Now Wakes the Sea – Bildungsroman

Bildungsroman_Cover_bigA couple of years ago, when I first started writing about Now Wakes the Sea, I rather flippantly referred to them as ‘the best band in Scotland that no-one’s ever heard about’. I didn’t take it all that seriously at the time, as they’d just released a glitchy, mumbled record of morose lo-fi songs – the absolutely fantastic Fluoxetine Morning – and I accepted that that wasn’t exactly the kind of music to spread like wildfire through the blogosphere and automatically elevate an artist to stadium-stuffing levels of fame.

A couple of years later and we’ve seen a couple of absolutely fantastic EPs, and now this brilliant new album, Bildungsroman (buy here), and suddenly the whole thing seems like a little less of an amusing throwaway comment and is starting to feel like a genuinely vexing question. Seriously, why aren’t this band better known? Admittedly, they haven’t had a fortune thrown at their marketing, and their live shows are rare and a little unpredictable, but beyond a small handful of other enthusiasts, people have shown little to no interest – particularly the press. I am becoming as annoyed with the ‘best band no-one’s ever heard of’ tag as I can only assume the band are at this point.

This music is weird, distorted, foggy and lost, as well as being that perfect combination of genuinely interesting and eminently hummable. This is a varied record in every sense, from instrumentation to mood, coherence to incoherence. It can be experimental and lo-fi and it can be, by this band’s standards anyway, relatively chirpy and brash. It is, in short, excellent. Why the fuck are they not being reviewed everywhere.

Admittedly neither the band nor their label are famous, but when that leads to even relatively small-market music publications completely ignoring their efforts to promote the album, the fault starts to seem to lie with the press and not the music. Are they too busy trotting along behind be-haircutted hipster buzz garbage in the hopes that a small scrap of acknowledgement might be thrown their way? Are they scrambling around trying to cover the same fashionable nonsense that everyone else is covering in some desperate bid not to be seen as having missed a particular boat, or missed out on the pageviews that they think they’ll get from being the 1000th fucking site that day to repost some particular video? Do they actually not have the courage to have opinions of their own and the confidence to write about good things simply because they are good, not because the zeitgeist might nod a perfectly-sculpted eyebrow their way?

The short answer is yes. The state of the fucking music press is absolutely fucking woeful at the moment. Herd-instinct at its most contemptible, endless PREMMY-AAAAIRE! click-baiting, scrambling to scent-mark the cool kids and writing faux-controversial, worthless fucking ‘thought-pieces’ (one of the most grating terms in modern writing), and completely neglecting the one thing which above all else gives you integrity and credibility as a music writer: finding good music and writing about it. And writing well.

It reminds me of why blogs were such a breath of fresh air when they first emerged, but as more of them are pulled into the mainstream and others regress to a sort of Twitter-max stream of links and embeds on Tumblr, we are left with very few bloggers who simply do it for the pleasure of finding unusual and obscure music and spending some time to write about it.

What I love about this album is that all because of the presence of a couple of wonkily upbeat numbers with cheery keyboard refrains – notably Original Bone (see video below) and The Shore & the Coastline – it feels like Now Wakes the Sea have written a surprisingly expansive pop record. They really haven’t, though. This may be more of a band effort than the introspective, solitary Fluoxetine Morning, but there is still all sorts of scattered, fascinating mess on the album.

The wobbly, distorted strum of Photoautomat is fantastic, and reminds me of the kind of stuff we released on the Cold Seeds record. ‘Oooh, yes but that’s why it’s not done as well as you think it should’, you might say, ‘that’s too lo-fi and strange for a mainstream audience’. But then almost that exact same technique is used to underpin the glorious Bring Me Simple Men by Timber Timbre (see here), and for all they aren’t huge either, they aren’t exactly doing badly. People can stomach this stuff, but I sometimes get the impression that if we expect weird music then that is what we will hear, whereas if we just assume that what we’re hearing is normal and we aren’t primed to be shocked, then we can be much more accepting than we think.

There is more weirdness here too. Pictures Stay the Same is a textured, almost entirely instrumental drone with what sounds like a looped, heavily treated sample providing only a vague, unsettling gesture as a vocal part. It’s gorgeous though, and probably the murkiest depths to contrast with the highs of the album’s pop numbers. Ending with “To listen to your message again, press one.” is genius, giving the whole thing the terrifying feeling of being some sort of sonic horror story. Or maybe a close friend trying to mumble through a medicated fug about why they just can’t face this life any more, while try as you might, you just can’t understand a thing they’re saying.

The shifting sands of Prefab Houses is brilliant, and oddly enough another tune which slightly evokes Timber Timbre, as it descends from an almost industrial keyboard racket into an echoey, ambient decline. We get one more pop song after that, then something a little gentler and more melancholy, before the final bilious racket of Shining Bright O’er Land & Sea brings things to what feels like a final, angry, almost contemptuous conclusion. Fuck you, it seems to say. You’ve had the tunes, and I’ve tried my best, but fuck it, this is what’s really inside my head.

The song is not, I suppose, the kind of music I myself could have handled eight or nine years ago when I was probably in my most populist phase, but at this stage in my life this is a triumphantly discordant ‘fuck you, I’m done here’ and a brilliant way to end an album which manages to use some genuinely weird and fucked up noises and still have the feel of a fantastic pop record. Or at least, a pop record in the kind of universe I often wish I inhabited.

People are idiots.

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