Of National Importance Records should be exactly that. The quality of its output warrants discussion on a national level. ONIR have released records by over twenty Barnsley bands since its launch in 2009 by local music lover Joe Boyd and continue you to do so with their latest release.
When the local town rag proclaims that Barnsley hasn’t much of a musical heritage, it’s good to see that ‘Pareidolia’ not only proves them wrong but shows that Barnsley has music that can sit comfortably alongside the nation’s finest. ONIR’s second compilation and tenth record ‘proper’ includes exclusive tracks by six Barnsley acts, ranging from those who already have an incredible local following such as Imoko Set and The Black Lamps, to Aztec Doll, who after only one year have released a debut EP of astounding quality and are getting a reputation regionally as an amazing live band.
Lovingly housed in a hand printed case, Pareidolia opens with the Eno-esque shimmer of The Black Lamps – a sound which is normally heard on the band’s Liam and Lyndon’s other electronic projects, but here that introduction is a warm welcome. The march of the drums, the familiar ascent of the guitar and bass to a lush high ground is complimented by Liam’s soft vocals. Lyrically, Low Hanging Fruit is about Englishness and our love and hate of it all. The post-rock sound can often by epic but cold, but here The Black Lamps condense that all down into under four minutes of perfect, sun laden bliss.
Follow that, is what is described as a demo version of Aztec Doll’s Suddenly I’m Outside Myself. Not a poorer quality version of the track that appears on the debut EP, but an altogether different and brilliant beast. You still have the ethereal Polly Harvey-esque vocals of Roxanna Mitchell, but her guitar and Lee’s bass rumble are pushed to the forefront. Gone is the layer of subtle electronic glitches and hums that so complement their EP version – this is more faithful to the Aztec Doll live experience – one that makes them my favourite new band. Roxy calls this their pop song – if it is, then it’s my number one. Aztec Doll are not only the best sounding and best looking band in Barnsley but right now, their beautiful crafted songs are probably our best chance right now of having a band that can truly make it out there.
When I saw McCarthy Vigil live for the first time, they were all angular Talking Heads rhythms and had an amazing agitated energy that really excited me. Chinese Candle shows their other side – languid, fragile and peaceful. It is the kind of song that you can imagine being played on a big outdoor stage at night, fires burning and on that soaring final stretch of chorus, every single person singing their bleeding hearts out. Utterly sublime.
The mood changes with Imoko Set. Lead guitarist and vocalist Jamie is the Everyman and his band’s songs have been given a new lease of life since vocalist and keyboard player Susie joined ranks. She is their electric Barbarella – injecting a level of retro futurism to their sound and image. Their harmonies sound like a perfect pop partnership. Crying in the Temple will be well-known to their faithful following, but this is the first time you can take it home to play. This songs cements their status as one of Barnsley’s best-loved acts.
Toba Caldera had been my favourite Barnsley act for a long while, but as of late, it’s been a little quiet at their end. So then, I’m more than pleased to see the inclusion of a new track here. On Fade Along With Me, vocalist Gilroy is an evil Richard Hawley, complimented by ethereal backing vocals and set against the drones and ritualistic sounds of bands like Velvet Underground, The Stooges and The Doors. Toba still have gallons more evil pumping through their blood than any metal band in town and I’m eager to one day hear an album full of it.
The closing track on Pareidolia is the biggest surprise for me. The Exhibition is a band that slid by me when I was living out of town for a while. Now, while they toy with a re-vamped line-up, Momento Mori proves that they still apparently have what it took for them to cause a stir. Yeah, you have that familiar Hook/Morris rhythm but here them there vocals pull on the heart-strings just like Guy Garvey does at his best does. That chorus is majestic. Just what have I been missing?
And as soon as the CD stops spinning, I play the whole thing again, and again, and again. Paredolia is the fire in the belly that burns in so many smalls towns like ours. Its creativity and quality sits far above most other bands, yet seldom gets noticed by those out there in the big cities. Dark, brooding and ultimately uplifting, Pareidolia is really a true record of national importance.
ONIR hold a special launch event taking place over two venues in Barnsley on Saturday 19th July.
Imoko Set and Toba Caldera will play stripped down, acoustic sets at Debut Records between 3:30pm and 5:30pm.
McCarthy Vigil, Aztec Doll, The Exhibition and The Black Lamps will all play full, live sets at Rebecca’s Night Club from 7:30pm til late.
The EP will be on sale at both venues.