Any band which includes members called ‘Bad Dog’ and ‘Kitty Biscuits’ are probably worthy of anyone’s curiosity. Such curiosity is further stimulated by discovering that the fabulously named ‘Kitty Biscuits’ also provides ‘spoken word poetry’ for this new band… but idiosyncratic names apart, are they any good? Reports of a great set at the A Sunday in September event in London last year seemed to suggest they were worth exploring.
EBB, from Scotland, released a debut EP Death and the Maiden in 2019, in which they were ‘finding their feet’, according to Erin Bennett of the band. They began as the ‘Erin Bennett Band’ in 2013 and released two albums under that name in a rather different style. They decided to re-brand themselves in 2019 as EBB and head in a more progressive direction, which they all shared a passion for musically. EBB describe themselves as “Art Rock… writing and playing in their own style, telling their own stories and wrestling with their own concepts” and EBB stand out in the realms of Art/Prog Rock (whatever those terms actually mean) as being ‘five women and one guy’. Let’s be honest, in this day and age having nearly all female members should not really be a standout feature for a band, but in reality, it still is, even now… and that female perspective does give the music and lyrics a different slant. We are not in the territory of a female vocalist backed by a mainly male band. The vocals and spoken word poetry characterise EBB very much as a band with a distinctive female aura, and a sometimes spiky and assertive edge. The band feature the fine lead vocals, guitars and trumpet of Erin Bennett, but this is a high class act with quality running right through it. Apparently ‘EBB’ is not ‘E.B.B.’, but rhymes with ‘Web,’ and their songs certainly ebb and flow engagingly as the band weave engaging musical webs.
Mad & Killing Time is a concept album, although, in truth, all the songs can stand alone on their own merits. Erin Bennett explained the concept behind the album:
“Mad & Killing Time is reflective of the story of a man we knew when we were all living in the US, who was an ex-army soldier living in the sticks with a lady/sex worker. There wasn’t any funny business between them. They were just two lonely people from very different walks of life who found companionship and understanding with one another.”
The individual themes of the songs are deliberately ambiguous and open to interpretation by the listener. Erin Bennett has said, “All of the songs come together to share a story of personal discovery and growth; as well as a redemptive message that we, as humans, are more or less all in the same boat.”
On first listening to the album it is not immediately obvious that this a concept album as the lyrics are very poetic and impressionistic, filled with imaginative imagery and symbols… and to be honest – concept album or not – the album is so enjoyable on whatever level you engage with it. The general themes of love and mortality thread through every song, with the sometimes edgy and sometimes beautiful music conveying the true story of an unconventional but supportive relationship between an old dying ex-Army musician and his housekeeper, who is also a sex worker (you really couldn’t make it up!).
The opening piece, Vorspiel / Grieg’s Diner, appropriately presents the sounds of an orchestra tuning up (as ‘Vorspiel’ means ‘musical prelude or overture’). The piece morphs atmospherically into a saxophone and flute intro melody – it feels like the opening to a strange movie and ends with the sound of an old man speaking in the distance. He is a close old friend of the band in the UK who is also an old soldier like the American Veteran, upon which the concept is based. This overture leads into gentle 12-string guitar sounds with The Animal Said “I”, briefly suggesting early Trespass-era Genesis, but we are not long in those pastoral landscapes. The song gradually builds with piano and bass over strange, indistinct voices before Erin Bennett’s strong, smoky voice enters, full of character and yearning, singing such evocative lines:
What she knows she’d see, If she called out to me
Something moved inside, When the animal said ‘I'”
I am not entirely sure what that all means, but when you listen to the song it kind of doesn’t matter as you can feel it on an emotional level… like the best poetry and music. Bad Dog’s bass underpins the song (and indeed the whole album) with cool assurance, acting almost as a second lead instrument to the guitar. Erin Bennett lays down an earthy, distorted electric guitar solo in the middle, heightening a sense of barely restrained power and anguish threading throughout this remarkable song.
