Love Among The Mannequins
I wonder what this cryptic allegory could possible mean? Hover the cover for a walk-through from Tobias Hayes…
As ‘Radial Images’ has dutifully aided my commute daily for the last month, I yearn to offer the time spent recording this LP, and its reading list of citations, a just appraisal. Given my hopeless lack of knowledge with regard to the latter, and my condensed understanding of the former, my goal is wholly unlikely. Besides, it’s already been achieved to a greatly refreshing affect here.
Comparatively, my poly-syllabic nonsense may not appease.
Maybe a change of tact then. It would be obligatory at this point to mention that the band comprises members of Elle Milano and Meet Me in St. Louis, but this too is vacant considering their current guise does more than enough to stand independently on its own eight feet.
So where to start?
8:45am: Lock the front door, light the second cigarette of the day and press play. The self-titled echoes that sketch the record’s inception can teach a lot in their 45 second lifespan, namely that there’s a wealth of session material which didn’t make the final cut, and that the quartet are innovative to the point of longing interest. Whatever you draw from this foreshadowing, it becomes stark (as you turn the corner onto Station Road) that there’s adventure afoot, a story to be told, and something to be learned from it.
Indeed the narrative bursts into life, with ‘Nikolai Fydorovich Fyodorov’ no less, laying cards bare on the table with an indomitable hand. Cries of ‘Brahma, Shiva, Vishnu, Malkuth, Yesod, Tiferet’ seem to resurrect Kill Kenada’s Tim Smithen in timbre (which in itself if enough to set hearts racing), while the time dedicated to finding those guitars tones will undoubtedly be rewarding over the course. No false promises, no disregard.
8:55am: Having inevitably missed the train by a minute, I’m offered another five to savour the joys of the platform and the next chapter of this album. ‘Raoul Duke’ – a reference I do get, is as tatty and paranoid as you’d expect, offering a disenchanted lullaby with a brooding undercurrent brought to the fore as soon as the distortion pedal clicks into its active setting. As it does so, it unerringly demands a ‘fuck yes’.
‘Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe’ too is a triumph, with its groove twisting from the lead of the guitar to the assurance of the drums. ‘Let man’s dim soul regard this toy world as a perfect whole’ is shrewdly punctuated by ‘oh snap!’, and it’s clear the discourse has no trouble scaling such ever-accenting terrain. The compelling vibrancy of these lyrics becomes more an awe as the record uncoils, and the train skulks into view.
9:02am: As (violin) strings begin to loosen during the 30 second interlude of ‘L.V.B. A La A.S.‘, momentarily we’re in ‘Rossz Csillag Alatt Született‘ territory, before the respite allays into the familiarity of single ‘Alfred Garyevich Schinittke‘, as opposed to a kick/snare apocalypse. This is always to the dismay of my fellow commuters (many with computers), as the high-end melody pierces the surrounding airwaves (themselves congealing with coughs, sneezes and flatulence). I silently offer my own regret that they are not party to the sum of all parts, as ‘Schinittke‘ itself is an astute commentary; circling the notion of ‘wearing Beethoven’s Burtons’ line‘, which is a concept nothing short of genius.
Incorporated here is a wider remark on the louche, high-browed debasement of the sonic arts, with the sharpest of tongues delivering a cutting resentment;
‘Thomas Mann is to Schoenberg as ice is to Titanic/Pierre is to Ludwig van as shit is to a step’
…Mann then further undermined with the line;
‘With a one, two, a la recherche du temps perdu [in search of lost time], three, four, a graphic score from a flip of a coin or a software algorithm.’
9:07am: The reassuring calm of ‘George Robert Price’ facilitates the scaling of Liverpool St. forecourt during the morning rush hour, no more so than in the accuracy of the query ‘Who’d have thought that entropy could out manoeuvre empathy?’. Through the barriers, descend the stairs, and the sight of a saturated platform is married to my ear as ‘…Price’ delivers its payload of monumental burst. This is a wholly gratifying moment. As the dynamics wilt and the tube sweeps in, the track culminates in palm-mutes that resonate like thumping heartbeats faltering.
9:11am: ‘The Does‘ seems, to my misinformed mind, the most cynical of marriage disposals – coupling wed with death, perhaps citing such an event past, although again unto my own knowledge. Indeed, the duet between male and female vocalists (‘John, Jane’) flickers with the porcelain fragility of Andrew Mears/Galina Rin as they laid ‘Recovery Speak‘ to rest in 2004. You can try to decipher the meaning for yourself, here;
The parallels drawn with Pavement by others are for the most true in gems like ‘Marcel Marceau‘, which in essence is instrumental folly with a hands-in-pocket swagger. As it concludes, a flare of applause is justified, but before the notion of an assumed arrogance sets, you realise the claps prefix an anecdote from Alan Watts, which in turn gives way to ‘The Twentieth Century’ (hear below). The four-part verse is morose in weight but never to the point of unwanted agitation, before it ruptures into a huge wave of warm fuzz and delighting cacophony. Another high watermark.
‘Raskolnikov’s Horse’ is altogether more urgent in tempo, necessarily so as at 9:28am as I realise I’ll be late again. However, this dawning awareness is put into the context of triviality against ‘that hip-whippin’, eye-trippin’ pre-Freudian joie de vivre’.
