In his unwavering pursuit of great music John Peel famously listened to every demo tape/self-financed flexi-disc/debut single/8 track cartridge and Wham recording that ever came his way. Peel was terrified he’d be letting down the artist who’d spent time and money ensuring a copy of their music found its way to his ears and that by not playing it he’d miss something of huge cultural importance, and so what began as a simple mission quietly and not-so-quietly (did you listen to Peel?) took over his whole existence.
I get sent lots of music. Tons of the stuff. I could easily fill the pages of Plain Or Pan with Scandinavian death/grime/sludge/hardcore, rootsy Irish Coldplay soundalikes, a gazillion quirky identikit indie bands based anywhere between Inverness and Idaho and enough wishy washy ‘soulful’ singer/songwriters to break you out in an irritating rash of Adele proportions. Amongst the stuff that finds its way here there is no doubt the odd gem, but I am not John Peel and nor do I have his patience, listening dexterity or desire to unearth the next Velvet Underground. Have you read this blog? I’m still trying to unearth the first Velvet Underground. Plain Or Pan is first and foremost a retro-looking music blog, celebrating the records of the past for anyone who still cares enough about them. ‘Outdated Music for Outdated People‘ as the tagline says.
Today Plain Or Pan makes an exception.
Never judge a book by its cover…
Medals are a thrilling new act. Initially a studio-based project from Ayrshire’s JP Reid, they come with terrific pedigree. JP’s first band Sucioperro (Spanish for ‘dirty dog‘, if my pidgin Spanish hasn’t deserted me) are 4 albums and several T in the Park appearances to the good. Not content with that, along with Biffy Clyro‘s Simon Neil, JP is half of Marmaduke Duke, 6 Music favourites and purveyors of wonky, skewed alt-rock. To say he’s been on the fringes would be something of an understatement. To say ‘Next Big Thing‘ might sound arsey if it wasn’t likely true.
Medals emerged towards the end of last year with a 6 month studio tan and an album (‘Disguises‘) that veers between Biffy-inspired riffage, weirdy/beardy bits and JP’s love of hip-hop and modern shiny pop. The whole thing has been put together solely by JP, who brought in other players and producers as and when he needed them. Think Prince, Beck, Peter Gabriel or David Byrne. Auteurs who have a vision, know what they want and how to get it. It sounds faintly ridiculous talking about a wild ‘n wooly Ayrshireman in the same terms, but that’s essentially what we have here.
That rinky dink white man-plays-Nile Rogers guitar coupled with the full-on phat fuzz bass and pitter-pattering percussion is total Prince. Not in sound, y’understand, but in vision, aye? There’s a lot going on in this record. Played once, it sounds very now. A shiny production that could quite happily find itself on the playlists of Radios 1 and 6, all synthesised beats and a rhythm track that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Foals or Vampire Weekend record. Play it a few dozen times and you’ll start noticing the subtle little things that colour the whole thing in, which all helps make Used To Be A Dancer one of the tracks of the year so far.
Down In The Well is one of a handful of big, anthemic Medals rockers, all punchy beats and razor-sharp riffs. The album might be full of little weird bits, multi-tracked vocals, unusual parts and clever use of percussion, but opening track Down In The Well leaves all that aside, kicks the front door in and goes for the jugular before leaving as quickly and unannounced as it had arrived, with dirty great footprints left behind in your cream carpet.
Hey! Is that a Trashcan Sinatras’ vocal sample in there? The girly backing vocals in The Therapist? It sounds awfy like it! Maybe not. Either way, Sit Back Down, Judas is perfect for radio, the ‘joyous pop rock‘ that JP was aiming at in the studio. Catchier than the cold in a classroom full of coughing kids, I’d love to hear it live while watching the lighting guy make the big white spots sweep up and over the audience as the chorus kicks in. Plinky-plonk glockenspiels vye for space with perfectly produced guitars and a boy/girl vocal. This is the track that all the girls’ll love as the sun sets on Glastonbury next year, I tell you.
As I type this, ears will be ringing in King Tuts as Medals make their live debut supporting Biffy Clyro. Next Friday (9th May) Medals play their first headline gig at Irvine’s Harbour Arts Centre. The wheels are turning on the Medals machine. Studio tans have faded and the band has been drilled and rehearsed as thoroughly as James Brown’s Famous Flames. Look out for them. JP has put together a proper band (not studio musos), but a band of friends who play together for the joy of it all. “Getting lost in music,” as JP says. “There are far too many ‘careerist’ bands. We’re playing for art’s sake first and not necessarily commercial success.”
There’s a real buzz about Medals. I don’t normally fall for this ‘next big thing’ nonsense, but in this case I think it’s a distinct possibility. They might be playing for art’s sake, but I don’t think it’s long until the commercial success comes their way. Medals, boys and girls. You heard about them here first.
You can find out more about Medals in all the usual places, including;
Bandcamp, where you can listen to and buy the album.
Soundcloud where cheapskates can listen to the album.
Facebook, where their upcoming set of gigs will be announced.
Twitter where the band are particularly active.