Scottish art-punks Vital Idles follow up some promising EPs with a debut LP for solid-as-a-rock imprint Upset The Rhythm (John Maus, No Age). The lean, erudite no-wave of Left Hand recalls fellow Glaswegian legends Life Without Buildings. Singer Jessica Higgins does a good line of combining the plainly-spoken delivery of Alanna McArdle with the abstract diatribes of the late Mark E Smith.
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The thing I liked most about Life Without Buildings was that I hated them. I couldn't stand Sue Tompkins delivery to such an extent that it was good because it meant that someone else would like it just as much as I hated it.
Life Without Buildings were distinct and although Vital Idles are getting comparisons I'd say that their major issue is that they are not distinct enough. Jessica Higgins vocal delivery is just lacking in characterisation. It's just someone singing/speaking over post punk whereas with Life Without Buildings you could immediately discern who it was.... that is the difference.
When music is constructed this spindly then something special needs to happen. It could be brilliant melodies, atmospheres or lyrics that keep you hanging on the edge of your seat. Vital Idles have none of these things so what we are left with is just...well... stuff. A standard post punk racket with guitars set to scratchy. Probably not bad on a good day live and certainly not unlistenable but don't have to raise the standards a bit? Is ok good enough when there's so much competition? People seem to be accepting of anything these days as long as it sounds enough like something from the past to be familiar.
I know all this is unfair on Vital Idles who aren't a bad band really. The best bits of the record like 'Cave Raised' suggest that by introducing space into their music and encouraging Higgins to do what she does ...but more so.... they could start to head somewhere really interesting.
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