Thursday, July 17, 2008

Githead -- Art Pop (Previously Unpublished 2007 Review)

Githead -- Art Pop (Swim)

The second Githead album finds the band adhering to recent Federal Trade Commission Truth-in-Album-Titling guidelines. It also makes it more clear that Githead makes a fine clearing house for Colin Newman’s surplus tunes. That is, tunes that could have made it onto a Wire album, but hadn’t, for whatever reasons. This isn’t to slight the contributions of Newman’s fellow Githeaders, Max Franken and Malka (Colin’s wife) Spigel of Minimal Compact and Robin Rimbaud as the Beaver. But the best songs here are on par with tunes from the ‘80s and 21st century editions of Newman’s off-and-on main gig.

The album gets off to a great start with “On Your Own”. It’s has a lilting melody with a steady rhythm, in the vein of Wire tunes like “Eardrum Buzz” and “Ahead”. This is the gentle, sensitive Newman. Well, maybe not sensitive: “what gives me indigestion/is your suggestions/of misdirection.” So he’s angry, yet he sounds calm while offering Devoto-esque put downs, with the chorus: “Could you make it on your own?/I don’t believe you’re barely able” registering as the final word.

As grooving and sleek as that was, the band moves more towards the most recent Wire sound on “Drive By”. Here, the bass is popping, the guitars serrated and edgy, and Newman sings like he really has indigestion. He’s in maximum harangue mode, spitting out the words, not letting one syllable escape his lips without a coating of venom. For the fury on the surface, the rhythm section is deft and swinging, keeping the stridency from actual sounding strident.

If you want to hear a hook out of the 154 playbook, skip on over to “All Set Up”. The song percolates along in a blend of Newman’s declamations and reliable tick-tock rhythm. This just sets up the chorus, which is highly reminiscent of “Outdoor Miner”. It’s very, very close, as a matter of fact. This is far from a bad thing. While I love Spoon, I find the constant Wire comparisons to be irksome, because Britt Daniel and Jim Eno have never managed one of these flowing, circular, can’t get it out of your head melodies. Maybe they should just ask Newman to come down to Austin.

Spigel sings on a couple of tracks that fit the Githead sensibility, yet they are definitely change of pace tracks. “Space Life” sounds like a retro look at the future, as the mid-tempo track is accompanied by echoing guitars and lots of keyboards swooshes fading in and out all over the mix, as if a ‘50s vision of space was dug up for this album. The track has a certain swarthy cool to it, and Spigel’s accented vocals add to the allure. She is at the center of the chilly acoustic “Lifeloops”, which has her singing over a repetitive acoustic guitar figure. Even in this slow down mode, the application of a choppy rhythm to a melody is there -- Newman invented it and his missus does it well too.

The biggest difference between Newman pop with Githead and Newman pop with Wire is that there’s a bit more warmth here. Whereas Wire songs are often infused with drama and mystery, here, the melodies are just as likely to convey far nicer feelings and emotions. If you don’t believe me, take a listen to “These Days”. It’s a song you might be able to take home to mother. Yet it still has a signature sound that won’t hurt the ‘head’s indie cred.

This album is, I hope, a portent of more Githead projects. The band has a great frontman and sounds great as a unit. This isn’t just a cheap Wire substitute.

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