Naked on the Vague
The Blood Pressure Sessions
You could argue that Sydney, Australia's Naked on the Vague are a bit of a 1980s-retro band, but only if you're thinking about the dark side of the decade-- no wave instead of new wave. Their first full length, The Blood Pressure Sessions, is mired in Reagan-era dread. Released last year on the Australian label Dual Plover and now given a U.S. vinyl treatment by Siltbreeze, the record drips with hollow contempt and dull scorn. It's the Southern Hemisphere's dark photo-negative answer to Times New Viking's Paisley Reich.
Comprised of keyboardist Lucy Cliché, bassist Matthew P. Hopkins, and a drum machine, Naked on the Vague churn out stripped-down and monotonous post-punk. The rhythms are primitive; the most animated songs rely on little more than the incessant thud of a bass drum. Likewise, any pretense of harmony is chucked out the window. As a result, it's easy draw a straight line from a Naked on the Vague song like "All Aboard"-- with it's slanted riff and stone-age drum loop-- to the esoteric scuzz of the past. But although Naked on the Vague wear some influences on their sleeves-- whether that's downtown noise, Flying Nun Records, or Huggy Bear LPs-- The Blood Pressure Sessions is more than just skilled homage. The band's take on post-punk is familiar but also tight and contemporary.
Naked on the Vague aren't abrasive in the Dead C sense, out to fully lobotomize their audience with skree and treble. In fact, when compared to the production value of other records released on Siltbreeze-- a label whose reputation was built on shrill hiss and white noise-- The Blood Pressure Sessions is startlingly clear and intensely silent. "All Aboard" is sheared down to the most meager of ingredients-- one circular drumbeat, a bass riff, and a and a malnourished keyboard melody. There's nothing else, not even amp hiss. But all of the negative space enhances the pervading sense of desolation. None of the instruments resonate and each lyric hangs in the air for only a moment before vanishing back into the void, as if the band are performing in a vacuum chamber.
Naked on the Vague also have a penchant for dubby textures that have more in common with the current Fuck It Tapes school of psychedelic music than to no wave. "Brown Sun/Sydney Lane Road" is six-minutes of clanking abstract percussion and flat vocal drones. There are accordion trills and lonesome trumpet farts thrown into the mix, but the sounds are hardly lush. Rather, they're restrained, like something from a claustrophobic horror-movie soundtrack. These moments alone don't divide them from the weirdos of yesteryear. Where no wave had a marked self-important streak, Naked on the Vague are self-aware. Although dark, their lyrics seem to drift around at the edge of black comedy. "Horse, he's sick/ Horse so sick," sings Lucy Cliché during the appropriately titled "The Horse, He's Sick". We're talking some distance from Michael Gira yelling, "All I can do is kill" in straight-faced earnest.
It's stupid to dismiss or embrace Naked on the Vague as merely the product of their influences. The Blood Pressure Sessions is an enhancement of an idea started a long time ago. During the 80s, bands responded to poverty, vacuous culture, and bad government with music that was appropriately nihilistic. It's not surprising that Naked on the Vague have been able to tap into that mindset 20 years later; the more things change, the more they stay the same.
-Aaron Leitko, April 17, 2008