Featured image: Katy Ng
There are seagulls in Rhyl with wingspans larger than the width of Talleyrand’s back room. Its combination of red drapes and corrugated roof may be incongruous, claustrophobic even, but it gives Manchester’s skinniest venue the illusion of busyness. There’s no rattling around in here.
The couple of dozen punters who see Sunnbrella do a family fist bump before their set have no choice but to rub shoulders. The understated melodies of the London-based quartet’s Heartworn debut album jump to life, more vivid and immediate than their recorded counterparts. The title track, in particular, blossoms into a centrepiece rather than an interlude.
Sunnbrella mastermind, David Zbirka picks up a 12-string guitar, his black-painted fingernails contrasting with the un-shoed white socks of drummer, Ben McDowell. Rather than the gentle jangles typical of the instrument, he dishes out a frenzy of minor chords.
Heads bob in unison during ‘A Week or So’, with bassist Jamal Malik’s almost revolving his shoulders out of their sockets as we progress through ‘Polyester’, ‘Defend Urself’ and ‘Fever Dream’. The latter song coaxes a spider down from the ceiling, where it watches from the arm of a man’s padded jacket, before descending again for a death defying scuttle across the floor.
“We’re Lucid Express from Hong Kong,” says their vocalist/synth player, Kim. “Nice to meet you.”
The feeling is mutual judging by the whoops that fire back at her. The band’s five members squeeze onto the miniscule stage, tiptoeing between the miles of cable that feed a multitude of effects pedals. Even by shoegaze’s notorious standards, these are pedal smorgasbords.
This compaction doesn’t stop Andy from swirling his guitar around. He whacks it into the wall, the ceiling, his mic stand, and almost sends the PA toppling to its doom with errant jabs. Vacuum-packed over the other side of the stage, Sky (guitar) and Samuel (bass) daren’t move an inch, their eyes locked onto their fretboards.
Lucid Express pile layer upon layer to create not a wall of sound, but an entire cliff face of it. Kim’s vocals, dipped in gold, are lost in the mix by design. They’re another instrument, another constituent part, where no single element dominates among the hymnal, hypnotic melodies. ‘Wellwave’, from their self-titled debut album is a standout. Wistful and joyous in equal measure, it should have its own exhibition in the Museum of Dream Pop.
The only downside is that their video backdrop is too big for Levenshulme’s Talleyrand, with any audio/visual pairings obscured behind the band and their mountain of equipment.