Album Reviews

People Like Us & Wobbly – Music For The Fire

(Illegal Art) UK release date: 14 June 2010

Vicki Bennett (People Like Us) and Jon Leidecker (Wobbly) are both well respected audio collage artists. Their´┐Ż work has been displayed in such auspicious surroundings as London’s Tate Modern and Barcelona’s Museum of Contemporary Art.

It follows then that Music For The Fire is, as one might expect, an artwork rather than what might be classed as a straightforward pop album. A series of cut-ups and samples, with hint of live instrumentation, People Like Us & Wobbly (PLU) have created an album that cannot really be considered in terms of songs; it can only be fully appreciated in its entirety. A single song on its own would scarcely make sense out of context; such is the frantic pace that PLU skip across ideas, moods and tones.

As the dizzying soundscape takes shape, a strange dreamlike quality takes over and images flash in the mind’s eye like a TV flicking across channels for infinity. Some of the samples are instantly recognisable. Snippits of Hello for example conjure up Lionel Ritchie stalking a blind woman with unspecific intentions; while spoken word snippits such as “why as you so droopy? I bet you take a shower everyday” flash scenarios across the message centre that are, to be frank, unwanted. The Carpenters appear a few times, as does Elton John (Goodbye Yellow Brick Road graces the closing few minutes of the album) and Marvin Gaye, but everything appears in such a short time frame that such elements are practically ghostly, providing a tone or a memory rather than basking in the golden touch of the artist appropriated.

Yet there is a concept behind Music For The Fire which helps to bring the disparate elements of this work together and prevents it becoming a sample-spotting exercise. A narrative running throughout charts the progression of a relationship, from its fledgling beginnings (which PLU for some reason have chosen to make sound like a Steptoe & Son styled Western featuring a lame horse) to its end and beyond. Listening to the album blind, there is some notion of there being a theme there, but with a lyric sheet things become clearer.

Where matters fall down slightly is that the story is told using the voices of others entirely. So, whilst the conceit and execution is remarkably clever, the finished product seems to lack the hearts of the artists despite clearly possessing their incisive minds. When the subject is an emotional one such as this, a little more direct input from the authors might not have gone amiss.

Like Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, the Steve Martin film that utilised clips from old black and white movies to provide the supporting cast, it’s the intelligence and technique behind the work rather than the music itself that grabs the attention. As far as contemporaries go, Music For The Fire is almost on a par with the likes of Otomo Yoshihide or Maldoror (Merzbow and Mike Patton‘s cartoon adventure) and is enjoyable if the mood is right. But the Jackson Pollock chaos of the piece sometimes causes sensory overload, and instils a need for something slightly more simplistic.

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People Like Us & Wobbly – Music For The Fire