FAST FORWARD TO THE PAST – Puro Instinct – Vapor Girls
Puro Instinct – Vapor Girls – click the link to download the good stuff.
I am sitting on a coach. I am 14-years-old and have never lived anywhere except a small market town. There are three cassettes on my lap. They are: Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles, Countdown to Extinction by Megadeth and Precious, a 20-track compilation of popular indie disco songs. The cassettes, satisfying their geometrically determined potential for metaphor, each represent a door.
Sgt Peppers is a portal to a permanently sun-drenched solarium. Growing up in a non-Beatles playing household, I have just acquired the keys to the door through a sheer act of will, a downhill physical effort that somehow initiates a transformation of everyday life. In a weeks time, I will be threatened with a knife at a disco and later dance with a girl, sporting underwear outside of jeans, to Wet Wet Wet. It will be amazing, as though simply owning the tape is a passport into new realms of giddy experience. It will soundtrack its own luminous existence like a perfect, wheezing Dansette, on a Muppet bedspread, on a boat, on a river. But thats another story for another time. Fast-forward.
Countdown to Extinction is a grubby door, slavered with many layers of paint. It opens onto the north-facing, six by ten box room, rarely aired and with a smell somewhere between burnt matches and old pornography. It gets a couple of plays. It will be the last heavy metal album I ever buy. But thats another story for another time. Fast-forward.
Precious is a more complicated door. Made from good wood, parts of it are in decent shape, whereas elsewhere it looks like its been forced a few times, and split from the effort. There are a couple of boltless locks still attached. It opens with difficulty onto a garden filled with many plants and flowers, but also red ants and some partially concealed cat faeces. Play.
Anyone who grew up on Now! albums knows that all music, as long as it is popular, is equally valid, so owning these three tapes at once is perfectly acceptable, as if it needs verifying. But, equally, anyone who grew up watching The Chart Show knows that some territorial demarcation is required, at least once every three weeks. I had always felt at home watching the rock chart the videos were expensive and inappropriately fogged in dry ice. Men with beautiful hair took an infantile delight in pyrotechnics and arm waving. The songs were simple and memorable, and women appeared, mostly as a kind of decoration, wearing different types of highly ornate bras. Built on fantasy and bluster, it spoke to my limited experience of the world.
The indie chart by comparison was unfathomable. Half the groups didnt seem to make videos, their blunt grayscale photos at odds with the on-screen graphics. Most of the songs were muffled and fuzzy and played at clattering pace. Women were not only in the groups with bedraggled men, playing instruments, but wearing t-shirts over their bras. It was confusing and weird. These people didnt look like they cared about being popular at all. But the obscurity proved to be compellinghoming beacons from an adult world far more oblique and interesting than the comical posturing of the rock chart. (As an aside, Ive checked various clips on Youtube, and Michael Bolton is apparently always in the rock top ten, regardless of the yeara synth-toting spectre in blue tinted warehouses like Banquos strange uncle. Fast-forward.)
Evidently, it was time to go shopping, but I needed a shop window. So I bought Precious, and it dominated a summer. The anthems were an easy sell, as expansive as anything Iron Maiden could think up; it just took a while to refocus to a lyrical content of feelings instead of murder. And if at first Planet of Sound and The Drowners didnt make sense, didnt sound as universal and urgent as Sit Down and Theres No Over Way, then after a few plays it fell together. They werent a huge stretch from metal anyway: Pixies seemed like a surreal take on its dynamics, and Suede were a bit like the Quireboys.
A few tracks wouldnt stick, though, those by Lush, the Pale Saints, My Bloody Valentine, the Sugarcubes. These werent noisy or anthemic they were strange and light, distant, inscrutable. Nothing like chart pop music, and nothing like my basic conception of indie, they hung around in a breathy trance for a few minutes before fading away. No amount of close attention could break through that watery, reflective surface. I chased them around a bit, like trying to grab hold of one of those dandelion clocks that somehow drift into the room, then gave up.
Which is a long way of saying that Im back at the door again, staring at Puro Instinct, and trying to shift the tangible sensations of an unseasoned, uncomprehending youth getting in the way. This isnt to say that Puro Instinct directly replicate an early-1990s, lysergic indie pop sound their press release for this album points in the direction of 1980s Fleetwood Mac and Sade, and makes much of their connection to Ariel Pink, who guests on Headbangers in Ecstacy. I dont want to be dismissive of this, or of the quality on offer here. But its not what I hear I hear the same dreamy aesthetic as those songs from Precious as I heard them 20 years ago, perched between pop songs and subconscious slithers. The result is that I cant stay focused on the present when my mind goes dancing through the past. Its even harder when the chorus of No Mames apparently has the phrase kinky love, which is the actual name of the Pale Saints track onPrecious. Im not sure it definitely does, but its what I hear, as though theyre mocking me across a chasm of time.
Because, just for the record, I like the past to stay in the past, so on the brief occasions that I can get a clear listen, there are some gems on this record. Somewhere between soothing and disquieting, Everybodys Sick is a Lynchian earworm, while the perfectly titled Vapor Girls breaks the flashback spell, for a moment, with uncertain harmonies, and through the cracks I hear a woozily funky and afternoon wine-drunk California that I imagine exists. But it cant sustain itself, and the past comes lumbering back in with its heavy burden and my younger sniggering self for unwanted company.
Re-posted by kind permission from the fantastic and revitalised The White Noise Revisited blog. TWNR we love you!