It marks a pleasant time in any Londoner’s life when they can unwind, cup of tea in hand, to the lulling, polished tones of BBC 6 Music. More often than not an excuse to listen to David Bowie at work rather than a way to discover underground acts, I was surprised to hear Fear of Men’s “Seer” wedged between Space Oddity and Lola on Steve Lamacq’s Thursday evening slot. Lazily rolling drums gave way to sweeping, arpeggiating guitars and gently delivered female vocals. Exactly my warm beverage of choice, I think to myself, before Lammo’s moved on to the Kinks and I’m being dragged along with them.
A bit of research later, and I’m a bit closer to finding out who the prospectors of this particular musical nugget might be. Fear of Men was conceived when Jessica Weiss, while studying fine art and history of art at Goldsmiths University of London, caught the attention of fellow Londoner and future guitarist Daniel Falvey when showing off some home recordings of ambient film soundtracks. After exchanging contact details, mix tapes and a raft of favorite artists, including Neutral Milk Hotel and The Chills, the pair created the pop-slanted project christened Fear of Men.
Eventually, after pursuing the thankless world of endless self-promotion and guerrilla recording tactics, the pair added Michael Miles on drums and Robyn Edwards on bass to their male-phobic crew. After a few self-released and touchingly produced EPs, they joined LA surf-pop fiends Best Coast on their tour of the U.K., playing at, among other venues, London’s Shepherds Bush Empire and Brighton’s specialist late-night dive, Coalition. It seems as if the band will continue to hold suitably lofty company, with a four-date tour planned with fellow London rockers Veronica Falls. Early successes also conspired to unite them with U.S. label Kanine, musical home at one time or another to Chairlift, Surfer Blood and Grizzly Bear. From here, and in a bit of a reverse-career maneuver, the quartet released Early Fragments, a nine-track collection of early singles compiled from those first EPs.
On first listening, there are undoubtedly audible nods to dreamier, lady-led acts like Mazzy Star and the Innocence Mission to discern, but unlike so many artists–who deliver less a doff of the cap and more a huge, body-wrenching paroxysm towards their audio heroes–Fear of Men’s sound remains reassuringly their own. The aforementioned “Seer” employs this to an effective an evocative end and, although the guitars have been put through a shoegaze filter, the track ends up feeling increasingly like a tenderly delivered folk song, made all the more charming by Weiss and Edwards’ interweaving melodies. Sometimes, just sometimes, Fear of Men could be mistaken for First Aid Kit, admittedly if adopted by R.E.M at an early age.
In fact, it’s only when your ear latches on to a jarring lyric that you realize Fear of Men have a savage bite behind their cavernous, euthanasic sound. “You make no sense at all with my hands around your neck,” warns Weiss, only seconds earlier admonishing the listener:
“You say you’re a seer, I see nothing
You say you’re a seer, you say on”
Weiss’ lyrics feed into the band’s larger aesthetic conceit, with images of dilapidated statues and crumbling classical architecture pervading the band’s covers and artwork. As a result, there’s a creeping dread behind the band’s poppy outlook, a sense of weariness and inevitability, even of impotency, that niggles at the insecurities in the back of your hypothalamus as well as the finest schizoid Thom Yorke stanza. They’re a serious act, that’s for sure, but such a self-assured approach is refreshing in a British independent scene that quite enjoys walking an irritating line between taking the piss and itself seriously.
Fear of Men is currently ensconced in a Farm owned by Miles’ parents recording their debutant effort, due to be released some time toward the end of the year under the watchful eyes of Kanine. Following their brief U.K. tour, the band is gracing American fans at Texas-mega-fest SXSW with their presence, via a show in Mexico City, before schlepping up to New York City for a couple of dates, headlining Williamsburg’s Glasslands on March 19 with local act BOYTOY and supporting Brooklyn shoegaze outfit Field Mouse at Pianos the following night.
The foursome is well worth catching hold of wherever you can and, even though my exposure to them may have been dampened after transmission through the sleepy wavebands of 6 Music, they’re certainly nothing to be afraid of.