Sunday, 13 November 2011

Tunabunny – Minima Moralia (HHBTM)

Tunabunny - Minima Moralia

“Sometimes the wrong time is the perfect time… "

Wrongness is an underrated virtue. Tunabunny revel in wrongness with all the grubby enthusiasm of a puppy rolling in mud and, puppylike, they come up bouncing. Two girls, two boys from Athens, Georgia, they have punk-pop history at their fingertips and noise in their hearts and like all the most creative people ever they’re unafraid to fuck right up. They do that wrong thing right.

They have also written one of the finest singles of the year in ‘(Song For My) Solar Sister’: it’s gigantic. Huggable. It moans and skips and sighs, a glorious fuzzy riff all breathless and stumbling like your best friend drunk at the end of the summer. And quite perversely references both The Stone Roses and The Posies, which only adds to the persistent and disconcerting conviction I’ve had since I first heard it that I already knew it, that it was already a song out there in the world, a canonised, lauded, Great Song which had somehow slipped between the cracks of history. I’ve woken up with it stuck fast in my head every day for a week and it always makes me smile.

So much for reality. The whole album plays with slippages in pitch and time, foregrounds the abrasiveness of the non-perfect, is expertly, mischievously, inept. The scrappy motorik of ‘Perfect Time, Every Time’ wails and waves with the grace of a skateboarder careering down urban slopes, scritchy violin quavering in its wake like a lost cat. There’s desperation shuddering in every slipped semitone and flattened melody; anyone who loves Mary Margeret O'Hara's frantic utterances on Miss America will appreciate the way the vocals scramble over themselves in ecstasy, confusion, excitement, until the song finally spins out of control into massed, orgiastic “aaahh!”s, abandoning any attempt to hold together its various parts.

‘Only At Night’ has truculent lead guitar playing hopscotch over its fuzzed-out brethren and a whole gang of snarls and yelps and slurred syllables. ‘The Natural World’ jumps and jags about the place, fantastically imprecise, errant, irresponsible. Even the boundaries between man and beast are blurred here.

‘Cross Wire Technique’ is a grit and ice affair, with syllables skidding all over the road and guitars that rumble below the surface. What it reminds me of more than anything else are the soft animal growls of Tanya Donelly, very specifically the way her slippy vocals elide with the reedy guitar lines on Throwing Muses’ ‘Not Too Soon’. Of course, Donelly and Hersh would be ‘Bunny muses, along with all the other best non-boy sprawling clatterers of the past few decades, the victors in Tunabunny's alternoverse, the ones who wrote the histories, the herstories: Sonic Youth, Breeders, Huggy Bear, Bikini Kill, Swell Maps, you know the culprits, the ones who bundled feedback up into a ball and threw it back full-pelt at pop.


Minima Moralia is all about the grain, the noise, the buzz. The grain in a pretty postcard photocopied and photocopied and photocopied until all that’s left is a spider’s web of black and white scribble, the original beauty translated into something entirely other, the ghost of beauty. The grain in reproductions of photographs of reflections. The way that mirrored scenes can be more striking, more touching, than a full-face stare. The way that distorted layers pile on the emotive juice, exchange imagined 'quality’ for an accumulation of connections and references.

Indeed, you could spend a million dollars on recording and producing, you could breathe in the cash and professionalism and cocaine of the best smoked-glass studio in L.A. for a year, you could try with all your might to conjure up thee perfect grrlpunkrock pop explosion and you would still not be able to make this record. Whatever is essential about this record, whatever is encoded in its bumps and grinds, can’t be replicated with money: it’d take a lack to make it work. And if you don't think that's a political act, think again, think harder.

Apart from anything else the soundwaves on Minima Moralia seem to have absorbed their surroundings: you can feel their origins in the scratchy peaks and troughs of these songs, an echolocation that bounces home studios and coffee and a month of all-nighters back at you and rattles them around in yer skull. It’s not as if home recordings, cheap and dirty and immediate, are any more real than the Cowelliest chart pop - fuck real! There is no real – but Minima Moralia manages to trick us into believing that the scuff is what scrabbles at your heart.

