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The din of Steve’s bass guitar is audible from two blocks away. Unrelenting, consistent, enthusiastic; I interrupt it, unwittingly, as I follow Adrian through the cardboard door that leads into the deconstructed living area of what has once been a maisonette.
This is where Areola Treat rehearse: egg carton soundproofing, sprawling drum kit set up in one corner, walls plastered with curious paraphernalia of sorts, including, among others, the electoral manifesto of a couple contesting the Mgarr council elections on the PL ticket, a hastily scissored picture of SKyN from a magazine (circa 2003) and a couple of (presumably) stolen parking signs.
Having accompanied Steve’s lines with a sporadic, Neanderthal beat for the last few minutes, Lisa finally gets off the drummer stool. Donning a brown bomber jacket and sporting the omnipresent fringe that must interfere with her line of sight, she is in high spirits this evening. My last meeting with the Areolas two years ago, as she gleefully recounts, was off to an, uh, slow start: in a hungover Saturday morning daze, she had spent the first thirty minutes or so inspecting a tree trunk, before eventually joining the conversation midway through the interview.
At the time, Areola Treat were already known for machine gunning through songs, wolfing down a whole eight track EP in less than thirty minutes, pounding at your ear drums with the blitzkrieg combination of one of Malta’s tightest rhythm sections and Lisa’s screeching, bloodcurdling vocals. They made a slight mark on radio playlists with Sibbi earning them some occasional airplay.
Since then towering bassist Matthew Cuschieri has been replaced by long time acquaintance Steve Shaw (formerly with Retrophytes). Their reputation as a tight live act remains intact, and their debut album Pleasure Machines does little to diminish their status. On the contrary the release sees them take a step or two further, allowing themselves a bit more gloss, or ‘colour’ as Chris calls it, without straying too much from the trademark sound.
Strangely, Pleasure Machines is a brand new album that is already eighteen months old. “We have been writing these songs since 2008, and recorded them in June 2009,” says Adrian. “We have been trying to get a new record deal since but we kind of had enough. We didn’t really manage to do what we wanted and what we found wasn’t really interesting to us. A lot of time has passed since, we’ve waited enough and that’s it, we decided to release the album.”
Record labels, in 2011, seem to have become a kind of dinosaur for the majority of Maltese bands. Not so for the Areolas though, whose main disappointment with their previous label was the lack of marketing support offered to them. Regional issues, they suspect, hindered them and put them a few rungs down the priority list.
“Now that we manage ourselves we have a lot more freedom. We think that if a record label wants to invest money in the band, at least in, say, doing the printing for us, there would be some reasoning behind it. But these guys, never did anything for us, not even the cover artworks, selling the EP was like a bonus for them and if they sold nothing they didn’t really bother.
But at the same time we relinquished our rights to the music. Then there’s the other problem here too, that the iTunes store is not available to Malta so we cannot even sell our songs in our country.”
At just over forty five minutes, the twelve-track Pleasure Machine features a less breakneck version of Areola, without losing the unpredictability that has always characterised their music. While opener Turn the Beat might trick you into thinking they’re up to more of the same, Drop the Bomb and its Sex Pistols-ey introduction are a tiny indication that yes, there is less of a rush to the chorus and to finishing the song. Devil Hall Jukebox runs at a full five minutes and while none of the traditional elements are missing, the band’s melody has evolved and got itself a tan while Lisa’s oscillating vocals still sway perilously between the paranoid and the werewolf.
The scene is set for a brief yet very pleasant trough in the album. 100 Silhouettes is where the Areola Treat dig into some serious melody making. If they sounded like early Yeah Yeah Yeah’s on Devil Hall… this track is an earnest attempt at balladry, evoking memories of Hole’s Malibu on a good hair day. Nothing There stands out from the lot, arguably the best track of the album, where the band settle for a backing role to the monumental chorus: “Rain will compensate for the hearts who live to break/Yet for the ones who live to know, there is a place where they will go.”
Like a brick through a glass wall, Psychic Controller steps up a gear again, and off we go: Translation and its imposing bass rhythms, it’s the familiar Areola Treat again, yet more substance, more structure. Noise and distortion are there alright, but they’ve shown they can do that, and more: Subsonic Speed Shades’s morbid bass line and marauding vocals nod to early influence Iggy Pop.
The album features a cartoon of three nude women on the front cover (“There’s a fourth one at the back,” titters Chris) that verges on the disturbing, Lisa claims there is nothing remotely sexist about the album. “The stuff on our new album revolves a lot around the impatient, fidgety world we live in. It’s lost its human touch. We’ve all developed nervous ticks, myself included. Our arms have become extensions of our mobile phones and our laptops and our Youtubes, vigorously typing away yet learning nothing valid. We’ve become the biomechanical entities humans had always feared,” says Lisa.
All in all, the fans shouldn’t really worry about “Lisa not screaming enough”. Matthew Cuschieri’s bass still sounds like it’s dangling somewhere close to his knees, Adrian’s riffs are a guarantee and Chris’s drumming still belies his pint sized frame. And yes, the singer still has her mood swings at the mic. Older? Yes. Wiser? Check.
“We didn’t try to do anything different,” says Adrian. “Things fell into place like that. We recorded the songs live, same as we did with the EP.”
“Well I think quite a few things changed,” says Lisa. “The structure, the way it’s written… I think the songs are a bit longer now, more defined. We were more exclusively punk, now we’ve kept the feel but took it to a different level. People tell us we’re more postpunk now, maybe more evolved and complex, without overdoing it.”
Adrian and Chris itch to pass a remark or two about a perceived “snobbishness” in the alternative scene. “I feel like we’re old, like the Shostakovich’s Nightmare around the year 2000. Not many bands are trying something new. What do people want out of this scene?”
The band are not expecting wonders out of local radios either, pointing out that 100 Silhouettes got little airplay. Less, in my opinion, than it really deserves. Similarly, they lament a lack of venues and the diminishing opportunities for the promotion of an album.
Mention that to Lisa, and she’s on about the anticlimax of playing to people who are too intent on talking throughout the gig. “There’s always some excuse for which people won’t stop texting during a good performance, other than feeling with the heart and the mind. The intense feeling is lost. That’s not how people would treat a painting or a sculpture.”
* * *
“D’you mind turning the lights off on the way out?” asks Chris. But Steve has already grabbed his bass and there is more of that absurd one handed drumming, providing me with the perfect excuse for forgetting to press the switch. There’s a serious rehearsal for the album launch, set for the 22nd April. The blitz is on.