Wolventrix Ours Till Dawn

[Fabrique; 2011]

Styles: britpop, indie
Others: Suede, The Divine Comedy, White Town

Let’s get one thing out of the way: Wolventrix frontman Tom Walkden sounds like Suede’s Brett Anderson. A LOT like Brett Anderson. But given that in the mélange of retro revivalism the Suedehead sound is one that hasn't had its day, yours truly doesn't see that as a wholly bad thing — particularly when it's done so well. But where Suede explored the dark side of sexual exploitation and self-destructive behavior, accompanied by appropriate guitar Sturm und Drang, Wolventrix (or should that be Alcantara?), though equally emotive, are less concerned with throwing themselves headlong into the maelstrom.

"Electrical Storm," for example, is as touching, evocative, and ambiguous a love song as you're likely to hear, accompanying the listener on a sonic trajectory that mirrors its lyrical themes: heavy introductory beats opening out into the lush sweep of heartwrenching strings. Elsewhere, life's telling minutiae (the sharing of headphones, drives in an Austin Allegro) are gorgeously observed. Despite the full swing of the current twee-pop revival, there's little contemporary pop music — at least for this jaded scribe — that can (re)capture so well the bittersweet, deeply-felt affect of teenage years, emotions that we think we've grown out of until suddenly we find ourselves in the situation in which they are re-aroused.

The unimpressive quality of the revival of (what's perhaps best thought of as) the 'Sarah sound' relates particularly to the question of lyrical sophistication. On Ours Till Dawn, in contrast, there is a literate archness ("It occurs to me that memories born of vanity should never be analyzed"), a love of the pun, and a kitchen-sink romanticism that is a peculiarly English sensibility. There's also a sexuality (hello again, Suede!) that, despite being nominally addressed from male to female, remains somehow queered, the morning milk just slightly on the turn. This is a maudlin world of Mothers Ruin and tender, awkward encounters, reminiscent of acts like Pulp, The Smiths, or early Momus. Tracks such as "Sham White Wedding," another standout, retain traces of the orchestral pop of 1960s icons like Sandie Shaw or Cilla Black, as well as the music hall tradition (as Momus himself put it, "A problem's not a problem after all/ In the noise and smoke of the music hall"). And who isn't a sucker for a band that uses terms like 'bespoke' and 'manifold'?

At times, this lyrical ingenuity slips a notch (“Best Ways To Die’s” “She said she was a fallen angel”), particularly in relation to Wolventrix’s unabashed starry-eyedness, but elsewhere it’s so ingenious and original that these minor lapses can be forgiven — as on “Brave Marine Explorer” (“I kicked my flippers off to make my movements more free/ Started thinking that the Speedos were a little OTT”) — and indeed, such tropes are actively toyed with:

I asked, ‘Are you a surfer?’
You said ‘Only if it’s warm and wet’
Took that as innuendo
Though I think it normally means tea…

Camellia Sinensis is here a hybrid of the Earl and of Dorian Gray: “You know how a voice can stir one.”

Links: Wolventrix - Fabrique

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