17 November 2008

Vivian Girls - 'Where Do You Run To'

My most recent alien abduction was at least rather shorter than that which once took this website out of circulation for about two and a half years. At least two of you have been in touch to express concern about my whereabouts. Well, what can I say? Sometimes life happens, and sometimes work happens, and sometimes both happen at the same time, and sometimes I even get the two mixed up. But back confined to this humble planet pop, what has been missed? Tottering piles of CDs and sevens, and bland folders full of sound files, demand attention. The products of three figure gleeful plunders of record shops, the only trolley dash I ever really do, lurk largely with their price stickers intact, a sure sign that they have yet to be adequately dealt with. It occasionally occurs to me that an obsession with sound has ruined my life, but I’m not sure I’d have had it any other way. And some palpably good things have floated up of late. Of the various crystal bands, Crystal Stilts may turn out to be the best. I’ve also found myself begrudgingly admiring this TV on the Radio LP, even though it sounds like music I don’t think I like, and getting to grips with Gang Gang Dance. I need to listen to Those Dancing Days more, but seem too busy working my way through the Wave Pictures’ back catalogue, having now, working backwards, reached the delights of their early, self-released CD-Rs. That Mirror Mirror LP with the preposterous name is continuing to puzzle me - I still can’t quite work out if it’s brilliant or terrible - and Chairlift, via an advert for a music player, appear to have become famous. If we were the sort of website which we are not, we would claim that we championed them first. Then I’ve spent the last week immersed in a slew of frankly varying bootlegs from the recent live adventures of The Fall (I spent two nights at the Hackney Empire with them, one great, one good) and, following a recent gig, realising once again the skewed genius of Connan Mockasin. There’s enough there for you to get stuck into, no?

This self-titled Vivian Girls LP, which has of course been out for an age, has got me under its thumb a bit too. It’s taking me back to where it all started, and to the music of my youth, mid 1980s shambly, jangly, guitar music: a seminal, and indeed political movement, although we didn’t realise it at the time. I thought music was always like that. Only later would it become clear to me that we were living at a special moment, where for once music would not be about bombast, swagger and sex, but about those other human things like embarrassment, frailty and making a bit of a mess. Bands were amateurish and tried their best. It was art, but it wasn’t art wank. I’ve been looking for that honesty and simplicity ever since, while that era, mislabelled at the time as C86, mislabelled since as twee, occasionally spirals back into vogue, as seems to be the case now.

So how could my teenaged, shy, anorak-wearing self know that my late 30s fat, creased and frankly ugly incarnation would really be getting into a record that sounds a lot like the Shop Assistants? The whole thing’s brief. There’s ten songs on this LP, but the Vivian Girls get in and get out in 20-odd minutes. I admire this. There are too many hour-long CDs in the world already. And the whole thing sounds like it was recorded in a biscuit tin. The guitars thrash and the drums flail and both are equal. The choruses are more important than the verses. The vocals are tinny. All of this is great. I think my favourite tune here is Where Do You Run To, with its Mary Chain bass but annoying lack of question mark, but really, all the songs sound pretty much the same. And that’s part of the point. I just wish it was on a series of flexi discs rather than a CD.

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