Women & Children
Paralyzed Dance: Tonight!
omen & Children contain at least one of the former and, to my knowledge, none of the latter. I include that disclaimer because my actual knowledge of the album’s logistics is not as fulsome as one might expect. In the course of listening, my mind has formed the image of a male-female duo—and I’m perfectly happy with that. Maybe it’s a duo and a half. Or a foursome. Either way, they’re most likely from the US.
You see, I received a stark cardboard sleeve decorated only with handwritten details of the name, label, and release date. You will be unsurprised to learn that it contained this record. It would have been possible to go hunting for a tracklist and biographical details, but at a fairly early stage I decided against doing that.
People regularly hear music without fancy trappings, music in all kinds of states of undress; without sleeve notes, missing a cover, whizzing around an electronic medium, or completely devoid of any informative markings whatsoever. This matters. It affects our perception. Discovering that Track Four was actually entitled “Empathetic Fuck Pigs” would color my thinking in one way or another. That wasn’t something I was going to let happen. Therefore, the following details adhere as closely as possible to the conditions under which I experienced Paralyzed Dance: Tonight!.
I’m a sucker for stuff with Elizabethan influences (or influences which can convince this ill-educated mind that they might be Elizabethan) and “Track Four” delivers precisely that. It’s pure ruffled collars and gallivanting around at court, pondering a war with Spain or France. More accurately, it employs the sort of muted, plucked strings and early baroque styles you might expect. It also gradually descends into a sort of witchy chant that could accompany a winning performance of Macbeth. I think it’s quite marvellous.
That’s just one fourteenth of what’s on offer, mind you. Without wishing to be too sweeping or reductionist, the other 92.8% generally takes a similarly minimal approach regarding instrumentation. Where “Track Four” is just guitar (in a lutey disguise, or something) accompanied by vocals, others are uncomplicated piano melodies and vocals or, in certain cases, any of the above joined by some understated percussion. Loosely, each tends to take a rather folksy or bluesy angle of inspiration. It’s mostly very immediate. Like the band just sat next to a single, ancient radio mic and let fly. It is perhaps nothing more than an illusion, but it had me fooled.
The piece I’ve taken to calling “Disturbed Cousin of Scarborough Fair” embodies this overall direction quite well. Sounding like ... well, I’ve already given you a clue, the solo consists of a lucky individual tapping some particularly harmonious glassware. It could be happening on a table right in front of you. Such clarity is suitably affecting, it almost welcomes you into the performance, making you feel a part of it. You’re not, of course (well, maybe in a metaphysical sense). But that’s how it feels.
As is not quite usual, the best is saved for penultimate; one and a half minutes dedicated to unhurried, unmissable, unaccompanied singing. The kind which could penetrate a war room and bring it to respectful silence. There’s something unearthly and almost chillingly personal about vocals devoid of instrumentation; with absolutely nowhere to hide, the focus is squarely on that lone voice. What results here is a beautiful, haunting ninety seconds (I know, “haunting” is such a cliché, but it’s the right word here). The police should try using tracks like this as an innovative riot calming method. Really.
A lot of this album could conceivably be used as backing for mobile phone adverts featuring fragile indie boys/girls walking around sunny parks and blundering into mystical-magical GCI special effects. I’m trying to mean that in the least disparaging way possible—obviously it would be better if they weren’t debased in this fashion, but that’s the way these things work. Anyway, what I’m trying to say is; were you to find yourself on a supposedly unsinkable ship that had just been struck by an iceberg and being asked what to put on as a bit of in-lifeboat listening to take everyone’s minds of things, saying “well, I’d suggest Women & Children first!” wouldn’t just be a torturous and inappropriate joke in a deadly situation. No, it would be a wise and sensible suggestion.