Psycopaths Dream in Black and White by The British IBM is a great example of modern British alt-rock, with retro influences, lush string arrangements, and simple, occasionally pessimistic lyrics.
Think The Kooks rhythmically and tonally, Morrissey lyrically, and The Strokes atmospherically. This album is mostly major, with songs primarily led by acoustic guitars and simple 4/4 drum beats, but has a large amount of string arrangements, and an especially beautiful cello contributed by Anna Scott. Singer and principal songwriter Aidy writes simply: “I know that you need me. I know that I need you. I know that it’s not right but it’s true.” There’s no metaphor to contemplate there. This lyrical simplicity is largely inoffensive, and its occasional tendency to allow the listener to tune out is counteracted by the album’s musical nuances. This track, for example, #4 “I’m Just Like You,” is frankly uninteresting lyrically, but Scott’s gorgeous cello playing, shifting from major to minor, grabbed my attention and refused to let go.
Aidy’s voice is breathy and casually delivered, with melodies largely centered around the middle of his range, which contributes to the overall cool-ness of the album.
My favourite song is #6 “Nothing Ever Lasts That Long,” which has a catchy melody and a poppy backing track behind wonderfully glum lyrics. This is British alternative at its finest: the contrast behind happy music and depressing lyrics is full of sarcasm and dry wit, and British artists from Lonnie Donegan to The Smiths have enjoyed exploring it.
Aidy knows his pop songwriting, and the clear distinction between verse and chorus is reminiscent of classic songs by the early Beatles and other Mersey Beat artists. Every song on this record has the title somewhere in the lyrics, and Aidy sets his refrains well.
Track #7 “Evolution” shows some older influences, with 80s synths and a style more Men At Work than Herman’s Hermits.
Ultimately, what I’m driving at is that this entire album is chock-full of influences; every song has parts reminding me of different artists, and this sounds like an album by people who listen to a lot of music.
Often, bands that have obvious influences end up sounding too similar to their idols to be original, but The British IBM manage to hold on to their identity throughout the album. The songs are formatted in a familiar style, but Aidy’s melodies and the band’s playing set them apart. Bassist David and drummer Paul are solid players, and the album is recorded and produced exceptionally well.
Some of the songs started to bleed together, as many of them begin the same way, with an eight bar instrumental intro followed by the vocals. Every song except #4 is in 4/4, and they do sound a bit too similar. However, Scott’s incredible cello playing gives a stunning edge to their instrumentation, and the band’s influence-laden style give them an old-fashioned strut. I would strongly recommend starting with track #6, followed by #3 “Just Get By,” and spend some time picking out all the incredible bands that have led to this one.
I’d be very excited to hear more music by The British IBM, preferably with some different time signatures, key signatures, and a continued exploration of Aidy’s pessimistic side. He gets a little preachy in some of these songs (“If you live for nothing, nothing’s gonna come/ If you live for no one that’s how you’ll become”) and I’m far more interested in hearing him talking about how nothing ever lasts that long.
I just hope I won’t be able to say that in reference to this band. Listen on Bandcamp here.
1. All the Time
2. Hey Mikie
3. Just Get By
4. I'm Just Like You
5. Tread Carefully
6. Nothing Ever Lasts That Long
8. We Were the Stars
9. Silver Cigarette Case
11. What More Can I Say?