Besides maybe the feet, the ears are possibly the ugliest parts of the body. These odd shell-like protrusions are not only unattractive; they’re also somewhat unappetizing. The human ear, essentially a waxy hole in the side of the head, is so ugly that some think the only way to beautify them is with accessorizing. Okay, maybe I’m biased because my ears stick out, and I too have tried to mask them with multiple earrings and a feeble attempt at sideburns. Or, my position on ears has possibly been compromised by an overload of `wet willies.’ And yes, maybe I have sucked on an earlobe or two in the past, but I’m not proud of it. But music is my way of showing love for my ears, to prove that I care, and that I don’t take the ugly things for granted. The new album from the British duo Various has been more than just a passing fancy, more than just a small auditory treat. The World is Gone has made scary, manipulative sex with my ears, and I loved every minute of it.
The seduction began with “Thunnk,” not exactly the most romantic of names, but this affair started with overtures of dominance, not with flowers and candy. The heavy dubstep bass, overlaid with Bernard Herrmann-style strings was terrifying, and somewhat alluring. The spoken word aspect of the song only enhanced that initial fear. But then began “Circle of Sorrow,” a banjo backed folk tune that was part Natalie Merchant, part Bonnie “Prince” Billy and part Massive Attack. Already, with only two songs played on the album, I was not only hooked, I was smitten. I begged for more.
When “Don’t Ask” began with its reggae guitars and spacy sound effects, I realized they were named Various for a reason. So far, I had heard three songs with three distinctly different styles. This song was more Massive Attack or Portishead than anything else on the record, yet was more menacing and dark than anything either had created. “Hater” is sure to be the soundtrack for the robot uprising, cold and detached, with sinister lyrics and a bass that will make your balls crawl up into your belly. It’s what “Fly on the Windscreen” and Nitzer Ebb have nightmares about. It might even cause Trent Reznor wake up in a cold sweat and hoping that God is there, and he does care.
“Lost” is one of those songs that makes you want to strap on the headphones, turn off all the lights, and just submerse yourself in its sinuous pleasures. I gave myself completely over to the song, and it made me its bitch. I had a similar feeling with “Sir,” one of the sexiest electronic compositions ever made. If songs like this are the result of the onset of AI, then call me Gaius Baltar. “Deadman” returns with the seductive voice from earlier in the album, combining folk and dance in a way that no one had ever imagined. Then, inevitably, every seduction ends in a climax, and on this record there were two, in the intensely throbbing “Today” and the middle eastern meets western cinematic masterpiece title track. And just when I thought I was completely spent, I was offered the post-coital smoke of “Fly,” the equivalent not just in name, but in substance to the Nick Drake song.
The World is Gone is one of those albums that gives people like me a reason not to make my end-of-the-year lists until the last possible moment. With the first listen, I was hooked. This then led to four more spins over the next week. I could not stop listening to this album. It held me in its thrall, mesmerized and more than just a little excited. Listening to Various, especially in this album format, is like the thrill of a new love, you can’t wait to see that person again, as you sit on pins and needles, and can think of nothing else. Various, you had me at “Thunnk.”
Massive Attack- Blue Lines
Depeche Mode- Black Celebration