Soon after the demise of Britpop, the United Kingdom produced a wave of excellent guitar bands that had trouble finding traction in the States; bands that combined elements of post-rock, indie rock, emo, and prog to create dizzying sonic towers of fury and sadness. (Frustratingly although unsurprisingly, the one band operating in this mode that did achieve Stateside success — England’s Muse — was also the most annoying of them.) I could probably list a dozen such acts off the top of my head — Idlewild, Aereogramme, We Were Promised Jetpacks — but at the top of that list would be England’s now-defunct Oceansize and Scotland’s still-active Biffy Clyro.
Mike Vennart did time in both those bands. He was Oceansize’s frontman from their formation in 1998 till their split in 2010. After that, he signed on as a touring guitarist for Biffy Clyro, and he contributed some guitar and vocal parts to the band’s 2013 album, Opposites. Now, Vennart is set to release his debut solo album, The Demon Joke, which doesn’t sound much like a “solo” anything: It’s not spare or pared-down; it’s layered and full-bodied. It actually sounds a lot like a midway point between Oceansize and Biffy Clyro, bringing together the former’s complex, math-y psychedelia with the latter’s roaring, naked bombast. The album’s first single, “Operate,” suggests Vennart’s time with Biffy influenced him as a songwriter: It’s not oblique or arch, it just fucking soars. Vennart had this to say about it:
“Operate” was the song that opened a lot of doors, creatively, on this record. It’s pretty much the best chorus I’ve ever written. It’s the kind of heavy pop song I’ve been threatening to write for years. It’s simple, but it’s still got a few weird tricks up its sleeve.
FWIW, I totally agree with all of this: “Operate” is indeed a “heavy pop song” that’s “simple, but it’s still got a few weird tricks up its sleeve” and it has “the best chorus.” I’m a big Biffy fan so I’m especially susceptible to this stuff, but even if I weren’t, I still think “Operate” would sound like a humongous hit to my ears. Really, objectively, how do you hear this thing and not hear a humongous hit? Even if “Operate” never becomes a hit, though, it’s already humongous. Listen.
Vennart’s The Demon Joke is out 6/22 via Superball Music. Pre-order it here.