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Irma Vep – HAHA

Turquoise Coal

The début release from the Turquoise Coal label is also Irma Vep‘s first time on vinyl, though it’s also the tenth solo album from [post=klaus-kinski-skelington-horse text=”Klaus Kinski”] drummer Edwin Stevens. However, anyone familiar with Klaus Kinski and therefore expecting a full-frontal assault of blistering noise from Stevens will be bound for some disappointment – in fact, a metric shedload thereof.

Which is not to say that HAHA isn’t intense enough in its own way, but not like having extremities removed at brutal speed by the application of discordance. Instead, the Irma Vep approach owes more to a lo-to-mid-fi songsmithing tradition which might as easily have sprung from the local corner café-bar as from the sound of New Yorkers in black polonecks singing about the Marquis de Sade. There’s also something of Daniel Johnston or Jad Fair‘s timeless aura of dissident dissonance, and though Stevens is a far more proficient musician than either, he also has the insouciance of both in that he doesn’t sound like he cares that much for the formalities of rock’n’roll – while revelling in its depths all the same.

The subject matter and the delivery is thoroughly outsider, but from one who knows that there’s an inside to be somewhat disappointed by – see especially the heartbreaking ennui of “Nobody Came,” where a skanking guitar underpins the audible sadness of being bitterly let down Stevens expresses with the resigned despair of anyone who’s been stood up for any reason whatever can easily, miserably, empathise with. Likewise, Irma Vep’s “Lovely Home” is one where a certain level of resentment tinges the wistful reminiscence, and when Stevens sings on “Bare in mind” with some venom, “…that you’re mine, all of the time” he follows up with the increasingly unanswerable demands, “Is it OK if sold you… if I cloned you… if I use you?” – and on “Be A Mother,” he closes the album with a slow-burning,, uncomfortably-scabrous lament for almost any kind of love a mother might have to offer her son. Equally, “Michelle (A Cold Dead Place)” allows him to tangle wordplay with the sort of guitar chord mangling which requires both a foot on the monitor and a gaze set firmly at the stage when played live, an anthemic skronk for misanthropes who don’t particularly want to get out too much but let rip – even if diffidently – when they do.

So far, so Indie (as it used to mean, rock music produced independently by artists for whom Mark E Smith is God, Sonic Youth and Pavement were His prophets and Flying Nun was… a flying nun) and Irma Vep bring out all the twangy tropes, with surgically-applied distortion applied equally to the guitar and the microphone, self-played rhythm and blues filtered through so many decades of reverential deconstruction with flecks of avant-cleverness that the shapes are now almost set in stone. But Stevens is very good at it, and capable of throwing in a expectorating interjection as a dissipating scat “na na na” when the mood strikes to throw off any possibility that this could be mistaken for a radio-friendly unit-shifter – which of course it almost certainly would have been if John Peel were still able to give HAHA his blessing and airplay.

-Antron S. Meister-

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