Thursday, 17 September 2009

SHIT ROBOT: Simple Things (Work It Out)


It’s the same old story; he woke up this morning and his baby was gone. The opening descending cascade of whole tone cloudy synths depicts him struggling out of his dream. But this is a loneliness far more acute; unlike the Jagger of “Miss You,” this guy can’t even make it out of his house to strut down the street in assumed grief. A Mr Fingers weightless bass; memories of a lifetime passed, mendaciously ticking away his remaining minutes.

This guy is Ian Svenonious, once the mainstay of Nation of Ulysses, then of The Make-Up, and his is one of the most exceptional vocal performances of this decade. This isn’t simply a weary, bluesy loneliness, but something far more acute, and a feeling sinisterly recognisable. He can barely function. The 1987/9 beats (“Aspirin Trax”?) continue to count him down but he is stumbling. The vocal owes a good deal to Alan Vega and rather more to the Presley of “Heartbreak Hotel,” that original widowed sprite that just won’t go away from pop, has been sentenced to live forever. At regular periods he issues a ghastly, multiphonic shriek, which sounds like breath being reversed back into his lungs at double speed, but more often than not he quivers, shivers in Marcus Lambkin’s echoes. There may be simple things, but without “you” he can’t do them. The occasional quadruple smash of Roland snare drum and cymbal fails to propel him out into the air.

He thinks awhile about where technology has brought us, about machines which can sing, and all he has to do is open his eyes – but even that is fraught with impossibility. His teeth chatters, his nose groans in a way seldom seen since the Lennon of “Cold Turkey.” The requisite House piano enters, less regally than the Lincoln Mayorga of “Big Man” or Andy Williams’ version of “God Only Knows,” and the track is cooking as well as ticking but his internal absence of fire is unquenchable.

Eventually, the bassline reveals itself as “The Sun Rising” – or should that be “Can You Feel It?” (the Larry Heard one, not the Jacksons – but then again, MJ could and should have sung this) – and the singer’s distress multiples upon itself; he is reduced to Gene Vincent hiccups, Phil Minton avant-scatting, anything to emphasise his WISH for someone just to “come to my house” and “help me out.” But the only answer he gets is from Lambkin’s impersonal spellcheck robot intoning “Work it out! Work, work it out!” like a cross fitness instructor. His blood and spleen decorate the track like buckshot ballast, still freezing in that padded corner, wondering if his hand can ever reach the door. I’ve been there, he is clearly still there, the son of House in a mess of wired-up blues. The best DFA record since “Yeah.”