Irma Vep - No Handshake Blues

by Kevin Orton Rating:3 Release Date:2017-01-13

Many a band have made compelling works of Lo Fi mischief. Swell Maps, early Guided by Voices and Palace Brothers to name a few. The likes of Bill Fox and Elliott Smith have cut veritable masterpieces. So, I’m by no means a detractor of the Lo Fi aesthetic. By the same token, everything that glitters is not gold. 

The first word that came to mind after the opening cut of Irma Vep’s No Handshake Blues was, derivative. The second word that came to mind, lazy.

Like early My Morning Jacket, the vocals are drenched in reverb. The whole album sounds as if it were recorded in a cold barn in the middle of winter in Wales. So, Irma Vep aren’t lacking in atmosphere. Nor are they shy on self-indulgence. The unfocused, rambling, eleven-minute opener, ‘A Woman’s Work Is Never Done’, pretty much lays the groundwork for what awaits you. This is a record that thrives on impulse and obstinate sloppiness. A lonely man with an electric guitar and a dream. A six pack of beer and bag of weed for an audience.

‘It Runs Slow’ lives up to the title. Emotive but drawn out until things unravel like a moldy ball of yarn. ‘Plod’ follows and is just a clichéd heap of noise that grates for 46 useless seconds. The title track is a rambling, sparse instrumental. 

‘Hey You’ by contrast is a short sweet, 1950’s style ballad. Full of intermittent charm before ending abruptly with two hands clapping and a self-deprecating groan. 

‘The Moaning Song’ drags us back into the mire. Six grueling minutes of exactly as advertised. 

While “Armadillo Man’ brings some somber lucidity to the proceedings,  ‘I Want to Be Degraded’ is the one moment that truly rises above meandering decadence to real beauty. ‘You Know I’ve Been Ill’ is another commendable contribution. The closer, ‘Still Sorry’ flounders but eventually manages to stand on its own two feet to sarcastically wave goodbye.

I’m all for being rough around the edges when it works. But this ultimately misses the mark more than it haphazardly hits it. That’s not to say there isn’t talent here, there is. But as it stands, it's drowned in slathering heaps of willful intemperance. Fashionably shambolic, but far too muddled and balky to cozy up with. Better luck next time.

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