With a tight, scratchy post-punk rhythm and the rich baritone lead of vocalist Andrew McCarty, the Memphis quintet Magnum Dopus delivers an ear-catching homage to the so-called darkwave edge of ’80s new wave music. Adroit shifts between minor and major keys add to the song’s affecting, Depeche-Mode-y vibe. And while it’s definitely not just McCarty’s voice that makes the song, I do give his voice a lot of credit here. That’s quite a voice.
And yet the real hook, to my ears, is the wordless vocal accents that adorn the chorus (first heard at 1:00). The chorus opens with a sense of clearing, with the insistent scratch of the rhythm guitar abruptly dissipated and the melody easing off the double-time urgency of the verse. McCarty sings the titular phrase (it doesn’t sound much like the titular phrase but I’m assured that it is) and then we get the “oo-oo-oo-oo”s and I don’t know, there’s something in that aural maneuver that underpins the song’s potency. Whether it’s because the “oo-oo”s break the portentous trance a voice like his can induce or simply because the sound of those wordless syllables offers some sort of ineffable finishing touch that you didn’t know the song needed until you heard it, I’m convinced they are what transform the song from passingly good to something I’m now writing about here.
Oh and don’t miss the turbulent, neck-climbing guitar solo (2:31-2:48), which represents another kind of homage in a musical world that has largely devalued not just the guitar but the communal value of a soloist within an ensemble in favor of the relentless car-accident appeal of narcissistic TikTok virtuosity.
“Scratch & Dent Blonde” is the fourth of 10 tracks on Suburbanova, the band’s second full-length album, which was released last month. You can listen to and purchase it via Bandcamp.
A refugee from the heart of the U.K. post-punk scene, Adamson has a deep, reverberant voice but refuses to wallow in his own richness.
Melody has a built-in grace. This is why it works so well with allies—such as volume and density and drive—that do not have any inherent grace at all. Not to say that there is anything wrong with a song that is simply and only beautiful. But in the long run I believe we are enhanced by juxtapositions, blends, syntheses. Note for instance in your own lives how the most interesting people you know are likely those willing to roam beyond the comforts of one well-worn path. Songs can be the same way.
“Destination” is thick and gnarly from the get-go, and Adamson, a refugee from the heart of the U.K. post-punk scene, initially adds his portentous baritone in a speak-singing mode that magnifies the overall murk. But: you can hear the croon in his voice aching to get out at the end of each line, can’t you? And he unfurls it at last at 0:49; and now, without being quite sure how we got here, we are in the middle of a fabulous melody. Adamson has a deep, reverberant voice but he keeps things moving, avoiding the trap voices such as his often fall into in which they kind of wallow in their own richness. The vibe is brisk and crisp; we lose now the buzzing guitar and get a rollicking piano in its place. The piano, half-crazed, kind of steals the show shortly thereafter. It’s not where I expected the song to go but I like it. A lead guitar wrestles the spotlight the next time the chorus sweeps through but the piano returns to accompany the dense instrumental coda that closes out this oddly satisfying composition.
Adamson was bass player in the seminal British band Magazine through both its four original years and also in the 21st-century reunion (although he left the band before it recorded its long-awaited fifth album, this year). He played briefly in the Buzzcocks as well, and landed in the Bad Seeds with Nick Cave for a few years in the mid-’80s. Adamson released the first of eight smokey, adventurous solo albums in 1988 and has also worked since then on a number of film soundtracks. “Destination” is the first available track for an as-yet unnamed album set for release in 2012. MP3 once again via the resourceful Magnet Magazine.
With its churning, old-school blend of guitars, synths, bombast, and alienation, “Standing Still” does not sound of this year, or century, even.
If this one has the ring of a bygone era about it, there’s good reason for that: the band here, Artery, is a Sheffield-based unit that released three albums in the post-punk glory days of the early ’80s, then called it quits. Once upon a time championed by John Peel, they were unexpectedly nudged back into being by Jarvis Cocker, who wanted them for a festival he was curating in 2007. In 2009, the reanimated band put out an EP, their first recording since 1984.
Although they broke up (again) in 2010 when one member decided to leave (again), the band soon found a replacement and have soldiered on. And while there were too many lineup changes even in Artery’s original run to call any given configuration the definitive version of the band, this reunited ensemble is pretty authentic, featuring front man Mark Gouldthorpe and two other gents who had been in the band at one time or another back in the day.
To my ears, what they deliver is both captivating and fascinating. With its churning, old-school blend of guitars, synths, bombast, and alienation, “Standing Still” does not sound of this year, or century, even. But neither, somehow, does the song sound merely “old-fashioned” in the way a truly defunct style like, say, doo-wop does. This may relate to how much of the musical language of the new wave and post-punk eras are still spoken by rock bands in the year 2011. But I also believe Artery’s discontinued-but-vibrant sound has also to do with the fact that whoever these guys are and whatever they’ve been through, they are legitimately carrying on here in the here and now. Even as they know best the musical landscapes of early ’80s Northern Britain, they are aiming to make new music that says new things. Gouldthorpe scolds and warbles in full John Lydon mode as his mates play discernible instruments and chords—no loops or strange sampling for this crew, to be sure. It’s all rather bracing, with everything ultimately anchored by the chorus’s roiling, melodramatic chord progression, which provides the song with its unlikely instrumental hook.
“Standing Still” first surfaced on the “comeback” EP in 2009. This month, a full-fledged album arrived—Civilisation, on Twin Speed/Cherry Red Records. “Standing Still” can be found here too. MP3 originally via Artrocker Magazine.