Away from the self-assured hum of Manchester’s Northern Quarter, with its priced-up vintage stores and boutique coffee shops; where the press try round up Egyptian Hip Hop, Everything Everything and Hurts together to awkwardly discuss the apparent resurgence of the ‘Manchester scene’; on the periphery of that lie souls of far more interest. They lurk out in the quiet of the region’s suburbs, down in Chorlton and Didsbury, at the Islington Mill and Kings Arms in Salford. Occasionally they’ll survey the clamour of a city centre pleased to have the cultural spotlight back on it, but with disaffectedness they’ll turn back to the shadows, away from the tastemakers and trend spotters, to quietly push their sonic boundaries as far as possible. Gnod, NASDAQ, many working under the Mind On Fire collective; these are but a handful of the names to try and discover from the North West, unconnected in style but similar in their desire to explore away from a comfort zone.
You can add Salford’s Trojan Horse to that number also. A four-piece formed in 2007, they’re brazenly unashamed of their ties to prog-rock (their MySpace sneers ‘it’s not about being pretentious, it’s about letting everyone know how good you are’) and on this, their debut LP, they display plenty of hallmarks of the at-times unfairly maligned genre, with tongue-in-cheek concept songs about the cotton trade in Manchester and the industrial age dominating the album. The imagery of coal-scorched red chimneys, of smoggy ship canals and working class determination holds strong throughout songs like ‘Mr Engels Says’ and ‘Ballad Of The Swell Mob’, and in that sense Trojan Horse is an album borne of the faded ruins and factory shells that still surround the area. There’s black humour in tracks such as ‘Disciplining The Reserve Army’, where a stiffly upper-lipped Mr Banks “beats his wife to the ground” before “clowning with girls in gowns”; later on ‘Black Russian’ offers clues as to the reasons for Banks’ disposition, vigorously hauling shots down its throat with the repeated chorus “black Russian, white Russian”.
There are other, slightly less appealing prog-traits running throughout too, mainly to be found in fourth track ‘Bicycle Jam.’ Its meanders and dawdlings last over 13 minutes, yet never seem to escape the rut of the Seventies post-Crimson netherworld they’ve found themselves in. It loses the band a bit of momentum in wake of the opening triad’s slickly morphing movements, something not completely recovered until ‘Patricroft Ways’s brash, brassy fanfare of an intro; free-form jazz guitars lilt and loll here too, but they’re complimented by the constant strut of its underpinning bass line.
What impresses with Trojan Horse is how successfully they can adopt a pick and mix approach to different styles that goes beyond mere magpie thievery. With three brothers in the band – lead vocalist / guitarist Nick, synth and sample player Eden and bassist Lawrence - there’s a tight chemistry at play and, for an album an hour long, the result is a largely concise, punchy affair. The aforementioned ‘Mr Engels Says’ scythes through four sections, a deliriously insane eight minute opener reaching its barking peak when eldest brother Nick apparently loses all sense of reason and leads the rest in a riotously swashbuckling refrain of “yo ho and a bottle of rum”, the band eventually pitching up with a huge, sky scraping chorus that almost makes you forget there’s still got nine tracks to go. ‘Laces And Racists’ is even better; an acapella intro of layered vocals leading into a snowballing rise and fall of strained out expanse and Torche-leaning stoner metal before the vocals surprise again with a sonorously delivered falsetto. They’re two of a handful of standout tracks, notable for neatly aligning their composite parts together before exploding in a maelstrom of guitar sludge. The group only settle completely during the blissed out balladry of ‘And The Light Went Down’, but then that doesn’t matter when they can weave a line so deftly through the rest of their assembled odds and ends.
So the music press has got Manchester wrong again, perhaps, and will do so as long as it continues to seek a link between the city’s Eighties heritage and the present day. To be honest, that’s not really important. There have always been and always will be those who don’t care a jot about their supposed musical lineage, and at the moment Trojan Horse are among the best of the crop, just do your best to catch them now lest they withdraw back towards the underground.
Buy now from Bandcamp.
by SIMON CATLING
by SIMON CATLING