Review No. 2 is by Thos…
I said I’d write about David Sylvian’s Manafon, but I’m not sure I come from a position of authority to say much about certain aspects of it, and I’ve been in few good listening situations to think about those which I can. So instead I’m going to write about the record I listened to on the bus a lot this year, which is Two Dancers, by Wild Beasts, who are an indie band. They’re kind of ‘extravagant’ and even ‘camp’ in some ways; in the following, largely because it is too long, I haven’t really mentioned ‘camp’. If at any point I mention anything and you think ‘that’s ridiculous and impossible to take seriously’, be aware I have an unwritten defense of it which brings in ideas of camp and is three times as long as this piece and I will make you read it if you annoy me.
No one takes me very seriously for liking this band. The only person I know who likes them is a guy who gets a credit on their first album. Two people I know who do not know each other have claimed they cannot tell them from popular indie band Franz Ferdinand, which is bizarre, because they sound nothing at all like p.i.b. Franz Ferdinand. They do dress like Franz Ferdinand. This is a relevant point.
I’d like to claim that the gender norms of indie music – the kind that charts, not the kind you saw in a room in London with two other people – are, if not deeply screwed up, at least deeply tedious. I can’t really back this up in any depth, because I haven’t really followed what music of this sort gets in the charts in about two years. Two years ago I was working in a warehouse that distributed incontinence undergarments throughout the South West and always played Radio One. It was the time of that one Arctic Monkeys song, the one with the fishnets/nightdress rhyme. That kind of song seemed to be on a lot: gangs of guys singing about being gangs of guys, no women in the band; no women in the room; no women in the songs, save as objects.
Apart from the title track/s, which I will get to, I think every track on Two Dancers has recourse to the first person plural. This is, further, pretty much always explicitly a group of men. A lot of the time they’re singing about young men who get drunk and/or into fights, as is common nowadays. On the first track they’re singing about the naff paternal rights group Fathers 4 Justice. It kind of marks out the territory the rest of the record occupies: all of the songs are (about) masculine attempts at self-definition, and the record opens by inviting the listener to consider the other tracks’ narrators attempts at such in the light of a gang of morons who think invading public events dressed as Batman and Robin is a good way of getting their message across.
I MEAN TO SAY:
The narrator of the one of the other tracks lists, in a kind of erotic reverie: “Girls from Roedean / girls from Shipley / girls from Hounslow / girls from Whitby”. I like this line a lot. I think it is remarkable. I’m biased, admittedly, in that I like lists, and that this is a list, and I like slightly unexpected rhymes, and this is a list with a slightly unexpected rhyme in it. That’s not, though, why it’s remarkable: the reason it’s remarkable is that using only seven distinct words it defines a character who i. gets laid a lot, or at leasts wants you to think he does; ii. is of such limited horizons that his idea of a truly outré sex life is that he’s slept with girls from Hounslow and Whitby. And, in doing so, it sets up a
context for this guy where they’re not just identifying with him, but not just sending him up either; that they can operate in the queasy slipstream territory between and above the two. It’s the kind of thing Donald Fagen or Randy Newman might do, if they were raised in Kendal.
The fact they come from Kendal is probably important. It’s a point in their favour; I don’t want to get into assumptions of authenticity too much, but the getting drunk and/or into fights bit is a bit more convincing coming from a place where the big recreations are mint cake and plant fertilizer. The record label put a gig they played in Hoxton on the internet recently. Hoxton!
If an actual Hoxton band tried to get away with that lyric I quoted they’d be cunts.
Sound-wise it’s a fairly well-worn set of tools: no big riffs; everyone plays rhythm, which sometimes gets to be a bit Remain in Light, but is more often a bit ‘Making Plans for Nigel’; occasional whalesong/oceanic tendencies in the guitar parts; a singer whose vocal tics sound either like Associates or Sparks or Klaus Nomi or Jimmy Somerville, depending on how much slack you’re wanting to cut him.
This singer has a fairly high voice, in addition to which he spends a lot of time hanging around the border between his modal (‘normal’ singing voice) and falsetto register. That is to say: he spends a great deal of time both moving into a female range and highlighting the fact that he is, in fact, a male singer doing so. On their first record this singer spends a lot of time and effort crashing out of falsetto into the bottom of his regular register, which accomplishes much the same purpose whilst also seeming like he’s waggling his eyebrows at you whilst doing so. The first record, for the most part, is a camper rehearsal of the ideas, both musical and thematic, that occupy Two Dancers. Drag as opposed to cross-dressing, maybe.
There’s another singer, who just sounds gruff and Northern. He appears to be responsible for the song I quoted, and for ‘Two Dancers (i)’ and ‘Two Dancers (ii)’. This starts like a love song, and appears to incorporate also a set of lines about a group sexual assault. I can’t tell whether the various lines are meant to relate one situation, or whether the song has multiple narrators, whether it was arrived at via cut-up methods – anyway. I don’t want to paraphrase it at length, or try to set down a narrow interpretation of it. The simple point is that it demonstrates an awareness in the other side of the world they’re inhabiting/describing/celebrating on the other side of the record; that’s the simple point. The more complicated one is that I think it proves their seriousness, proves that their whole project is about an interrogation of a worldview, not a description of it. I’m not sure I can explain that any better, not without getting into the whole camp thing.
This is why it’s kind of relevant that they dress like Franz Ferdinand. They’re inhabiting this territory, the chart-pop-indie-bands-that-sound-and-look-alike territory, and redrawing the map a little. They’re assuming this first-person-plural male perspective, but getting there aware that gender politics are a battlefield and/or punch-up. Which is probably why their most celebrated lyric is the one that rhymes ‘booty call’ with ‘my boot, your arsehole’.’
Rory reviews Bon Iver tomorrow. Until then –