Sunday, 13 September 2009

Ah, censorship, my old adversary, blah blah blah, etc etc etc

I realise that the meagure number of people who read this thing have zero interest in casting their eyes over more of my bloody music writing (which if anything they probably come here to hide from). But anyway, I wrote this review of George Pringle's new album for DiS, only it got pulled for weird scenester political reasons I had no foreknowledge of that were broken to me, um, well, with an invigorating lack of politeness. Anyway, I spent about an hour making some sort of absurd personal tragedy out of it and pondering giving it to another website, but then I realised I really couldn't be bothered with the fuss and didn't especially care. But I did take the time to write the stupid thing, so I hereby shuffle it under the metaphorical carpet that is this storied blog. But um, yeah, if you don't read my stuff normally it would be weird if you felt any obligation to peruse this one. I'M JUST PUTTING IT HERE.

George Pringle - Salon des Refusés

It would be fair to say that George Pringle has proven a divisive figure over the course of her short, bogged down career and it does not take a sociology degree to see why. Sure, a mixture of buzzing analogue primitivism and self-obsessed, irony-heavy monologues was never going to be everybody’s cup of tea. But without getting involved in any bullshit over classism, there’s no debate that the woman is pathologically posh, speaking in a sort of cartoonish strain of RP and insisting on calling herself a ‘diseuse’. Combine that with her Knightley-esque looks and Enid Blyton first name, and you’re left with the peculiar impression of a minor member of the aristocracy turning her hands to DIY electronica, a kind of Victoria Aitken vibe.

That this is at least part affected - Salon des Refusés' torturous gestation comes from Pringle being flat broke - is hard to bring to mind when confronted with the actual music.

But in any case, Salon des Refusés is here now, and while at times you are faced with what amounts to a debutante saying clever things over a laptop, to dismiss it as such would do little justice to the neon-streaked claustrophobia of a profoundly atmospheric record.

Tongue in cheek as it may or may not be, the diseuse tag isn’t astoundingly accurate. The word means ‘performer of monologues’, but those cut-glass spoken word segments are just a facet of what she does. So yes, album highlight ‘Physical Education (Part 1)’ does begin with her sketching out a fantasy scenario in which a boy who ignored her at school offers belated validation with the words ”you’re so cool George Pringle”. But that’s scarcely a minute of the track, which then proceeds to erupt into cold ecstasy, a hymnal buzz of syths crawling upwards as she sings the words ”cheap thrills; carved your name into my desk” over and over, interpolated with the hook line from Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’. It is thrilling, but there’s also something a bit tragic about the juxtaposition of a sad little daydream with an anthem so utterly transcendent. Something Pringle is aware of: at the's music headiest, most climactic throb, she mutters a forlorn little“shit”, as if rueful that her 24-year-old self is so reduced.

Difficulty in empathising may be another problem people have with Pringle: these are sad, lonely songs about isolation and psychic disintegration, suburban entrapment depicted in sickly, Lynchian shades. But it can be a little hard to swallow coming from so plummy a voice. ‘Carte Postale’ is the closest she comes to asking you to feel sorry for her; but when she assume fractionally posher tones to bitterly mock the sender of the titular missive, holidaying in Buenos Aires, it’s kind of hard to get onside. Yet belatedly it happens, the story becoming more vulnerable, a gentle tide of early Belle & Sebastian-style backing beckoning you hither.

The thing to remember is that Pringle is a musician, and a good one at that; not technically adept, but a deft textural manipulator of GarageBand and her own limited vocal gifts. Sure, a warm Lancastrian burr would probably have saved her a lot of grief, but her hauteur suits the nerve-jarring music - ‘We Could Have Been Heroes’ seasick jabbering and savage drone; ‘LCD I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down’s freezing pulse; 'Fellini For Prime Minister's nightmare stumble.

It all reaches musical and thematic climax over ‘Bonjour Tristesse’s ten churning minutes. The song commences with a muffled Pringle delicately singing the mantra ”my heart was meant to dance” over a nauseating, grimy bed, a bed that echoes and intensifies as the singer begins to unravel, declaring in less steady tones ”I’ve got no friends, I dance alone”. Around the halfway point words drop out entirely, leaving the song to mutate into an eerie cousin to New Order’s ‘In A Lonely Place’.

Symphonic, sad and unhinged, it’s the apex of an album that steadily ratchets up the atmosphere, squeezing and constricting until... it sort of loses its way. The final four songs are okay, but rather bathetic after the heights surmounted by ‘Bonjour Tristesse’. The entirely sung ‘Pop Hit’ is Pringle’s stab at convention, and sounds disconcertingly like second album Long Blondes; ‘One Night In Koko’ feels like a needless reprise of earlier tracks, while ‘S.W.10’ plays at being the nursery rhyme closer, but sabotages itself by being a little too busy, electronically speaking.

It’s a shame, perhaps for Pringle as much as anyone, as if you’re going to make music this divisive, you could really do with making your debut a bulletproof statement of intent. But ifSalon des Refusés isn’t quite that convincing statement, it’s two thirds of one. And to give Pringle her dues - that's about two thirds better than any other diseuse on the gig circuit right now.

1 comment:

Arike said...

This piece of writing is ace Andrzej.