Fat White Family are a London band that likes to do two things: first, get in your face and slay sacred cows in the name of being offensive (in order to get at the truth of things, of course); and second, hoover up every known drug in existence. They’re sort of semi-legendary for both, even this early into their career.
Now neither of those things bothers me, per se. I enjoy irreverence, and there aren’t many cows I consider sacred when it comes to music. A similar band in this vein that I absolutely adore would be Future Of The Left. The big difference between Fat White Family and Future Of The Left, however, is that FOTL isn’t the most utterly boring collection of tripe I’ve come across in months.
Songs For Our Mothers starts off promisingly enough. “Whitest Boy On The Beach” is a fun, ramshackle kind of song that straddles the line of post-punk while urinating on it. Unfortunately, everything that comes after moves along at a crawl, coming off as a collection of dirges by ruffians who are trying to shock you but end up just putting you to sleep instead. I honestly fell asleep a couple of times listening to the album. Not a good sign for a band that wants to get by on being provocative.
Ditch the opiates and try some crack next time, lads. It’ll bring out your personality more.
Like the Cocteau Twins before her, Liz Harris deals in an abstractly intimate type of songcraft that transcends lyrical clarity; much of the time, she comes across as an artist intent on sketching out melodies and creating the ghosts of folky pop songs. This vocal ambiguity pairs with the mournful atmosphere and the organic noise instrumentation to evoke emotions that you can’t even really name. Is it existential sadness? The acceptance of inevitability? Something as mundane as merely missing another human being? I strongly suspect that the effect will be different for each listener, making this an album that you can take home and make your own, an album whose intimacy is intensely personal and achingly beautiful. It was written at the same time as 2008’s Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill and it makes a more than worthy companion album to that modern classic. They both outline a contemporary redefinition of the possibilities inherent within ambient songcraft, and allow the listener to pour themselves into the emotional mould that Harris presents and holds tantalizingly just out of reach. The Man Who Died In His Boat is ostensibly a “folk” album, but it far outstrips the limitations that the genre often imposes on artists. By welding elements of experimental noise and studio effect play with downtempo acoustic chording, Harris crafts something more along the lines of a discourse of elemental dread, loss, and recovery.