Cooking Vinyl, 2000
REVIEW BY: Jason Thornberry
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/20/2003
There's an inevitable comparison to the Verve's Bittersweet Symphony on "She Kills For Kicks," but I'm sure this isn't the first time they've heard that. Some have referred to AC Acoustics' last full-length release as "the most accomplished British rock record of the year," so they already had quite a bit to live up to on their sophomore release. With a dreamy, usually slanted sound that always seems like a soft-focus shot of something you're positive is beautiful; if only you could really see it. AC Acoustics are many, many things: among them, a more dependable Teenage Fanclub, Smashing Pumpkins without the whiny vocals, Richard Ashcroft's old band minus the pretentiousness (they were the new U2 for a second, right?), and a Spacemen 3 with better songs.
AC Acoustics proves ready to go even further inside themselves for Understanding Music. Insular music that shouldn't really be played at football match after-parties. Great production, and you'll swear the mics were under water for some of this. These Scots bring out what people only wish My Bloody Valentine still did. Dark, atmospheric, guitarock with a hint, maybe, of The Eels in the vocal department. Sometimes. A somber, quiet CD that will grow on you after a little while. Wavery, clean guitars, keyboards that are used for keeping the background of each song vibrant, even when the songs are languid, or just plain slow and moody. Not unlike Pink Floyd minus the grand statements.
No self-indulgence either. Their single "Crush" is what it seems like so many band wanna be doing now. Now that the immensely overrated Radiohead have decided to release three CDs of themselves fucking about over the course of the next year. It touches the sequenced/Garbage-y side, the indie-rawk angle, has Catherine Wheel-isms, Ebrace-like moments and a winsome, yet despondent lyric. I love The Catherine Wheel, so that was a compliment. That isn't to pidgeonhole AC Acoustics in any way. I am saying though, that if you do enjoy those bands, Understanding Music is an excellent continuation on the themes that they all approach. Embrace are too busy being "epic" to write songs like "Waiter Strains" anyway.
Understanding Music is a great title, but I didn't really go for the artwork, which seemed kinda last minute. "I lost the cover!" "Right! I'll do ya something real quick." Seconds later. "Ummm…thanks." Otherwise, this is a sleeper hit; a sleepy one at that. Great for going to bed and listening to on a cold night. Narration about Oscar Wilde, and sleeping elephants on the almost instrumental "Dry Salvage (God Knows My Name)." "She Kills for Kicks" really stood out on this, their third album, and it's amazing to ponder that AC Acoustics have now existed for over ten years. Now if they'd just incorporate some hot dance moves into the for-the-moment-not-quite-ready-for-hot-tub-anal-action "Knot of Knots (That There is no Untying)."
A 1991 split and reunion actually stripped their songs down, even though there's still quite a bit going on. They sacked a violin player, and have enough spacious sound that you won't even notice the absence. Singer Paul Campion is haunting without seeming put-on or silly. The guitars are ghostly on tracks like "B2," and ringing on the rocking, anxious "Supercup." Founded in Glasgow in 1990, this band have been under-appreciated for far too long. With a record as good as this one, you'll wonder where former Fanclub (Teenage) bass-player Gerry Love went and why? Even though he only did backing vocals on their '93 Sweatlodge/MV single.
They recorded a mini album in '94, the seven-song Able Treasury, and garnered more kudos. The Hand Passes Plenty EP was brought out a short while later, and continued their critical acclaim. Ten years since they began, ACA is probably more vital than they have ever been, and they've managed to remain prolific when EMF begat those attractive I-just-shat-my-pants-and-no-one-knows baggy-trousers, which gave way to Brit-Pop, which begat… Maybe the world will be ready for them finally.