Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Wildhouse – ‘Poet:Saint’

I was going to write about this once I’d thrown off the January blues, but it does quite suit them. Probably it’s all that low-end guitar for which the lack of bass leaves room. A morass to cushion, absorb, contain. Mark, who kindly sent it after I saw them play in December (and who isn’t in the band, but runs their MySpace site, if I have that right? Message him there for a copy), says that the bass guitar on ‘Imaginary Party’ – which doesn’t sound like a bass at all – is ‘the only time the band ever used one’. What they do use are two guitars and some stand-up drums. The album is gentler than the gig was, by only a notch, but it’s enough to sort out what’s going on a bit better: Paul’s voice is at the centre, clean and fluid, brightly expressing weariness. Moving from one note to another he seems weighted down: the melodies slide around, never quite on the beat, as though something is dragging them back. On the opening ‘All Encompassing Positive’ he sings: ‘Hope flows / Hoping to cope’, the rhythm stately, the two chord riff detached, until everything speeds up and goes blurry, almost exactly like Joy Division’s ‘Insight’, except that the high pitched synth drum is replaced by yelping. The sound of what happens if you can’t cope, perhaps.

There is a tension between the gloom of the guitars and the rattling-along drums which seem to be from a poppier place entirely. It’s a great balance to have, of course: I remember how crushed I was on first hearing the Dub Narcotic Sound System, Calvin Johnson’s incredible booming warmth totally tamed by the presence of a conventional rhythm section. His voice needs the space Beat Happening give it (OK, so it’s also great on Heavenly records). The Wildhouse need this space too, for their guitars. But they sound strangely unlike their most obvious influence, The Velvet Underground. Poet:Saint is full of VU, it could be a concept album about them: there’s the pretty ‘Doug and Billy’ (‘smile at Lou Reed’s jokes’ – is that Doug Yule and Billy Name?)’; there’s ‘Imaginary Party’, with its left / right split of music and talking, just like ‘The Gift’ (this works really well – it’s a list of all the things that would or wouldn’t happen at a perfect party); there’s one song with the word ‘factory’ in the title and another with ‘stars’; there’s an epic rock out thing near the end (‘DC3’) which is one note away from using the ‘Sister Ray’ riff (and didn’t the Velvets drop that note themselves on the amazingly languid versions to be found on The Quine Tapes?)

You could obliquely link in ‘When Beatles Were Liars’, too, at least if you’re going with the theory (I think Vic Godard said this) that it was The Beatles put the weirdness into pop, but The Velvet Underground who influenced all the bands you’d actually want to listen to. It’s a song about being let down by The Beatles, and contains this jarring lyric: ‘Some empathy with David Mark Chapman / No sympathy for guns and those who use them’. You can see what they’re trying to do here, but it falls flat – it’s a nasty sentiment immediately qualified, so it ends up not being nasty enough (see Manic Street Preachers’ line ‘I laughed when Lennon got shot’ for an example of how to do this properly). Still, there is also ‘T-Rextasy only could console me’, and I love the idea of a moment so bad that only a blast of ‘Metal Guru’ can bring you back again. Another line, from ‘Doug and Billy’: ‘History will be kind’, suggests that The Wildhouse see themselves as pop curators, and this is a slight problem for their music, which can seem over-reverential. But that’s no reason not to enjoy the sounds, or the live onslaught.

The Wildhouse play Nice ’n’ Sleazy in Glasgow on 29th January.

Billy Name has a Goat Clinic.


Anonymous said...

Brilliant review. That's my Thursday night sorted out, too!

Anonymous said...

hey brogues
we are on first then straight home because its a school night.perhaps you would like a copy of the aforementioned poet:saint

Anonymous said...

Great! I should be along at around 8:30. Looking forward to it. I feel shy about taking a cd from you :)

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed the show so thanks for tipping me the wink, Chris! I arrived about 30 seconds into their set, a bit flustered from difficulty finding a parking space, and stood right up front. I am a total sucker for that pummelling, primal drum sound. With some of the pedal action I was reminded of early The Telescopes and The Stooges. If I'm around I'll definitely see them at the Halt Bar in a coupla weeks. I wonder if they are the same Wildhouse who gigged around Edinburgh a few years ago?

Chris said...

Could easily have been, they've been around since the late '80s I think. Whether this is a comeback or they've been plugging away all that time I have no idea. Either way, a find - glad you enjoyed them.

Anonymous said...

glad you had fun
4 songs 20 minutes cant be bad.last song "my life as pop art" was brand new and should have gone on for ages but time was in the way.
brought along a copy of the album but left it in the car,also parked miles away.
this present form of the band have been around now for 5 years (since peet was 14).there are 2 now rare records 7" and 12" from 1985/86.they can crop up on ebay but are expensive.
kings of rock

Anonymous said...

(Thanks for the use of your blog, Chris!)

Thanks for bringing along the cd. That was very kind and considerate of you! I was the guy in the green and navy jumper with the short hair and duffelcoat at the front. If you ever see me around please say 'hi' :)

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