by Erik Ritland
Hello everyone and welcome back to Rambling On's #NewMusicFriday! This week, English psychedelic indie rockers Irma Vep create an atmospheric minor masterpiece and Japandroids ruin their decent album with terrible lyrics.
Thanks for reading!
Irma Vep – No Handshake Blues
Lo-fi rock / Indie rock / Psychedelic rock
A veteran of the flourishing Manchester DIY scene, Edwin Stevens releases solo material as Irma Vep. Lo-fi but realized, ramshackle but intentional, he creates haunting atmospheres with layers of heavily echoed guitars and otherworldly vocals.
No Handshake Blues begins with haunting, ambitious “A Woman’s Work is Never Done.” The dark piece of alternative and psychedelic rock slowly builds, over nearly 12 startling minutes, into an explosive freakout. Equal parts Built to Spill and Pink Floyd, but filtered through Steven’s effortless style, “A Woman’s Work is Never Done” is a good example of how indie rock can be original and take chances without trying too hard.
The rest of the album is split between songs that are more typical of the Irma Vep name – with Stevens simply accompanying himself on (usually layers of) guitar – and other fleshed out full band material. The guitar songs are mostly sad, dark, and hypnotic (“The Moaning Song,” “Armadillo Man”). Most of these tracks are reminiscent of Kurt Cobain’s softer side: speed up “I Want to be Degraded” and add a full band and it could be a lost Nirvana song.
Like “A Woman’s Work is Never Done,” closing tracks “You Know I’ve Been Ill” and “Still Sorry” are more fully realized and feature a full band arrangement. The tighter, more rock oriented feel shows a maturation in Stevens’ songwriting.
Japandroids – Near to the Wild Heart of Life
Indie rock / Pop rock
On Near to the Wild Heart of Life, Canadian indie rock outfit Japandroids make the leap from edgy garage rock to smoother, more radio-ready pop/rock. Whether this is a leap forward or backwards is open to interpretation.
With Near they are certain to lose a sizable part of the pretentious indie rock fanbase that put them on the map. While this isn’t usually a bad thing, this time those folks may have a point, as the album is overcooked. The sound is too shiny, the vocals are too far up front, and the lyrics range from palatable to trite.
At best, the lyrics are simple and universal, although Pitchfork would call them cliché (and, indeed, actually has). At their worst, which they most often are, they’re typical of so many indie rock songwriters: bad attempts at being philosophical, imagery that makes no sense and tries way too hard to sound cool, and lots of condescending jabs towards people with a worldview outside of the accepted left-leaning indie paradigm (mostly religious people). For a more detailed diatribe about the lyrics on this album, check out Dwight Cornel III’s blog about it.
Underneath the too-sleek sound and overcooked lyrics is a damn fine pop/rock album. Near to the Wild Heart of Life is filled with catchy choruses (I doubt any band this year will top the title track in that regard) and the same energy that made their earlier work so fun. When listened to only on this level, it’s an enjoyable album.
Erik Ritland is a writer and musician from St. Paul, Minnesota. His blog and podcast Rambling On features commentary on music, sports, culture, and more. He was also Lead Staff Writer for Minnesota culture blog Curious North. Support Erik's music via his Patreon account, reach him via email, or find him on Facebook and Twitter.