Life Without Buildings
Any Other City
If it took The Strokes to remind us of the sound and majesty that emanated from the 1970s out of New York with their own brash mixture of Television and Voidoids-inspired riffs, than perhaps Life Without Buildings will prompt us to revisit some of the other classic artists from that time period. This band, fronted by the unequaled vocal prowess of Sue Tompkins, draws heavily from classic acts like The Fall, Public Image Limited, Pere Ubu, and even The Raincoats. Yet, this is not a novelty or retro act, while she shares similarity with the aforementioned artists, the music that frames her singing is less angular, rigid, and rudimentary, and prefers to provide catchy melodies to both augment and place in tension her lyrics. Taken together, Sue’s performance is akin to a vocal acrobatic, spinning, cavorting and assuming different shapes and daring movements while the band provides the melody and occasion for movement. They are the edifice on which she performs.
Perhaps the artist the band reminds me most of is Patti Smith, especially her earliest recordings. As in both, there is a freshness and wonder that startles one through simplicity and the sense of its own obviousness, of having not thought of this before. Along with this is a coyness and street credibility that underlines Sue’s phrasing. It is not so much what she happens to be saying but how she says it that transcends the literal meaning. If one were to transcribe her lyrics directly they would not have the impact as the way she reverses, repeats and reiterates themes over and over.
While at first listen, I was somewhat taken aback, I must confess this album has certainly grown on me. In a lesser group of individuals, this would be a recipe for disaster but through intelligence as well as talent, Life Without Buildings has created a nice record. This is an amazing album that startles and dazzles by its sheer simplicity and brilliance.