With early successes of the Cocteau Twins and mighty US indie bands such as The Pixies and Throwing Muses, 4AD is a label which has turned out some of the most consistently good, slightly off-the-wall music since the early ’80s. Unlike its then contemporary Creation which, after discovering Oasis, was eventually consumed by its own excess, 4AD still remains true to its original ideals and is turning out inventive artists who might not have got a look in elsewhere.
Suffice to say then, that when you get a new artist on 4AD, they’re gonna be interesting, if nothing else. Which brings us nicely to Vinny Miller. Although signed to 4AD for some five years now, On the Block is in fact his debut album. Judging from the distinctly minimalist production however, he hasn’t been spending the entire time in the studio. He seems to have instead spent a lot of it dreaming up the most out-there music he can think of.
On The Block has a definite feeling of the post-modern artist about it. With a cover featuring Vinny himself tarred and feathered, vocals which at times sound like they’re being spoken in tongues, and a distinctly uneasy-listening style not dissimilar to the Aphex Twin, Vinny is clearly not angling for Top Of The Pops appearances.
At times, the weirdness is a little overstated and frankly, I could do without interlude tracks such as The Yes/No Game (a recording of a phone call Vinny made to a pirate radio station), Cromagno (Dada-ish yelping) and Millalude, which would definitely be best left off the iPod. However, the Nick Drake-esque fragile beauty of Bagged And Tagged and new single Breaking Out Of Your Arms is definitely worth listening out for.
Roll Complete is another highlight, just featuring Vinny’s voice, a muffled guitar, cello and some ambient soundscapes. It’s so understated that it makes you just as aware of what’s not there as what is. The recent single Pigpen is an arty exploration into beats, while the dissonant, impressionist piano of Afternoon Nod could sit quite comfortably accompanying a piece of BritArt film footage at the Tate Modern.
So – pop it ain’t. But if you like your music to explore a bit of real darkness and are one of those who consider John Cage a great pioneer in musical form, then On the Block may well be right up your street. If you’re looking to get a nice background soundtrack for your next dinner party, however, I would give this album a wide berth.