26
Sep
08

Erudite English Eccentricity: Wild Beasts and Simon Bookish

I’m back (after a rather pathetic bout of sinus infection – I’m of the firm belief that I do not have an immune system and should just be confined to a wicker wheelchair with consumption), and this post is about one of the reasons I love English music: English eccentricity. It seems English musicians, and I suppose English artists in general, have the knack for the arcane, the offbeat and the witty. It’s why I love Stephen Fry. And why I’m enjoying reading Tristram Shandy right now. It would be perfectly all right to collect both theremins and butterflies in England. The very idea of having something called a folly makes the English seem particuarly eccentric. So, this post will be a bit of a long, double-barrelled one to make up for any wrongs felt by those of you who expected more this week. You get album reviews for both Wild Birds’ Limbo Panto and Simon Bookish’s Everything/Everything. That should set everything right again.

Wild Beasts, a band from the Cumbrian market town of Kendal, has been around for the past six years, but has more recently set up base in Leeds and released three demo EPs before ultimately signing a deal with Domino Records. Their debut album, Limbo Panto, was released in June of this year in the UK, but is yet to be officially released in North America. With their extravagant falsetto vocals and style shifts, they fall somewhere between Klaus Nomi, Sparks and Scritti Politti with occasional flashes of the offbeat feel of Orange Juice. Vocalist Hayden Thorpe’s voice can pitch between helium-inflected operatics and raspy howls and growls akin to Julian Casablancas, giving the record a schizophrenic atmosphere that somehow works. And I’ve got to love a band whose lead singer, when asked if he’s ever been starstruck, answers no, but adds, ““Although The Horrors came down to one show in London, you could see their hair in the crowd. But that was less a star-struck moment than a ‘wanting-to-strike-a-star’ moment.”

Album opener Vigil for a Fuddy Duddy is driven by a tom tom drumbeat with a laidback soulfulness that feels retro and permeates the entire record. The lyrics describe a sexual encounter in all its sweaty, clumsy detail. The Club of Fathomless Love rocks like a more violent operetta with dramatic shifts between airy waltz and cabaret as Thorpe desperately sings “I’m not a soft touch and I won’t be seen as such, so full with fierce fathomless love.” I’m a sucker for apt alliteration, and Wild Beasts use it often. One of my favourite tracks is The Devil’s Crayon, which features a tropical beat that verges on tribal in places and which uses clinking guitar and the lower register of Thorpe’s vocals, reminding me more of Orange Juice – the tune ends up sounding like an art rock Copa Cabana. Woebegone Wanderers is yet another track that shifts between time signatures and styles, alternating between lazy psychedelic and 3/4 merry-go-round. The Old Dog gives me a feeling of 70’s airport lounge music while Thorpe’s vocal quavers even more than usual on lines like “We are liberal and we are civil and life is futile.” Please Sir is a hilarious tune with 50’s style arpeggios akin to Chainless Melody in which the student narrator begs forgiveness from his headmaster:

Please, Sir let me return, if only for a term (how I yearn)
It’s glee, Sir, with your hot breath upon me (gob gurning in fury)
But…I only winded that lad before he bolted
And…I only fumbled that lass, besides, I was revolted
…and eventually offering, “Take these chips with cheese as an offering of peace.” His Grinning Skull feels like a surreal twist on speaking to Yorick’s skull with brilliant lines like “his skull wears cuckold’s horns” (that are pushing through the soil) and “I’ll eat this young whelp’s heart, I will.” It features a punchier rhythm, but a more ominous tone as it seems the corpse will be exhumed in a raid on the grave. She Purred While I Grrrd is a Hawaiian-tinged, yet slinky melody with truly honest words about what the narrator wants his girl for.
Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants, while being fantastically alliterative once again, was their first single released under a deal with Bad Sneakers Records and has a catchy bassline that supports the rapid changes between an inflated preening and a dirty underbelly. It is an atypical youth anthem praising carpe diem in an erudite manner: “Swig the bottle, bottle/Slap the face of Aristotle/Race me, Race me, Race me, Race me/In yer fourth hand jalopy.” The album ends with Cheerio Chaps, Cheerio Goodbye, which sounds like a bizarre public school song and suits the posh but cheeky atmosphere of the record as a whole. The clear love of words and language stays strong right until the end with lyrics like “Be blasted or be lambasted instead/don’t render me the sorriest parody.”


