Saturday, November 06, 2010

Meursault at Dexter’s, Dundee, 4th November

        ‘So are you coming?’
        ‘Who are they again?’
        ‘You keep making me say it! I don’t know, Meuuuurseoooo. Merso. M-E-U-R-S-A-U-L-T. They’re really good, or at least their first album was. I’m not so sure about their second, it’s a bit buried in reverb. But they’ll still be good live.’
        [S. continues to play smartphone sudoku]
        ‘The first one was all punchy drum machines and sharp acoustic guitars. They’re quite anguished.’
        ‘What’s so funny about anguish?’
        [Assumes straight face] ‘Poor things.’

S. has a point there: anguish is the easiest route to a certain type of credibility, and as such is automatically suspect. Singing about trauma is like standing on a window ledge and threatening to jump: a demand for attention, cutting through inattention and apathy, but not, ultimately, endearing yourself. Maybe when you’re 16, the most important thing music can do is to say ‘I’m so, I’m so dissatisfied’, but pretty soon this can start to seem like a limited outlook. It’s also a trick increasingly difficult to pull as time passes. Are you really going to jump? You didn’t last time. Couldn’t you do something that would cheer yourself up more than singing about being miserable? After a Faith and a Pornography, you need a ‘Lovecats’.

Meursault use banjos, samplers, gentle acoustic and overdriven electric guitars, a cello (though sometimes not), harmonies, and a mixture of live and synthesised drums to give their anguish the urgency it needs, and it is not in danger of becoming stale just yet. Live, the distance that the production gives to this year’s All Creatures Will Make Merry album is instantly quashed, and you’re there on a bed of nails with them, uncomfortable but alive. Neil Pennycook’s howl of hurt is sometimes barely audible above the slabs of anachronistic noise, and sometimes it sinks to a caress above the simplest of banjo accompaniments. Before Meursault came along I’d forgotten how effective music which takes itself this seriously can sometimes be.

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