It is easy to keep banging on about the B-word (Brit-pop) when talking about Northern Ireland’s Gear, lazy journalists (of which I am one) need easy reference points and half-hearted labels. But I’m going to be the bigger man…and hopefully the more creative writer…and never mention it again. Genres are so last decade anyway and so we should just say that Gear wanders a line that broadly runs between rock and indie, or perhaps pop and a hard place, and leave it at that.
As the opening sonic waves and sound washes of Walking Away Slowly To Nowhere are slashed through with razor-wire guitars, as anticipation mounts, you realise that this is a band that knows the power of building atmosphere. And even then as the brooding tension releases and the song emerges, it reveals a soundscape woven with all manner of tones and textures, clever layers of sound that penetrate through the gaps to create a gorgeous, immersive and slightly cinematic experience. That’s how you start an album! It might be easy to tether Gear to a certain sound or scene of the past but I don’t recall any of those bands being able to open up an album as efficiently and effectively as that.
There are a few songs here (three to be precise) that have had an outing before on last year’s Fine Smoke mini album but then why not? When you have a batch of songs that good, it seems stupid not to capitalise on them and if Fine Smoke was intended to be a taster and a teaser of what was to come (ie, this album) then it both did its job brilliantly and, if I’m honest, didn’t go far enough in predicting just how high a benchmark ‘Golden Memories was going to set for itself.
Somewhere Man is one of those songs, a slightly melancholic, slightly McCartney-esque, slice of balladic brilliance, Locked Away is another, a cavernous and dramatic, the on/off powerplay, creating its dynamics through its ability to switch between lulls and lows, and sky-searing highs.
Sin In My Veins sees them at their most squalling, garage rock and anthemic, raising the spirits of the likes of The Stooges and The MC5 to dance around with their more indie evocations. The album rounds off with a couple of sure-fire winners. Crash and Burn was the song which announced the band’s rebirth, it is big, brash and bombastic and is built as much on swagger and attitude as it is on industrial strength riffs and killer grooves.
And seeing us out is Mockingbird (Fine Smoke) which gives Gear a chance to embrace and indulge in some slightly more psychedelic sounds. Guitar lines loop and linger, drums beat out a dance-fuelled tattoo and in the spaces where one lyrical line fades out before a guitar spirals its way into view, all manner of atmospheres are allowed to pool and percolate, sounds and sensations which seem to be shamanicaly conjured up by the music itself rather than deliberately created by the musicians.
These Are The Only Golden Memories is an album that has been worth waiting for, whether you have been waiting 18 months after Crash & Burn careered through public consciousness or since the band’s first chapter back in the 90s.
A not so wise man once said “it’s not where you’re from it’s where you’re at,” well, that might have been true then but in the case of Gear, although where they are at is a pretty cool place to be, it is where they are going which is the real story here.