The first time I saw Fiction play live was supporting Marple’s Dutch Uncles at their 2011 hometown ‘Christmas’ show at Manchester Deaf Institute. Before then, it was unclear to me whether or not Fiction as the math rockers’ support band would be appropriate or not. Up to that point, I was only truly familiar with ‘Big Things’, a favourite of Steve Lamacq’s played often on his 6music drivetime show and a selection from the ‘Kitsune Maison 11: The Indie-Dance Issue’ album released in spring 2011. Incredibly infectious is ‘Big Things’, but quickly upon enjoying their live set I learned that there was far more to this band than just a passing earworm glance.
It was at this Deaf Institute show that I also learned the London band had managed to secure something pretty amazing and indeed, something many bands of similar stature – as a virtually unknown band – were insanely envious of: ‘Big Things’ had been featured on a Ford advert on telly (video below). The only similar touchstone I had to compare Fiction’s achievement with was Noah and the Whale‘s star turn in America on an extremely sunny Saturn car telly advert. Noah and the Whale, while beloved to folkies in America, still really aren’t that big in the grand scheme of things here, and every time I see them play live in DC, I groan inwardly when it’s clear that everyone in the audience is waiting for ’5 Years’ Time’. Was Fiction doomed to a similar, one-hit wonder type fate in Britain? Thankfully, now is the time that we can have a listen to the fruits of their labour in the form of ‘The Big Other’, their debut album out today on Moshi Moshi.
According to Wikipedia, I was born at the tail end of Generation X , and when I was growing up, I tended to veer towards two eras of music: the early ’60s and what my parents referred to as the British Invasion and New Wave of the ’80s, probably best epitomised by my love for Duran Duran and Talking Heads. (Hey, in 2008 Steve Lamacq didn’t call me “the sucker for the synth” for nothing.) When I first started getting into Field Music and then Dutch Uncles, the comparisons to Talking Heads confused me, because while maybe all three bands shared an eccentricity of time signatures and an underlying but not in your face pop sensibility, my mind would never put these three bands in the same box. They are all different in my mind, and different in a good way.
I bring this up because it seems from what I have read, the sound of Fiction – along with the recent Strokes‘ song ‘One Way Trigger’ – has been lumped together rather lazily to ’80s music and New Wave, as if this is some kind of acceptable condemnation. I can personally attest to the fact that there is absolutely nothing wrong with being obsessed with that decade of music. I will just give you one example of the ’80s coming back into fashion and appearing in a familiar yet also original way: with the roaring return of OMD in 2010 with ‘History of Modern’ and their new album this year ‘English Electric’, we are reminded there is much about music that was pioneered from the ’80s that we should be thankful for and in an increasing number of cases, we should also be paying attention to what has come before and what is being created now not as retreads of the past but as things exciting and fresh for a new generation. This is what ‘The Big Other’ represents to me: it’s surely indie pop in the broad sense of the genre, but it’s indie pop that’s nodding and giving respect to New Wave, not in an imitational, false, aping kind of way with the intention to rip off another band, but in a way that is entirely theirs and should be applauded.
‘The Big Other’ begins with a song with a strange title for the location you find it in. ‘Parting Gesture’ sounds like it should be at the end of an album, but ignore that for now and concentrate instead on the mesmerising guitar notes, followed by angelic “oohs” that feature at the start. From there, there a load of different, wonderful things going on at once: a driving rhythm, synthesiser knobs being twiddled and a vocal delivery that will recall Jim Kerr / Simple Minds during their Brat Pack popularity era. From there, you are greeted with quirky melodies that won’t leave your head and wispy vocals (‘Careful’, ‘Be Clear’). A hypnotising dance beat while “practising my shuffle” is exhibited brilliantly in ‘Step Ahead’, followed quickly with stretched dance beats in ‘See Me Walk’. while “practising my shuffle” exhibited brilliantly in ‘Step Ahead’ and and in a ‘Vertigo in Bed’, ‘To Stick To’). In a way entirely the opposite of how I feel when I hear Bastille, nothing about the way Fiction approach pop seems forced here. In ‘Museum’ (video below), rapid fire percussion with glittery guitars, dreamy vocals and effortless chord changes come together for a fully-formed, enchanting track that has not left my brain since I first heard it. There is a lot going on here, but somehow, someway, it’s not too much for this band.
There is a lightness throughout the whole album, achieved through a slight echoey quality all the way through. I have this image in my mind that this is the sort of music God would be boogieing down to Heaven. I don’t know how to explain it any better. Maybe I am just used to receiving so much in your face music, whether it be a thumping dance track, a song from a folk band with its jangly guitars and banjoes, or an altogether jarring balls to the wall, heavy rock number, and this album seems to fly in the face of all of that. ‘The Big Other’ sounds so good because it has been so carefully crafted to have maximum effect in what instrumentation is used without employing gimmickry and needing to resort to hitting you over the head with sound and being wholly annoying. I was sick for most of February and which album was my go-to to bring me some aural relief and levity? This one. If it was animate, I would be hugging it to my chest, stroking it on the head and thanking it for what it brought me.
And this lightness in sound is does not mean these songs are lightweight material; a lot of reviews so far have focussed primarily on album track ‘The Apple’, which is a poetic song to the memory of Alan Turing, a computer scientist and World War II codebreaker who tragically took his own life after being persecuted for being homosexual. If you haven’t read Martin’s interview and live review of Cosmo Jarvis‘ show at London’s Lexington which took place the same night as the BRITs, please do so here. While they are definitely the exception rather than the norm, both Jarvis and Fiction remind us that there are still artists out there who are willing to take risks with their music and we should be applauding them, not the ones who are too scared to take risks for fear of losing their mainstream popularity.
‘The Big Other’ is a perfect title for this album, because it is neither self-congratulatory or self-deprecating. Fiction is a band that has embraced the label some media pundits have given them – outsider indie – and done something amazing here. Maybe I am in the minority and don’t need to whacked on the side of my head to be made to pay attention to or enjoy a song. Maybe that’s where the music industry has gone wrong the last couple of years: an overreliance on overblown production and having the loudest and most irritating sounds seems to be what goes straight to the top of the charts. But for my money, the kind of music I want in my ears is something exciting yet thoughtful, something that will make me think, yet doesn’t feel contrived and artificial. And that’s exactly the feeling I get from this album. I’d prefer for them to be so much bigger, but if the music industry is content on keeping a band an outsider, then Fiction will just be my – and your – secret.
Fiction’s debut album ‘The Big Other’ is out today on Moshi Moshi. Stream the album courtesy of Dazed Digital below. The band begin a UK tour next Friday in Portsmouth; all the details of the tour are here.