THE BATS: AT THE NATIONAL GRID (2005)
1) Western Isles; 2) Horizon; 3) Hubert; 4) Bells; 5) Single File; 6) Pre War Blues; 7) The Rays; 8) Things; 9) Mir; 10) Up To The Sky; 11) We Do Not Kick; 12) Flowers & Trees; 13*) Untitled.
Ten years later, The Bats are back to conquer the third millennium. But do they make any concessions? Do they even attempt to recognize how much has changed? Naturally they do not, or else the would not be The Bats. At The National Grid does not sound exactly the same way as Daddy's Highway, but if there are any differences in sound, they sure as heck ain't due to no sissy changes in musical trends and fashions. The Bats love their folk rock, and they couldn't care less about trends and fashions, and that obstinacy deserves respect — unless it comes from stupidity and lack of talent, which is not something Robert Scott could be easily accused of.
There is some bad news, though. With age, The Bats seem to have seriously mellowed out — not that they ever subscribed to the «rock'n'roll» idiom in the first place, but they did have a knack for solid, steady beats and sharply focused electric jangle. At The National Grid opens with ʽWestern Islesʼ, a pretty, but highly fragile-sounding piece — acoustic guitars picked by elves, vocals contributed by hobbits, background vocals added by sylphids. Add the predictably monotonous mood (no dynamics or development whatsoever throughout the song's three minutes), and that essentially leaves you with three choices: (a) imagine yourself as a fairy, (b) plunge into deep sleep, (c) fail to notice that something was just played from your speakers in the first place.
The soporific effect is tentatively rectified already on the next track — ʽHorizonʼ adds drums, jangly rhythm guitar, and a distorted psychedelic lead guitar part. But «tentatively» is the key word, because the song is still essentially a drone (instrumentally) and a hum (vocally), the only difference from «shoegazing» lying in its fast tempo — yet whoever said that it is impossible to shoegaze with some acceleration? The whole point of this song, and this whole album, is in its atmosphere and attitude.
Construction-wise, National Grid picks up exactly where Couchmaster left off — it, too, has a few of those brief instrumental interludes, usually consisting of one or two simple musical phrases locked in a trance-oriented cycle (ʽHubertʼ; ʽWe Do Not Kickʼ), that have no major purpose other than humbly introducing themselves to you. Hello, we are the interludes, we have no idea what we are doing here, they probably just forgot to add vocals to us, but you know, it was nice meeting you all the same, hope you have a good time out there.
But melody-wise, the album is not that strong because it has no such intention. The evocative lead lines of Couchmaster, such as the one that made ʽAfternoon In Bedʼ such a cute little classic, are nowhere to be found — everything is melted down to acoustic strum and electric droning, with the vocals (particularly Kaye Woodward's sleepwalking performance on ʽMirʼ) floating on essentially the same frequencies all the way through. The atmosphere, as could be expected, is tasteful and friendly enough so as not to stimulate any thumbs down — in the end, The Bats are simply too good at their formula to ever make a truly bad record — but really, the album is only for diehard fanatics of this style.
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