Kleenex Girl Wonder - Vana Mundi

by Nathan Fidler Rating:9 Release Date:2018-06-15
Kleenex Girl Wonder - Vana Mundi
Kleenex Girl Wonder - Vana Mundi

Kleenex Girl Wonder have been going since the mid-nineties and it probably shows in their penchant for wordy honesty, plugging away with a power-pop style which has never yielded them a shot at the big leagues (you might initially think of them as a cross between Barenaked Ladies and The Hold Steady, doing them no justice whatsoever). Vana Mundi is their I’ve-lost-count-how-many-tieth album and has them on top form.

Sadly, their stonking 2013 album Let It Buffer was probably passed over by most, while the follow-up was a bit of a sprawling scatter-shot album, but they’re back to their best here, knitting a web of words to leave you feeling indignant about rejection and reaching for the dictionary (“auspicious” and “obdurate” just two of the words this reviewer had to look up).

There is a theme for this album too, and the hint is in the title, which translates to “empty world”. Taking a stab at modern society, but mostly giving us a stream-of-consciousness catalogue of relationship breakdowns, Graham Smith delivers a tongue-tying tour de force to leave you heartbroken but uplifted. ‘Greek Fire’ picks over lingering emotions asking “when should we go our separate ways? As far as I can tell the answer’s yesterday” before escalating discussions further and begging for the end.

So good are the lyrics and melodies that you’ll forget to pay much attention to the music in the background. Guitars are scruffily muted (‘The Mesomorph’) and choppy (‘Ask Mountain’) and while the drumming can feel pretty standard, it is important that it keeps everything in line here. Where the musicianship of the band is best demonstrated is on the star track ‘Sexy Legitimate Threat’, building with bassy, acoustic strumming into an emotional crescendo “so tell me what you need or at least what’s wrong with me, please?”.

It’s worth highlighting more of the lyrical runs in this review, including: “With a little elbow grease I’ll send all the bats in the belferies back to the land of the living where the forgiving forget”, "Squatters haunt the ruins, it's abject anarchy, their lips are bound like books but at least their hands are free" and the cutting “Maybe you can call another friend next time, maybe they will let you cry by their bedside, all night, or maybe next time you’ll be alright”, to give but three examples.

All this makes the slightly off-kilter ‘Impossible Show’ forgivable, with its disjointed call and response portions and overly synthesized stylings. The flipside to that lack of cool is Tratteggio’s wailing solo in the background, showing us that the Gods of music can giveth and taketh away in the same album.

This is Smith’s show and he deserves the plaudits here, long overlooked for his mastery of language in what should be ordinary, guitar-driven pop-rock songs, he elevates the album above the sum of its parts. "Hold on just a God damn minute, if you interrupt me I'll never finish", he says, and you'd be daft to try and break his concentration. 

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