[sic] Magazine

For Against – Shade Side Sunny Side

An incessant, almost tribal, drumbeat ushers in ‘Glamour’, the opening track for ‘Shade Side Sunny Side’. Feedback whirls around you while an eerie keyboard rings out an inhuman death knell. And then the guitars fire up. Doom-laden bass and incendiary six string. For Against are back. Back with venom.

Of course they never really went away. In the biz for nigh on 25 years but what distinguishes this record from 2002’s Coalesced is the return of guitarist Harry Dingman III. ‘Shade Side Sunny Side’ is the first time founder members Dingman and Jeffery Runnings have been reunited since their seminal, late 80’s, trilogy Echelons, December and In the marshes. Never far from my system, December remains a personal favourite.

But just how do the 2008 For Against measure up to the heights of 1988? Actually it’s a seamless progression. Natural. Effortless, almost. ‘On Shade Side Sunny Side’ the band seem totally assured. Totally comfortable with where they are. Yet the material is edgy. Had to be. Titles like ‘Irresistible’, ‘Glamour’ and ‘Aftertaste’ point us towards uncomfortable subject matter. Seduction and regret are to be found in abundance on Runnings’ lyrics. This must be the shade side. Yet against a musical backdrop of stark, sub-zero minimalism it begs the question, where’s the sunny side?

‘Aftertaste’ comes over like a cross between the surf twang of The Prids and the visceral guitars of the Banshees or early Cocteaus. The melody on ‘Why are you so angry?’ recalls Kitchens of Distinction’s standout ‘Prize’. Yet gnawing at the heart of the album is an ominous cover of Section 25’s ghostly ‘Friendly Fire’. Factory references are probably inescapable when it comes to For Against. They’ve simply embraced it by covering this. Imagine Wire’s ‘Drill’ slowed down a notch. Add a side order of reverb and you’re close.

If the reunion of Runnings and Dingman III makes the obligatory headline then an injustice is surely being done to drummer Paul Engelhard. What a faultless shift this guy puts in on skin duties. I’m reminded of Kevin Haskins (Bauhaus) with Engelhards ‘wait for it…WAIT for it’ style. Urgent yet holding back, it’s exquisite. This percussion, coupled with the spattering of bleak, descending scales probably pushes For Against toward the darkwave moniker that dogs them. They’re so much more. “Dreampop”, “post-punk” , none of their regular labels quite fit. I think it’s a good thing.

I’ve worked out the “sunny side” by the way. It must be Runnings vocals. His airy, gentle delivery belies the troubled material. Here we are in the midst of domestic despair and the guy sounds unperturbed, bored almost. Dare we say even a little bit amused? Even on the stripped-naked ‘Game Over’ Runnings merely seems tired. The effect is weirdly unsettling. Perverse as it may seem, it is a hundred times more effective than any sonorous theatrical type whining on about bats and suchlike. For Against remind us of the difference between ??Gothic?? and Goth.

One of the essential records of the year then, especially for fans of Comsat Angels, The Sound and The Chameleons. But be warned. This years model For Against has toughened up and theirs is the darkest of dreaming. Of current bands, only Film School and possibly Editors at their iciest, come close.

bq. “When the sun shines
they slip into the shade”
The Beatles, ‘Rain’.



December remastered, also available on Words On Music.