Grain is the earth under your nails, it’s angry kids reading anarchist tracts in Snoopy tees, it’s furrowed brows, shrews, scabbed knees, borrowed dresses getting ripped on midnight rambles, it’s contortion, distortion, sense and dissonance, yesterday and tomorrow, ABBA and Crass in a scuffle over the last alcopop of the party. It’s a mess. It makes you wonder why anyone would fall for polished emoting when you can have sulky little songs that kick cans around the yard in stripy knee-socks to let you know how just pissed-off they are and still manage to be adorable as kittens. Kittenish or Kim-ish - pick a Kim, any Kim – Minima Moralia is as cute and snarly and clever as either. Beware its sharp little teeth: this 'Bunny bites back.

This review was originally published on Collapse Board.

Slow Club @ The Audio, Brighton, 29.09.11

Slow Club live

Photography: Holly Jarvis

So, Slow Club bring out the shinies. The Audio is packed with sleek-limbed gleaming girls, girls like horses, with plenty of hair and confidence in spades. There are dozens about the place, solid, happy, loud. I’m just wondering where these fantastic beings have sprung from when the band trot on and there’s Rebecca, quite clearly one of the same breed. She’s got the gob and the mane and a T-shirt which declares Rotherham to be the new Berlin. I’m not arguing.

“Hiya!” she trills and they’re off at a gallop, straight into recent single ‘Where I’m Waking’, the one with the thunderous drums and the ear-worm chorus: “You got the brains, I got the body!” It’s magnificent. Throughout the set (throughout the whole of the new album Paradise, in fact) it’s the ones with the double dose of drums that do it for me. The pounding, frenetic pop numbers as opposed to the soft rock crooners, however stadium they make ‘em. I mean, apart from anything else, a girl standing up behind a drumkit, thwacking away furiously at her floor tom as if it had called her a lady and opened a door for her, that’s always going to set hearts a-flutter, no?

‘Beginners’ has a similar big pop pow! to it, wields its almighty bass strums just so and leaves us reverberating. ‘The Dog’ employs the same trick (it’s a one trick dog but oh, what a trick): it’s chock full of brilliant bouncy moments and ends by motoring triumphantly into an anthemic Arcade Fire-alike sing-a-long finish. Stick to that exclamatory formula and new-look Slow Club can’t fail: fuck the acoustic guitars and bring on the noise! The new album’s pounders might be structurally of an ilk with the older ones but they are clearly far more polished, rounded, beefed-up with a whole cow’s worth of extra sound: they play (to huge audience appreciation) ‘Our Most Brilliant Friends’ from 2009’s Yeah, So; it’s just as marvellously shouty as ‘The Dog’ and has the same kind of loveably excitable chorus, but where it used to be shouty-spiky, rough round the edges, now it’s sanded to silk.

And Rebecca’s voice? I’m sure it used to break and strain, show up the wobbles and the cracks. While the fact that she now swoops effortlessly across the rolling tunes of the slower numbers might be impressive, even drop-dead luscious, part of me mourns the loss of the scrappy girl who sang like life had given her grazed knees.

This sea change is most obvious on Charles and Rebecca’s rendition of ‘Come On Youth’: the band sits it out while the two of them sing it as a stripped-down skinny thing, even slighter - if softer - than the recorded version’s wonky country & western incarnation, whose lines tumbled over themselves in breathy exhortation and proved irresistibly catchy. It feels almost a shame to lose the scuff.

I’m sticking with ‘ambivalent’ for the non-Drum Ones, the power-pop ballads: they’re too goddamn smooth for my tastes. I’m just never going to love the streamlined swoons of ‘Never Look Back’, for example: they conjure bad things, like Wings or Bryan Adams, and I’m not ready to forgive those yet. Sorry, Youth, you’ll have to go on without me there.
Of course, the definitive Slow Club thing is the fabulous boy/girl-vocals; Charles complains tonight that a reviewer pronounced their Rebecca-less numbers “boring” and then proceeds to lead in a quiet little song that never quite stomps and whinnies as it might. If it had had Rebecca on it ... Sorry, but it’s true: I want them both belting out the tunes in different tones of the same glorious substance, to make something dappled, gendered, fierce, sweet. Like, ah, Battenberg. Perhaps.

I know, I know, it’s not exactly fair: Rebecca on stage is a force of nature, cascades of blonde hair and feist beyond Feist. I don’t think anyone – let alone beardy men – would stand a chance with girls like that around.

Good thing too, I’d say.

(A version of this review was first published by thegirlsare and this version was originally published on Collapse Board.)