Saturday, May 10, 2003
Come Here When You Sleepwalk
Clue To Kalo
Is the legacy of punk all those perky Californian skaters proffering spiky three-minute teen-baiting paeans to onanism and bad hair? Or is it something entirely different; the vicarious wherewithal for anybody to pick up an instrument and play? Punk itself didn’t really break any rules; it just played to the rules louder and snottier than they’d been played to before; the systems it was smashing were more social and cultural than musical. Post-punk, on the other hand, really did offer expanded sonic horizons; PiL, Sandinista!, Wire, Talking Heads, Durutti Column, Joy Division; little or nothing in common sonically with New Rose, God Save The Queen or Teenage Kicks, but facilitated by the call to arms that the racket of 76-78 heralded. Because after that, anyone really could try anything.
10 years ago Adelaide’s Mark Mitchell would have been recording his sad songs of heartbreak alone in his bedroom with a 4-track and an acoustic guitar; these days, of course, a laptop and some ideas are all you need to open up whole new worlds that stretch far beyond those offered by an old drum machine and a battered six-string. Narrative in the traditional bedroom singer-songwriter sense is gone, subsumed within the texture, the beats and blips and filtersweeps. Anything is possible and everything is allowed, not just in terms of potential sonics, but in structure and feel and non-adherence to what’s gone before. Bedroom electronica is the new punk. Maybe.
Come Here When You Sleepwalk is a soporific reverie that wafts gently and beguilingly but ultimately insubstantially. The First Song Of The Rest Of Your Life is not what it claims to be, but rather is an incidental passageway into the album via track two, Empty Save The Oxygen, wherein a hesitant guitar figure and Mitchell’s broken melody (“I’d like to love you / but I’d like a lot of things”) give way after 3 minutes to a plethora of electronics that you can easily become lost in but which are difficult to commit to memory. We’ll Live Free (In NYC) could be where Spiritualized would have ended up if Jason Pierce had continued his fascination with drones and shimmers rather than becoming infatuated with orchestras and songs, while Within Reach Of My Own Arms fucks your head around with an omni-directional resonant hum, like a strange dream of tinnitus informed by a hypnotic and lurid aqueous recital.
The album centrepiece and undisputed highpoint is the 11-minute Still We Felt Bulletproof, which gets closest to achieving synthesis between experimental electronics, confessional acoustic songwriting and emotional resonance. It’s the kind of territory Radiohead have been so keen to explore over their last two albums, and in this context it’s clear that it works most effectively as a lone venture rather than group pursuit. This Dies Over Distance is less effective though, and shows up the weaknesses inherent both in Mitchell’s tentative Stuart Murdoch-esque voice and his less than inspired lyricism. It reads like a solipsistic love-letter pleading for a lover’s return, as if Mitchell is saying ‘see how beautiful and delicate my music is; I must be this beautiful too, how can you not love me?’, trying to earn love through what he does rather than who he is. The constant displays of emotion throughout the record, song titles such as Your Heart Is Your Compass and Do You Know That Love Can End?, posit Mitchell as a sentimental indieboy, and suggest that he has ambitions to be perceived as something more demanding of attention than the deliberate ambience of Eno; yet his soundscapes are so dreamlike and detached that he can never quite achieve the impact he yearns for. This is bedroom music with a direct lineage in The Smiths and Belle & Sebastian, perfect for those who loved The Notwist’s last album and fancy branching out into marginally more experimental and less song-based territories. Leaf labelmates Susumu Yokota and Manitoba may be working with delineated house and garage respectively, keeping an eye on the dancefloor even if their feet sometimes stray away, but Clue To Kalo’s IDM is resolutely ‘dance’ free. Come Here When You Sleepwalk is a very pretty album but ultimately insubstantial and unexciting.
5/10/2003 11:17:00 pm