Vocals on ‘James Graham Ballard’ – the LP’s closer – are reminiscent of Frank Turner back when he was armed only with a microphone, and was prophesising ‘Chinua Achebe Will Have His Revenge on EC1’. It ties the whole experience together justly, with growing ambition and pace, before culminating in a drop D respiratory relapse.
At 9:38am I remember again that this is a spherical cow of an album; you’ll run its course before truly becoming aware of the track count or passing of time, and can (and should) repeat play without noticing an obvious break in onslaught. As I fall into my desk chair, I’m saddened that, for me, this reprise cannot be immediately so.
My Uncle’s Ball of Lightning Will Put an End to Your Warped Psychology
Finding yourself in a State which embraces the prescription of medical marijuana for what ails ya, I thought it apt to accompany the first road-test of my own remedial herb – the Indica strain Obama OG – with the upcoming Love Among the Mannequin extended play. Why? Well, vocalist Alexander Ross Petersen explains;
‘I had a bit of an obsession with a recently-republished book by the psychologist Milton Rokeach called ‘The Three Christs Of Ypsilanti’. It was published in the 60s. In it, three parandoid schizophrenics, each claiming to be Jesus Christ, are challenged by counter-delusions invented and introduced via false letters, invented people etc. by Rokeach, his intention being that the patients, after adopting these external delusions into their own delusional worldview, would chase these delusions until they became untenable and the reality of their condition – schizophrenics are “locked down” inside an impenetrable system of self-delusion – would be revealed to them.’
At peace with my own self-delusion, I light the first buds to embers and my ears are greeted by the quasi-familiarity of the EP’s opener, an interpretation of ‘My Country, ‘Tis of Thee’ (America)‘ which the case studies in Rokeach’s research were required to recite before each session. On record, the melody is a haunting foreshadow, captured on the same Zoom mic the band have employed for numerous demos, as well as for a number of the inserts underpinning their triumphant debut ‘Radial Images‘. This then makes way to the clamour of our first track proper, and a welcome journey back into the hazy distortion and high-pick intricacies which have made LATM shine previously.
Reflective of Leon’s mind, the verse sways hither and thither before the climatic discord of the chorus, and the rousing cry of ‘that’s what sir means!‘ (unfortunately tardy in the version below), which will only ever induce shivers down the listener’s spine. I’ll hold back some superlatives here and let you draw your own conclusions…
Once this stall has been laid out there’s not let up to be had, moving hastily into the bullish rasp of second track ‘Clyde Benson‘. The guitar here is justly sharp as the patient’s tongue, and the bass booms broodingly, before the dissonance rests momentarily to intimate the strength of Benson’s convictions in the semi-acapella lull of ‘Rex said anyone with testicles is a Christ‘.
However, Benson’s own claims to the throne of the kingdom of Heaven are discernibly reiterated despite the dilution of his fellow patient’s prerequisite; ‘How come when I close my eyes he disappears/I’m still right here, is that not proof enough?‘ The momentum gathered as Benson rallies his beliefs is reflected perfectly by the sonic element provided by the band, culminating in the defiant crescendo ‘My name’s Jesus Christ, that’s my name straight!‘.
Despite my own bias (as at this point my mind in bordering comatose by herbs) I believe any listener will be left dazed by both the urgency and affirmation captured adeptly by the band at this point in proceedings. However, we’re brought firmly to the now by the dual sucker-punch of the kick drum/bass’ E string in the opening seconds of third track ‘Joseph Cassel or John Michael Ernahue or God, D-16‘.
It’s worth noting here that Steven Stride (aka Chalk) was drafted into the band late for four-string duties, and it is only on this EP where he has been able to apply himself fully in the writing process. It tells. The rumble he provides in this instance is a fearless foundation upon which guitars – which wouldn’t find themselves in unequal company on Steve Albini’s mastering of yourcodenameis:milo‘s own (extremely) extended play ‘All Roads To Fault‘ – dance.
Plaudits are also just for Petersen’s vocal interpretation of these patients – treading the line of their perceived control and their ill-conceived psyche precisely and resonantly, a further example of which is captured in ‘Joseph Cassel‘, and the delivery of the line ‘my true mouth has a billion teeth/I’m a rainbow in a human sheath‘.
The dust is allowed to settle momentarily after this marvel, as the EP closes with ‘Madame Yeti Woman‘; an acoustic offering which grows steadily into wave upon wave of triumphant distortion. A cameo from Hannah Clark of Foe on the vocal mic is a lovely juxtaposition; her soft tone contending with the brash noise behind but always with a controlled and tranquil ease. Despite this conflict, it’s interesting to learn that the closer is actually not about one of the patients;
The overall venture documented by these five tracks is a true achievement given the scope of the subject matter. There’s a sense of necessity and melancholy running from start to finish and it’s right that it should; the patients as they are locked into their world and understandings, contumacious against those who question. Indeed the EP’s title is a threat made by Leon to Rokeach himself. Aside from the concept, Love Among The Mannequins’ brand of noise-come-poise rock is pure enviable, always on point and always to the point. Long may it continue.