Biffy Clyro are an alternative rock band from Kilmarnock. They comprise of Simon Neil, the principal songwriter, on guitar and vocals and twins Ben and James Johnston on drums and bass respectively. Their musical style involves a lot of stop start dynamics, unusual time signatures, thickly layered guitars and three part vocal harmonies.
The group did not have an easy route to success. The experimental, unrefined and often dissonant nature of their earlier material made it hard for people to warm to them initially. This meant they had to go on an almost decade long tour to support themselves. But their hard work paid off when the band’s fourth studio album, Puzzle which came out in 2007, provided some mainstream exposure. They adopted a more radio friendly sound whilst retaining distinctively alternative elements.
Since the release of Only Revolutions in 2009 they have enjoyed extensive airplay with some instantly recognisable tunes such as Bubbles and Many of Horror. They still toured all the time though with the addition of a second guitarist to flesh out compositions that were becoming more and more ambitious in scale.
Their current album Opposites was released last Monday and was recorded over several months in a studio in Los Angeles. This was the first time the band had taken a prolonged break from touring since they started. It was a very productive time for Simon Neil, the main songwriter, and soon there was enough material to merit a double album.
CD one is entitled “The Sand at the Core of Our Bones” and has a generally darker, negative tone in comparison to the second. Personally it is my favourite of the two discs. There are some traditional Biffy numbers here but the band has decided to dabble in synthesisers as well, most notably on the song Biblical which is sure to be a single.
Black Chandelier was the first single to be released from this album and came out in early January. This song is exceptionally well produced and this only enhances the band’s sound. There are stop-start dynamics a-plenty and the bridge is gloriously heavy. It is also lyrically interesting and the profundity of the phrase, “cute little cup of cyanide” really sticks with you long after you hear it. The chorus is anthemic and catchy.
Opposite, the title track of the album, is a true ballad. The band has shown some restraint and refinement here proving that a song does not need an assaulting riff or pounding chorus to be poignant. The song’s alternative DADGAD tuning results in some interesting chords and these are accompanied by accomplished vocal harmonies from all three band members. I feel that this song could have been stripped back more as the string section in particular takes away slightly from the personal nature of the subject matter. This is an intelligent take on the break up song and will likely be released as a single.
The Joke’s On Us is a proper stadium rocker although and interesting and clever one at that. It has an up tempo verse that will set heads bobbing with voice and guitar exchanging question and answer dialogue. The pre-chorus has some strange timing leading into a classic Biffy Clyro chorus with thick guitars and layered harmonies. Sometimes you may question the lyrics, some may say that they are just weird for the sake of being weird such as in “or is life just a juggernaut?” But it is a pleasant listen nonetheless with an enjoyable bridge featuring some talk box guitar.
Little Hospitals will probably be confined to an album track due to its explicit lyrics, heaviness and weirdness. Here the band shows some of their post-hardcore influences. For the first two minutes it is a brisk punky song with echoes of Greenday but then suddenly out of nowhere we get this heavy oddly timed guitar riff bizarrely overdubbed with a kazoo. This shows another key aspect of Biffy Clyro and that is their sense of humour.
Overall, this is a very strong album in its own right. It has some well written songs but you can’t help but feel that some of the content has been sanded around the edges, if you’ll pardon the pun. The thrills have a slightly manufactured feel about them but nevertheless it is very listenable.
CD two is called “The Land at the End of Our Toes” and definitely has a more positive feel. This side is strange in that it is probably the most experimental in terms of instrumentation and orchestration but also has two rather clichéd tracks that in my opinion don’t deserve to be on the album.
The opening song on this disc is called Stingin’ Belle and has an exciting and bold intro which beckons in something epic but unfortunately it does not amount to expectation. Lyrically, it shows some wit again in the unanticipated, “you think your cool like a porcupine” but by this time you have already been let down by the song and see it as vocal filler. After the song reaches the two-minute mark it launches into a self-indulgent instrumental section including bagpipes that lasts till the end and doubles the track in length. The band got away with such a long outro at the end of Bubbles from their last album but Stingin’ Belle does not really have the strength of content in the first instance to merit such a long coda.
Spanish Radio is an unusual song as it incorporates a mariachi band into the traditional rock setup. It is also in a 5/4 time signature.The chorus is very tuneful and light, with the brass helping to lift it to a different level. It is has an optimistic atmosphere. The outro is particularly enjoyable with imaginative instrumentation, the mariachi band seem to add to the heaviness. It is the unconventional approach that makes this song elevated and a delight to listen to.
So in conclusion, Opposites is a very strong collection of songs and the longer time spent on this album has allowed the band to experiment stylistically with a mixture of results. The difference between the albums is actually quite subtle so the title seems a little inappropriate but the change in stance is certainly detectable. The album has a good balance of the familiar and successful with refreshing originality.