A self-styled, “conglomerate of art outsiders and aesthetes”, Glasgow’s Vital Idles formed back in 2015, inspired by the city, its underground culture and its, “refusal to take it easy.” As well as being part of Vital Idles, the various members are involved in zine and art book publishing, as founding members of Glasgow institution, Good Press, as well as boasting members of Golden Grrrls and the Rose Mcdowell Band.
As Vital Idles, the quartet have previously self-released a number of demos, as well as a long sold-out debut 7″, however it’s on Left Hand, their debut album released via Upset The Rhythm, that they lay out their musical manifesto. This is music stripped to its most primal instincts, anything extraneous or decorative is removed, leaving only the band’s skewed idea of a pop-song to shine on its own unusual terms. On first listen these songs can sound awkward, oblique, angular; yet with repetition and familiarity the patterns, the truth of these songs shines out. Jessica Higgins’ is at the centre of everything, her unusual, sometimes deliberately emotionless vocal and her surrealist lyrics that fluctuate from dystopia to positivity and back again. Vital Idles quote literary influences as openly as musical ones, with the likes of Gertrude Stein and Samuel Beckett as important to their sound as, The Troggs or Life Without Buildings; Jessica’s lyrics delivered as short stories, often ones with no obvious beginning or ending, just snapshots of stories presented without context.
Musically, they blur the lines of genres; the rawness of punk, the minimalism of art rock, the melodic weight of genuine pop music. Left Hand is a thrilling record, challenging and rewarding, original yet in many ways steeped in the earliest roots of popular music. Brave, bold and quietly beautiful, it’s one of the year’s most fascinating releases.
Today the band have put together a mixtape of some of their latest discoveries and old favourites, including tracks from U.S. Girls, The Mirrors and Yoko Ono.
1. Crisialau Plastic – Pryfaid
Ruari: I don’t know much about these guys except that they’re Welsh, clearly very young and that one of them went on to do a band called Pop Negatif Wastad who are also cool. FFO the recent Solid Space reissue on Dark Entries. A hot tip from celebrated Welsh musician Edwin Stevens, aka Irma Vep.
2. Geoffrey Landers – Say You’ll Say So
Ruari: Again, don’t know much about this dude beyond some cursory googling. Seems like he was from Denver and was involved in the punk/new wave/DIY scene there for a number of years. This song is on a compilation of his work from the late-70s through to the late-80s, which covers a really wide range of styles and genres, its pretty crazy.
3. One Plus Two – Look Away
Matt: We found this is in a record shop in Amsterdam that I can’t remember the name of, it was tucked away in a 5-for-5-euros type section that was endless. There weren’t any listening stations, and if there were, I didn’t listen because a) I’m too scared to use them, and b) look at the artwork! I was sold on the two colour, grey cardstock and the photos on the back. Anyway, we got it home an its incredible jangly indie, just straight forward and catchy and faultless start to finish, all four songs are great. They’re not easy to research and find more out about but they went on to have two LP’s out on Homestead which are super cheap on Discogs – but not nearly as good as this EP!
4. The La’s – Timeless Melody (Live at the 9:30 Club)
Matt: I was always bound to put a song by The La’s in this list, deciding which one was difficult. I’m going to go with this live video of Timeless Melody. In this version the electric guitar is turned up high letting you hear the chiming that gets buried on the released LP – a stroke of genius. Normally, I would choose I Am The Key as a La’s pick, but in this instance, I went for something more visual. Anyway, Timeless Melody is up there with my favourite songs from The La’s or anyone. A totally underrated and under exposed band that you need to think past There She Goes and seek out alternative versions of their only album, plus every b-side or radio session they’ve ever done, its worth it.
5. The Mirrors – Hands In My Pockets
Nick: Don’t know too much about this band, basically just whats on their wikipedia page (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki /Mirrors_(Ohio_band)) But this song is super simple, slightly wobbly, repetitive, kind of gnarly and disheveled – it’s perfect! Pre 1975 Velvet Underground / The Troggs -like wreckage. It’s great!
6. Virginia Dare – Liberation Day
Nick: Another band I don’t know a whole lot about. I know their hey day was early-mid 90’s San Francisco. I just find this song super captivating, Mary O’Neil’s voice is amazing, it’s somehow able to be fairly mellow and fragile while maintaining an urgency, a vitality. Ideal early morning / very late night music. Psyched to delve in more.
7. Yoko Ono – WHY
Jess: A close contender to this song was Yoko’s cover of ‘I’m Sexy and I Know It’ which she performed at MoMA in 2010 – although it really belongs in the canon of stadium RnR (see here: https://www.youtube.com/watch? v=51d_uwWuW5o) – but this first song from the Plastic Ono Band record is deconstructed Yoko female vocal anger, pleasure and everything in between at its finest. With fierce driving bass line and percussion that keeps going and guitar that refuses to do what it should, it’s a perfect song to listen to when it’s a busy day and you’ve woken up late. Or when you’re putting up shelves. Then, mellow with the follow up ‘Why Not’ and all its submission, when the shelves fall down and you realise it’s futile to storm about and you were better off staying in bed.
8. US Girls – M.A.H
Jess: From the latest US Girls record, M.A.H or Mad As Hell has that swirly glam, glitz, disco-dance, driving-with-the-wind-in-your- hair-in-the-landscape kind of music I never knew I wanted but feels like home. Crystallized here in a perfect tirade against the war machine, political propagation, being taken for a ride (take note of the last line ‘These vital lies just don’t come in my size’) which never forgives nor forgets, and then Meghan Remy goes and packs all that up in this infectious music where the terms ‘banger’ and ‘anthem’ come to mind, and the feelings of tearing it up around the kitchen dance floor are probably.