From The Guardian's New Band Of The Day feature...
The lineup: Rollo Smallcombe, Kevin Emre, Andrew Ford, Tom Jones.
The background: Here's a lovely little new band for you. Not that we want to damn them with faint praise because "lovely" is a substantial compliment. Guardian.co.uk/music just ran a popular series predicated on the idea that our – and by "our" we mean the critics up here but also people in general – most cherished records are the ones we find, not the most original or mind-bendingly inventive, but the loveliest, the ones we use as balm when we're feeling sad and low or in emotional pain. I Ching's songs have that quality – they're soothing without being bland. Tomorrow we might need something corrosive and harsh, but today only I Ching's aural analgesics will do.
They're a pair, Rollo Smallcombe and Kevin Emre, who for gigs draft in two other musicians, including Tom Jones, which is a bit of a surprise considering his last album sold quite well. They met on their first day at university in London, and write from a makeshift home studio in Finsbury Park. They've already supported lots of New Band of the Day faves like Foster the People, Neon Indian, Craft Spells and Becoming Real, and they're influenced by "pop, the avant garde, 60s psych, Turkish garage, contemporary electronica and folk, as well as early-80s synthesiser music". To be honest, we can't hear many elements of folk, the avant garde, garage – Turkish or otherwise – or 60s psych in the tracks we've heard, although we concur with the next bit of their press release about there being "an emphasis on colour and texture in their sound".
Early-80s synthesiser pop music by two art-school kids who've named themselves after the ancient Chinese Book of Changes? Anyone? Don't know about you, but we can't help thinking of Liverpudlian synth-duo China Crisis – not just because of the name but because of the twinkly lushness of their tunes – and of Japan, that other early-80s outfit obsessed with all things Chinese, whose songs were like a series of textured miniatures, coloured (not colourful so much as tinged with colour; tinted). They're hardly referenced these days, even given the early-80s retro boom, but I Ching are distinctly Japan-ese, only more directly melodic and minus the idiosyncratically funky fretless bass shapes of Mick Karn and frontbeauty David Sylvian's more experimental urges.
Still good, though, and, as we say, just what the doctor ordered today. Drive is the one that first caught our ears, with its glistening production and gossamer layers, its soft, sighing vocals, sibilant synths and sad but catchy refrain of "just because you don't know any better", a sort of fey version of a fist-punching audience singalong chorus. It's so wan it could get blown away by a breath of air, but it is three and a half minutes of dreamy pop bliss that might just do something as basic and banal yet utterly necessary as improve your mood. Chings That Make You Feel Better, indeed. There are other palliatives in their repertoire. So Far recalls the Lotus Eaters or one of those long-forgotten groups that prop up Frankie and ABC on all those Now That's What I Call Gold Lame greatest hits collections. Cataclysm is just a demo, a "jam", apparently – if so, we can't wait to hear their fully-formed, finished songs. In fact, they already have several, making us wonder whether I Ching are capable of making an album's worth of well-crafted songwriting that is then treated to a sheeny, spacious, near-dubby production as quietly radical as Prefab Sprout's Steve McQueen? They'd need the right sound alchemist, of course. We'd recommend Prefab's producer, Thomas Dolby, who has just returned to the pop fray after 19 years.