Simon Bookish (real name: Leo Chadburn) is a classically trained musician, who also works in sound installations and theatre, and who, as his nom de plume suggests, is well-read and equally as erudite as Wild Beasts. His music began with very experimental electronically-based songs, but he then progressed through further experimentalism with Trainwreck/Raincheck, an album which was described as a “surreal electronic radio play” and which has spoken word elements that remind me of Jarvis Cocker’s deadpan delivery minus the Yorkshire accent. Simon Bookish’s new album, Everything/Everything, isn’t due out until October 21 in Canada (according to amazon.ca), but I must impress upon you all that it is worth pre-ordering and waiting for. Though Bookish has released two previous albums and several other EPs/remixes/singles over the past few years, this is his first album for German label Tomlab and it is a multi-instrumental score to accompany humanity’s obsession with science and empircal information and the impending overload and self-induced lunacy. There is a definite similarity between Simon Bookish and Patrick Wolf (who has worked with Bookish in the past), especially in terms of experimentalism and English eccentricities, but where Wolf has a rather glam, whimsical persona like Kate Bush or David Bowie, Bookish reminds me more of Talking Heads.

Opening track The Flood, which apparently David Byrne has been promoting, begins with a royal flourish of trumpets which somehow meld perfectly with futuristic chants as persistent as binary code. Bookish’s deep, rich voice complements the frenetic music backing him as he sings about humanity’s inevitable drowning in the technology it has built. Dumb Terminal, which has been provided for download by Pitchfork, ambles along, but then enters a quicker movement in which clarinet squeaks and squawks in a chaotic cacophony. Portrait of the Artist as a Fountain is a quirky tune about an artist riding off into the sunset with lyrics of an Edward Lear-like nature. The chorus of woodwinds that explode from its core is more evidence of Bookish’s classical training and composition abilities. Carbon is a frantic, apocalyptic paean to an element capable of so many uses, and Bookish’s smooth, self-assured vocals swoop up and over the choppy music. Victorinox, which is named after a knife manufacturer, begins as a more stately, sure-footed track with muted brass and tinkling glockenspiel accents before veering into yet another unexpected direction with Bookish spitting out brilliantly poetic lyrics about mind control with clinical precision: “better beware the groundswell/better beware the hard sell/what did you hear/a death knell/step on up/kiss farewell/to poverty/for enmity/your sophistry/of your fallacy.”

In a dramatic change in both style and tempo, Il Trionfo Del Tempo…(Ridley Road) is a medieval-sounding track with plucked strings and choir-like vocals, but it has discordant moments that interrupt the steady flow of predicted tones. Synchrotron, named for a type of particle accelerator, is a funky, sax-led melody on which Bookish sounds like a Willy Wonka trapped in an astrophysicist’s laboratory. Technology is the culprit here, too, as Bookish outlines what it can do to atoms, but also what it cannot do – namely, feed the starving people of the world. The track cycles around itself so quickly that it feels like it’s flying apart by the end, breaking into its own neutrinos. A Crack in Larsen C pulls back the insanity into a calmer, contemplative piano piece as Bookish gently muses on how far a person can improve him/herself and compares it to the current man-made disasters, including the melting of the Larsen C iceshelf.

Alsatian Dog takes us back to the funky symphony of Synchrotron (with hints of Sufjan Stevens) and pokes fun at the intellectual arrogance of humanity as Bookish sings, “a juggernaut crashes into the lexicon,” which taunts people by saying “you can’t define me.” The compulsive human need for defining, classifying and labelling that the Enlightenment brought to its apex is mirrored in Bookish’s urgent, scattershot vocals that interrogate a specimen until language itself ceases to mean anything. A New Sense of Humour begins as a sleazier, slower track that initially sounds a bit JAMC, but then speeds up and struts as Bookish satirizes the all-consuming effect of the television on people. The narrator of the track doesn’t even know him/herself anymore and which category he/she fits into, and the track eventually peters out like the waning attention of an ADHD world. The last track of the album is appropriately titled Colophon and injects the last bit of existential crisis into the record, hoping to re-write the history of humankind, especially its last testament. As Bookish’s final analogy plays out, he states that it’s “not too late to save ourselves.”

Wild Beasts and Simon Bookish push and pull at the possibilities of musical style and structure while equally stretching the limits of thought and imagination. They manage to use Stephen Fry’s love of language in all its variety and possibility with musical digression and whimsy on par with Tristram Shandy. Very English indeed.

