No One Dances Quite Like My Brothers
, May 23rd, 2013 10:27
Pale young man, I can read your dreams. Flags of red, black and gold glowing in the light of enormous bonfires, a fraternity of youth doomed to wilt under the frost of age's ever encroaching winter, horns echoing through mountain forests and hawks circling through steel grey skies. You dream of a nation without boundaries, united only through the language of a thousand broken hearts, tears glistening on the cheeks of marble statues, drum rolls and epic poems, the glint of daggers and the swearing of blood oaths. Pale young man, have I got a record for you.
Riding a proud white stallion to the delectation of grim urban Burschenschaft everywhere comes Vår's No One Dances Quite Like My Brothers. Gloomy of outlook, stalactite solid of view-hampering fringe and so steeped in doomed European romanticism that it's a wonder it doesn't come with a free pair of lederhosen and a tinder box. I like it. A lot. But I'm not sure I like it in a way that its creators would be entirely comfortable with.
Because it is ridiculous, this record. It is ridiculous in the way that every teenage boy suffering all The Sorrows of Young Werther is ridiculous. Insanely melodramatic, guffaw-inducingly doomy and so po-faced that, like a six-year-old girl in the presence of a royal guardsman, you want to do a silly dance in front of it to see if you can make it crack a smile.
First track 'Begin To Remember' sets the mist shrouded scene. Starting with a blast from a solitary horn, like the sound of a tanker trapped in a heavy fog, before a martial drum and looped string sample provide the bedrock for the kind of slightly tuneless and tortured vocal ululations that, since the time of Joy Division, have been shorthand for 'confused and alienated young man'. Musically it brings to mind the OMD of Dazzle Ships with its mix of musique concrete and glowering angst, but mixed in with a dose of Death in June's romantic militarism. The latter is probably not a comparison Vår would relish, considering the recent 'right wing controversy' surrounding Iceage, with whom Vår share members, but nonetheless there is a heavy neofolk influence here. The only thing seperating No One Dances Quite Like My Brothers from the kind of record that used to come out on World Serpent wrapped in sepia photos of youthful and grinning Freikorps soldiers is that fact that No One Dances Quite Like My Brothers isn't total shit.
Unwelcome comparisons or not this mood persists. A spoken word track seemingly concerned with sympathetic magick, doomy muttered vocals and single finger keyboard stabs, the sound of pianos drifting in from the distant rooms of ivy-covered mansions. Something is being mourned here, that is for sure. Nationhood? Youth itself? Everything is just too far to the wrong side of oblique to be fully comprehended, but, by the Tears of Odin's raven, there's clearly something these chaps are gloomy about.
Do I wish Vår could be more specific? Absolutely not. One senses they don't quite have the poetic skills to do what John Cale did with his desolate Music For A New Society, another of the many reference points that spring to mind on listening to this. On that underrated record a hopelessly alcoholic and adrift Cale viewed his disintegrating psyche through the metaphor of a kaleidoscopically fractured Europe, spies and bureaucrats waiting around every corner, soaked in the paranoia that can only come from being your own worst enemy. Vår don't have the chops for that yet. Though the music crumbles and collapses compellingly, the delivery needs to age a little before it can scale such olympian depressive heights.
However this doesn't mean that the album is a failure. On the contrary, it's impressively focussed and musically adventurous, stirring elements of goth, post-punk, neo-folk and avant-noise into some perplexing shapes. Indeed, the relative gaucheness of it all, far from being off-putting, gives it a youthful sheen that's really quite winning. I'm not sure if boyish charm is what these gloomy lads were tilting for when they composed the record, but the urge to tousle their hair and make them a warm Bovril is certainly a strong one. Sure, if you gave them a few years, a legacy of substance abuse problems and the weight of a few divorces they might come up with a more authentic postcard from the edge of the abyss, but there's any number of terrible breakdown records out there and very few that contain the spirited naievety and furrow-browed wonder of No One Dances Quite Like My Brothers.