Making the jump from being a hotly tipped, well known local band to being a hotly tipped, fairly well known national band is usually the breaking point for most groups. To go from playing to a full venue with an appreciative audience to playing at some toilet venue in a town you've never heard of, to a crowd consisting of one apologetic looking promoter and his three bored friends, all for a case of 18 warm cans of cheap lager, simply because one magazine tagged you as "Ones To Watch", is more than enough to take the wind out of even the most enthusiastic band's sails. To get 4 people to all agree that this is a great way to spend the next 3 years of their life is a hard task, and is one that will most likely cause a breakup. After all, being in a band is like being in a marriage. Sheffield's Umlaut were no exception.
Started in 2003 by three University friends, Umlaut took to mining that rich vein of influences that is Indie Rock. An obvious comparison to the Pavement is understandable - they're slightly loose in their performances, almost to the point of sloppy, plus there's that monotone vocal delivery, but it all comes together because they can write a proper song. A couple of months later, they added a second guitarist and a whole new bag of influences - Midwest Emo, or Midwestmo, if you will. Taking cues from the likes of Cap'n Jazz and Braid, particularly in the drums, which have that scatter shot, all over the place approach that divides opinion (personally I really like them), Umalut, over the course of an academic year, became the go to support band in Sheffield. They had an actual fan base that wasn't just their friends from halls, they had a demo cd that was getting played in Sheffield's finest Indie clubs and, most importantly, they were actually good, unlike a lot of the bands active at this point.
It was around this time that the music press was writing about the "New South Yorkshire" scene and lots of bands were getting unreasonably hyped (Bromhead's Jacket? Really?) simply by virtue of where they lived. Whilst Umlaut avoided all this, for whatever reason, it probably helped bring them to the attention of Fantastic Plastic. At least for the sake of this blog it did. Fantastic Plastic released the Winter Coat 7" in October 2005. Featuring a re-recording of demo track "Winter Coat" on the a-side and the b-side featuring a post-rock by way of twee song entitled "Professionals", the single gained good reviews and more national exposure. So Umlaut did what any sensible band would do and split up.
By July 2006 they'd played their last ever gig, leaving only one 7" and a demo cd in their wake. Aside from debut single Winter Coat, the demo has two other songs on it: "First Song", which surprisingly, they always played first, and "Lea Green", possibly the only song to feature a chorus of "Twat gave you a car". Typically described as "Cap'n'Jazz meets Hefner in the botanical gardens", these three tracks perfectly encapsulate Umlaut's charm. They're poppy, but not to the point of being a pop band; they're sloppy but in a charming way rather than a can't actually play way; and they're twee but not so twee that you feel like the singer regularly jacks off to Catcher In The Rye. A bit like Los Campesinos! without the knowingly web 2.0 lyrics. And they use an old Casio keyboard, which is always nice.
A final thought: their last gig suffered from some sound problems. After some calls to "turn the guitar up", one audience member called for them to "turn your commitment up". A fine heckle indeed.
Some of the dates in this blog might be off. I'm guessing some of them. Why not use the comments section to tell me how wrong I am.