The Devil’s Crayon – Wild Beasts

Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants – Wild Beasts

Synchrotron – Simon Bookish

A New Sense of Humour – Simon Bookish

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Arcade Fire w/ Bell Orchestre + Wolf Parade (2005)

Arctic Monkeys w/ Reverend and the Makers (2007)

Austra w/ Young Galaxy + Tasseomancy (2011)

Big Audio Dynamite (2011)

Billy Bragg w/ Ron Hawkins (2009)

Billy Idol w/ Bif Naked (2005)

Bloc Party w/ Hot Hot Heat (2009)

Buzzcocks w/ The Dollyrots (2010)

Damo Suzuki (2012)

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Gang of Four w/ Hollerado (2011)

Good Shoes w/ The Moths + The Envelopes (2007)

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Mother Mother w/ Hannah Georgas (2012)

MSTRKRFT w/ Felix Cartal (2008)

Muse (2004)

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of Montreal w/ Janelle Monae (2010)

Owen Pallett w/ Little Scream (2010)

Patrick Wolf w/ Bishi (2007)

Prince (2011)

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Rufus Wainwright w/ Teddy Thompson (2010)

Snow Patrol w/ Embrace (2005)

Snow Patrol w/ OK Go + Silversun Pickups (2007)

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Stars w/ The Details (2008)

Stars (2010)

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The Killers w/ Ambulance Ltd (2004)

The New Pornographers w/ Novillero (2008)

The New Pornographers w/ The Mountain Goats (2010)

The Ordinary Boys w/ Young Soul Rebels (2006)

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart w/ Suun (2011)

The Rakes w/ The Young Knives (2006)

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The only certain thing that is left about me

There is no part of my body that has not been used

Pity or pain, to show displeasure's shame

Everyone I've loved or hated always seems to leave

Photobucket

So I turned myself to face me

But I've never caught a glimpse

Of how the others must see the faker

I'm much too fast to take that test

The Smiths Queen is Dead

A dreaded sunny day

So let's go where we're happy

And I meet you at the cemetry gates

Oh, Keats and Yeats are on your side

A dreaded sunny day

So let's go where we're wanted

And I meet you at the cemetry gates

Keats and Yeats are on your side

But you lose 'cause weird lover Wilde is on mine

The Clash London Calling

When they kick at your front door

How you gonna come?

With your hands on your head

Or on the trigger of your gun

Photobucket

Charles Windsor, who's at the door

At such an hour, who's at the door

In the back of an old green Cortina

You're on your way to the guillotine

Here the rabble comes

The kind you hoped were dead

They've come to chop, to chop off your head

Photobucket

Then you came with your breezeblocks

Smashing up my face like a bus-stop

You think you're giving

But you're taking my life away

Photobucket

Won't someone give me more fun?

(and the skin flies all around us)

We kiss in his room to a popular tune

Oh, real drowners

Photobucket

Don't walk away

In silence

See the danger

Always danger

Endless talking

Life rebuilding

Don't walk away

Walk in silence

Don't turn away in silence

Your confusion

My illusion

Worn like a mask of self-hate

Confronts and then dies

Don't walk away

Photobucket

You don't want to hurt me

But see how deep the bullet lies

Unaware I'm tearing you asunder

Oh there is thunder in our hearts

Is there so much hate for the ones we love

Tell me we both matter don't we

The Associates Affectionate

I don't know whether

To over or under estimate you

Whether to over or under estimate you

For when I come over

You then put me under

Personal taste is a matter of gender

Photobucket

I wake at dusk to go alone without a light

To the unknown

I want this night inside of me

I want to feel

I want this speeding

I want that speeding

Photobucket

You'll never live like common people

You'll never do what common people do

You'll never fail like common people

You'll never watch your life slide out of view

And dance and drink and screw

Because there's nothing else to do

Vanilla Swingers

All I have is words, words that don't obtain

And I feel I'm a stain on your horizon

So I stay away - it's easier that way

And there won't be no-one I need to rely on

Is it him, is it me

Or is there something only I can see

How did I get here, why do we blow around like straw dogs on the breeze

I'm a special one, what they used to say

But I've to stay on, finish levels-A

You don't need exams when you've read John Gray

The Indelicates American Demo

And nobody ever comes alive

And the journalists clamour round glamour like flies

And boys who should know better grin and get high

With fat men who once met the MC5

And no one discusses what they don't understand

And no one does anything to harm the brand

And this gift is an illusion, this isn't hard

Absolutely anyone can play the fucking guitar

JAMC Darklands

And we tried so hard

And we looked so good

And we lived our lives in black

Photobucket

Plucked her eyebrows on the way

Shaved her leg and then he was a she

She says, hey babe,

Take a walk on the wild side

Said, hey honey, take a walk on the wild side

Photobucket

Hide on the promenade

Etch a postcard:

