Review Summary: Misanthropic love
First came Pink Fur
, signifying birth after an incubation of three years. With their first LP, the Leeds-based, post-punk quartet of Post War Glamour Girls could already navigate in darkness. They walked with thundering footsteps and cried out, at the top of their lungs, the words of someone who had lived through too much. Eyes sharpened and adapted to the presence of more light; with increased sensory input came more complex output, as the band evolved to capture the gamut with deceptively glassy stares. All the ripping and roaring emanated the pain of numbness, a vivid abstraction of emptiness without ever being empty.
And I watched. I watched the band flourish over the span of just three years. I felt the heat of their fury when they unleashed it in the form of snarling, fiery critiques against various material and immaterial forces. The self never could run far from the burning buildings, but others would also be swept up in the flames. "Chipper" hunted down the Tories for their treatment of the NHS, and "Welfare by Prozac" told Jesus to "take the blame". Nonetheless, says “Pollyanna Cowgirl”, “I'm better caging up my demons, keep myself out of trouble”. I also heard their first incorporations of a subdued, resigned beauty that would come to define the negative space of their compositions. When they weren’t jamming their hearts out about crocodiles (even when they were, really) I could detect that elusive, counterbalancing thread of shimmering guitar. The interlocking lines of guitarists James Smith and James Thorpe-Jones form dazzling murals, but they also link together rusting chain fences when called for. And how James Smith can bellow - the sheer weight of his baritone could tear a hole through the fabric of the universe. But perhaps the universe’s name is Giles Corey - “More weight!” it cries, and Alice Scott’s bass joins the fray along with the ever-forceful drumming of Ben Clyde.
For me, Swan Songs
is defined by its processes just as much as its final auditory result. It certainly presents a fulfilling whole - “Sea of Rains” is cool, flowing water that graces your skin on a sweltering day, and “Divine Decline” ascends a summit to deliver its explosive, tortured sermon on hope. But it is, after all, the ascension itself that grants “Divine Decline” its power. Post War Glamour Girls put in their patience, and so should you; I say that you must be there every moment of the climb to fully savour the final footstep. Most processes on Swan Songs
, though, are far more subtle. I reflect on how the band managed to incorporate swelling strings amidst the drawn-out antagonism of “Golden Time”. In my mind I envision the textures of songs, run them under my fingers, marvel on how sandpaper finds itself paired with velvet and frosted glass. The real wonder is how Post War Glamour Girls were able to weave together an intricate composition with elements that, on paper, seem opposed to one another. The surface layer is not something that could be called pretty; scuzzy riffs go on there to tear, the voice of James Smith lashes mercilessly, and irreverence in the lyrics frequently rears its head. “Well, whose cock did you suck to reach the top"” sneers Smith in “Welfare by Prozac”. But pleasure is noticing the deliberately out-of-place energy in the song’s secondary guitar, and then savouring the sweet touches of strings that are so close to being obscured by the clanging riff.
However lacking in prettiness the surface may have been, I also believe that Post War Glamour Girls were never strangers to beauty. The first minutes of their first album convinced me that the band had stumbled onto a sort of ugly beauty, or perhaps beautiful ugliness. “Sestra” combined an unwieldily leaden beat with the cold shine of its main motif, one of the earlier examples of what I initially perceived as an ugly-beautiful dichotomy from the band. This only became more evident on “Feeling Strange”, when tracks like “Gentle Is Her Touch” and “Return to Highest Hill” mingled with their more tumultuous peers. What the two had in common was their shared introspective nature and a willingness to capitalize on the ramifications of a slower tempo. Time felt stretched out, and so did the space; that extra expanse was filled by echoes and (relative) softness. Here, it’s less of a dichotomy; those melodic moments of reprieve now live on symbiotically in the abrasion, and in the same manner grit embeds itself in the tenderest moments (such as with the cutting feedback present in “Sea of Rains”). "Golden Time" succinctly captures the sentiment: "All the flowers are in full bloom / But I stay holed up in my room".
Ultimately, what powers Swan Songs
" For most of its existence it grinds its own gears as it marches on laboriously, not even bothering to shrug off the load it carries. I know that two wrongs don’t make a right. But two misanthropic, troubled entities might come together and give birth to an appreciation for what human beings are capable of. I would know - I’ve listened to Swan Songs