Lado ABC – Lado A/18 – 21st March 2016
It’s all about the retro vibe. And it’s all about messing with the listener’s brain. Described as ‘an attempt at finding the perfect balance between beautiful and unbearable music,’ the Polish duo’s latest effort, Żony w pracy (trans. Wives at Work) Bringing a carnival of analogue synths to the party in a celebration of the machines of the East (Korg) and the West (Moog). Unfortunately, Żony w pracy often fails to find the balance it seeks, and ends up sounding more like a deranged duel than the homage it’s intended as.
Beneath a throbbing bass track, the time signatures of the percussion on the albums first track, ‘Brasilia’, are ever-changing, slipping the groove with to disorientating results. The track bubbles along nicely, mellow, jazzy easy-listening synth muzak until it sinks underwater into a muffles murk. So far, so middling analogue experimentalism, the likes of which has been done countless times before. It’s fun, it’s clever, but it’s awkward and twisty and difficult to really get into the groove.
But then things go crazy on ‘Torreador Janusz’, a frenzy of synths stab and loop and warp deliriously, descending into a riot of bleeps and squiggles flying in all directions. Wibbly, wobbly and whimsical, it’s smart and techy. But like so much music that’s smart and techy, regardless of genre – from jazz through avant-garde and experimental to post-rock, tech metal and prog rock – the mastery of instruments and a penchant for messing about with convention and form amounts to so much showing off. Yes, you can play – but how about some tunes? Still, XLMP manage to stay on the right side of the precipice that is unlistenable smug muso wank with just enough attention – or concession – to listenability.
‘Kosmos, Teil 1’ is perhaps the album’s most linear piece, a soaring, surging rush of synths in space that hints at Krautrock leanings. There are undeniably rather hipsterish overtones to it all, but it’s well executed and there is a sense that there’s an element of knowingness and self-aware humour at play here: Piotr Zabrodzki and Macio Moretti state that Żony w pracy is an homage to the real working wives, Anna and Zofia, and write, ‘Żony w pracy apart from being an homage to the homages, also, or even above all, ask one question of the “fundamental” sort – “How are you gonna play that live?”.
I’m not going to make any public judgement based on their latest promotional shot, and will keep my attention on the album itself and so, I will say this: guys – maybe you should listen to your wives. Żony w pracy has an indisputable novelty value, and does offer moments of fun, but how enduring its appeal is, well, that’s something that seems less certain.