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Victory Shorts Julian Marszalek , September 23rd, 2008 11:10

Absentee - Victory Shorts

Having watched the septuagenarian Leonard Cohen make his compelling return to the live stage earlier this summer, the natural response was to go home and revisit the body of work that made his name. Reacquainting oneself with his magnificent ability to paint an aural picture using just words and sounds, the realisation set in that it’s taken Cohen almost five decades for his voice to become the weathered and subterranean growl that we all know and love. It’s something worth mentioning because, at 28-years-old, Absentee’s Dan Michaelson possesses a growl so deep and tar ravaged that it’s likely to show up on the Richter scale by the time he hits 40.

Much like the Canadian troubadour, Absentee are concerned with affairs of the heart. Their splendid yet criminally overlooked 2006 debut, Schmotime, was a blackly comic study in rubbish sex, illegitimacy, lust and the consequences of priapic preoccupations and thus marked the band down as chroniclers of self-made heartache and regret. And so it goes with Victory Shorts as the band once more dissect the emotions with the kind of precision that would befit a surgeon.

As with its predecessor, Victory Shorts grabs the attention thanks to Michaelson’s weathered voice. “Oh darlin’,” he wearily intones on opener 'Shared', “the way you hang your dress…” is enough to see that we’ve returned once more to the world of the kitchen sink drama. Here’s the start of relationship as he continues, “When I wanna be shared/I wanna be shared by you” yet by the time of 'The Nurses Don’t Notice A Thing', our protagonist is tinged with regret in a maternity ward as he laments, “…our eyes meeting as your waters break/And I’m born again as him or her.”

Yet what prevents Absentee wallowing in a solipsistic slough of remorse is a sense of humour that’s poignant in its unflinching bleakness. What reaction other than a grim smirk could there be to 'Bitchstealer'’s “There’s always someone who made you wish/You hadn’t settled down so soon”?

But there’s more to Absentee than the words that fuel their fire. Their appropriation of country is akin to Belle & Sebastian’s interpretation of sixties Europop but unlike their debut, there’s less of the chirpiness that sweetened their bitter pill and the result is a more adult collection of songs that lack something of Schmotime’s immediacy.

Absentee’s world is the world in which we all live. As a wise man once sang, “The times are tough now/Just getting tougher”, and Absentee aren’t afraid to face up to it; that they do so with honesty and an innate ability to walk the line that separates tragedy and humour is cause enough not to confront the horrors inside and outside of your own front door.