January 21, 2003

Giddy Motors "make it pop"

In my review of Mclusky's latest album, I stated that I was quicker to pay attention to rock records that were recorded by Steve Albini than I would be to most other rock records that I receive for review, and that assertion remains true. Yes, I know that it's an unfair bias, and that Albini's name isn't always a true indication of quality; one listen to Bush's Razorblade Suitcase told me that. However, any bias that, more often than not, results in my exposure to records as great as Mclusky Does Dallas and this one is a bias that I'm willing to stick with. Of course, the Giddy Motors' influences will be familiar to anyone who knows Albini's taste in music: Shellac, the Jesus Lizard, the Birthday Party, etc. However, this London trio manages to distinguish itself from many of the acts on Albini's resume in a multitude of ways. First of all, the band's dexterous musicianship suggests that its members were trained in jazz as well as math-rock. Second of all, guitarist Gaverick de Vis delivers his vocals in an extremely animated and multidimensional manner that suggests a Shakespearean thespian bouncing around a psych ward. Third of all, the Giddy Motors are well acquainted with the element of surprise. In the sequencing of the album as well as within individual songs, the band changes tack enough to keep things interesting, but not enough to suggest attention deficit disorder.

Opener "Magmanic" begins with a long drum roll and a few spurts of drunken hollering, setting the atmosphere for a powerful full-band entrance. The guitars scratch, the cymbals splash, and the bass sounds like a man thumbing a broken power line. The band changes both tempo and key in the middle of the song, slowly rising from sinister whispers and tense guitar arpeggios to a furious crash-and-bash climax. "Hit Cap" sounds like an extended chase scene from a 1970s cop show, with fast-paced drums, rhythmic pick scrapes, screeching saxophones, and even a bongo solo! Gaverick, in a perpetually flummoxed state, seems to be discussing a rock show in this song: "All those strings! All those chords! I don't know what I saw" His vocals eventually degenerate into faux-Spanish babbling. The slinky shuffle of "Bottle Opener" could be danced to in a club, though the distorted vocals and incessant unplugging of guitar cables throughout the song would cause the patrons to assume that the P.A. system was broken. In this song, Gaverick portrays a hung-over alcoholic defending himself against criticism: "It only burns when I laugh," he moans to convince himself. "Cranium Crux" features the album's only instance of actual singing, in an agonized falsetto that can barely raise itself above the layers of drum loops and chorused guitars.

The second half of Make It Pop begins with "Sassy," in which Gaverick barks at a mistreating woman with the fervor of an angry schoolmarm: "I love it when you put me down-step on me, doll face!" This slice of musical misogyny is stripped of all subtlety during the chorus, which consists of the words "You asshole!" shouted over and over again. The next song, "Dog Hands," is the album's most oppressive, running the same riff through the soft/loud meat grinder for four minutes. Its bridge consists of Gaverick screaming and scraping his instrument as if he's fighting a losing battle with it. Just as the dissonance becomes too much to take, "Venus Medallist" begins, a pleasant breath of fresh air. It's a quiet, baroque instrumental that Robert Wyatt could work wonders with, and if it wasn't on the record, you would have no idea that the Giddy Motors were even capable of producing something so pretty. After proving its versatility once and for all, the band closes Make It Pop with "Whirled by Curses," a song that begins with two voices having a conversation with each other on different speakers, and then proceeds to chronicle a murder by drowning.

As you can probably tell, this is some bleak music we're dealing with, but the only reason why I don't feel like putting my head in an oven after listening to it is because I've heard Xiu Xiu's Knife Play, an album that makes everything else sound like "Shiny Happy People" in comparison. However, it still has to be said that Make It Pop is the most ironically titled album I've encountered in quite a while. Only "Venus Medallist" comes close to sounding anything like pop, and that's probably how all parties involved with the record wanted it. These demented British lads have crafted a fine debut, one that will entice any rock fan with a disposition towards the abrasive and the sordid.

--Sean Padilla

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