LICE: It All Worked Out Great (Balley Records)
The first signing to Joe Talbot of IDLES label, Balley records, LICE offer up an rabble-rousing selection of wryly dark and humorously unhinged tales, sound-tracked by a dissonant post-punk noise that evokes the classic sounds of bands like The Fall & Swell Maps. The obscure and often absurd storytelling and bizarre shadowy humour elicits comparisons with Half Man Half Biscuit. The band brings everything into the 21st century with hints of label-mates IDLES alongside bands like Slaves and Eagulls.
Parents among you will know the feeling. You get a message home from school that there are head lice about. Immediately you get an itchy head and you have to scratch. Listening to this album from LICE, the only head-scratching I’ve been doing is in wonderment that I haven’t been acquainted with them before.
The album is split into two halves (also released on 2 EPs) and contains re-recorded versions of songs originally recorded in 2016. Early versions of 4 of the tracks have previously appeared on NUTMILK: The Basement Demos. Clocking in just shy of 20 minutes, the eight vignettes here are often surreal and unhinged tales of the human condition.
Volume 1 opens with Stammering Bill, a tragic tale of protagonists’ whose lives are destroyed by their individual obsessions. The cover of volume one depicts a cowboy next to a thresher with blood dripping from a severed arm – listen to Stammering Bill and you’ll get it.
I will forevermore be wary of window cleaners after listening to Voyeur Picture Salesman. The title a succinct overview of the song content.
The music that soundtracks the songs on this album is one minute darkly brooding and the next screaming, screeching, squally, crashing walls of noise. Dissonant and melodic in equal measures, the off-kilter music is a perfect foil for the surreal narratives. The instruments are often played at breakneck speed, but the masterful rhythm section keeps things under control. The dexterous guitar noise sways between raucously unruly punk to menacingly boisterous rockabilly.
The manner in which the tale of Ted is told on Teds Dead is reminiscent of Velvet Underground’s offbeat tale The Gift in its telling. It also causes me to recall some more obscure oddball tales in songs by Blameless (Nan) and Strangelove (Ghost Haddock). Musically laid back, with the addition of brass, the music gives a suitably louche feel to another tragically comedic track that tells of misdiagnosed illness and murder. I could visualise a whole film in the 2 minutes it took to tell Teds sorry saga of woe.
Love Your Island is a politically-charged barbed comment on the attitude and behaviour of Little Englanders. It is a darkly humorous take on all that is wrong with the country in the wake of Brexit.
The pace is brought right down for In a Previous Life is the slowest most ballad like song on the album and the shortest at not much over a minute. The milder nature of the music belies the message in the song “I must have done something wrong, cos since the day I was born, I’ve been surrounded by folks I don’t like, everywhere that I go there’s fucking parasites”.
Brooding bass and squealing guitar heralds the arrival of closing track Saccharine, gathering pace to a feverishly furious frenzy. This album is anything but sickly sweet and saccharine. It is sinister, sleazy and grubby in places and all the better for it.
The press release finishes with this statement about the music – ”It could not have been made by perfect people, and does not expect any to be listening.” Perfectionism is a mere dream, but all you flawed souls out there can spare 20 minutes to listen to these eight twisted oddball tracks of warped imperfect perfection.
You can find LICE on Facebook.