Purchased at Sister Ray, Berwick Street, May 2013
Maybe it’s just for want of not listening hard enough, but I’ve heard very little pop music worth getting excited about this year. Everything the hype machine has thrown at me seems tired, passé- music released as an excuse for a PR campaign. Granted, only a churl could deny the teasing of the marketing peepshow that preceded the new Daft Punk record (which, due to a chronic inability to get my funds in order, I am still yet to acquire), but Savages?!? Honestly, Warpaint were doing that sort of thing years ago; it’s derivative as hell, which isn’t in itself a problem, but the songs just aren’t interesting enough to warrant debate (so I’ll stop here and pretend I never wrote any of that- you ain’t seen me, roight?).
Oddly, the only albums of 2013 I have thus far actively enjoyed have fitted into what might be my least favourite musical sub-sub-genre, a portmanteau label with so many alarm bells attached you could mistake it for a maximum security prison constructed entirely from the jewel cases of abandoned David Gray CDs; yes, folks, I have not only purchased but genuinely come to love three separate records by- (can I bring myself to write it?)- Depressed-White-Male-Singer-Songwriters.
First it was John Grant’s extraordinarily candid and glacially hilarious Pale Green Ghosts, an album which has been praised more for its “honesty” than its actual songs- but what songs! Have you heard Vietnam? For my money, it’s the best break-up anthem since Spiritualized’s Broken Heart, five-and-a-half minutes of masterfully articulated pain and self-pity that gives me the shakes every time I revisit it. Then there’s Steve Mason’s woefully titled Monkey Minds in the Devil’s Time, a cult classic in the making which pairs snippets of spoken-word with anthemic meditations on depressive stasis, UK Hip-Hop with Portuguese racing commentary, and, most intriguingly of all, political anger with artistic success. As a rule, I don’t like protest songs- but cuts like Fight Them Back and Fire! are most definitely protest songs. And I like them- a lot.
But that’s by the by. I might get round to writing those records properly at some point, but don’t hold your breath. The other DWMSS (it’s not going to catch on, is it?) who’s bent my ear in 2013 is the lugubrious young crooner Gabriel Bruce. Whereas we might take Grant and Mason’s world-weariness for granted (they’re getting on, these DWMSSes), Bruce’s ennui comes as a bit of a shock; a line like ‘I got this feelin’ I were dead and there’s nothing more’ from his début single, Sleep Paralysis, might seem a bit affected coming from a 23-year-old, but it is delivered with such ennui that only the most heartless listener could doubt its sincerity.
At the best of times, I count myself up there in that category- but somehow Bruce’s songs cut through my cynicism like a Martini on a muggy afternoon. Some reviewers have rather ungallantly suggested that Love in Arms is little more than an enjoyably ersatz Cohen/Cave pastiche; this is nonsense. Where Laughing Len and Nick the Stripper are audible now and again here, repeated listening reveals depths as low as Bruce’s cavernous baritone, the songs transcending their influences further and further with every play. And as to accusations of barfly cliché- all I can add is that Bruce walks it like he talks it; he’s the real deal (did somebody say “cliché”?).
The demos for Love in Arms have been knocking around for a couple of years now, and the pleasure I’ve taken in watching their development is testament to Bruce’s skill as a writer; Honey Honey has gone from casiotone knockabout to full-on, open-shirted rocker; Car’s not Leaving now sounds titanic, a song so catchy it’s unhinged. While I initially suspected a degree of irony on his part, I now see that the remarkable thing about this record is its coupling of almost rod-straight sincerity with a maniacal lack of restraint and a production quality that is just about cheap enough to keep it fun. Forget Cave and Cohen- if Gabriel Bruce’s force of personality and gleeful fearlessness of delivery reminds me of anyone, it’s Iggy Pop circa Avenue B; which, given my thoughts on that record, would be high praise indeed if anybody ever read this fucking blog.
Whatever. All I can give you is my word and a couple of links to YouTube, but this record is terrific.