Friday, October 31, 2008

Dressed in Borrowed Time and Finery: Luxury Stranger's Desolation

Several months ago I found out about a Nottingham-based band called Luxury Stranger via MySpace. Oddly enough, I had already met the bass player, Chris Ruscoe, who happened to be at the two IAMX shows I attended a year ago, but who wasn't in Luxury Stranger yet. The rest of the band is composed of drummer, Owen Walton, and vocalist/guitarist, Simon York, who used to be signed to Roadrunner Records with former band Delirium (and who incidentally is related to William of Orange). They are about to release their debut album, Desolation, which reminds me of my favourite post-punk/new wave bands like The Chameleons, Echo & the Bunnymen, and the Pornography/Faith/Seventeen Seconds era of The Cure (in fact, perhaps I would still be enjoying The Cure if Luxury Stranger wrote their melodies for them), but as much as York's vocals veer into Robert Smith agonized cadences and tones and the occasional Ian McCulloch quaver, they also remind me of the gravelly, masculine posture of grunge and the full bass tonality of someone like Eddie Vedder. Luxury Stranger has also cultivated a rather enigmatic profile via guerrilla marketing; for example, if you were lucky enough to find a Luxury Stranger card lying around, you became an honourary member of the Luxury Stranger elite. After listening to Desolation, it seems the world this elite occupies is one of industrial decadence, like a limousine pulling up to the curb in the Lace Market, offering you a few sordid moments above your station. There is both a sense of dangerous urgency and a doomed despondency, a naked bipolarity that seems too tenuous and tense to last without tearing the narrator in two.

Opening track, Dirt, is indeed dirty in its gritty guitar sounds and self-loathing lyrics. York's delivery of "I'm dirt" ranges from petulant declaration to raspy scream, demanding attention like a dark dare to all the "clean girls." Substance is more punky and angular than Dirt and features verses that are actually reminiscent of Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me Cure and then a poppy, infectious chorus. Inner Eye slouches along like a shambolic shadow in lockstep to ticking, precise drums as though the narrator's wrought desire cannot be unshackled nor diluted in shady alleys. Falling on the punkier side of post-punk like Substance, Marlene has an incredible hook as it conjures up images of a femme fatale worthy of The Blue Angel. Slowing down to a more contemplative tone, Paradise Untouched builds layer upon layer of dramatic sound as escapist promises escalate, dressed in borrowed time and finery. Grounded is one of the most memorable tracks for me on the album with its propulsive guitars and "wrap you up in plastic" refrain; in this song there's an unabashed, transparent revelry in the way human relationships become power struggles of puppetry.

The album then takes a slower, more atmospheric turn. With its echoing drums and gentle washes of guitars, Dreaming Our Lives Away is a moody ballad of romantic intentions that reiterates some of the escapist tendencies of Paradise Untouched, emphasizing a yearning for preserving ephemera, which wouldn't be so precious if it weren't so transient. Item continues the atmosphere of sombre brooding with an insistent lower register that swells like a dirge against the backsliding backbeat as the narrator drags his directionless feet away from the wreckage of his heart that he can now only view as a detached, abstract item. NMQP picks the pace back up again with the plea of "no more questions please" and breezier guitars. The record's coda is Don't Go, a track that begins with a skeleton of acoustic guitar, but which continues to round out its sound and culminates in more wounded self-absorption reaching for the last vestiges of love, or for what would pass for love for any navel-gazing romantic. The naked last breaths that plead "don't go" belie a true vulnerability behind the gothic bravado of the earlier tracks.

In addition to the tracks from the album, I was also able to listen to two bonus tracks (which are currently streaming at Luxury Stranger's MySpace): Completion and Precious For Evermore. The former is a driving melody with a vindictive, vicious vocal performance from a possessive lover - a Phantom of the Rock Opera; the latter is a bass-driven ode to masochistic voyeurism and more need for preservation and possession of an idealized lover. Hopefully, both are to see some sort of official release whether as part of a sophomore effort or as bonus tracks for this debut.

Overall, if you're a fan of the darker, brooding side of post-punk and also into fist-pumping forceful rock, I would definitely recommend Luxury Stranger. Considering I'm in Canada and that there's a low likelihood of my returning to the Nottingham area any time soon, I asked whether I would be able to get some cards of my own to spread throughout Canada. Though the cards were ostensibly sent to me twice, I never did end up receiving those cards, which leads me to believe that I am neither luxurious nor strange enough to be a part of the Luxury Stranger elite. Or perhaps our postal worker is indeed more luxurious and a bit stranger than I thought.

Luxury Stranger's MySpace:

Grounded - Luxury Stranger

Item - Luxury Stranger

Completion - Luxury Stranger

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