How I dearly wish I was not here

In the seaside town...that they forgot to bomb

Come, come, come - nuclear bomb

Photobucket

Back when we were kids

We would always know when to stop

And now all the good kids are messing up

Nobody has gained or accomplished anything

Wire Pink Flag

Prices have risen since the government fell

Casualties increase as the enemy shell

The climate's unhealthy, flies and rats thrive

And sooner or later the end will arrive

This is your correspondent, running out of tape

Gunfire's increasing, looting, burning, rape

Photobucket

Well, maybe there's a god above

But all I've ever learned from love

Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you

It's not a cry that you hear at night

It's not somebody who's seen the light

It's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah

Photobucket

And what costume shall the poor girl wear

To all tomorrow's parties

For Thursday's child is Sunday's clown

For whom none will go mourning

Photobucket

My body is your body

I won't tell anybody

If you want to use my body

Go for it

Photobucket

Oh it's opening time

Down on Fascination Street

So let's cut the conversation

And get out for a bit

Because I feel it all fading and paling

And I'm begging

To drag you down with me

Mansun Six

And you see, I kind of shivered to conformity

Did you see the way I cowered to authority

You see, my life, it's a series of compromises anyway

It's a sham, and I'm conditioned to accept it all, you see

Japan Gentlemen

Take in the country air, you'll never win

Gentlemen take polaroids

They fall in love, they fall in love

Photobucket

We just want to emote til we're dead

I know we suffer for fashion

Or whatever

We don't want these days to ever end

We just want to emasculate them forever

Forever, forever

Pretty sirens don't go flat

It's not supposed to happen like that

Longpigs The Sun

There's no perfume I can buy

Make me smell like myself

So I put on perfume

To make me smell like someone else

In bed

Calvin Harris I Created Disco

I got love for you if you were born in the 80's, the 80's

I've got hugs for you if you were born in the 80's, the 80's

Photobucket

Does his makeup in his room

Douse himself with cheap perfume

Eyeholes in a paper bag

Greatest lay I ever had

Kind of guy who mates for life

Gotta help him find a wife

We're a couple, when our bodies double

Simple Minds Sons and Fascination

Summer rains are here

Savaged beauty life

Falling here from grace

Sister feeling call

Cruising land to land

No faith no creed no soul

Half a world away

Beauty sleeps in time

Sound and fury play

Bloc Party Silent Alarm

North to south

Empty

Running on

Bravado

As if to say, as if to say

He doesn't like chocolate

He's born a liar, he'll die a liar

Some things will never be different

Photobucket

LCD Soundsystem

Well Daft Punk is playing at my house, my house

I've waited 7 years and 15 days

There's every kid for miles at my house, my house

And the neighbors can't...call the police

There's a fist fight brewin' at my house, my house

Because the jocks can't...get in the door

Johnny Boy

I just can't help believing

Though believing sees me cursed

Stars Set Yourself

I am trying to say

What I want to say

Without having to say "I love you"

Josef K Entomology

It took 10 years to realise why the angels start to cry

When you go home down the main

Your happy smile

Your funny name

Cocteau Twins Bluebell

Photobucket

Doesn't she look a million with her hairagami set

Hair kisses 'n' hair architecture

Yes, she's a beautiful brunette angel from heaven with her hairagami set

Hair kisses 'n' hair architecture

Augment a beautiful brunette

New Order Power Corruption

How does it feel

To treat me like you do

When you've laid your hands upon me

And told me who you are

Photobucket

You must let her go

She's not crying

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Baiting

Feeling like I'm waiting

Modern times

Valentines

Hating

Hating to distraction

Just leave them alone

Whipcrack

Girls in the back

Girls in the back

Puressence Don't Forget

They say come back to earth and start getting real, yeah

I say come back to earth and start getting real

I know I can't

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So I walk right up to you

And you walk all over me

And I ask you what you want

And you tell me what you need

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The problem of leisure

What to do for pleasure

Ideal love a new purchase

A market of the senses

Dream of the perfect life

Economic circumstances

The body is good business

Sell out, maintain the interest

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Sitting in my armchair thinking again and again and again

Going round in a circle I can't get out

Then I look around thinking day and night and day

Then you look around - there must be some explanation

And the tension builds

Psychdedelic Furs

India, India

You're my love song

India, you're my love song

In the flowers

You can have me in the flowers

We will dance alone

And live our useless lives

Ladytron Light Magic

They only want you when you're seventeen

When you're twenty-one

You're no fun

They take a polaroid and let you go

Say they'll let you know

Photobucket

No consolation prizes

Spit out your lies and chewing gum

Cut off your hair yeah that's it!

If you look like that I swear I'm gonna love you more

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All the neighbors are startin' up a fire

Burning all the old folks, the witches and the liars.

My eyes are covered by the hands of my unborn kids

But my heart keeps watchin' through the skin of my eyelids

Photobucket

Prince charming

Prince charming

Ridicule is nothing to be scared of

Don't you ever, don't you ever

Stop being dandy, showing me you're handsome


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