I raved about Vanilla Swingers in an earlier post having heard five of the tracks off their eponymous debut album, and now that I've heard the full nine tracks, I'm going to have to say that this is a frontrunner for my favourite album of 2008. The official release date for the LP (both as downloads and a physical album) is now July 14, so mark your calendars. Since I already made rather detailed descriptions of the five tracks I was initially sent, I will focus on the remaining four tracks for this post.
For those who didn't read my earlier post (and for those who would rather not bother with clicking the above link to do so), I'm going to quickly explain the premise for this spectacular concept album. Influenced by the John Gray book Straw Dogs, a piece of philosophy which discredits the progress myth of humanity, Vanilla Swingers follows the story of "two people who meet, run away, go back in time, lose each other, and meet again in 2015." Featuring some of the best lyrics of the year and a tender interplay between male and female voices in a similar vein to Stars, this album deconstructs the myth of human superiority, but rebuilds by using what truly makes humans human: myth creation, especially that of romantic love. It's our capacity to invent and create who we are, flaws and all, that truly defines humanity, and Vanilla Swingers plays on all the bittersweet emotions that result from this capacity.
The Town, which I briefly commented on in my earlier post based strictly on lyrical content, is a lovely album opener, setting the scene and mood for the rest of the record. Miles opens the song, backed by lazy strums of the acoustic guitar and piano, and Anne comes in for the second verse as they describe the sterile boredom of living in a suburban wasteland, where people keep reassuring themselves that they are, in fact, "ok." The characters in this album do manage to find each other amongst the dreary "pre-postmodern" structures and vapid fun bars, and so a tenuous, but tender, romance ensues. Though the lovers attempt to run away from everything in the song I'll Stay Next to You, The Hive finds them in the realization that no matter where you flee in time and space, you cannot escape the same negative aspects of humanity. The Hive, within its eight minutes, shifts between styles and rhythms like the fluid time it represents, beginning with a more subdued hushed vocal accompanied by lightly pulsing guitars and hi-hat, but then ending with a bouncier, twee melody worthy of Belle and Sebastian or Camera Obscura. Accompanying the restless music is the incredible lyric of: "Screensave faces, Chinese walls divide/Monitors flicker but I only saw the light behind your eyes/We're part of a problem with no solution/Everywhere you go, everything so cheap/Someone's gonna pay/From the daily rail to the NME, sing the same old song/'They build you up they knock you down. Fifteen minutes counting down. Changes like the weather. You built me up you won't knock me down - I'm keeping both feet on the ground. And it's getting better!'" The wasteful commericalism combined with the climate of false progress (most famously and most recently endorsed by "New" Labour) ends up being ubiquitous and inescapable.
In Back to the Present, which logically follows Danger in the Past, the lovers flee the 1980's for the amorphous present. The dreamy melody is propelled by twinkling piano lines and punchy chords while Miles' mournful, but thoughtful, vocals muse over the loss of his lover, who didn't appear to accompany him back to his present. The narrator must comfort himself with the dreams of what if's and potential futures while never actually achieving them in his reality. Album closer, If You Fall, comes after the lovers reunite in the future and realize that they could still believe in the bond between them, and that even though they were lost, they were lost together. If You Fall's bittersweet, delicate melody suits the fragility of the lyrics. The last lines of the song and album are: "On your way to work remember/If you fall for this you'll fall for anything that passes by you/If you fall for this you'll fall for anything." These words leave you wondering if you shouldn't fall for the Humanistic myth or if you shouldn't fall for the myth of romantic love. Or that perhaps they're inextricably connected, and thus, inescapable anyway.
If you're in the London area, or are going to be on May 27, go to see Vanilla Swingers' first live gig at the 12 Bar. And as I mentioned earlier, their album, which is produced in a limited run of 1000, is out in a couple of months. Run away with Vanilla Swingers. You just might find yourself back where you started with the ground beneath your feet feeling strangely new.
The Hive - Vanilla Swingers
If You Fall - Vanilla Swingers