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TNS Review Newsteam Assemble's Debut 'I Can't Lose'

23rd March 2011

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Bands belonging under the banner of 'indie' frequently have a hard time when they first get going. The whole notion of indie music is of course founded on that ancient musical stoicism where a band will practice, play gigs, and record their first demo/album without any studio support, and Newsteam Assemble! fall neatly into this category.

Newsteam Assemble!, a four-piece ensemble of two guitars, bass and drums, have become regulars on the Southampton live scene this last year, making I Can't Lose hotly anticipated both on and off campus. I Can’t Lose is their first recorded offering, featuring eight songs ranging from the crowd-pleasing lemonade-pop of  'The Isle and Compton' to the more cynical and observational offering 'Shut Up Girl'.

What immediately stands out on I Can't Lose is the vocals: in live performance, the lyrics get somewhat lost in the semi-professional environment of pub/club sound stage, but the CD  gives them the prominence they deserve. The mixing allows the vocals to shine and calls audiences to give their undivided attention to lead chanteur Rob Leane and the words of each song. With the lyrics suddenly in the foreground, 'Invasive Attack' becomes a haunting, painful ode to a girl now gone and 'Those Holding Hands' a solemn but more hopeful repeat of the same theme. It also reveals an effervescent character to the softly articulated lyrics: where other bands might try and tread the line between sarcasm and the faux-wit that is so common, Newsteam just put it how it is. A perfect example of such is 'Being in Love', which states “being in love isn’t good enough when people expect all the other stuff/ being in love isn’t good enough for you”. 'Shut Up Girl', as the title suggests, further demonstrates Leane and Kullander's ability to write cuttingly literal lyrics: “Pick a foreign film as your favourite, make yourself more sophisticated”. 


Along with bringing the vocals to centre stage, I Can’t Lose allows the spits and cusses of Tamsin King’s electric guitar to aggravate the ears right on the money, whilst drummer Chris brings a tightness to the record, with verses and chorus' slipping into each other with minimum fuss. Dom Kullander’s bass, meanwhile, thunders on through many of the songs and often drives each number towards a climax. Yet, I Can't Lose is let down by the slightly muddy and wishy-washy recording of the second guitar. Whilst this is surely down to the low-fi nature of the recording process, there are points on the demo when you feel a simpler acoustic sound would have fared better to the overall Newsteam sound.

Overall though I Can’t Lose shows the band have a very good sense of what it takes to make their music sound good on record, and the new songs demonstrate an obvious eye for a good tune. I Can’t Lose couldn't be a more suitable name to pin to Newsteam's first record - it epitomises the optimistic energy of the record, defiant in the face of romantic defeat when everything else seems to be a weight on the shoulders. A grand accomplishment, and at eight tracks, there’s just about something for everyone.

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