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South (U.K.)

Maybe the reason the U.K. music press starts frothing at the mouth over a new rock act every six months or so is simply that the British Isles produce innovative and interesting new bands at a rate of twice a year. You've got to admit, an awful lot of good ones have come out of that chilly nation over the decades. South is one such band -- they were fawned over by Britain's enthusiastic music mags (NME, the now defunct Melody Maker, Flipside, The Face) and they happen to be quite good. Much has been made of the London trio's relative youth -- they were still teens when signed to U.N.K.L.E. honcho James Lavelle's Mo' Wax label back in 1998 -- but they've got plenty of experience under their belts, having honed their craft together since their prepubescent days at secondary school.

All three members are multi-instrumentalists, readily swapping duties on guitar, bass, keyboards, and drums. And the sounds they make with these tools are fairly paradigmatic Brit-pop, reminiscent of the Manchester sound circa 1990, when The Stone Roses and The Charlatans UK ruled the roost (just to cite a couple of cool bands of yesteryear who received the same sort of hero's welcome from their nation's music press). But there's more going on with South. You know those old cartoons where the fleeing criminal drives a black getaway car through a barn and emerges with the same car in red? You sort of get the feeling that South has done something like that with their songs. Only here the "barn" is Wessex Studios in London, where South shaped their debut album, From Here On In with lots of help from Mr. Lavelle. The eagerly awaited record, released on the heels of a handful of well-received but fairly raw four-track singles, infuses South's Brit-pop with a floating electronic ambience that makes it rather different from the stoned Madchester anthems of a decade ago. There are some distortion-heavy power-pop pieces here, to be sure, but these rise suddenly from the murky depths of spacey instrumental interludes driven forward by propulsive dance rhythms.

South also worked with Lavelle on the soundtrack to the critically acclaimed 2001 film Sexy Beast, offering up another dose of their atmospheric, electronics-laded rock, a style which worked very well in the context of the oddly sinister indie flick. One of the dominant themes of the last decade has been the increasingly blurred line between rock and electronic music, but these precocious young lads have found a way to blur that line in fresh new ways.

In 2003, the trio issued their sophomore follow-up, With the Tides. The album saw them working with a new producer, Dave Eringa, acclaimed for his work with rock bands like Ash and Manic Street Preachers, and the shift away from Lavelle's predilections for esoterica and electronica is noteworthy. But while the standard Brit-rock setup is more at the fore than ever, countless unpredictable elements lurk complement the band's moody pop constructions, from frequent swelling strings to treated keyboard loops to electronic scraps and strange instrumental flourishes. The album's first single, the immensely catchy and plaintive "Loosen Your Hold," is emblematic of the band's sophisticated palette, opening with eerie harmonies and cinematic strings before bursting into an anthemic chorus underpinned by a percolating banjo line.

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