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The Pheromoans
Wyrd Psearch Bernie Brooks , February 29th, 2024 09:59

The time has come to crown The Pheromoans kings of the sprechgesang gang, says Bernie Brooks

Do you all know about sprezzatura? Italian gents have been into it since at least the 1520s when Baldassare Castiglione potentially coined the term. He was, as far as we know, the first to use it in print, anyway. In English, it’s understood to mean something like “studied carelessness.” It is the art of looking like you’re not trying, which funnily enough, requires a lot of trying. In fashion, for instance, this boils down to having so fully internalised the myriad rules of looking right that you can, almost instinctively, almost unconsciously, look just wrong enough. Nail it, and you will look fresh beyond belief. Blow it, and you’ll look like a right prick.

While that’s all well and good, as interesting is a sort of inverse sprezzatura, which could maybe be something like ‘unstudied enthusiasm’, or perhaps ‘the art of looking like you’re trying just hard enough.’ Or, put another way, to allow for the appearance of your artistic reach potentially exceeding your grasp, but also, simultaneously, of having little to no interest in attaining virtuosity. (If that comes by simple virtue of time? Well, fair enough.) When it comes to music, this can be pretty thrilling. That feeling that everything could fall apart at any moment is exhilarating. And while unlike sprezzatura proper in that it doesn’t require any artifice to pull off – in fact, it probably only works if there is none – it does require some level of inherent, unrefined raw talent and / or an element or two (composition, songwriting, etc.) at which the artist or band is particularly skilled.

For me, this goes a long way toward describing the appeal a lot of the best ‘indie’ and lo-fi groups, and, likewise, toward describing the huge appeal of The Pheromoans and their piping-hot thirteenth album, the creatively spelled Wyrd Psearch. A going concern since the mid-aughts, The Pheromoans have been knocking out slabs of sprechgesang DIY since 2007. I’m not gonna pretend to have all their records, but I’ve got a fair few – seven or eight, including everything they’ve released after they hooked up with Upset The Rhythm in 2012. Since then, they’ve released six LPs on both UTR and Alter (their latest is on the former), all of which have showcased the band’s evolution, all of which have been proudly anti-reinvention. They have all been, at the very least, very, very good.

I feel like I’ve said this before, but what the hell, I’ll bang the drum again: constancy and consistency are two of the most overlooked and underrated qualities a band can have. I mean, some critics treat them as negative traits, or devalued ones, neutral at best. We have become, I think, reluctant to see the subtle beauty in refinement and iteration, instead favouring the exciting novelty of recipes rejiggered wholesale. And yeah, by that standard The Pheromoans are duds, but man oh man, have they refined their recipe over the years or what?

Like all other Pheromoans records before (and likely all others to come), the plughole around which all these tracks swirl is Russell Walker’s oddball, magnetic storytelling. Never ostentatious or wrapped up in theatrics, Walker is like the anti-Nick Cave, almost underselling his strange little anecdotes about smoking priests and other mostly mundane goings on. In doing so, though, he belies his confidence in the words themselves. To be sure, Walker is an immensely talented writer and lyricist – funny and moving, one of a kind. He’ll have you caring about these peculiar mundanities, while most others would simply inspire a shrug.

Which is not to diminish the complementary accompaniment laid down by Walker’s bandmates James Tranmer, Daniel Bolger, Scott Reeve, and Pheromoanal newbie, guitarist Henry Holmes; without all of whom Walker’s words would have decidedly less impact. Focused on robust, hooky guitars, the jams here range from bittersweet to downright chipper – sprightly, even – boasting a fuller sound than they ever have. If not hi-fi exactly, this is the highest-fi thing they’ve done, the most polished, and beyond that, the closest to broadly accessible. Is it their best? That’s tough to say. But it’s among their best, and that’s saying something.

As I get older and older, I find myself drawn more and more to artists who’ve committed to their bit, who have their thing, their niche. They work at it after working a ‘real’ job or on weekends, on time eked away from familial commitment, despite a lack of widespread fame or monetary reward. This isn’t failure, this is simply the day-to-day of almost every visual artist, musician, or writer who doesn’t come from generational wealth, whose vocation has been downgraded to a ‘hobby’ by the IRS (or their UK / Euro equivalent).

I don’t know anything about whether or not any of The Pheromoans have grandad’s cash on hand, but the point is this: they’ve stuck to their guns. Their thing is their thing. They’re still trying just hard enough. Let’s celebrate that. Let’s buy them all a coffee. Let’s beckon down the ghost of Mark E. Smith to crown them the kings of the sprechgesang gang. (Look out, Sleafords! Look out, Yard Act! Look out, Dry Cleaning!) Or even better, let’s listen to their records. Listen for the first time if you haven’t yet. Pony up for them if you can. Start with this one and work your way back.