Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Auteurs. After Murder Park (Hut, 1996)

"And the Major's really nervous/ When he's walking 'round the airport/ You know your Master's Card is marked/ Your upstart charge is cool and smart."

From what I've heard of the Auteurs, singer/guitarist Luke Haines sounds like a real jerk. He sings through a relentlessly snide, insinuating sneer, and at times it's clear that he's suppressing some pretty serious anger. And the fact that he always stays in control and never flies into a full blown rage gets increasingly unnerving the longer you listen. Word on the street is that even though London's Auteurs sprang up in the heyday of Britpop (their first album, New Wave, came out in1993), Haines made it a point to publicly slag off his peers in Blur, Oasis, and Pulp, and never wanted his band associated with them or the genre they ruled. Uh, no problem there, Luke. No one would ever confuse a record as bitter, spiteful, and barbed as After Murder Park with Parklife, What's the Story (Morning Glory)?, or even Different Class. It's a completely different animal altogether.

Mind you, it's a pretty awesome animal. This is a nasty, mean-spirited assortment of songs, but bracing, too, and supremely catchy. There's no question that Haines is a powerful songwriter who draws inspiration from his misanthropy and general low opinion of his fellow man, and on After Murder Park (the Auteurs' third LP) he consistently manages to channel his terrible attitude into slab after slab of first class post-punk commotion.

Steve Albini produced After Murder Park, and as one of American indierock's foremost cranks, he clearly gets where Haines and company are coming from. This album -- like many albums described as "Albiniesque" -- has a live, simple, dry sound, with the drums high in the mix for maximum impact. The guitars are given a harsh serrated edge which suits
Haines's buzzing, jagged guitar tone and tightly-wound riffs just fine. The sonic textures of the album complement Haines's vocal style, amplifying its unsettling qualities and allowing the instruments -- not just bass and six-string and drums, but cellos and organs, too -- to weave themselves between the lines he spits from his mouth like poison.

The dynamics of songs like "Light Aircraft on Fire" and "Land Lovers" are jarring, careening between raucous assaults and string-laden passages which could almost be described as delicate. "Everything You Say Will Destroy You" is the best song here, by far: a stomping, snarling exercise in aggression that saunters into the room with a handshake and a smile before punching you in the face circa the 0:53 mark. Haines's solo towards the end of the plodding, furiously melancholy "Married to a Lazy Lover" is pure pent-up malice, each note grabbed by the collar, wrenched forward, and thrown at your feet. Even the relatively jaunty "Tombstone" carries undertones of violence, physical and otherwise.

But "Unsolved Child Murder" is easily After Murder Park's most disturbing song: on top of a bright major key acoustic ramble cribbed from the Kinks, Haines sings, "Better move on with the good stuff/ Better move on right away/ Sod this town and people's pity/ Let's get on with the nitty gritty/ Presumed dead, unsolved child murder." Another folky cut, "Child Brides," sounds like it was written by the townspeople from that weird Scottish island in The Wicker Man: "Bride of Christ, bride of Jesus/ Bride of the fish when you're fathoms down/ And the uncles and the brothers/ With their Sunday suits on/ Search the villages and towns." Pretty creepy, especially since it's so pretty.

Luke Haines's music is a lot like I imagine Luke Haines to be: ill-tempered, vitriolic, and fucking smart. It's an explosive combination, and After Murder Park is guaranteed to be one of the most explosive records you're likely to hear. It's not Britpop, that's for sure. The Auteurs would eat Blur for snack.