14 Jun 2015

The LaFontaines / Class (album review)

The latest edition to our group of writers is Scotland's very own Keith. Although a bit older than the most of us, the man has a genuine passion for new music - as reflected here, in a review of the debut album by The LaFontaines

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The county of Lanarkshire, to the south east of Glasgow, has long been very fertile ground for independent music with a strong DIY ethic. John Peel recognised as much in his Sound of the Suburbs series for Channel 4 in the late nineties. It is from this part of the world, after all, that such esteemed acts as Teenage Fanclub, The Delgados (who founded the still hugely influential Chemikal Underground label), The BMX Bandits and The Soup Dragons emerged.

The latest band from the ‘Shire to reach into public consciousness are Motherwell’s The LaFontaines whose long-awaited debut, Class, was released last week, some seven years since they initially formed.

For some acts, a debut release seven years into their careers might be indicative of an overly laidback approach, or at least of too many other demands on their members’ time, but the LaFontaines have spent their time working hard, touring and developing their sound. It is a period that has seen them support artists as diverse as Twin Atlantic, the Ting Tings and Professor Green, receive airplay on Radio 1, Xfm and Radio Scotland, headline the huge O2 ABC in Glasgow and perform at major festivals and concerts across the UK, mainland Europe and the USA. This, it should be remembered, is an independent, unsigned band.

But lots of unsigned bands work hard, practice constantly, go wherever the potential gigs are, sleep in cars and make all manner of personal sacrifices without ever achieving much so what, apart from a strong work ethic and a high level of commitment from band members, makes the LaFontaines so special?

It’s their unique sound.  Five guys from Lanarkshire performing a rap/rock crossover does not, when put in such simple terms, sound like it should work very well but they do it with such genre-twisting proficiency that the end result is outstanding. Quite simply, in an age when indie-by-numbers bands can receive extraordinary acclaim just for sounding like each other, there is no one who sounds quite like the LaFontaines. They also ooze personality and conviction. Whether playing a sold out show in their fanbase’s heartland of Glasgow or to a dozen curious onlookers in a pub in Fife, they, led by frontman Kerr Okan, engage the room with charisma, charm and humour.

So, what of Class itself? The Fonts have discarded an album’s worth of classic songs, many of them live favourites that more acclaimed bands would kill to have among their repertoire, even announcing that a show last year at Glasgow’s legendary King Tut’s venue would be the last time they would perform them in public. What remains, however, is a polished collection of stirring, engrossing anthems.  Powerful guitar, bass and drums along with bassist John Gerard’s melodic backing vocals provide the perfect foil for Okan’s incisive delivery. Woven into this big sound is a subtlety, nuance and self-awareness that reflects a growing maturity and confidence within the band.  Each track bears repeat listening. You definitely will have missed something the first time.

Class is the product of a band who do not so much just play to their strengths as constantly seek to redefine what their strengths are then play to them.  It may have taken them seven years to reach this point but that has been time well spent. Rather than idling, The LaFontaines have saved their album release until a point where every aspect of their sound had come together into the multi-layered, sophisticated album we now hear. Having achieved so much already without having an album to sell, Class represents a massive step forward for one of the hardest working, most committed and, above all, exciting bands to emerge from Scotland in recent years.

8.0/10

you can by 'CLASS' here
and listen to the single 'KING' here

(WRITTEN BY KEITH FOSTER)