It has been said time and time before, but in the first decade of this century there have emerged so many monotonously run-of-the-mill ‘indie’ bands whose music is a carbon copy of everything else being played on the radio and whose haircuts now have their own postcodes that you could populate the whole of Shoreditch with them. Oh, wait.
So then, how can Official Secrets Act, a band formed in Leeds in 2006 and made up of four arty, flowery-looking kind of boys, add anything at all to the already saturated British music scene? On first appearances there does seem to be something innately generic about them, something not helped by the fact that the NME have suggested that they have the potential to be “seriously mainstream” (a rather twisted compliment if you ask me). Yet, listening to Understanding Electricity does offer a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. The Guardian have described the band’s music as “superior indie”, and this does seem to be a particularly apt label, because it would be frankly quite rude to align Official Secrets Act alongside bands such as the Wombats, the Hoosiers and Scouting For Girls in the Indie Hall Of Fame.
Yes the record has the jerky twangs, the nostalgic pop-infused synths, slightly edgy lyrics and the, dare I say it, ‘electricity’ of all these genealogically linked other bands, but there is also something more. If you scrape away the surface, there is something much more musically and lyrically astute about the whole record. No songs about discos or dead rock stars or Bridget Jones then. Indeed, according to the band’s website, they find their inspiration in Renaissance literature, British post-war theatre and the works of Woody Guthrie, although I’m not sure that this is immediately apparent in their music.
The record has attitude, there’s no doubt about that. It flips from harmonious and heartfelt contemplations, for example ‘A Head for Herod’, a melancholic confession of a claustrophobic relationship, to songs like ‘December’ which are shrouded in hazy nostalgia and set against a background of Futureheads-esque backing vocals. Then there are songs such as ‘The Girl from the BBC’, which, although based almost entirely upon the lyrics, ‘I like her, she likes me’, irritatingly capitalises upon your memory and swirls around in your head for ages. Quite literally. Unlike so many indie records these days, each song is not merely a clone of the next, dressed up with edgier lyrics or a faster drumbeat in an attempt to disguise the all-too-obvious similarities.
So, having successfully skirted around the traps laid out for them by every musician’s worst nightmare – unoriginality – Official Secrets Act seem to have emerged unharmed. Understanding Electricity is a toe-tappingly vibrant and diverse record, one which can stand proudly above its contemporaries, its head held high and dignity intact. “Superior indie” they certainly are.