mute artists | lp+cd/cd/i stumm327 | 12/09/2011
Things I’m reminded of when listening to S.C.U.M‘s Again Into Eyes – Joy Division, Gary Numan, Sheep On Drugs, early OMD; when I look at the layered, intertwined half-naked bodies on the sleeve of the gatefold LP, I’m reminded of the film adaptation of the Bret Easton Ellis novel The Informers. In fact I’m reminded of most of Bret Easton Ellis novels when I look at that sleeve. Plus, for some reason the pastel colouring reminds me of fruit Mentos.
But those synaptic connections are not intended to imply that this debut album for Mute makes me think I’ve heard (and seen) this all before. Far from it. Again Into Eyes is a truly original suite of ten tracks, and none of them sound anything like Joy Division, Gary Numan or Sheep On Drugs – it’s just that I hear an essence of Joy Division’s flatline pulse and restlessness, the robotic detachment of Gary Numan’s vocal entwined with the cynical snarl of Sheep On Drugs’ Duncan X / King Duncan and the synths – especially on the second single ‘Whitechapel’ – of OMD. Meanwhile, the effect, the personal impact if you like, of listening to these obliquely nihilistic tracks is similar to how listening to Interpol always affects me, namely nudging my mood in negative directions and making me want to pick up the pieces of my as-yet-uncompleted novel. But again, S.C.U.M are nothing like Interpol. They are like S.C.U.M.
Key to the mood here is the grinding, itchy drone-punk track ‘Summon The Sound’, which was in circulation much earlier this year and which featured on the Mute Artists compilation Vorwärts. ‘Summon The Sound’ is the connective tissue that binds this LP together; it sent out a very clear signal (pun intended) that S.C.U.M are anything but cheerful optimists with its beautifully cloying stop-start rhythm, urgent low-end and mysterious, sneering vocal. Then again, naming your band after Valerie ‘I shot Warhol’ Solanis’s feminist manifesto – her Society for Cutting Up Men – was never likely to produce anything remotely upbeat. Just a glance at the lyric sheet reveals the elusive, poetic depth of these songs. The spiky ‘Amber Hands’, the first single proper from Again Into Eyes, likewise pointed to a richly bleak outlook for the album. In fact, it’s only the second single ‘Whitechapel’ that has anywhere near a sense of positivity attached to it.
Again Into Eyes, metaphorically speaking, is an album of two sides. The first five tracks are uniformly dark. ‘Faith Unfolds’ opens with some shimmering, elegiac keyboard patterns from Bradley Baker – cf OMD’s ‘Joan Of Arc’ / ‘Maid Of Orleans’ – which remain throughout the song but soon get subsumed by whining guitar textures from Samuel Kilcoyne (son of Add N To (X)‘s Barry 7 and also credited with keyboards), Psychocandydrumming from the elfin Melissa Rigby and a powerful bass undertow from Huw Webb. Meanwhile vocalistThomas Cohen sings an elliptical tale of faith and fate and love. There’s barely a pause before the colour washes away into ‘Days Untrue’, all icy synths, twitchy drums and heavily-reverbed vocals. ‘Cast Into Season’ begins with those ‘Joan Of Arc’ / ‘Maid Of Orleans’ textures and appends cello sounds, ‘Atmosphere’-esque funereal drums and a prominent vocal in the mix from Cohen; it feels like a ritual or a sacrifice or an alternative soundtrack to Eyes Wide Shut. Or The Informers‘ vampiric passages. It’s also my favourite track on Again Into Eyes.
The second half of Again Into Eyes is less obviously dark, but nevertheless retains a seam of black colour. ‘Sentinal Drift’ starts with subtle drumming and gentle, polite synth melodies a la Yazoo‘s Upstairs At Eric’s, but in the end – almost inevitably – the song becomes dominated by swathes of droning noise and pounded drums; the brief ‘Requiem’ may have beautiful piano passages from Huw Webb, but those notes are submerged under hissing distortion and reverberating processed noise in the foreground. ‘Paris’ was previously available in far simpler form as part of the Signals series and was originally produced by Gareth Jones. It is a poignant, reflective ballad – again dominated by Webb’s piano and still containing plenty of gritty noises – which seems to strain toward the light but alas never quite reaches it. ‘I will never bear my skin for you,‘ sings Cohen in one of the most evocative lyrics on the album. ‘Water’, in contrast, is just harmonically-interwoven droning noise, but it makes complete sense after the emotional ‘Paris’.
Again Into Eyes was produced and mixed by Ken and Veryon Thomas, with additional mixing by Mute MD Daniel Miller. Keeping it in the (Mute) family even more, the album was pre-produced by Jim Sclavunos, he of recent Bad Seeds / Grinderman fame.
I listened to Again Into Eyes today in the wake of the death of the death of Peaches Geldof, wife of S.C.U.M’s Thomas Cohen and the mother of their two sons. Cohen and Geldof married in 2012, by which time S.C.U.M had either already split up or were on their way to being so.
The news sites quoted Cohen’s heartfelt statement about his wife’s passing: ‘My beloved wife Peaches was adored by myself and her two sons. I shall bring them up with their mother in their hearts everyday. We shall love her forever.’
1. Faith Unfolds
2. Days Untrue
3. Cast Into Seasons
4. Amber Hands
5. Summon The Sound
6. Sentinal Bloom
First published 2011; edited 2014
(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence