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Sunday, 25 September 2011

Urusen stares hard at music industry puzzle

There is a great young band called Urusen to whom I would like to draw to your attention. They released a single last week, a double-A side called A Once Was Tramp and Tree/The Islander and did so on vinyl, as well as as a free download. Here is a slightly dodgy recording of A Once Was Tramp done in a pub in Bath.

They present a bit of a conundrum and were one of the reasons why the interview with The Civil Wars that I did recently took the turn that it did. I asked a lot of questions about how that band's first album became an iTunes number one because of the bewilderment on the subject of marketing their own first album expressed by several members of Urusen earlier that week. Mind you, it's a subject that just keeps returning in conversation with bands, managers, agents... It seems to me that it's the big conversation of the music industry at the moment.

Urusen don't have The Civil Wars' individual track records but recorded an album at Peter Gabriel's Real World studio a few months back, which was great because they won the opportunity to do it in the face of enormous competition and it shows that someone with experience rates them.

Here's a beautifully made documentary about the time they spent at Real World.

But there was very little by way of marketing support offered along with the recording and a few months later the band are debating - sometimes quite, um, passionately - what to do with their limited resources to make the biggest splash when the album's eventually released.

One of the things that The Civil Wars said was that they put a live recording of one of their shows on the web very shortly after they started gigging together and that much of their word of mouth success flowed directly from this.

But they also said that they thought that there is no magic formula.

Watching Urusen play live is what made me like them. It was a spring afternoon in The Old Queen's Head in Islington a year and a half ago and it just crept up on me that I was really enjoying this band and that what they were doing was creating an atmosphere rather than just playing songs. None of the recordings that I've heard so far have done justice to the spell they cast at their gigs - although the documentary above comes very close.

However, they do have several things going for them, none of which is their slightly esoteric name (I'm not entirely sure how to pronounce it despite having seen them, written about them and talked to them for a while now. I've decided to think of it as a talking point, rather than an irritation).

Firstly - and this is really a given - they can play and I don't think I've heard a note out of place in the four or five gigs I've seen. And their original music is the best thing about them. They are also easy on the eye, which helps - especially since they don't seem to sing about love/sex/relationships. They have an English-style reticence about addressing the subject directly that means they're thought-provoking rather than visceral. I'm comparing them with ahab at this point, who you feel would quite happily shag the entire audience at their gigs if it would help...

But when you combine Urusen's good visuals with the fact that one of them is a film-maker - light bulb moment - suddenly there's the outline of an idea. Ben Please, with the beard on guitar (far right in the pic above), made the documentary at Real World himself and I hope you'll agree it's a bit of a stunner.

This means that some high quality videos of the songs that get the best receptions when they play live would be relatively cheap for them to produce - and this time they could even include some footage of themselves... Radical, I know. Maybe they could start with Nosediving (arty video below containing no footage of the band) which is my favourite - although mainly because when you see them play that one live there's so much going on onstage towards the end - with Nick Stryder on cello and Kieran Houston on drums both freaking out - that you don't know where to look first.

I made a decision when I saw them at The Lexington last week that next time I'll stand farther back so I can see everything comfortably.

If you've got any ideas about what Urusen should do next, I'm sure they'd love to hear from you on

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