Friday, April 25, 2008

New Art For the People: The Indelicates' American Demo

I just received my copy of The Indelicates' debut album, American Demo, in the mail (it was released in the UK on April 14), and I'm hugely impressed. I wrote about them earlier in my SXSW post, and I shall continue to rave about them. This English duo manages to combine elements from many of my favourite bands and artists - the satirical observations of Pulp, the voices of Luke Haines and Kate Bush, the melodies of The Auteurs. The two Indelicates (a moniker they each use as a surname), Simon and Julia, met at a Poetry Slam, hence, their lyrics are some of the best ones I've ever heard - they often take you by surprise and dwell in the shadows cast by the sunny music. And for someone who did their Honours BA in English Literature, lyrics are often a huge issue for me. Others have already appropriately compared The Indelicates with The Auteurs and Art Brut, but I would say that they go beyond wit for its own sake and make political statements about the state of the world today. At the same time, their politics feel like they're wrapped up in a big pink bow of narrative. Personal losses and disappointments extend to a universal malaise, frustration and apathy.

The first two Indelicates tracks I ever heard were the contagious tongue-in-cheek ode to youth, Sixteen, and the up-tempo but bittersweet, Julia, We Don't Live in the '60's, and both are included on this album. American Demo begins with New Art For the People Theme, a sweet orchestral piece led by a violin, which is an instrumental re-working of the later track, New Art for the People, a deliciously depressing dialogue between Simon and Julia about fighting for art's sake in a fatuous environment and failing - in many ways, with its sense of broken dreams and misguided hopes, it feels like an updated version of Fairytale of New York. With a similar theme of disillusionment and loss, The Last Significant Statement to Be Made in Rock 'n Roll, a song with driving guitars and Simon on lead vocals, sounds like The Auteurs meets Springsteen's Born to Run. It also includes fantastic lyrics like "Once, in a corridor in Memphis/Was a singer took a breath/And wrote the birth of the teenager/Now we come to write his death," which is one of the best lines about Elvis that I've come across. Our Daughters Will Never Be Free is a playful breakneck number complete with handclaps and Julia taking over breathless lead vocals while the lyrics lambast feminism and its many failures. Stars sounds like a tinkling music box as Julia sweetly croons, "I'm in love with the boy next door/He treats me like a filthy whore/I give him everything he wants for nothing in return." Unsettling and twee at the same time...kind of like a song in a Tim Burton stop-motion animation.

One of my favourite tracks is ...If Jeff Buckley Had Lived, a song that goes against the typical music fan's reaction to his untimely death - rather than pity the waste of such talent and wonder how genius Buckley could have been if he had lived, The Indelicates predict that Buckley would have fallen flat by never being able to live up to his brilliant first and only album, and without his death, he wouldn't have become the mythological figure he is now. The music itself in this song is beautifully melancholy and expansive with a pulsing rhythm, light piano, and gently whining guitars. Another song that I find fascinating is America, a stately tune with frenetic guitar arpeggios and a rather provocative take on America, taking the conservative stance and deriding England with its "weak-chinned snarls and red guitars." The track Heroin once again reminds me of Bruce Springsteen with its passionate overwrought guitars and raspy vocals, and even though I don't really like Springsteen, I enjoy it - perhaps because The Indelicates have hit upon an alchemical mixture of American bombast and English irony.

I'm going to include a couple of tracks from the album and then one particularly fabulous demo song, Waiting for Pete Doherty to Die, that was available for free download on their Web site. They say everything in this song that I would want to say about the state of the media, music industry and pretentious fans, and they do it much more eloquently than I could. In many ways, it's a companion piece to the song We Hate the Kids on American Demo, a song which states: "And no one discusses what they don't understand/And no one does anything to harm the brand/And this gift is an illusion, this isn't hard:/Absolutely anyone can play fucking guitar/Oh yeah, we mean it/We hate the kids/Useless children genuflecting/To the idols who exploit them." Despite the cynicism, The Indelicates do, indeed, make intelligent new art for the people. And I'm thankful for it.

New Art For the People - The Indelicates

...If Jeff Buckley Had Lived - The Indelicates

Waiting For Pete Doherty to Die - The Indelicates