I spent much of my time at Cornerstone 2000 at the New Band Showcase. Here, you could catch the “next big thing,” the hot new indie hopeful just waiting to take the world by storm. If you were tired of all of the punk and hardcore bands, this was the place you needed to be. If you happened to be there on Wednesday, you may have caught a band called The People. If you didn’t, then you missed one of the best shows of the fest. While other bands seemed content to bang out power chord after power chord in order to see who could be the loudest, The People were glamming it up.
That’s right, glamming. The Cornerstone program compared The People to the likes of Mr. Glam himself, David Bowie, but their performance brought to mind the likes of Pulp. With comparisons like that, you should have a good idea of what to expect; super-bratty britpop full of swagger and braggadacio. Yeah, this is music that would make the likes of NME drool all over themselves as they tried to come up with hyperbole after hyperbole to describe how amazing it is. And every one of them would probably be justified.
The album kicks off with “Sugar,” complete with angular rhythms, plenty of synthwork, and Ben Grime’s voice dripping with sass and attitude. However, it’s not afraid to launch into atmospheric guitars with Grime’s voice floating lazily above it a la Thom Yorke, but without Radiohead’s despondency. “You & Me Vs. The World” sounds like it belongs on a Rialto album, with its crunchy guitars, eerie synthwork, and carnival-esque bridge.
Grimes may sound sassy, but he stills throws out good lyrical hooks. My favorite track is the moody and atmospheric “Mankind.” Grimes sings “Would you like to be a shooting star?” amongst keyboards beamed straight out of a constellation, before launching into “And when you find out we’re not here/Won’t you call your daddy/Maybe try and see his face?” But it’s immediately followed up by the sparse, Radiohead-esque “Black.” Against piano and guitars that drift off in the distance, Grimes plaintively sings “Jesus, in Your name, save me from this sinfulness/You are all I have aside from all my selfishness/All the things in me are nothing next to all the things that I know I have in You.” Such honesty is a rare treat in an album that revels in its big sound.
The thing that keeps The Premise Is Sound from being just another Britpop rip-off is the amount of far-out strangeness The People incorporates into their lush pop songs. One minute, you’ll hear Grimes’ snipping over a catchy riff. Suddenly, the song shoots off into left field amidst swirling electronics and spacey effects that came straight out of a Doctor Who episode. The People revel in the depth of their songs, adding layer after layer of sound, throwing out some weird, squiggly little tidbit in the middle of a verse, or piling loops and atmospherics until it all becomes a swirling audio slush.
But it ultimately comes back to the song, which gives the listener the best of both worlds. On one hand, The People’s dabbling in strange bleeps and bloops never becomes unbearable. On the other hand, it makes the album all that more interesting to listen to, as each successive listen reveals a new sound you didn’t quite hear right the previous times.
Even though something called “The New Band Showcase” may conjure up images of your little brother’s punk band, this year it revealed quite a gem in The People. If you’re looking for a band with plenty of Anglophiliac swagger and attitude, but also with the talent to back it up, than The People are for you. Cornerstone 2000 saw them on a small stage. Hopefully, Cornerstone 2001 will find them playing a bigger stage, one that can hold, not only their massive sound, but also their talent. And labels, let’s hurry up and sign these guys before they drift away into oblivion.