Johnny5thWheel & The Cowards are establishing themselves as one of the North West’s premier quirk-pop acts, with several of their members hailing from Preston. They release this double A-side in advance of their second album, which will be released later in 2012.
For ‘In My Laboratory’, Dr Wheel has conjured up an explosive cocktail of rich vocal harmonies, Marc Ribot guitar licks, singing saws, poppy organ and clip-clopping coconut shells.
The band have admitted it is a homage to the rattling music of homemade instrument maker Thomas Truax. You can see where they are coming from – it starts with a lone mechanical drum beat that could easily be powered by steam – but, as with a large part of the 5thWheel back catalogue, the song’s strength lies in a scientific selection of many mad musical ideas. Indeed, the lyrics themselves seem to reflect upon this kind of songwriting process.
Here, it seems the soundtracks of classic movies may have been a major influence. B-movie operatics, industrial clatters and western jaw harps have been carefully glued together like Frankenstein’s creation. Even without the excellent accompanying video – which sits somewhere between Hammer Horror and the Muppets – the song maintains a distinctively cinematic air.
As too, does ‘Nancy’, a Black Lodge ballad that could easily have been pulled straight from the brain of cult director David Lynch. It’s a stripped back fable, acoustic aside from reversed echoes and gently sustained cymbal, both of which lend well to the confusion within the narration. 5thWheel front man Richard Lomax’s storyteller vocals are on top form here, building in intensity from whisper to psychotic stuttering as the song reaches its crescendo.
The band recently hosted and performed at a David Bowie cover evening at Preston’s Mad Ferret venue, and there does seem to be a hint of his music in ‘Nancy’. It closely resembles the acoustic sections found in Hunky Dory tracks like ‘Quicksand‘ and ‘The Belway Brothers’ in mood, tone and occasionally in sound. It’s perhaps the closest you will get to slapping Bowie awake and recording the sleepy murmurs of a song half remembered from his dreams.
Together, the songs showcase the wide range of Johnny5thWheel’s song writing and leave you wondering just how many genres they are set to successfully transcend on their upcoming album.
Watch the videos for Nancy and In My Laboratory.