Sunday, March 01, 2009

Discourse 2000 #6

NOMINATED BY: Ian Mathers of Fractionals

Apparently there is another Readymade, some techno guy or something; but the Readymade you should be paying attention to is the Canadian one. Looking at their site now, they announced their current hiatus on my birthday in 2007, so chances are good it’s semi-permanent, which is kind of depressing. Even with the benefit of hindsight I’m not sure how this remarkably undervalued Vancouver outfit made both my favourite album of all time (1997’s The Dramatic Balanced By, not eligible for this column) and, eight years later, one of my favourite albums of the decade so far (let alone how I managed to stumble upon them). But I do know that when I see that their last label’s site is now a placeholder in Russian, that they’re not on Wikipedia and that basically no-one’s heard of them, I start feeling a little panicky.

I don’t want the things I love to be obscure, let alone hard to get. When the band announced that they’d found a stockpile of The Dramatic Balanced By's in a box and that those were the last copies they had to sell, I bought five (there’s a copy each at the house of each of my parents, just in case something happens to my apartment). When the local HMV had that album in the bargain bin for 99 friggin’ cents, I forced my dad to buy that copy (he thinks it’s okay). I would go to similar lengths for pretty much anything Readymade has done, but especially for 2005’s All the Plans Resting, the band’s swan song to date.

What do they sound like? Well, at one point during my Stylus review of the album I describe it as sounding “as if someone hired Vini Reilly to play with Slowdive at the halfway point between Souvlaki and Pygmalion, only with tunes,” but that’s the kind of desperate and grandiose grasping you engage in when you are writing about something you love and that love has reduced your faculties to mush. I am going to try and avoid that here. Readymade have always been some variety of a shoegaze band, but by the time All the Plans Resting emerged they’d move from the wonderfully, warmly mid-fidelity, distorted three-men-and-a-drum-machine feel of their debut to a more polished and refined quintet, acoustic and electronic instruments melding into something unified and sublime. Their links page offers some idea of the frame of musical reference – Bark Psychosis, Disco Inferno, Hood, My Bloody Valentine, Boards of Canada, all present and accounted for.

What really gets me about them, though, is the songwriting. They’re not a pop band by any stretch, and they don’t even necessarily write verse-chorus-verse songs, but the stretch on All the Plans Resting from Hengshan Reeling through to Rememberforget alone is enough to put any other modern shoegaze or dream pop band to shame (even the one you’re thinking about right now). They remain my favourite lyricists about the city, about urban existence and the angry futility of caring about politics (when they whisper “inhibitions are such pleasant sounds / you should still molotov the lounge” on Under the Networks it’s more snarky than anything else), about distance and people and growing up into someone you’re not sure you wanted to be. Outlast By Rain is the most striking example of the latter theme, ending with the lines

"Where I once had
The most elegant contempt,
The language of angry young men
Rarely translates with age

What a lie I told about my future"

But although that song and its quietly measured pulse is plenty subdued, it’s about reflection, not pathos, and the rest of All the Plans Resting follows suit. The album is clear-eyed enough about the perils of modern life and committed enough to its own velvety, soaring gorgeousness that the music is a source of courage and reassurance rather than yet another downer “man, growing up sucks” missive. The chiming Rehearsed Disaster might actually be about selling out and “hiding away / behind a chrome window” but it’s also about the way voice, guitar and keyboard all rise and fall in unison.

All The Plans Resting ends with what might be my favourite single Readymade song, for both sonic and lyrical reasons. The Futility Steps is one of the few songs here to move smoothly from a quiet opening to a kind of crescendo, and as the band usually avoids that kind of obvious payoff the effect is even more potent. They sing “let’s plan a robbery / even if just to plan / that might change our lives” with the quiet despair of people worried that their lives are slipping away from them, determined to get out of the ruts somehow. Whatever their day jobs (and in any case, those day jobs have been enough to keep the band from ever touring), they should stop worrying: however unrewarded and unheralded Readymade remain for now, they’re created enough lasting beauty to justify their existence in an uncaring, or at least ignorant, world.

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