Fine Smoke – Gear (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Any scene, sound or style is created through the building of sonic pyramids. These start by the establishment of a solid platform as a musical base, followed by additional layers of reinterpretation and evolution, creativity and flashes of inspiration, leading to a pinnacle upon which the current bands of that scene sits. 

And it isn’t hard to see some of the structure that lays behind a band like Gear. The songwriting of bands such as The Beatles or The Kinks acts as a perfect pop foundation for them to build on, something which comes across neatly in songs such as Somewhere Man which opens this EP. On top of that, they add some early eighties, post-punk moves and 90’s Brit-pop textures, naughties revivalist weight and finally their own modern, forward-thinking vibes.

It is interesting to note that the band first came together in the later, end of Empire days of Brit-pop but since reconvening in 2018 have shown that as much as they are happy to lean back on their earlier sound, they are also more than capable of making that sound move with the times.

In an audacious move, they open this new collection of songs with its most understated moment, Somewhere Man being a buoyant ballad, a spacious and considered song bolstered by shards of sharp and raucous guitars which act as the perfect punctuation. Not only an unexpected way to open the record but it cleverly allows them to build dynamically as they go, making the later songs sound even more epic by contrast.

Locked Away sees the band head into more rock and roll realms but it is their indie sensibilities that prevent them from falling for the usual bombast and bullishness of that genre, using melody and clever dynamics to get the job done, rather than the easier options of volume and bravado.

By the time Brother Man rolls into view they have taken those rockish urges and indie cool, the power of one the poignancy of the other, and re-invented Brit-pop for a new audience. It glances back to some obvious genre references but neatly combines rock and indie, but also past and present and is sort of like having one Doc Martin-ed foot on the monitor whilst delivering that sound with an impish and cool swagger, sung with both hands held firmly behind its back. The perfect marriage of these two, often at odds, genres.

Mockingbird (Fine Smoke) rounds things off with the same blend of understatement and attitude, wandering between considered musical moves and sonic explosion. 

There is nothing wrong with wearing your sonic heart on your sleeve, and Gear certainly does that. But the art of looking back to the past is not to merely plagiarize and plunder, rob and repeat it, anyone can do that. The art is to take that sound and tell the next part of the story, like a long-awaited sequel to your favourite book. And this is exactly what Gear does here. There are so many bands bathing in past glories, who believe that the hard work is already done, in a word…coasting. Fine Smoke is the sound of a band writing their own next chapter and perhaps even their a footnote in the annals of music history.

Why don’t more bands understand that this is the only way to stay relevant, to move forward, to be part of the here and now? Why indeed?

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