I have to admit to being somewhat disappointed. Having excitedly revealed my chosen album for DRC and expecting the other members to have been intrigued and curious to hear a band they had heard of but not heard, it did not augur well to find that Rob had consigned dEUS to his (admittedly vast) ‘loft collection’ and Nick ‘thought he owned it, or was it the other one by them?’.
But by the time the scratchy, tinny opening gambit ‘I Don’t Mind Whatever Happens’ had segued into the effervescent call and response funk-groove of ‘Fell on the Floor, Man’ I knew that, no matter how disparaging the views of my fellow club members, I would remain unmoved in my conviction that ‘In a Bar…’ represents a high water mark of mid 90s kitchen sink indie, to be ranked alongside Pavement’s Wowee Zowee and Alien Lanes by Guided by Voices. Although these three albums sound markedly different, there is much that binds them…a playfulness and eclecticism that resembles a 5 year old with ADHD having just eaten a bumper pack of Haribo, surreal lyrics that do not bear close scrutiny but have occasional glimpses of genius, seemingly throwaway tracks that, in time, turn out to be pivotal to the ebb and flow of the listening experience. One thing that can not be argued with is ‘In a Bar…’s ability to surprise. If you think you know what’s coming next, you’re wrong. This is not a simple matter of having no two consecutive tracks that sound alike; no two of the fifteen tracks on the record are remotely similar. As a mathematician, I would be intrigued to determine the probability of this occurring without producing a cacophonous, incoherent mess. ‘Slim’ would be my guess!
dEUS are obviously music lovers and in thrall to their influences. However, this record is very much their own and whilst echoes of Waits, Sonic Youth and the Velvets can be heard at times, this is no pale facsimile. The fact that ex-magic band member Eric Feldman produced this album speaks volumes, not only because (at times) the record borrows elements of the good captain’s songbook, it also shares his adventurous, envelope pushing aesthetic. From the indie-tuba led ‘Theme from Turnpike’ to the apparently seamless transformation of the classic ‘Little Arithmetics’ from breezy indie-pop to guitar maelstrom, nothing is predictable or misses its mark. Yet, I would argue that the album is not a difficult or inaccessible listen – hooks abound, melodies are strong and lyrics pull you in. Almost unbelievably, the best is saved for last. ‘In a Bar…’ is that rare beast, an album that finishes with (to my mind) its three strongest tracks – the beautiful piano led ballad of ‘Disappointed in the Sun’ runs into the epic, intense, exhausting ‘For the Roses’ only to close with the wistful and delicate ‘Wake Me Up Before You Sleep’. …And then a little silence, before going through it all again.
Rob listened: Well, this didn’t sound much like the record I thought I had in the loft, which turned out to be by a barely-registered offshoot project called ‘Moondog Jr’, although I do have a few dEUS singles stashed up there somewhere, I reckon. I couldn’t believe how (apparently wilfully) eclectic this album was. It’s made me think about how bands, when they begin, move from writing their first song, to their second and third and on and on, approaching each from a blank slate, but somehow, almost always, assembling a collection which has a strong sense of togetherness, of a sound. Not so for these Belgians, at least on the evidence of this. The songs swing from Tom Waits barroom blurs, through Can-meets-Pop-Music-by-M, to Pixies rifforama, Pavement spikiness and pattering Wilco alt-country waltzes. By all reckoning it should sound like a half-baked mess. It all sounds pretty great.
Nick Listened: Sure enough, I do own this, and The Ideal Crash too, though I’ve never listened to the latter and not listened to this in several years. So long that I couldn’t remember a damn thing about it, actually. I had it mentally filed under “crazy genre hopping indie stuff”, and that’s where it’s going to stay; the first half in particular being completely all over the place, as if dEUS had heard a huge array of American music while growing up in Belgium, but completely shorn of context, and just decided to mash their favourite bits into one another regardless of whence they came. The result is a little disorienting, but definitely enjoyable too; I’ve pulled this out of its alphabetised home on the shelves and put it next to the CD player to remind me to play it again. So, despite Tom’s misgivings, a winner.