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Vindicatrix: Mengamuk (and Die Alten Bösen Lieder)

December 17, 2012

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Vindicatrix’s albums – 2010’s Die Alten Bösen Lieder, and its excellent recent follow-up, Mengamuk — shouldn’t be that hard to place. Plenty of the elements making up these records are familiar enough: the jittery beats and dub wobbles echoing Burial and beyond; some dusty electronics and hanging spirits reconvened from Ghost Box and its hauntological associates; the trembling baritone of later Scott Walker; an atmospheric persistence of ghosts of songs, as heard in The Caretaker’s Selected Memories from the Haunted Ballroom. There’s a context in which this stuff can be placed.

Even so, Vindicatrix — David Aird, by his other name — seems a little out on his own, impressively fitful and contrary. His first album (The Old Bad Songs is the literal translation of the title) wretches up traditional German songs, the gestures of cabaret performances; Vindicatrix’s live shows, by all accounts, are fittingly performances in the proper sense. But on record at least the up-frontness of cabaret performance is turned around. The voice is always buried, whispering under layers of sound like a thing resisting excavation.

It’s an expressive (and expressionist?) voice, working against the logic of the music, dragging down the moving beats. This is music that only the nervous system will dance to, the bone-bag now exhausted and paranoid, having frightened off all potential partners. There’s a comparison to be made with Scott Walker, beyond the low, unnervingly patient voice (I apologise, he probably gets that all the time); a point that came up in Scott’s recent Wire interview about Climate of Hunter, and the juxtaposition of slow-moving vocalizations with more frenetic rhythms, could equally be made about these records.

When the voice does surface and really make itself heard, its usually expressing something uneasy and extraordinary, as on Mengamuk’s brilliant opening song, Cellophane, when I think Aird sings, with rare impatience, “I need an organ! What’s an organ between friends?” It’s a good question, though it’s also likely that this is my own mis-hearing. I’m happy to hang onto my uncertainty.

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