REVIEW – Delicate AWOL vs. Forty Shades Of Black: ‘Random Blinking Lights’ EP, 1999 (“fifteen minutes before the machine blows”)

14 Jun
Delicate AWOL vs. Forty Shades Of Black: 'Random Blinking Lights'

Delicate AWOL vs. Forty Shades Of Black: ‘Random Blinking Lights’

“Accept that you cannot find your friend – / accept defeat and step inside.”

Welcome to the Crumbler. It’s what Guns’N’Roses might have warned you about had they been singing about an older, tired-er city than L.A., minus even the toxic smoggy sunshine. Delicate AWOL capture the worn-down feel of London’s scrag-end districts pretty well: the blinded indifference of railway arches, the crumbling cliffs of Victorian brick, and the washed-up bewildered old communities herded aside by no-stopping rat-runs. Their restless, borderline-sinister art-rock could’ve been made for the King’s Cross snarl-up.

There are a few touches of The Fall and Throwing Muses here, a bit of disaffected Banshees too, perhaps. But with its hard-bitten lyrics of frustration (and the spurts of noise-guitar, like aural graffiti tags, on the corrugated-iron lines of the riffs) this music is most clearly the heir to the sounds Margaret Fiedler and Dave Callahan violently worried out of the original Moonshake: eyeball to eyeball and teeth in meat. ‘Random Blinking Lights’ is a sour but arresting low-life bar vignette, with a bleak tune that cuts like glass on a lip. Underneath a low ceiling, guitars clank like homicidal vacuum cleaners busting a gasket. Meanwhile a cast made up of embittered barmaids, and of sundry people who’ve come in to duck out of the light, continue to cadge and haggle with each other – all of them out for whatever relief they can get.

A rancid dissatisfaction bleeds through the song. “Cosy cashmere wives sitting at home are unaware / that their husbands visit here / when they say there’s extra paperwork…” No mention of what the men are after. Whores? Gambling? The sharp anaesthetic tang of a coveted drink, or just the chance to pull themselves in and away from the tugging hands? Caroline Ross (sliding and seesawing her voice around the spilled ashtrays, stale air and puddles) brings all of this to life,. Now she’s as strident as a bingo caller; now hovering behind people’s shoulders and murmuring drips of frustration into their ears (“When are you gonna see two feet in front of you?”); now closing her eyes and drifting off – all objective – for a second. She catches the tedium and pressure of trapped lives and brings their nagging internal questions up close: like the first venomous rumble of steam, fifteen minutes before the machine blows.

As you’d guess from this – and from song titles like Unreleasable Fear – Delicate AWOL seem fascinated by feelings of trappedness. Only an unhindered Mogwai-ish instrumental called Belisha (and recorded under their side-project name, 40 Shades Of Black) provides relief. They generally observe the whole trap from the side rather than – as hardcore heroes might – howling from the centre of the condemned cell. Unreleasable Fear itself caps compressed, Slint-y dot music with a keening chorus; wary gentleness skirting the surges of a panic attack. For Plateau, a vertiginous organ hangs queasily in mid-air while Jim Version’s pointy, serrated guitars jump like startled cats and peer suspiciously round corners. The whole thing sways back and forth on the edge of a forbidding brink as Caroline rasps “it’s not what you wanted it to be, / and never will be… / I’ve come to the end of my wisdom… I’ve come to the end of my plateau.” Compelling.

Delicate AWOL vs. Forty Shades Of Black: ‘Random Blinking Lights’
day Release Records Ltd., DR101CD (no barcode)
CD-only EP
Released: 1999

Buy it from:
Long-deleted – try to find this second-hand.

Delicate AWOL online:
MySpace

2 Responses to “REVIEW – Delicate AWOL vs. Forty Shades Of Black: ‘Random Blinking Lights’ EP, 1999 (“fifteen minutes before the machine blows”)”

  1. Dann Chinn June 15, 2012 at 12:10 am #

    The first of a series of Delicate AWOL reviews. The band itself (though not its members) are long gone, and their web presence is sparse. These re-posted reviews should help, in a small way, to redress that.

    Following the band’s eventual split, various Delicate AWOL members have travelled into (or through) Tells, Rothko, FourTet, The Sleeping Years and Woodpecker Wooliams’ live band; they’ve also left their mark on records by Mountain Men Anonymous, The Great Depression and others. Whatever they do tends to be interesting.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. REVIEW – Forty Shades Of Black: ‘Belisha’ single, 1999 (“smudged and ever-so-slightly stifling”) « Misfit City - July 13, 2012

    […] met Belisha before, on Delicate AWOL’s ‘Random Blinking Lights‘ EP. Put centre-stage, its grind’n'chop, Mogwai-meets-Ruins sardine-can shapes bang […]

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