The Jericho Tavern, Oxford
8th May 2012
Watching Glasgow trio Errors touring their third album, Have Some Faith in Magic, is like being treated to an electro-rock baroque concert. Simon Ward and Steev Livingstone’s Foals-like guitar riffs repeat over and under bubbling electronica and soaring synth lines somewhat contrapuntally, with James Hamilton’s varying, syncopated drumming underpinning everything. Steev does provide some vocals, but they’re soft, chillwavey and effectively, as with Cocteau Twins, another instrument.
Tonight makes me wonder how much instrumental bands think they need to work on making their music engaging without lyrics; trance and so on have no problem, but words and guitars often seem mutually requisite. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article explaining why Adele’s behemoth Someone Like You provokes such an emotional reaction, psychologists at the University of British Columbia have found that chill-provoking passages have at least four features: beginning softly then becoming loud; the introduction of a new “voice” (either a new instrument or harmony); an expansion of the frequencies played; and unexpected deviations in the melody or the harmony.
The effect of these things in Adele’s song is of course intensified by the lyrics, but the beauty of Errors’ music is such that all of these melodic manipulators are abundant, relentless and seemingly effortless. Apparently our sympathetic nervous system goes on high alert when music suddenly breaks from its expected pattern. With Errors, this is usually more subtle than sudden; every phrase of “the chords and notes and that”, as Steev puts it, is different: riffs build up and drop out, counter-riffs weave in, pick up chords, drop chords…
Despite the tracks’ differences, they are all characterised by being simultaneously conventional and unexpected, memorable but free from traditional verse-chorus restrictions. So lyrics really aren’t needed; tracks such as the stand-out A Rumour in Africa are far too busy – and fun – for that.