Monday, 26 May 2008

Seaside factory traders

Pope Joan
Hot Water, Lines And Rickety Machines
One Inch Badge Records

I’ve been listening to this album for months and my relationship with it is as restless and the music. At first it seemed like an awkward listen, like none of the parts were sitting properly, or where I expected them to. It was easy to take a breather from it and rethink my approach – all I had to do was to remember the Vile Imbeciles and how threateningly wrong that sounded on the first few spins. It’s a rare thing to find an album like this, in an age where we supposedly reject anything that isn’t immediately gratifying – at least, that’s what the culture pages of the papers would have us think (I have a whole response to that on the way; so much of the I-Gen discourse is completely irrelevant to me, yet I’m told it is how I behave? No, I reply is coming). There is something –a whole lot in fact – in Hot Water…that keeps calling me back to it, despite my initial reservations.

Pope Joan deal in that 80s throbbing factory trade of jerky rhythms and propulsive, syncopated beats whilst scrawling jittery lines of heavily effected guitar over the top. Two tracks stand out from this overarching form; both ‘Boxes’ and ‘The Same As When You Asked Me The Last Time’ add soaringly melodic harmonies, like gentle peaks over clouds, into the jagged riffing, but where the leap in ‘Boxes’ is jammed in abruptly, the lift in ‘The Same…’ swells up and runs out in a smoother, more naturally assured fashion. It has the time to though; it’s near five minute length making it over twice that of the surrounding tunes. Most of the songs come in around two minutes, with the final ‘Pocket Change’ dissolving into a long four minute industrial ambient stew. One of the key’s to me unlocking this record was realizing how compact the songs were, and how many ideas were crammed into them – these songs could easily be slowed down to reveal a whole new world of shades and shadows that aren’t readily apparent. Some of Tom’s guitar work is similar to Nick Zinner’s, especially in the slanted shimmer of ‘An Alternate Route to the End’, which has a very Yeah Yeah Yeah’s ballad aura about it. ‘Pocket Change’ too, has a slithery, zippy line like fluorescent fish darting through the gaps of the rhythm section and if it was stuck out front on it’s own it’s the kind of riff that audiences could be singing back at the stage – "ZEOW! ZEOW!!"

This is not background music in the slightest, it is too demanding on the attention for that. No bad thing. I am appreciating an album that has me work for my rewards.


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