ALBUM REVIEW: Bad Amputee – Convenience Kills (Self-Released)

Prior to the pandemic which caused live music to grind to a standstill, Bad Amputee were on a roll, developing at pace into one of the most impressive new acts the North East has spawned in recent times.

With merely a demo to their name and little in the way of self-promotion, it’s a burgeoning reputation earned almost entirely through word of mouth, and one which was beginning to land them some top gigs – a support slot for local hero Richard Dawson at The Sage Gateshead last December being perhaps the pick thus far.

Formed back in 2017, the trio are by no means newcomers. A mainstay of Newcastle’s folk scene for many a year, Phil Tyler (vocals/guitar) co-fronts alongside Claire Welford (vocals/bass), who’s making waves in similar circles with her own project, Yakka Doon.

With drummer Robin Fry a stalwart of experimental collective Emergency Librarian, the group lack neither experience nor expertise, yet from their earliest performances the results of their coming together have been quite remarkable.

Now that synergy is reflected on a magnificent debut album. With any hitches (notably an ill-conceived dabble in glam rock) long since ironed out, Convenience Kills (available on CD or digitally on bandcamp HERE) presents six of their finest songs, recorded live with virtually zero in the way of overdubs, bells and whistles or studio trickery.

In both concept and execution, it’s the purest distillation of the Bad Amputee sound one could possibly hope for. From the first notes until the last, this creation is geared towards arresting heart rates as opposed to setting them racing.

Inspired by acts such as Low and Codeine, the trio’s slowcore sensibilities come infused with elements from their folk music background – most notably the front duo’s ever-present sacred harp-style harmonies.

It’s an unorthodox fusion, and one which requires a level of patience from the listener, not to mention steadfast discipline from the performers themselves.

Beautifully toned throughout, its melodies are built not so much around riffs as series of semi-isolated notes. In a sense, the space acts as an additional instrument, allowing each motif room to breathe and reverberate during six and seven-minute songs which in other bands’ hands would perhaps be over within three.

If this all sounds a little laborious, rest assured the writing offers rich rewards. Indeed, at its best Convenience Kills presents moments of true catharsis, as seemingly eternal streams culminate in wholly earned payoffs.

This pattern is exemplified by Rhona, a song of majestic simplicity whose exquisite verses swell to a climax that’s at once the most effective and affecting moment in the group’s arsenal.

Elsewhere, the similarly transcendental Last Path surges abruptly towards its finale just as you begin to question where things are heading – an injection of pace that’s all the more effective for its rarity.

Beyond The Dreams Of Medieval Kings is arguably the furthest reaching of all, flooding the record’s closing moments with waves of atmospheric low-pitched feedback.

It’s during junctures such as these that some call for greater production value, yet this is a record whose raw DIY delivery only enhances the intimacy so crucial to its success.

An undiluted portrait of an under-the-radar treasure, it’s the type of song cycle that’d provide balm for the soul and scope to lose oneself during any fall period.

In many ways, the timing of its release is regrettable, with avenues for live performance – and with it, the opportunity to seduce new converts – severely restricted.

And yet, in another sense, its arrival could scarcely be more timely. Certainly, amidst an environment wrought with apprehension and uncertainty, the value of gems such as Convenience Kills will only be magnified during the long, cold, mind-numbingly dull months ahead. 9/10

Ali Welford