Tuesday, 24 February 2015

From Russia With Love


Do you remember the year 2001? I don't. Maybe it was uneventful, or maybe I experienced an emotional trauma that has caused me to wipe the entire year from memory. After listening to this record, I suspect the latter.

I have recordings of old John Peel shows and I find it comforting to hear his voice. In the run-up to Christmas I attempted to listen to a different Festive 50 broadcast each day. A John Peel advent calendar, if you like. In the 2001 chart there was a song by Meanwhile, Back In Communist Russia. I didn't know the song but the band name sounded vaguely familiar so I decided to investigate. I discovered that I have this 10" mini-album. I don't remember buying it. I don't remember hearing it. I don't remember seeing them support Pulp at a gig that was broadcast live on Radio 1, but my diary tells me that I was there.

The Oxford band deal in hazy guitar and keyboard textures with sudden bursts of noise. There are brief moments of piano and drum machine that threaten to wander into the realm of "Kid A" but then lose confidence and come creeping back. You're probably thinking that this is nothing you haven't heard a thousand times before. The key element, though, is the series of monologues delivered by Emily Gray. While there are similarities to the structures of the Slint songs reviewed last week, rather than pieces of fiction these stories of lust and betrayal are very personal. Despite the wall of fuzz that threatens to drown her out, Gray's voice is crystal clear. We are left in no doubt as to what has gone on in her life, even if she would prefer to forget.

Particularly during the stark piano moments, I'm reminded of Arab Strap. Their frontman Aidan Moffat's words also tell of ill-advised liaisons so maybe these are the same stories told from the other person's perspective. But while Moffat is crude and boastful about his conquests, Gray sees nothing to be proud of.

It's possible that each song tells of a different relationship but they end the same way, with emptiness and despair.  We've all been there. You tell yourself that it will be the last time you get into this situation. But of course, it happens again. And again. You end up angry with yourself for not taking your own advice. At times, Gray takes out this frustration by indulging in self-harm, or maybe this is a means of distracting herself from the futility of the relationship. In other songs, it seems to be the partner who is abusive. This not a comfortable listening experience.

Eventually I realise what it really is that's making me feel uneasy. Emily Gray's voice sounds familiar. There are hints of Linda Steelyard of Prolapse, who featured in the first ever post on this blog. But, no... it's someone else... maybe not even a singer. Maybe it's the person who caused me to lose the whole of 2001. I wish I could remember.

Although she is haunted by most of her experiences, Gray does look back fondly on one brief period of her life. On "Blindspot/Invisible Bend", she is desperate to become reunited with the man in question and spends months trying to track him down. She becomes excited when she thinks she has spotted him from a distance, but it turns out to be someone else. There is a lesson in this anticlimax. By all means reminisce about the past but trying to recreate the moment or reconnect with those who shared it with you will end in disappointment. There is a reason why those people are no longer in your life.

By the time we reach "Morning After Pill", everything has become clear. I sense that the pill in question is not to avoid possible pregnancy but to erase the memory of the regrettable encounter. I'm left with the feeling that my life - not just relationships but everything - has been a sequence of one-night stands. Ultimately of little consequence. The final line of the album says it all:
"Please keep in touch..."  "I couldn't see the point."

1 comment:

Document and Eyewitness said...

Wow, I'd completely forgotten about them - apologies if any of them should read this. I certainly saw them live at least once when I was living down in Oxford in 2001-2, a time when there seemed to be quite a few 'post-rock' bands knocking around in the region, most with unwieldy and/or preposterous names (Sunnyvale Noise Sub-element, anyone?). MBICR were certainly one of the more interesting ones.