Maximo Park / Tom Vek
A Certain Trigger / We Have Sound
2005 / 2005
B- / C+
o be honest I’ve been considering giving up writing about music. Someone told me it was as useful as dancing about architecture—I told him to fuck off. Dancing about architecture is a great thing. People should dance more, and dance “about” everything. You can’t dance while you’re writing. Anyway, I’d rather watch fantastical South East Asian horror films or read Kurt Vonnegut than put myself through the brain-deadening homework of listening to another record that I don’t care about either way again.
But I keep doing it, I keep putting myself through it, and I do it for you, the kids. And how do you treat me in return? Badly. I’m a catalogue. A buying guide. This writing is less about the music than the writing and less about the writing than about the author and, as Barthes told us, the author is dead, which makes this writing not actually about anything. Tom Vek’s We Have Sound isn’t about anything either, except possibly movement. It should perhaps be called We Have A Car as the lyrical conceit that runs through the album (as far as an album with so few lyrics can have lyrical conceits [it’s all repeat repeat repeat here at varying speeds, like a 2-stroke engine chugging itself around and around through the gears]) seems to be motor cars and travelling. The lights are green, nobody’s home, he’s driving away from something.
You might call him “the London Beck” but to be honest he’s more like a male Tracy Chapman living in semi-urban scrubland without a dictionary (I’m only saying this because of his obsession with automobiles, which may be less an actual obsession on his part than just me seizing on something and going with it, OK?). He does everything himself, you know, except produce. But all those instruments are him—drums, guitars, bass, the little electronic ripples and clunks, all Tom Vek. He’s a post-techno indie geek making clattering, dead-end grooves with clumsy-but-endearing melodies splattered over the top like oil stains pressed in symmetrical folds of paper to make a Rorschach pattern that just happens to be a song.
All in all, it’s pretty good, that’s why it gets the C+, which isn’t a bad mark (and besides, you should be ignoring the score anyway and reading the words OTHERWISE WHY AM I HERE?). I enjoyed it, especially when he loops a little synth riff like every fucker and his dog does these days and rides it out into some kind of bliss on “Nothing But Green Lights,” and also when he hits some kind of primordial pop-rock rolling catch like “C C (You Set The Fire In Me)” (I’m assuming that’s not ex-Poison axeman CC Deville, btw) and “I Ain’t Saying My Goodbyes.” “A Little Word In Your Ear” is a clumsily brusque and repetitive little song, but I like it. Tom Vek’s kinda cool, if you’re bothered about kinda cool.
Maximo Park are kinda cool too, but also kinda weird. They’re a punk band in the modern style but they’re on Warp records, which sends you off in the wrong direction—in a post-!!! world maybe the dudes at Sheffield’s premier electronic listening music label feel the need to bask in some more rock energy, who knows. Anyway, they’re from the North East and unashamedly sing in their own accent much like near neighbours The Futureheads, which gives them an endearing quality—apparently Geordie accents are the friendliest in the UK. The voice-over dude for the UK Big Brother was a Geordie, certainly, and I don’t imagine it was by accident.
A Certain Trigger is produced by the same dude who did Bloc Party’s debut album, but it’s slightly less a record record than that still superlative album, and because of that and the fact that they’re on Warp I started listening to it in a really textural way, trying to figure out why they were on Warp and not, I dunno, Rough Trade or Squirrel Records or Sub Pop or something, imagining that there’d be loads of oscillating keyboards and digital samples and Obvious Signs Of Living In The Future buried in the record. And there almost are, kinda, sometimes.
The first tune is called “Signal & Sign” (which is a good sign because it might mean it’s about semiotics, which is much more interesting than singing about having sex with teenage boys down dark alleyways) and there are indeed little synth circles and something about the groove that suggests a bit more depth of sound and idea than, I dunno, the Ramones or someone. But there’s still less than “Rio” by Duran Duran or anything Michael Jackson did with Quincy on those two or three albums back when he really WAS the King Of Pop (Macca duet excepted). But then, after a couple of listens, it struck me that “The Coast Is Always Changing” was just a really good song (and about THE SEA too, which always suckers me in, because I live by the sea), never mind its texture, and, as much as a lot of the tracks are just bluster + accent + guitars, there are some melodies hidden along the way and the bluster + accent + guitars here are better than those pimped by the likes of The Others and Kaiser Chiefs and so on and so forth. “Graffiti,” for instance, knocks “I Predict A Riot” into a cocked hat even though it doesn’t have the same influenza-like radio quality to it.
Also they have a tune called “Postcard Of A Painting,” which suggests they might have some of the wistful Cultural-Studies-degree-dropout postmodern melancholy of early Idlewild, you know, back when they did “I Am A Message” and “These Wooden Ideas” and were really fucking good.
And if you’re wondering why they were signed by Warp, then I’d suggest that “Acrobat” might be the reason, btw, because its heavily sequenced chords and interference suggest an alternate future where rock is not boring or obsessed with the past or scared of technology. It sounds NOTHING like the U2 song of the same name off Achtung Baby either, which is a relief.