The Sebright Arms – April 20th
As the opening bars of Malpas’ set pulsed through The Sebright basement, the lights came up on Andy Savours’ silhouette, hunched over a synth-and-xylophone stand, acoustic guitar strapped to his back, flanked by a loop-generating Mac on one side and bandmate Ali Forbes on the other. That Forbes was also behind a keyboard, picking out a rhythmic riff on a mandolin, says plenty about the duo’s liberal use of instrumentation to colour their warpish folktronica. Forbes’ captivating soprano never wavered, but his voice was delicate enough to give the impression it might. His labyrinthine melodies belonged to the organic, sweeter side of Malpas’ personality, one flipped against crunchy digital swells, weighty bass drops and skittering beats.
This quirky marriage of opposites was most attractive on ‘Us Afloat’, where pretty acoustic strumming and Forbes’ vulnerable enunciations built up to overdriven grimy big-beat; and new single ‘Under Her Sails’, on which Savours employed that xylophone as an accessory to the tremulous harmonies, while samples intensified from sparse fretless slides to orchestral swoops. Penultimate number ‘Promise’ proved the real dark pearl in the Malpas trove, though, rising out of an assertive electro base and through shots of galaxial noise into a beautiful interwoven chorus. Malpas’ songs are subtle affairs and though the pair made a success of transporting their intricate craft to a live setting, you can hardly blame them for having a stab at the anthemic for their closer. This plain Celtic hum-a-long lacked the wandering intrigue of much of their material but could well be their best bet for commercial breakthrough.
Although Malpas stuck to the occasional polite introduction and expression of gratitude, their on-stage banter was positively boisterous compared with support act Britain, whose neglect to utter a single word to their audience from start to end was emblematic of an act super-rich in potential but smacking of work-in-progress. The duo’s atmospheric dream-pop was delivered via dronish guitar, distended synth and Katie’s winsome, ethereal vocal, while efficient pre-programming allowed each track to segue into the next, rendering the band enigmatic and detached. The increasingly progressive backing beats conversely added to the sense of what-could-be – team these two up with a fluid rhythm section and they really would be a force. But having already fostered significant industry buzz, Britain may be disinclined to deviate from the minimal and moody.