Give Me Beauty… Or Give Me Death!, Ef’s first studio album is a pretty little thing. Though it barely strays from its own boundaries, the moments of bliss and appeal are aplenty. It’s a little like tearful happiness. Despite the fact that it isn’t the strongest of openers, “Ett” is gentle and inviting enough to engender the listener to hear more, giving off a strong sense that the band has much more to offer, which is true. The track makes a calm intro with a small build-up of instrumentation followed by a clean and slow guitar with delay (a sound that will become very familiar within the next 50 minutes of the album). The guitar is soon accompanied by another, a violin and drums, but never drifts off its purpose of being a straightforward intro, until a single, quiet, droning note bridges the intro and the second track.
I’m unsure whether the title of this track itself provoked the imagery and the sound of northern Great Britain I can hear and feel when I hear this, however there is a distinct Scottish air in “Hello Scotland”- a sound conjured up by the gentle melody played by a melodica, backed up by a subtle guitar with delay for additional atmosphere, and laced with a sweeping violin which makes use of dynamic variation to add more colour to the song. Soon enough “Hello Scotland” has pounding chords combined with cymbals galore and all the high end guitar notes you’d expect to hear from a group like Ef. Then the eye of the storm – a single violin part plays a solemn tune, and a vocal enters. The male voice is tender and unintimidating. ‘City streets, in late spring/where smoke covers everyone, and everything’. The lyrics are minimal, but the passion is there. A female vocalist enters alongside concurrently, it’s quite special, but not quite overwhelming. My only issue with this part is that the two voices don’t always match together, it makes the vocal parts seem rough and messy beside each other, when this really should have been a very smooth and delicate moment within the piece.
The female vocalist returns once again during the middle of “Tomorrow My Friend…” where she speaks over the top of a perfectly matched tune; a sorrowful monologue in which she delivers every word like a frail lure, indisputably captivating and undeniably entrancing.
This is the last time I will hold your precious body
While days are passing by, and swallows each moment whole
I’ll miss your lips… your smile, the glimpse in your eyes and your greatness
I hate to feel this way, but all good things must come to an end
This is ours. From now on there is no tomorrow my friend.
Though the words she speaks are unpretentious and involve no deciphering, they are particularly special due to how easy it is to connect with them when partnered with her charming voice, and how well the words flow alongside the simultaneous abandoned guitar line. Delay is once again used on the said guitar part, which adds more depth and atmosphere to the piece, and light cymbals are used every few bars; the two minute warning before the cliché post-rock climax. Which is probably where Ef fall the most. That is not to say the climax isn’t good, it’s that the songs are pretty and undemanding but they follow a fairly generic structure which causes difficulty in distinguishing themselves from other post-rock bands.
“Tomorrow My Friend…” trails off into “…We’ll Meet in the End” through a blaze of distortion symbolising the end of the climax, and leads perfectly back into a slow, pleasing song with minimal male vocals that are slightly reminiscent of Lights Out Asia’s vocal work (also notable in “Final Touch/Hidden Agenda”). The song fades out as gently as it all begun, and you are left feeling satisfied. Satisfied, but not complete – there is definitely something more the band could offer, something more unique, but maybe they are just too musically modest to act upon it. Ef clearly haven’t ‘overdone’ anything on this album. The guitars never play an anxious note, the violins never take over with complex melodies, and the vocals are never over-emotional. It’s not trying to be something it’s not. It is what it is, a trouble-free and soothing record, with its moments of power and beauty.