We vs Death / Tom Sweetlove - The message is [Matamore / Zabel - 2003]The message is is a split CD between a Belgian and a Dutch band. They both play a music that one might link to post-rock. Yeah, that’s right post-rock, the genre that got so many people’s pants wet 5 years ago.
The excitement has diminished a lot in recent years: too many people jumped on the bandwagon, breeding thousands of copycats. Soon enough, it was easy to spot the interesting bands from the others and just unavoidable to notice that post-rock wasn’t exactly a new genre: it rather is (to this ears at least) a bunch of people adapting prog rock and psychedelia to today’s aesthetic (ie including elements from 80’s industrial, musique concrete, modern composers such as Pärt, and electronic music). Not that this kind of genre-mixing is a bad thing: it is actually mouth-watering and it gave us some wonderful moments. The problem is: besides established band which really have something to offer, do we (or rather I in this case) need new bands popping up every two days? I mean, I have time for King Crimson, not for ELP; for El-P, not for Non-Phixion; for Fennesz, not for Galacticamendum. So, if Tarentel are spine-shivering, do I really need to listen to We vs. Death and Tom Sweetlove?
I have my answer for each band. Let’s say it’s not negative, but it’s much more positive for one than for the other… We vs. Death are from Utrecht, Holland. One things is certain: they write nice melodies and the way they intertwine their guitar lines with a trumpet and a violin is quite endearing. The first track is a very fine example. But you notice immediately that the composing is not devoid of stereotypes: nice little intro with “guitar-knitting” and the trumpet followed by a bit with soaring guitars and drums pummelling, then back to more quiet stuff. Not really a problem since it’s well executed and it only lasts for three minutes thirty. It becomes more annoying on the eight-minute long City council cosmos where the kind of patterns already there on the first track is repeated endlessly. Boring after a while. And I get the same feeling for the two other tracks. People like Kaneko Jutok or The Boredoms can write 15 minutes pieces without being dull, Michael Gira can play the same theme for 6 minutes and remain compelling so I’m inclined to think that the problem lies with the band, not with me... especially since you’d be hard-pressed to find anything new in here. Yawn.
Much more interesting is the Belgian five-piece Tom Sweetlove. That’s something you understand as soon as you hear Sans-Nicolas: elegant soundscape, a few piano notes, they don’t need much to create a peculiar atmosphere. Xanax Tobin might be more usual, it is at least as good… A guitar duet, simple but beautiful melodies (seems to be one of Sweetlove’s trademarks), discreet arrangement. There is no will to show off, or rather no need: the quality of the music is there and speaks for itself. An accordion welcomes the listener on No Future (for Joey Ramone). I bet he wouldn’t have liked this song much, but who cares? Again, the guitars are “launched” into a civil dialogue, melancholic but never self-pitying. The rest of the instruments are kept in the background, with here and there some cymbals and percussion sounds. No future… is a very restrained song, proving that if Sweetlove can write nice melodies they are most of all people with good tastes. They prove it again on Le jardin extraordinaire. Nothing is perfect though: maybe those tracks lack dynamics, maybe they are a tad to nice (a bit of discordance wouldn’t have hurt)… But I shouldn’t let those thoughts get in the way: Tom Sweetlove gave us four gems of beautiful slow, introspective and contemplative music.
Another regret: if We vs Death tracks stretched for too long, Tom Sweetlove’s ones are too short. As if you had in the same room a chatterbox and a quiet, shy lad and you just know that the shy one has the most interesting things to say…
For what I know, many people will enjoy We vs Death but if you decide to purchase this album, keep in mind that the most impressive tunes are Sweetlove’s. They alone warrant the kudos I give to this split. Be nice to them and order it: it’s cheap and you’d make yourself a big favour.