Archive for the ‘Strange & Primitive’ Category

Strange & Primitive — Strange & Primitive

Thursday, August 27th, 2015

Strange & Primitive’s debut album never goes the way that you expect. There’s violence, but it’s always restrained. There’s tension, but it never gets resolved. And all the while it’s driven on by a relentless electronic beat that makes you think the band is building towards something, yet the payoff never comes. The mix of goth, pop, post-punk, and electronic elements, especially in the opening track “Difficulties Be Damned,” makes for an early comparison to Xiu Xiu. But the vocalist is nowhere near as tortured or depraved as Jamie Stewart, sounding unusually calm within the chaos that surrounds him. The songs themselves are closer to the sort of new romantic synth-pop you’d expect to hear on a 1980s Depeche Mode album. But they’re nowhere near as lyrical as Depeche Mode, missing all of Martin Gore’s trademark wit and gothic sexuality that helped sculpt the band into the icons they’ve become today. So they’re like Xiu Xiu without the emotions, mixed with Depeche Mode without the lyrics, which doesn’t sound like it should be any good. But it is good, and it gets better the longer that you listen to it. So what’s going on with the album? It’s a little hard to get your head around at first, but as you listen to it, you start to find a couple of consistent threads.

First of all, Strange & Primitive are amazing composers, capable not only of referencing just about every 1980s musical sub-genre you can think of, but also bringing in sounds from more exotic material too, like the synthesized wooden flutes in the instrumental “Keep Your Eyes on Daylight” or the strange falsetto vocals in “Seduced by Bluff.” Secondly, the music seems to change in style almost every time you think you’ve got it narrowed down, veering dramatically from electronic post-punk to experimental ambience and onto something closer to progressive rock. The band describe themselves as post-punk and you can hear it in the drums and the tone of their guitars, but the album itself is harder to identify. It sticks to one style for a couple of tracks, then spins out unexpectedly into something else, repeating the cycle over and over again for close to an hour. And all the while there’s this feeling of detachment to it all. Like a scientist running tests through a machine.  After a few tracks you get the idea that it’s not about the lyrics, not about emotions. It’s about the formal qualities of music, and what happens when you put a song together. It’s more like art music than anything you’d usually hear in punk or goth, and once you start to think of it from that perspective, the album starts to make a lot more sense. Strange & Primitive are throwing ideas around, seeing what works and what doesn’t, creating different kinds of pop music out of a carefully curated set of sounds and inspirations. Their music displays obvious connections to the broader Canadian post-punk scene, channelling the explosive sound of bands like Spectres and Viet Cong, but it represents a more measured, intellectual approach to making music when placed beside these other bands, focussed on nuances in melody rather than the raw expression of apathy or discontent. Once you approach it from the proper angle, you start to see how unique it really is with those melodic vocals and that ever-shifting mix of sounds and inspirations.

The biggest issue with the album is its length. Strange & Primitive come up with a lot of interesting ideas in this record’s 50 minute runtime, but they play them out until monotony. This, coupled with the academic nature of the music, makes it difficult to listen to at times. It lacks the force of Algiers, or the nostalgia of The Associates. But stick with it, if you can. This kind of art-school dropout music is hard to come by lately, and if Strange & Primitive make their next release just a little shorter, a little tighter, give it just a little bit more edge, then they will quickly see themselves become enormous. It’s a flawed, but exciting debut that contains within it the seeds for massive cult success. That sort of album doesn’t happen every day. It deserves at least a moment of attention.

Strange & Primitive is out now.