Every now and then you come across a band that you think is truly something special, and this is exactly what happened earlier this year when I saw A Genuine Freakshow at the Frog and Fiddle in Cheltenham. It was a quiet night and the small crowd didn’t do justice to the quality of music on offer that evening.
Since then I have managed to see A Genuine Freakshow live once more at 2000 Trees festival, where, for me, they were one of the best acts of the entire weekend. However, as brilliant as they are live, when it comes to studio versions of their music we’ve had to settle with repeatedly listening to the four tracks available from their website. And so it was with bated breath that I awaited the release of A Genuine Freakshow’s dÃ©but album, Oftentimes.
This seven piece from Reading add cello, violin and trumpet to the more traditional rock four piece and have influences that include Mogwai, Mew and Sigur Ros, all of which could lead you to think that Oftentimes would be a pure post-rock offering. But while these influences do inspire some post-rock tendencies, A Genuine Freakshow have a lot more to offer.
Tim Sutcliffe’s falsetto vocals and melancholy lyrics complement the grandiose feeling to the songs. The inclusion of the ‘classical’ instruments adds layers to create an overall sound of almost epic proportions that is very much at home in the post-rock genre. However, these tendencies are tempered by more technical pop stylings to create some unpredictable song structures and a sound that is fairly unique.
Oftentimes opens with ‘We Are The Undercurrents’, a slow building track that highlights the band’s use of the different instruments and and how beautifully they weave them together. This is followed by two tracks where you can definitely hear the post-rock influences. ‘I Can Feel His Heartbeats’ is a luscious post-rock anthem that has a glorious outro, led by the brass and the strings. ‘Hopscotch Machine Gun Madness’ is another gem helped by guest vocalist Hatty Taylor, adding a counterpoint to Sutcliffe with the vocal back and forth complementing the music, that escalates to a glorious crescendo.
But it’s not all up tempo exuberance as A Genuine Freakshow display their musicality with slower songs like ‘She’s Got a Shooter (Part 1)’ and ‘You Can Cut Me Out’ that show other influences and highlight the strength of the lyricism and show that the band can play a large variety of styles.
A Genuine Freakshow also show a lot of confidence in the strength of their music with their choice of closing track. The penultimate song on the album is ‘Holding Hearts’, a fantastic composition that is one of the standout tracks of the album. It’s lyrically strong and the tempo changes before rising to a climactic crescendo that would have been a fitting finale had they ended the album there. However A Genuine Freakshow decide to end the album with the acoustic ‘Warning Shot’, which is sublimely beautiful in its simplicity, but a brave choice for a closer.
‘Warning Shot’ Live:
In all Oftentimes has more than a nod to A Genuine Freakshow’s post-rock influences but you can also draw similarities to Mercury Rev in the way the guitar and piano build on some tracks, to The National in the thoughtfulness and passion of the lyrics, or to Arcade Fire for the way they draw together the different instruments and genres and create a grandiose composition. But in the end all these influences meld together artfully to produce a sound that is all their own and very different to a lot of the music on offer today, and for that alone they deserve respect. It’s just a bonus that the music is wonderfully creative and a pleasure to listen to as well.
[Editor’s Note: Although they’re not yet on Spotify, you can hear a sampler for Oftentimes below. Pre-order the album, due for release on November 1st from their website.]