An edited version of this review was published on The Sunday Times of Malta.
It has been a long time coming, since their debut gig back in 2011 alongside The Areola Treat and Skimmed, to be exact. But when indie-punk outfit Clandestines released the first single, accompanied by video, off their debut album Saturday as Usual, we all knew that the wait was going to be worth the while.
Serbian Dog, which is also the intro track to the album, sets the tone pretty much immediately, with full-blown percussions and riffs that segue smoothly into upbeat vocals. However, it was the accompanying video (directed and edited by all three band members) that got most of the attention. A delightfully ironic send-up of the typical angst that typically permeates teenage years, it revealed a fun and gently mocking side to the trio, that fans who have already seen them play live were already familiar with.
In the video, drummer Samuel Xiberras might look better behind the percussions set than he does in lipstick and skirt (sorry), while bassist Neil Stafrace’s responsible daddy act might not be all that convincing. As for singer and guitarist Daniel Abdilla’s schoolboy act, the least said the better… but that is, of course, the idea behind the video. Too many bands, particularly those that fall within the label ‘alternative’ (whatever that might mean, nowadays) take themselves too seriously. Clandestines seem to prefer to have fun while they’re coming up with good music, which is the whole point, after all.
Which brings us to the official album launch, which happened at Beachaven, Xemxija. I believe that this venue is still sadly underestimated by the community of local musicians – the acoustics work well, the dance-floor is the right size for gigs that don’t pull a massive, mainstream audience and the bar is located just the right distance away from where the action is happening. So far, so snazzy.
The launch was supported with a performance by Dolls for Idols – Clint Spiteri, Aaron Sammut and Erick Saliba. The more I hear these guys play, the more convinced I am that they will go places, and I’m not talking Malta. Unfortunately for me, so far I’ve had to miss all of their main gigs and have only managed to catch them when they are opening for someone, or as part of a festival. Reports of their most recent solo effort last month at Coach & Horses, once again made me curse my inconvenient schedule, which leads me to look forward to the day I can pencil one of their gigs on my schedule.
On the night in question, they got the ball rolling very nicely, until it was time for Clandestines to strut their stuff – by which I mean that they managed to get people’s butts on the dance-floor in two minutes flat, no mean achievement by local standards, I can tell you.
A quick 15-minute break between acts, and Clandestines were ready to rock. And rock they did, kicking off with Don’t Step Back into Your Grave and what by now are the band’s trademark intro riffs. This is one of the tracks from the new album that really shows how the band is focusing more and more on the vocals – a move in the right direction, giving their music a more polished feel, while still keeping the distinctive percussions, bass and that bit of distortion. This was followed by a throwback to the Spectemur Agendu EP, You’d Have Never Even Asked My Name As Long As You Got The Satisfaction You Need. Yes, they do think up the most annoying names, which do stick to the brain, which is the whole point I suppose. Back to the new album with Leprosy, the next track came with an intro tightly punctuated with percussions.
In what is probably one of the heavier offerings, this is one of the most dance-floor friendly tracks, and one which the lads executed with great gusto, much to the delight of the audience. The somewhat mellower It’s Finance and You Fell, You Fell, You Fell gave the crowd a bit of a needed breather before everyone went wild with one of the highlights of the evening – a rather improbable cover of Taylor Swift’s We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together. Once again showing that these guys are not scared of poking a bit of fun at themselves, the cover went down a treat.
After the Swift re-interpretation, the evening continued on the same high notes, showcasing the remaining tracks on the new album – the heartfelt Downer, the introspective Youth Will Get You Far, the distorted Lungs and, of course, Serbian Dog – which by now everyone could scream along to, before closing off with the ironic I’m So Great, which incidentally features some pretty good vocals on the part of Abdilla, as well as some pretty nifty bass work by Stafrace.
To conclude, Saturday As Usual marks a definite progression in the trio’s musical journey. It is difficult to remember that these guys haven’t even counted 20 summers as yet. As I’ve already had occasion to write, the trio’s stage presence is remarkably strong. Musically, all three of them have matured significantly since their previous EP, Summer Camp for Pale Young Boys, resulting in a more balanced effort all around.