Artists-On-Albums: AOA #16 (Ambrose Nock on Sandpit’s On Second Thought)

Ambrose Nock (Apricot Rail) on…

Sandpit – On Second Thought (Fellaheen, 1998)

Sandpit - On Second Thought

Putting a record on that you haven’t listened to in a while can be like catching up with an old friend again. Part of you is excited at the prospect of revisiting a missed sense of familiarity, and feeling the same emotions you did all those years ago whilst concurrently kicking yourself for leaving it this long. On the other side of the coin are the nerves & doubts:  will there still be chemistry, or by catching up again are you going to ruin fond memories of times that have well and truly passed.

I approached listening to Sandpit’s album On Second Thought in its entirety for the first time in years with a comparable excitement and caution. A long lost gem I stumbled upon when I was just fourteen this album, more than any other record set my senses alive with inspiration and redirected my music taste into different & exciting avenues. Thankfully as I take in the first couple of tracks there is no ‘what was I thinking’  factor and in fact its comforting to know that those lush guitar tones and clever hooks sound as good as did all those years ago. What is somewhat scary is just how familiar it all is – revisiting anything after a period of time you’d expect a few surprises but none are forthcoming, evidence at just how precisely this record is imprinted on my brain.

In terms of career Sandpit had a pretty short inning: this, their only long player was proceeded by a couple of (very excellent) EP’s and by the time this record came out they’d all but officially folded due to a complex personal situation within the group. Earlier work, typified by overdriven energetic guitar chaos drew comparisons to American guitar bands such as Sonic Youth & Polvo and whilst these influences remain on OST they’re stripped back giving way to more succinct ideas about melody and restraint. Whilst in no way a commercial hit, its legacy left a lastly imprint through its influence on many left of centre Australian bands.

First single “Along the Moors” is a gorgeous opener, building incrementally through subdued verse and syncopated chorus to a fuzzed out, guitar heavy exit. “Hold Your Horses”, “Helicopters” & the cleverly titled “Greater Expectations” show the band in its element as chord changes dance around the beat, avoiding it wherever possible and leaving only the hi-hat to maintain order. Track six “Whole Again” is perhaps the standout, an instrumental (with the exception of the first few first bars), it really is something special like nothing else I’ve heard since. A triumph for alternate tunings and minimalist arrangements, the guitar is just so lovely, warm and infectious, sucking in the earspace around it with humming, lightly brushed open strings and only the pan flute at the end threatening to impede on its territory.

Many of today’s post-rock bands look to find impact moments by proceeding them with long periods of often predictable and dull build up, then launching into straightforward 4/4 or 6/8 periods of heaviness defined by simple rhythm sections and a soul-less reverb drench lead guitar part. Sandpit find this impact moment without any need for this on tracks like closer “Crepe Paper Fortress”, achieved through the cleverly arranged intensity of a twisted guitar pattern leading the rhythm section rather than the other way round and no doubt you’ll find you head nodding to the notes rather than the beat.

Here and elsewhere what makes On Second Thought a great listen is the spacious & clever nature of the arrangements. As with most three piece outfits each instrument has its own room to breathe & with that each can display its own potential. The guitar more than anything relies on this space and defines itself through brilliant tone thanks largely to the tunings which give it natural chorus & warmth as well as dischordant clusters of notes within only a few tones of each other. Chord changes rarely take place on the beat, and as such the kick drum and bass guitar continually surface in surprising places, driving the songs from unique rhythmic patterns. Within the guitar riffs most often the open notes are strung as well, giving birth to a second part within the patterns that these form – the sort of thing that’s hard to digest on first listen but pure listening gold and the sort of thing the repeat button was invented for. On top of this the majority of Webb’s lyrics are an interesting mix of clever metaphors and storytelling coupled with moments of brutal openness displaying a purity of emotions and vulnerabilities. This is well and truly on display within tracks such as “I Positively Hate You Now” and “Walk in a Straight Line” which, coupled with stunningly delicate & beautiful music it makes for an almost overwhelming listening experience.

As the final chords of “Crepe Paper Fortress” ring out it becomes obvious this has been a worthwhile trip down memory lane. Within On Second Thought there are so many elements that for me makes it an interesting record and one that continues to get me excited about music. On this basis, I doubt it will be as long till I find it on rotation on my cd player again.

Notes On The Artist:

Ambrose Nock - photo by Tom Cramond

Ambrose Nock formed instrumental band Apricot Rail in Perth, Australia and the group quickly gained local attention with their DIY demo that remains unreleased. After receiving attention from the local scene, Apricot Rail recorded and released a self-titled debut full-length on Hidden Shoal Recordings in 2009. Nock is a multi-instrumentalist, playing guitar, glock, and keyboards and he’s been a member of other Perth-area bands. Apricot Rail is completely instrumental, focusing on unique guitar tunings and the use of natural harmonics.

Of the band’s debut, DOA writer Adam Costa said, “Apricot Rail’s first long player gives cause for a reconsideration of the possibilities of instrumental rock. It’s an album of surprising depth, from the hypnotic hemiola effects of the keyboard, palm-muted guitar, and mallet percussion on “Rain Falls On Your Nose, It’s Red From The Cold,” to the droning melodica and irony-free vocals of “Car Crash” (“I hope you die in a car crash”). It’s truly amazing how dreamy and reflective this band can make a song with such scornful notions in it. Despite the impending darkness, light remains.”