Most innovations in pop music have been driven by technology – from the electric guitar amping blues into rock n roll, to drum machines beating out the rigid patterns of house, to the ubiquitous autotune mutation of modern pop into android lullabies- Without embracing new patterns, new approaches, innovation can often seem impossible. Credit then to The Futureheads, who, clearly desperate not to lurk in the grey safety of another ‘angular’ indie album, have managed to be create something surprisingly fresh by removing literally everything from their sound.
As anyone with any interest in the Futureheads should know by now, Rant has been recorded without any instrumentation, with only the bands bare voices used to carve out melodies. They’ve acknowledged themselves that recording an album completely acapella is a risky move- singer Barry Hyde putting out a couple of particularly bullish statements, to the effect that anyone who didn’t like Rant wasn’t a proper Futureheads fan in the first place… But, undoubtedly, there are some dodgy references the form inspires- a bitchier critic might even observe that the 4 part harmonies and broad Sunderland accents occasionally sound like a bunch of miners auditioning for Glee-
However, when the album sees the band plundering England’s rich folk heritage, with performances of ancient songs such as The Old Dun Cow, The Keeper, and the sinister The Hanging Man, the band tap into a vitality that has passed down through generations- showing a far earthier reimagining of folk tradition than the rootless radio friendly tweeness of Mumford or Dry The River.
Alongside these, new versions of old favourites Robot and Meantime work particularly well, and excellent Black Eyed Peas cover Meet Me Halfway takes a slick piece of production line RnB, strips it to the brittlest of bones and embues it with an almost unbearable sense of longing.
Ultimately, 40 minutes of vocal harmonising and bugger all else can prove somewhat testing. But, taken in smaller chunks, Rant is a bold and intriguing album. The use of the acapella form pushes the lyrics to the fore, and allows no hiding of emotion, making this a heartfelt, intense experience and a fine addition to The Futureheads discography