The quality of the song writing improves even further on the next song, Tension, probably the standout track on the whole album. This swirling, thrusting maelstrom of menace and melody bewitches and thrills the listener, opening with a sinister, rumbling bass under a rippling organ riff and synth effects. The tension builds as the whole band joins in this infectious riff before Kitty Biscuits casts her spell with peculiar but enticing spoken word poetry:
Their passion constrained by circumstance
So why is it that they cannot compromise,
And meet at the meniscus and kiss?”
A full three-minutes into this epic sounding track, Erin joins with an assured lead vocal which then explodes with anguish and power – she has a remarkable rock voice that confidently carries the songs. Additionally, her gritty guitar sounds drive this piece along, underlining the tension thrumming through the whole song. Hecate continues the high quality in a contrasting style, showcasing the elegant piano skills of Nikki Francis, who opens the song with a flowing melody. Erin smoulders vocally as Hecate gathers momentum, borne along by the piano and then the whole band driving forward. This is a song which ebbs and flows, alternating between Nikki’s fluid piano lines and more powerful full band section. Appropriately coven-like harmony backing vocals possibly evoke images of the Goddess of magic and spells.
Mad and Killing Time takes a much more pastoral direction on the gorgeous opening of What Under What, embroidered delightfully with delicate flute and lilting organ. Erin Bennett shows vocal dexterity in singing much more gently and sensitively, supported by some lovely harmonies. This beguiling reverie is surprisingly transformed at the mid-point with pulsing synth waves and some great tribal-like drumming from Anna Fraser, heralding a much more assertive and darker passage before receding to the softer sounds of the opening. I underestimated this song on my first few listens, but then its majesty ‘clicked’ for me. Indeed, this could be said of the whole album, which really repays repeated listens as unexpected or previously unnoticed pleasures reveal themselves.
The intriguingly named instrumental Violet is Tits allows the band to show its chops, particularly Francis on organ, followed by the sleazy atmosphere of Krystal at the Red Light. This couplet of pieces carry things along solidly, but they did not engage quite as effectively as the high quality and ever morphing first half of the album. However, Confess is a fascinating piece, starting with the mysterious voice of the old man before bass, drums and synths strike up an unsettling mood. Acoustic guitar and flute over a classic Mellotron sound bring in Erin’s soulful voice. Just when you think we are settling down into some sort of torch song, Confess descends magnificently into a Van der Graaf Generator-style maelstrom, full of off-kilter saxophones and a melting pot of unsettling sounds – you never quite know where it’s going!
This high-quality album finishes with the excellent Mary Jane, featuring flowing acoustic guitar and great vocals reminiscent of Alanis Morissette (not a bad thing!), before taking a much more powerful turn. This is a song drenched in a sense of love and redemption with some beautiful lyrics:
I’ll surround you like the mist after summer rain
And I’ll wash from you the fears and all your shame,
You’re more beautiful than summer nights.
Let me remind you.”
It is a lovely, poetic way to end Mad and Killing Time, underlining the skilful way EBB have combined powerful rock and more pastoral shades throughout the album. Mad and Killing Time came out of nowhere for me but I am glad I delved into it – sometimes you need to take a little gamble. It’s a truly impressive debut album and it will be fascinating to see where EBB will flow in future… I will certainly be flowing with them. Go a little mad and try it yourself!
01. Vorspiel / Grieg’s Diner (2:52)
02. The Animal Said: “I” (6:24)
03. Tension (6:45)
04. Hecate (6:27)
05. What Under What (5:52)
06. Violet is Tits (4:00)
07. Crystal at the Red Light (5:04)
08. Confess (5:28)
09. Mary Jane (5:16)
Total Time – 48:08
Kitty Biscuits – Backing Vocals, Percussion, Spoken Word Poetry
Erin Bennett – Guitars, Lead Vocals, Trumpet
Bad Dog – Bass
Nikki Francis – Hammond Organ, Piano, Synthesisers, Saxophone, Flute, Clarinet
Anna Fraser – Drums & Percussion
Suna Dasi – Backing Vocals, Synthesisers
Record Label: Boudicca Records
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 1st November 2022
– Death and the Maiden [EP] (2019)
– Mad and Killing Time (2022)