One of the great things about reviewing music for other people is that often a band comes along that is genuinely surprising. Writing about a favourite artist is always preceded by expectations leading to inevitable joy or ultimate grudgingly accepted disappointment. But the experience is always biased in some way. A band you have never heard before is a rare experience even if they turn out to sound like someone else. Occasionally they don't. The intriguingly named David Cronenberg's Wife is that band. Hypnagogues (which apparently means 'a drug that induces sleep') is the second album from the London art-rock sextet.
Hypnagogues is a weird and wonderful experience that threatens early on to deliver something different on each track. Singer and guitarist Tom Mayne is a sublime mix of Ian Brown, Jason Pierce and Frank Sidebottom. Opener Sweden is a brilliant torrent of monologue John Cooper Clarke lyrics eventually gliding into a dance-induced chorus. Mayne namedrops Ideal Homes, Annabel Croft, talks about downing pints of fish oils and feeling crap but living until he's a hundred and twenty four. That is just a taster of a wondrous trip through a frantic mind. On first listen, it seems like an entire album like this would be a huge breath of fresh air but what transpires turns out to be a smart move. Never holding on to a single idea for too long, David Cronenberg's Wife swiftly move on.
Can't Keep Doing What You Do is less talking and more 'singing', a clanking, stomping, uneasy pop song that's not sure if it wants to let anyone know what it is. The first real highlight on Hypnagogues is the majestic The Lou Reed Song, so unashamedly an homage disguised as a rip-off it finds that sweet-spot both musically and ironically before unfolding beautifully into a blatant finale. It is also home to the best line on the album: "So you're in a good mood, but the party it brings you down; If you don't want to go home barking, then stop acting like such a hound...".
As with all music that tries to do something new and unique, not all of Hypnagogues works. Fight Song is like a bad journey through a budget ghost train ride at a seedy faire. It lacks any form of melody. Likewise In The Limo is a drunken attempt at a Pogues cover - a mean feat but Mayne and the band execute it perfectly. After a minute it gets truly irritating. Even the guitars and the big 'sing-a-long' ending does little to improve things. You Should've Closed The Curtains brings back the style in spectacular form. Playing out like The Stranglers at their most eclectic, this tale of voyeurism brings together sultry vocals, swathes of strings and harpsichord. The racy Body To Sleep With continues the oscillation, a quick blast of disjointed punk-pop.
Desperate Little Man could be Mark Everett at his best, a bitter-sweet slice of storytelling with lost love, stark imagary and honest reflection. The arrangement is exquisite. Make Me A Channel Of Your Peace is dark, creepy guitar-based indie with distant nasal vocals. The instrumentation just before the three minute point is breathtakingly delicate and controlled against the edgy vocal delivery. In contrast Jailbird is too obvious, packed full of tongue-in-cheek metaphor: "I was roughly fingerprinted, there was no chance of bail...She even took my shirt, I had to be strip-searched...". Back to a high for the closer Drawn Again, a slow mesmerising trawl from the depths, again full of wonderful imagery and observations. In spite of Mayne's prosaic tone, he has an oddly tuneful voice. The tumbling guitars and violin dance away into the last minute.
Hypnagogues is twisted, direct, melancholy, uplifting, dark and light. Tom Mayne's vocals are responsible for the unique approach of David Cronenberg's Wife but the band play a big part. The six musicians combine through interesting and brave arrangements to compliment the words of the front man which rarely falter. Mayne's unwavering attempts to ignore structure and convention (if the words don't fit, just say them quicker so they do) is refreshing and compelling. Hypnagogues is far from great. But like all great art it has plenty of delicious faults.
-- CS (for The Music Magazine)