European Monsoon is the second full length release from one-man singer-songwriter Pagan Wanderer Lu. It follows 2009’s Fight My Battles For Me, and is a release that by rights ought to see the Cardiff-based act attain national treasure status.
Anyone who enjoys a well-written lyric will find much to cherish here, with words that are frequently both entertaining and thought-provoking. He often appears to take the approach of making judgements based on examination of facts, with many scientific references, from the mention of “evidence-based conclusions” in the opening track, to the entwining of chromosomes in A Girl Named Aeroplane. The whole of Chemicals Like You is a rationalist, yet still somehow romantic, exploration and analysis of the concept of “love”, in which he reaches the sweet conclusion that “I don’t know if love is real or if it’s just chemicals / But I like you, and my chemicals like you too”.
It is this romantic nature peeping out from behind sensible rationalism that lends much of the charm to these songs. Despite a definite cynicism and world-weariness – witness “Everything’s so unbearably awful” from Banish Negative Thoughts, and God In His Wisdom…’s crushing “We pass on our genes but it won’t mean a thing / When the earth falls into the sun” – there are still many warmer moments. A Girl Named Aeroplane is an ode to procreation, while Westminster Quarters is a melancholy tale of missing a loved one – “Girl come home soon / I sure miss you”.
The language used is very much that of 2010, with references to iTunes library sizes (God In His Wisdom…), losing “bars on my phone” (The Island, etc) and the use of phrases like “epic fail” (Banish Negative Thoughts). Another very contemporary theme is that of immigration, or rather then exploitation and exaggeration of concerns about immigration. This is tackled brilliantly in The Great British Public Becomes Self-Aware, where he insists that “We lose more jobs to ignorance / Than we ever will to immigrants” and reminds us that “This used to be a great country / But we had to rob a lot of people to get there”.
In the title track he uses a whole extended metaphor where a European Monsoon is used by the central character as the scapegoat for every failing in his life, from lack of achievement at school to his car crashing, made overt with the couplet “If I was registered to vote I’d vote BNP / Cos immigrants are why it always rains on me”, two lines which quite brilliantly capture the combination of ignorance, laziness and perceived victimisation that can lead to prejudiced thinking. Elsewhere there are swipes at the music scene on Crustaceans As Castanets, God In His Wisdom… and Self-Doubt Gun.
As for the music, electronics range from quite shrill squeals on Banish Negative Thoughts to a deeper, bassier synth sound on The Great British Public Becomes Self-Aware to squelchy bleeps and whirrs on A Girl Named Aeroplane. Other songs take a more acoustic approach, like the enjoyably downbeat Westminster Quarters and the laconic Self-Doubt Gun. The tunes are frequently good, simple but hooky, and enhance but never overshadow the words. Most enjoyable are Banish Negative Thoughts, Chemicals Like You, Westminster Quartet and The Island, etc.
National-treasure-in-waiting, then? Certainly, this is a collection of songs in the urbane and intelligent British agit-pop tradition, whose quirky electronica merits admiration, and whose human, rational, insightful “take” on early 21st century life is as refreshing as it is appealing.