French Wives – Feel Safe Small EP

This Glaswegian quintet have been compared to Arcade Fire by The Scotsman newspaper, who crowned them winners of their 2010 Radar Prize. A quick look at the blogosphere reveals a buzz about them too – French Wives are described as the “steamrollers” of the Glasgow music scene, and “one of the most exciting bands in Scotland at the moment”.

For me, the upbeat indie guitar music is far more in the vein of Maximo Park and The Maccabees, though at a less frantic pace, and with a welcome violin and harmonica thrown in. However, comparisons aside the EP, Feel Safe Small, didn’t do a huge amount for me. There are lovely moments, and it definitely grew on me after a few listens, but the EP still seems like a work in progress. It also felt very similar to so much of the indie pop that dominated the last decade.

The first track, ‘Big Brave Boy’ opens with a chorus of harmonised “woahs” and claps. Buoyant, cheery, and definitely from The Wombats’ school of happy handclapping. The motif didn’t reappear at all, which made what was a good opening to the EP sound as if it was thrown in for the hell of it. I did like the mix of violin and guitar riffs throughout the song, which made the momentum of it veer on the uplifting.

‘Purple Hell’ has some toe-tapping riffs, which are once again a pretty successful marriage between guitar and violin. The song does however end with the not particularly imaginative repeated lyrics: “Help me help you”. The vocals are also a tad tuneless, as they are throughout the EP. ‘Covered In Grace’ is a song you can imagine dancing to – the swaying rhythms are a welcome respite from more driving beats, but the different of sections are a bit too stop-start.

The last song, ‘Confidence’, was probably my favourite, and where I think the Arcade Fire comparison was probably drawn from. A slow march anthemic that opens simply with acoustic guitar and vocals. Layers of brass are added on top of increasingly majestic guitar, building to a climax, which is then sweetly let down by a descending scale like those rung out by church bells. This song seemed to be a much more comfortable fit for the band than the poppier songs on this EP.

Maybe I should be more forgiving – the whole EP suffers from a lack of production, which fails to show the full potential of these songs. It is admirable that the band is releasing the EP on a new label, Red Hat Records, which is the child of band member Stuart and some of his friends. Don’t we all want to ‘live the dream’ of running our own label? But it does mean that the recording doesn’t sound sharp or carefully considered. A higher dose of quality would help these songs to shine, and fans of cheery guitar music will definitely enjoy them.