J. Scott Watson
Not a "Considered, Literate Review," but My Immediate Reactions
Goddamnit, I love this record.
1) For the lyrics fans -- Greg O. is clearly an intelligent writer with a mastery of the English language -- and a man for whom English is a second language. It's apparent in everything he sings, but it's right there on the page if you're consulting the lyrics in the CD booklet [and I heartily commend to you the graphics -- simple post-punk, from a "Break Out! with The Intentions!" school. But I digress . . . ]. This gives everything an unexpected twist; few "moon / June" rhyming schemes here. I'm not usually preoccupied with lyrics; I listen to the emotions of the band, and the lyrics are just one of the paints on the canvas, as it were. But these lyrics grabbed me, and forced me to go over, and over, the songs. Becoming more and more captivated with each listen. Most of the songs seem to deal with [surprise!] relationships and their attendant problems, but they're accompanied by a self-awareness, and occasionally a controlled anger (or at least scorn) that seem as honest as anything I've run across in popular music in a long time.
"Undefined Sofa Sketches," "The Enemy's Scientist," "Subject for My Illusions," and "When She Loves You" stand out for me. "When She Loves You" is exactly one sentence long, lyrically -- but when you hit on the perfect sentence, why fuck around?
2) For the melody-lovers among ye -- this might not be your first place to embrace, but you will succumb. These aren't Beatlesque melodies; Wampus's comparisons to Dinosaur Jr., Sebadoh, Guided By Voices, Sonic Youth, Grandaddy, and Pedro the Lion are apt. The band's recitation of its influences, particularly Frank Black and his work with the Pixies, is also dead on. But this isn't derivative music; somewhere in his parents' youth, one of them must have met David Thomas, and then exposed Greg to Wire as a baby. Then he listened to the post-punk, "alternative" music of the eighties and early nineties, and he put it all in his pallette. And real, catchy, plaintive melodies live in the din.
3) and for the admirers of lead vocalists -- I love this guy's singing, and character. The twist of a guy from Europe's continent singing in the language of Merrye Olde is a pleasure for me. But I most love his willingness to lay himself out there -- these are *naked* vocals, stripped of artifice. To employ another cliche, he's laying it all on the line. The last thing that he's trying to do, in my humble estimation, is "fix" his vocals, or intentionally sound good. Or intentionally sound bad. He's just wrapped in his songs, singing them with everything that he's got. But it's singing all the way, with a love for his words and his melodies; there may be cacophony, but he's not adding to a racket. He's just singing his heart out.
btw, Marzj is a fantastic backing vocalist, which leads me to
4) the playing. It rocks My Fucking Socks Off. She is a fantastic, rocking drummer. There's a ton of two-beat stuff here; something I almost never like -- when in a punk/hardcore vein. But here, it's just propulsive, kicking the listeners in their asses. She propels the band. And the bass sits right in with her, never getting in the way, but always nailing down what she's doing. The guitar tones are bad and nasty, there are riffs, but it's not *about* the riffs, and the guitars are layered to make your head ring. There's also enough anthemic rock stuff to make us geezers go wild.
5) the production. Ahhhhhhh. I get a big, fat smile here. It is sufficiently indie, DIY, lo-fi [or at least seemingly spontaneous] to satisfy my needs. It's thicker than John Holmes, and both shears away your skull, and nails your crotch to the wall. But [and here's a dirty little secret] it's actually also headphone music! There are small, straightforward sonic tricks going on. Guitar payers adding emphasis and accent where it's most needed. Hidden backing vocals bringing out textures and sound, without seeming to come from people. Differing guitars tones from song-to-song -- making the thick crunch or piercing wail, or interplaying melody/rhythm get into your head and your body before it gets into your brain.
As you can tell, I *really* like this record. And yet, I feel like I've undersold what I like about it. While potentially overselling it, since its charm are subtle. I tell ya, a week in, new things bring new smiles to my face with each listen.
Those whacky Dutch . . .
This album is like fine wine, or a great novel. Just when you think "oh, yeah; I *really* like this," you realize it's much deeper, and there's a LOT more there.
Listen to the vocals on Black Queen, The Enemy's Scientist, or When She Loves you -- they're amazing. This guy is bleeding, questioning, or crying out -- all on a record! The lyrics sound simple at furst; listen twice, check the lyric sheet, and you'll sit back, stunned.
Great drum and guitar sounds, and the playing is top notch, and feverish.