by Noel Gardner
First conceived as an attempt to combine the captivating, soundtracky atmosphere of Portishead and Massive Attack with the intimate minimalism of Low, the debut EP from Shhh...Apes! contains all the beauty and weight that implies. However, on the five songs which make up ‘The Shape Of Apes To Come’, this Cardiff sextet have hit on a sound that’s highly personalised and evades simple pigeonholes.
Mark Foley, the founding member of Shhh...Apes!, is one of the busiest people in Welsh music. As well as playing in several bands since the mid-00s (among others: Vito, Strange News From Another Star, Martin Carr’s post-Boo Radleys project Bravecaptain and The Secret Show, with Matt Davies of Funeral For A Friend), he runs a rehearsal/recording studio called Musicbox and does the odd bit of globetrotting as a tour manager to boot. This schedule partly explains why Shhh...Apes! has existed as a concept for five years, but has only kicked into gear in 2013.
Shhh...Apes! are completed by Andrew Plain, Stuart Michel, Jonathan Rees, Lewis Griffiths and Lianne Francis. All involved have experience in south Wales’ closely-knit scene of bands, including a number of Mark’s past projects. Knowledge of each other’s styles and quirks factored in to the recording of ‘The Shape Of Apes To Come’. Charlie Francis, a producer whose CV includes REM, Future Of The Left and The High Llamas among dozens of others, oversaw proceedings as the band developed ideas in the studio. Although Shhh...Apes! started as Mark’s baby, so to speak, each member stamps their personality on this sonically rich and emotionally intense disc.
‘Painkiller’ opens the EP, chopping up keyboards into a cluster of glitchy rhythms before Mark’s vocals arrive and transport the song into goosebumpy realms – a hyperballad, to coin a phrase. ‘I Am Thin’ builds exquisitely, three instrumental minutes of skeletal, Godspeed!-ish guitar, trombone and glockenspiel preceding Mark and Lianne’s vocal harmonies. ‘Fall’ is powered by an infectious motorik beat and Stuart’s noisy, guitar mangling – for all that it flirts with experimental ideas, it remains catchy and accessible. ‘Three Horses’ pits disquieting lyrics against a nocturnal, jazz-tinged backdrop, a natural precursor to closing track ‘Angel Coming Down’. Here, fuzzy synths and swinging drums create a witchy psychedelic feel comparable to bands like Broadcast, with Lewis Griffiths’ brass returning to ramp up the melancholia.
All in all, ‘The Shape Of Apes To Come’ is a remarkable introduction to Shhh...Apes! – displaying a rare confidence for a debut, but channelling this into smart ideas and fresh crosspollination, not empty bravado. It’s also very much worth your time in a live context, where the band put some nice suits on and rock out a bit, and in the coming months you should be able to catch them doing this when they tour the UK. For now, this EP should be more than enough to whet your appetite.