Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit

"Hungry Ghost"

Violent Soho – Hungry Ghost
02 September 2013, 13:01 Written by Alex Cull

In his fantastic tome on popular culture’s on-again off-again romance with its own past, Retromania, music critic supreme Simon Reynolds pondered long and hard on the subject of cultural re-appropriation; particularly the troubled relationship it breeds with progress. “Record-collection rock might be the exact inverse of the kind of rock that once sought to change the world,” he theorises, “culture needs to open new frontiers, and it does this by reinventing the past: redrawing the map of pop history and valorising the disregarded.”

First seeing publication in 2011, Reynolds’ book couldn’t have really come at a better time. After all, it saw release within a year of countless retro-centric records: Best Coast’s Crazy for You, Yuck’s Yuck and Wild Nothing’s Gemini being a trio of particularly illuminative examples. Truly, the art of the pastiche seems to be, well, an art form of its own these days; it’s quite possible that we live in the most prominent period of musical pilfering in the history of pop culture.

So, where does a Brisbane four-piece by the name of Violent Soho come into this argument on art’s cyclical nature? Well, on their third full-length, Hungry Ghost, the antipodean quartet mine a plethora of influences, tracing a direct heritage back through their vinyl racks, from millennial tastemaker imprints (Deep Elm, Jade Tree) to the greats of US alt. rock (Touch & Go, Sub Pop, Dischord, etc). It’s record-collection rock in the truest sense but, as Reynolds puts it, does it lead them a long way away from the vanguard?

It’s hard to conclude anything otherwise. Whether they’re mining slacker rock through a turn-of-the-century pop-punk lens on the snotty ‘In the Aisle’, exhuming the eyeliner-soaked corpse of Sunny Day Real Estate on ‘Dope Calypso’, or riding ‘Lowbrow’ home on a series of solos that bleed out like Green Mind outtakes, there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of forward-thinking on Hungry Ghost. Instead, it appears as a series of re-imaginings of your favourite songs; but, well, they’re not your favourite songs.

That’s not to say they can’t be enjoyable though. Far from it, the aforementioned ‘In the Aisle’ riles with all the wit and intensity of vintage Archers of Loaf (albeit if they had Tom Delonge barking at the front), while ‘Saramona Said’ manages to successfully fuse the dexterous guitars of Interpol’s Paul Banks and Daniel Kessler with the towering dynamics of Superchunk; and what’s more, it works.

Sadly though, much like Frankenstein’s monster, Violent Soho’s musical hodgepodges do have a tendency to turn on their creator from time to time. From delicate beginnings, ‘Covered in Chrome’ manages to sink into some of the cheesiest post-millennial rock this side of A’s Hi-Fi Serious; ‘Fur Eyes’, on the other hand, sees co-frontman Luke Boerdam nasally sneering as wincingly as Billy Corgan in hay fever season, but without the remainder of the – original – Smashing Pumpkins to compensate. Fortunately, these moments are reasonably few and far between on Hungry Ghost and can’t derail what’s otherwise a fairly sturdy train – workmanlike, if not world changing.

It seems appropriate that Violent Soho were once signed to Thurston Moore’s Ecstatic Peace imprint. After all, Moore and his former Sonic Youth comrades have, to paraphrase Reynolds, been some of modern music’s most relentless curators; ceaselessly mutating a myriad of wide-ranging influences into frighteningly unique forms. The difference is that where Moore and co were great diplomats, raising new dialogues between rock and the avant-garde, Violent Soho do nothing so revolutionary. Instead, they homogenise sub-genres that were never too far apart in the first place. It’s record-collection rock in the most anorak and anal sense of the term, and it’s far from progress.

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