Hailing from Perth, Australia, Umpire are a four piece band consisting of Simon Struthers, Geoff Symons and Michael Lake, with the later addition of drummer Josh Watkins when the band finally became a live entity. Although Now We’re Active is the band’s debut album, the general brain usage and song writing behind the project initially began in 2006. Umpire’s album has essentially been five years in the making, with a taster given via the 2009 released self titled EP, but news of a ten track record was naturally going to be intriguing.
Now We’re Active defines Umpire’s style brilliantly in their ability on one album to present fast, complex guitar rhythms, typical of the math rock genre combined with slower, pleasing, melancholic sounds. These polarities can be seen from the tingling fade out of ‘Spotlights’ to the powerful guitar and drums in the first 10 seconds or so of ‘Jewellery Can Be Disturbing’, personally a highlight on the album. My first proper listen of the album was walking to work, the 35 minute commute suiting the 38 minute record rather well – and here is where I admit I skipped ‘On The Fringes’ on this particular listen. Symons’ vocals are really impressive throughout, managing to rise above the heavier periods of the record majestically and settling gently on the subtler parts just as needed, but his higher notes grated ever so slightly on this particular track, compared to other songs where the vocals and instruments wove in and out of each other and balanced perfectly.
Umpire have quoted one of their influences as ’90s alternative band Pavement, and this can definitely be heard throughout Now We’re Active, perhaps in the cool, slightly indifferent vocal style Symons and Pavement’s lead singer Stephen Malkmus both use. The abundance of the start and stop technique is seen often throughout the album – I read a review that believed this technique was over used by the band and this perhaps can be seen on ‘Corner An Owl In An Alcove’ although this is actually one of my favourite songs on the album.
Other highlights worth mentioning definitely include the album opener ‘Green Light District’ and closer ‘Cyclones Into Sunshowers’. ‘Green Light District’ eases you into the accelerative verse to chorus approach, to then be greeted powerfully by the anthemic, slightly eerie vocals of ‘Supply Chins’. ‘Cyclones Into Sunshowers’ is what can only be described as a beautiful ending to the record with its bewitching fade out. I am going to ambush the opportunity to roll out the much used phrases ‘lump in the throat’ and ‘hairs on the back of the neck standing up’ – they can be accurate but just kinda suck, so I am going to nimbly skirt the edges of the cliché minefield as best I can. All I can say is the fading end seconds of ‘Cyclones Into Sunshowers’ definitely leave you with a bit of a tingly feeling.