Name: Yellow Bird
Place of Birth: The Independent Principality of Frankturnier
Blood Type: A+
Fighting Style: Two guys, an acoustic guitar, a bass, some thick rimmed glasses and a retro blazer. Yellow Bird make that kind of honest, funny and self-deprecating indie-pop that goes down so well on University campuses the country over.
Strengths: From the clever couplets and whimsical melody of ‘Several Selves’ to the paradoxical pessimistic charm of ‘Abhor’ it was clear that the twosome had a great mind for witty lyrical turns, a talent which is unfortunately rare around Lancaster these days. Low key but accomplished guitar playing kept these lyrical crackers at the forefront of their sound, and so Yellow Bird’s original songs stood out as the strongest of the night by some way.
Weaknesses: Unless you’re Bob Dylan, there’s only so much you can do with a guitar and a gravelly voice. So technical prowess is important – every note has got to be pitch perfect for the audience to forget that, sonically, nothing particularly exciting is happening. And although Yellow bird hit the right notes most of the time, earlier on in the set the two-part vocals were a bit off, and the bass and guitar would occasionally fall out of sync.
Super Combo: World Spirit Bomb – ↑,↑,↓,→ + A – This immensely powerful move was used most effectively by the band in the song ‘Several Selves’, which involved the name-dropping of some serious philosophical names, Hegel included. The 3% of the audience who know who Hegel is were left mildly impressed.
Points and Position: 46 – 1st place!
Name: Ollie Gaskell
Place of Birth: Indiediscoland
Blood Type: AB
Fighting Style: A bit like Yellow Bird, except with just one guy, who was called Ollie Gaskell.
Strengths: Good covers and good originals – what more can you ask for? Gaskell’s original lyrics were, on the whole, pretty decent, and they had a certain blunt honesty that set him apart from the other acts. This emotional frankness, on songs like ‘One Night in Sugar’, and ‘Song About His Ex-Girlfriend That He Either Didn’t Give A Name Or Had A Name Which This Reviewer Has Forgotten’, led to the highlights of his set, as things went from funny in one moment to brutally sad the next. His choice of covers was good too – Cee Lo Green’s ‘Crazy’ and Frank Turner’s version of ‘The District Sleeps Alone Tonight’ – though they weren’t as memorable as his originals.
Weaknesses: Gaskell’s main weakness was bad luck – namely that he played on the same night as Yellow Bird. Similar sound, similar lyrical concerns, similar eyewear… it’s impossible not to compare them. His lyrics were less subtle and occasionally got a bit too clichéd. And although this resulted in some of the high points of the set (see above), in the end his brutally honest funnies couldn’t quite match up to the sustained cleverness of Yellow Bird. The lack of another instrument meant he lacked a bit of low end oomph, too, but again, this weakness hinges entirely on the Yellow bird comparison. So yeah, play in a different heat next time, Mr Gaskell, and you’ll probably walk it.
Super Combo: The Sugarhouse Stomp – ↓,→, →, A + B – Singing songs about the Sugarhouse always goes down well, cos it’s like in Lancaster init?! It’s quite a skill to turn the brain-numbing sledgehammer beats associated with Lancaster’s warmest, loudest, most expensive room into a verging-on-twee indie-pop number…
Points and position: 32 – 2nd Place!
Name: Project Unicorn
Place of Birth: The 7th Circle of Hell
Blood Type: The Blood of 1,000 Sacrificial Puppies, probably.
Fighting Style: A blistering assault of arse-length hair, bombastic drumming, fierce riffs and metal clichés.
Strengths: ‘WHOOOOAAARRRIIIFFFFSSSSZZZZZZFUUUUCCCCCKKK!!!!!!!’ [Pron. <whooooaaarrriiiffffsssszzzzzzfuuuuccccckkk>, noun, ‘to be impressed by terrifying music’] was probably the first thought that slapped the audience round the face when Project Unicorn upped their gear and rampaged into their own riffs – it’s certainly fair to say that these guys were the most technically adept musicians of the night.Their choice of covers was typically decent crowd pleasing Metallica stuff, though I’m still not sure if the addition of Don’t Stop Believing into the mix was hilarious or cringe-worthy (I’m leaning towards the latter – that song should have been quietly taken out behind the rehearsal rooms and bludgeoned with a Flying V in 2009).
Weaknesses: For all their technical skill, Project Unicorn suffered here because they were a band with an identity crisis. The combination of their name (let me repeat it, so you take it in – Project Unicorn), Dave Rose’s hyper- theatrical vocals and the Journey/Metallica mash-up cover suggested that they were some sort of Spinal Tap comedy act… but that didn’t quite fit with the highly-technical, po-faced seriousness of their other songs. This thematic confusion combined with their tendency to lapse from tight melodies into indistinct, messy noise – the famous twiddly dual-guitars bit from Master of Puppets was particularly hard on the ears. It meant that Project Unicorn (perhaps unfairly) didn’t get the respect they deserved from those outside their fanbase.
Super Combo: Swarm of Goths – A, A, A, A, A – By mashing the same riff repeatedly, Project Unicorn could call forward a legion of long-haired allies to terrify and traumatise their lilly-livered acoustic-guitar-playing foes. But this special move backfired here, as the swarm formed into an impressive curtain of twirling hair that blocked everyone else’s view for the entire set…
Points and position: 22 – 4th Place!
Name: Stolen Wesley
Place of Birth: County Bar, about 2 days before the battle.
Blood Type: O
Fighting Style: Dual female vocals, with able accompaniment from an acoustic guitar playing dude.
Strengths: Properly decent voices! Hooray! Stolen Wesley’s two singers belted their way through a set of covers, making their versions of songs like Cannonball and David Guetta’s Titanium their own. And it sounds incredibly obvious, but the fact that they were actually there was a nice plus too – Stolen Wesley had their faults, but they were forgivable considering they’d only decided to form a band and join the battle a couple of days beforehand. Indeed, this kind of compulsiveness had a certain charm, and they added a nice pop twist to an otherwise fairly homogenous night of boys with guitars.
Weaknesses: As good as Stolen Wesley’s two leading ladies were, occasionally their attempts at a certain American-singer-du-jour-belting-out-Star-Spangled-Banner-at-the-Superbowl theatricality caused their already-high voices to go soaring off to stratospheric levels of squeakiness (imagine, if you can, a sentient helium balloon with a pair of vocal chords. Now imagine that balloon inhaling some helium and singing). Their lack of rehearsal time showed too; their vocal harmonies went slightly awry, especially towards the end of the set – more time in practice mode is going to be required before these guys challenge for the Battle of the Bands crown. The lack of original songs was a minus too, but by this point the audience were drunk enough not to care.
Super Combo: ↓, ↑, ↓, ↑, A, A+B – The Cover Version Crunch – Doing a set of well known covers is a trickier move to pull off than you might expect, since you’re forcing people to compare you to an actual, professional musician. But Stolen Wesley managed to pull off this notoriously tricky move with style, filling their covers with enough style to make them their own.
Points and position: 32 – 2nd Place!