ is an oddly effective ballad, the sort of thing that would probably crop up in a swords-and-sorcery musical directed by Tim Burton. The arrangement is a little ragged - the lines which are sung by both the band’s male and female vocalists together could’ve done with some form of cueing. As it is, the male voice sometimes comes in on a line half a beat behind the female voice, and you can hear Mister Ed rushing his words in an effort to catch up. To an extent, there’s a similar problem with ‘Banshee Chanty’, which, as if you couldn’t guess, is yet another song in which The Screaming Banshee Aircrew sing about themselves. Well, here’s one band that’ll never be short of subject matter! But the song, which is a re-write of the traditional sea shanty (as I leaned to spell it at school) ‘What Shall We Do With The Drunken Sailor?’, is taken so fast it sounds like the vocalists are having problems fitting in all the syllables before the end of each line. In fact, the words are so hastily garbled I had to go and look at the lyrics on the band’s website to find out just what these mysterious things called a ‘bally singer’ and a ‘birnim badip’ might be. (And no, I’m not going to clue you in. You go and find out, just like I had to!) The vocalists’ diction isn’t exactly helped by their strange decision to adopt spoof ‘sailor’ accents for this song. There’s a fun idea in there somewhere, but the whole thing is too fast, and the lyrics (when you do eventually work them out) are nothing but a set of in-jokes which don’t really mean much to the listener. A case, perhaps, of the Aircrew’s bizarre self-obsession being taken just a little too far.
Then there are a few remixes, some of which work better than others. The most successful mixes are those which retain most of the original song, and simply replace the Banshee Aircrew’s ticky-tocky drum machine with some rather more hard-hitting beats. There’s a lesson in that which the band could well apply to their regular productions. Not that I’m suggesting that the Aircrew should ‘go EBM’ or anything, you understand, but a bit of extra whump and wallop in the drum department wouldn’t go amiss.
So, here we have an outfit with bags of character and a flight-case full of cool songs, even if several of them are basically advertising jingles for the band. The Aircrew are really still at the test flight stage, finding out which controls will send them zooming upwards, and which might induce a sudden crash landing. They don’t always soar like you want them to, and they certainly need to speak to their flight engineers about giving the production an overhaul. But there’s a load of potential here: the good stuff is very good, and it makes a real change to find a band that’s confident enough to push its collective personality to the fore. I’m tempted to finish with a merry cry of ‘Chocks away!’, except I think I’ve used quite enough aeroplane metaphors here already. But they started it!
Heavenly Day (Crucifixion Remix)
The website: http://www.bansheeaircrew.co.uk
Reviewed by Uncle Nemesis: http://www.nemesis.to
THE SCREAMING BANSHEE AIR CREW
TITANIC VERSES (SBA)
~reviewed by Mick Mercer
Can anyone tell me when I last had a shit record from a UK band, because this is getting ridiculous? Everything I seem to get reeks of its own particular, often peculiar, brilliance, and not only is this no exception, but it’s something I hope you will all want if you haven’t already got it by the end of this review.
It’s always a problem for bands when they clearly have something of the comedy night about them, but as with other waggishly inclined bands (Zombina/Devilish) within the scene there is so much, in terms of energy, grit, wisdom, sarcasm and melodic subtlety to The Screaming Banshee Aircrew that you can banish all thoughts of tweeness as the ruling factor. The humour is all natural: harmonious, even. You’re simply grabbed by the collar and the ground rules laid down as they roar in your face, then leave you gasping to catch up as they charge off, all gangly and demented into the distance, remonstrating at imagined enemies and pausing just now and again to catch their breath before vomiting up copious amounts of punk-tinged Goth that seems to stream from every orifice.
They are undeniably Punky, in the great Eighties way, where the words match the melodies. They are also perfectly Goth in the non-dogmatic sense, because they have real character within to mould their Goth preferences to, which is always the key. Bands with uncertain character or diffidence go for the Goth sound. Goths who have charisma just get on with whatever they like and it still sounds Goth because they are. It’s not difficult to grasp. Do keep up!
So, I’ll ignore the glorious colour booklet they also sent, and will cover the promo CD in the next issue of THE MICK. We’ll stick to the album here, and start at the beginning, where the rollicking title track gives birth to pumping punk and grumpy Goth, male/female vocals in perfect tandem, hilariously trim lyrics flailing like an octopus fast bowler, and on into ‘Adore’ with twinkling synth and such a cheap sound, which doesn’t matter because they ideas are class. (Another sign that highlights quality.)
Some bands are all gloss covering one idea. This lot have so many ideas they dropped half of them on the way to the studio, sat on some and broke them, and still had too many left over by the time the record was finished. Apart from its crap ending, you can’t help thinking that if Carter USM had ever been Goth they’d have done something like ‘Adore’. It sizzles.
‘Insect Boy’ puts kitsch clichés through a spin cycle, with doomier Goth synth, but energetic displays within a short sweet existence, and ‘Precious’ whacks in with punk bass, no messing. Frilly keyboards, more depth of feeling, as the musically expansive nature of their more sonorous works becomes established. We’re only four tracks in and they’ve already achieved a balance between loud and sweeping, shown humour and sharp turns of phrasing.
‘Positively Punk’ may be soppy, as you’d expect, but it’s packed with layers and levels of energy and sarcastic charm, and when a syrupy ballad storm threatens as they go all hushed for ‘Shallow Fairytale’ the serious mood is caressing. ‘Hello My Hyde’ is punk puree. Cramps? It’s just the curry they’ve had, and they walk the punkabilly walk impressively. ‘Fuck Me Slowly’ has ethereal crudités, lovely and quite strange, ‘Heavenly Day’ is Gawf but speedily dour; a sense of despair but defiance riding shotgun, and then you get an emptied, scattered ‘Shallow Fairtyale’ remix, which brings you to the ‘Extra Wreckage’ element of this CD because they then bung on all of the ‘No Camping’ record from 2001.
‘Banshees Air Crew’ sounds a little bit older, as though the song was recorded inside a cardboard tube, but they have such a great control over their drum machine everything has life to it, and ‘My Lovelies’ is delightfully adventurous for all its stealth. ‘Noctule’ is almost the perfect marriage between a guitar/drums punk fuselage and creepy Goth wing-walking from Mister Ed. ‘Uproot Them’ is wonderfully inventive, and ‘Banshees Chanty’ totally ludicrous. Their idea of seaside humour probably involves drowning each other near a sewage outlet. It’s a riot.
Three more remixes crop up, and it’s only the ‘Precious’ and ‘Insect Boy’ tracks which disappoint on the whole album, being slightly pedestrian, where ‘Heavenly’ is built of bricks. Then you have a maudlin snippet of ‘Dance’ and a message from your captain to close.
It’s an exhaustively brilliant thing, heaving with vigour and good humour, without being slapstick. It had serious power in the songs and still plenty of room for delicate touches, and you get the impression they could do so much more on top.
The ridiculous thing is that this only costs £8 + 50p postage! (Are they a registered charity or something?) Take advantage of this before they change their mind. Address: The Crew, 100A Manor Drive North, Acomb, York, YO26 5RY