I’d love to see a `no holds barred’ cage match between Talk Normal and the Ting Tings. Both formed around the same time, though the former in Brooklyn and the latter in England. Both are made up of a female singer / guitarist and a drummer (Ting Tings’ is male, Talk Normal’s is female) who adds in other various noises. But, they couldn’t be more different beyond those surface qualities. While the Tings are all pop sheen and bobbing heads that fit easily into an iPod commercial, Talk Normal limits accessibility so much as to make it an art. Certain songs on their debut, Sugarland, would make for the scariest iPod commercials ever. Yet, in that absence of melody and hook, there is some dark magic.
Talk Normal is usually lumped in with the no wave scene, and while that seems to work, it’s also somewhat limiting in describing the essence of the duo, not that I think I’d be able to do it any real justice. Sarah Register and Andrya Ambro are the pair behind this cacophony, and a compelling cacophony it is. Opener “Hot Song” is what you might imagine if Missing Persons were stripped down to menacing drums and a few Suicide-like guitar strums. Siouxsie and Sonic Youth also come to mind. Now, this ain’t no party, nor is it a disco, and it certainly ain’t fooling around, but it is arresting, for sure. The repetitious and eerie guitar strums of “In a Strangeland” are off-putting, but hypnotizing. Just don’t play this record after a marathon of recent Scott Walker or an old Suicide album. In other words, play at your own risk.
It’s apparent there’s something special going on here. Despite a lack of purchase really anywhere within any of these tracks, you do manage to somehow hold on by the tips of your fingers. Register’s wails, along with her discordant guitar strains, especially in tracks such as “Boldface,” are inordinately creepy. But when Ambro’s drums kick in, it somehow adds just enough order to the chaos to make it interesting. Let’s face it, very few of these tracks are going to end up on someone’s iPod shuffle playlist for the gym, but I sincerely doubt that was the intention. (Though, I’m tempted to run to the kinetic noise of “River’s Edge.” It might make me feel like I have to run faster to get away from an unseen assailant.)
The duo’s cover of Roxy Music’s “In Every Dream Home a Heartache” is a standout from the album, not quite sounding like the rest of the album, more initially understated, then exploding into something that is the closest Talk Normal will ever get to a melody. Talk Normal has to be regarded in different terms than most indie albums. While bands like Vampire Weekend and Spoon hit the mainstream charts, blurring the increasingly disappearing lines between supposed genres, Talk Normal is doing something that most will find hard to wrap their brains around, namely, creating compelling, if inaccessible, music. Bravo.
Siouxsie & the Banshees – The Scream
Sonic Youth – Confusion is Sex
Teenage Jesus & the Jerks – Shut Up and Bleed