One of Grant Lee Buffalo‘s best songs is ‘Demon Called Deception’. Not only does it talk about legendary Johnny Cash, but it also served as the soundtrack in one of the best scenes in the fourth season of The Shield. The Active Set might not be cops from Farmington, but these fellas seem to be working in the same under the table manner as The Strike Team.
The new album by the band is called 11 and, yes, it deceptively starts sounding like a catchy, dancy post punk piece, sometimes very XTC (the peppy ‘Let the games begin’), sometimes very Bloc Party (‘Bedtime stories’ – love the guitar riff). Let’s think of these songs as the boys pretending to be good cops, doing their day to day stuff.
But it all changes when the sun goes down. The warmth of the day still exudes from the still-hot pavements of Los Angeles and they are on the prowl for those side jobs that both give them money (like the atmospheric heavy ‘Best summer ever’) and respect (like ‘Counting down your life’). It’s darker and sleazier, shedding some of the more obvious influences (at least the ones a tone deaf reviewer like me picks up) and going for their own groove.
These incursions into law-bending shenanigans do render some amazing results. ‘Sea legs’ is simply superb. Atmospheric, easy going, full of little ideas working together like cogs and a fantastic instrumental interlude that adds so much to the final mix. Let’s imagine them roaming the streets late at night, in their black truck, looking for those final clues (or just having some tacos de asada). The song even goes for some post rock explosions and it’s simply a treat.
After a quick interlude (‘interlude’!), we go back to the rockier side of The Active Set. ‘Gas wars’ is back to business, pretending to be a-ok at the precinct, but some energy is still buzzing from last night’s stake-out, leaving our protagonists buzzing a bit and giving off some strange vibes. Can the rest of the department trust them? They are still doing an effective job (‘Valley Born’), getting some info from that wiretap they’ve got on the Armenian gang (‘It multiplies’) and even snatching a major collar (‘Orchard’ – an amazing track waiting for you by the end of the album). We wave goodbye to the band with their genre-hopping ‘Famous for dying’, sort of the theme tune for the end credits.
So, The Active Set, like Michael Chiklis, but with dancier moves and more atmospheric. Awesome.