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Bis – Return to Central
After Starbright Boy (what a goddamn great song that was…) and other sonic-electro-punk mentalist moments, where could former Chemikal Underground darlings Bis go? They have always had strong allegiances to the intelligent-but-na├»ve punk dimension of their songs, often being compared to legendary Japanese noise-mongers Melt Banana. However, that's only because of extrovert madcap female singer Manda Rin. And she's Scottish, so that's fairly ludicrous. But it was the electronica in those early pop-punk Indie disco foot-movers that was always threatening to become the dominant aspect.
It makes sense, then, that with Return to Central Bis appear to have turned away from pop-punk in favour of the electronica in their spectrum. It takes a couple of listens to get past how extremely 80's it sounds, but it really does make an awful lot of sense. Obviously it's played entirely from the head, but sometimes that's exactly what a band needs to do to flex their muscles. This isn't to say that Bis were an overtly emotional band to start with, (they would surely laugh at the very suggestion) but this is, on first contact, a very cold record. The delayed guitar that heralds the arrival of What You're Afraid of provides a good summary of where Bis have decided to go with this record. It's dense, expansive, a little bit groovy and, importantly, holds the interest. The kilter-bereft vocal harmonies in the verses introduce us to a different Bis. We are terminally cemented in the 80's, but it sounds sort of fresh and exhilarating despite its refusal to come up to date.
Whereas an old Bis tune might have been created through the development of one idea, be it riff or vocal snippet or chorus (or even the hilarious rapping in Starbright Boy – god, that tune is so good…), these songs are created with progression in mind. They start, they ponder, they grow, they ponder a bit more, and then they finish. Which is fine for a while, but by the time we get to Robotic (note the hideously clichéd off-beat electro thumps in the intro), the novelty bleeps and token plinky noises start to grate. It's mostly fairly interesting listening, but the listener is inclined to respect this album rather than love it.
It may be a fairly dated-sounding electro record, but it predates the recent electro record resurgence by a good two years. And the last (for some reason unlisted) track's reference to Joy Division's Love Will Tear Us Apart predates the NME's recent infatuation with the depressingly talented culture icons. So, it's not all that likeable as a complete record, but you have to admire the Bis in Return to Central for trying to shirk the title of 'Indie-pop's Cheekiest Band'.

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Published: 11 November 2001 Author: Daniel Ross
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