Music Reviews

Absentee Schmotime

(Memphis Industries) Buy it from Insound Rating - 8/10

Of all the bubbling under Brit acts of the moment (Popup, Jamie T et al), Absentee sound the least enthused about the whole deal. It's not because of any sort of lack of desire; more because listening to Schmotime is akin to settling back into your bedsit armchair in resignation with a cup of tea and bag of crisps, bereft of any sort of expectation or excitement. The key to this is the key to Absentee: Dan Michaelson, who manages to be both astonishingly morose and morosely astonishing, and it's his luck-free tales that conjure up the atmosphere around Absentee, which is only heightened by the pathos of the band themselves.

But I reach ahead of myself. For a fuller flavour of Absentee, you need go no further than the first two tracks on Schmotime. More Troubles opens with a mild organ crescendo before Michaelson chimes in with "and in my life, I have been known to bring home more troubles than I've solved." As an opening statement of intent, it's up there for accuracy with the first line on the Arctic Monkey's first record ("anticipation has a habit to set you up for disappointment"). Michaelson's resigned disconsolation is portrayed by his inimitable voice: imagine a cross between the moth-eared grumble of Arthur Smith and a West Country Tom Waits, and you might be some way there. The track continues with a brass section to match the organ, straight out of some long lost Goldwax side, before crashing into an appropriately scuzzy, growly chorus.

We Should Never Have Children is possibly the highlight of a very strong debut album. Its lyrics show off the charmingly frank self-assessment of the narrator: "Darling, you're no oil painting, and I'm no Michelangelo, oh no. Darling, we should never have children, they'd be one-in-a-million ugly swine, son of mine." The seemingly incongruous children's backing choir only is only the beginning of delights in this sweet, but in no way saccharine, hooky pop tune.

The band is, of course, worth a mention, backing up Michaelson's growl with the realisation that they might be the Best Bar Band In The World, but real life just gets in the way sometimes. There's a very British resolve about the whole affair: instead of descending into a self-pitying mope-a-thon, (although saying this we did invent Morrissey...), the band take a dose of realism out of the late Arab Strap's book, and are all the better off for it.

Schmotime is an assured and classy debut: the very things that go into making the Britrock 'scene' these days - spiky guitar noise, yelping David Byrne-isms - are eschewed in favour of what makes the British British - resignation, resolve and a desert-dry wit. And Schmotime is therefore guaranteed a place in my affection, if nothing else, and one can almost imagine that being just sufficient for Absentee.