Batsch’s first release re-negotiates the boundaries of excellence.
“I told ya: don’t send me, don’t send me!” chant the group in slow unison at the beginning of Matilde Vicenzi, as though fearful and anxious over the new musical territory their record is about to explore. Within the five songs that follow, the Midlands quartet proceed not only to explore, but to conquer the different wild terrains of popular music, leaving their sequined flag, bobbing gracefully to the thumping rhythms of the wind.
“Our only aim is to make people dance,” affirms Mason Le Long, Batsch’s singer, guitarist and chief lyricist. Whilst it’s true, paralysis of the entire body could not prevent even the squarest from at least a gentle foot-tapping to these young groovsters, Le Long’s brief description doesn’t do justice to the intricacies integral to Batsch’s sound. Much like the music of their favourite artists: Talking Heads, Chic and Fela Kuti among others, Batsch’s songs tend to be riff-driven: they often feature patterns and cycles repeating at varying lengths; or in other words, the ‘groove’. However, the Batsch groove is a deep and carefully carved groove. This groove is a complex and considered one, but its delivery is deceptively effortless, and this is what sets them apart. First you’ll feel, second you’ll listen, and what you’ll find upon listening is that you’ll want to listen again and again. Each time, you’ll notice something new.
Though still relatively young, the group has been playing together for some time. Le Long formed DON’T MOVE! with bassist Joe Carvell when they were still at school. They were joined by Matt Rheeston on drums and Cederick Confuegos on accordion and keys, shortly before the release of their 2009 debut album The New Pop Sound Of DON’T MOVE! on Tin Angel. This album was highly acclaimed, earning them much critical praise, as well as festival slots and numerous appearances on national radio. Unfortunately however, in the years that followed the band were struck by personal problems and Confuegos (real name Matthew Campbell) left DON’T MOVE! at the start of 2013 to pursue his solo work under the moniker, Delightful Young Mothers. He was immediately replaced by long-time friend of the band, Andy Whitehead, a multi-instrumentalist and regular member of the Tin Angel Records touring house band. All four members of the current line-up have collaborated and toured extensively with artists such as Devon Sproule, Paul Curreri, Marker Starling (formerly Mantler), Doug Tielli, Baby Dee, Little Annie, Brasstronaut, THOMAS, and Two Wings: all names from the Tin Angel roster. Coventry’s own little independent record label has become quite the international family!
So, to mark the change in personnel and a refined sound, in the spring of 2013 they became Batsch; and now, with Tiles, they are ready to show us the more glamorous end of their toil…
Whilst some fundamental elements of the DON’T MOVE! sound are left intact, by and large Batsch is unrecognisable. The jangle is now more of a sparkle. The interplay between the instruments remains detailed and proficient, but they have swapped frantic Byrdsian guitars for poised palm-muted plucks and the chirps and chimes of analogue synth. Le Long still has the ability to find a charming, sardonic humour in his uncertainty, “You said to me ‘can’t you see? It’s not about money.’ / But I know that if I had some we’d never disagree.” But his lyrics have matured, and have broadened, thematically, too. In The Divers, a romantic tragedy based upon F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, Tender Is The Night, Rheeston hammers out heavily the backbeat for Carvell’s dark and deliberate fuzz bass, whilst accordion blows eerily through the swinging windows. This provides the perfect scene for Le Long to howl his chorus, “The leap, from which she might alight / changed in the very chemistry of muscle and blood, / must be denied.”
From there we find ourselves amidst Le Long’s occupational discomfort in the “stench of fat and sweat and stale breath” of Hands Down, set to a cascade of synths and a mechanised-humanoid beat, atop a classic Carvell bassline. “Who’s Bernard Edwards?” he adds with a kind of self-effacing sarcasm. It appears he lives on, Joe. Meanwhile, Le Long’s dissatisfaction continues in both A Difference In Upbringing and Compass Watch: the former, a wittily re-told domestic with a certain level of hip-hop badassness, on which Carvell drops yet another of his signature bouncing bass bombs; and the latter, an existential questioning of the elements complete with foot-stomps, lampshades, tribal drums and folky guitar tunes.
“Absorption of influences, that’s what makes a good band”, I once heard somebody say. Batsch have certainly absorbed and reacted to some of the greatest and most disparate music in recent history, and channeled it through their own grey, West Midlands experiences to form something that is quite spectacularly unique. In a matter of months, these four gentlemen have crafted a sound that is as honest as it is danceable, as endearing as it is heartbreaking.