The Goon Sax – We’re Not Talking
What if I got it wrong? What if that record I adored when I played it to death in (insert month as appropriate, in this case) September suddenly fails to thrill when listened to again in the middle of December? Such are the nightmare thoughts that haunt the mind of the advent compiler as (self-imposed) copy deadlines approach and thoughts of ‘when am I going to get a haircut’ and ‘have I bought enough cheese’ battle for attention. Ah the first world worries of the privileged white male middle classes, huh?
Thankfully however the repeated listenings to ‘We’re Not Talking’ by The Goon Sax these past few days have delivered multiple thrills and put my mind at rest, at least as far as My Favourite Record Of 2018 is concerned (the haircut and cheese issues are, as of writing, terrifyingly unresolved). Turns out that it WAS the record I needed to buy multiple copies of after all (for the record – ahem – these were the pre-ordered black, the Rough Trade blue and the Monorail signed copy with mix CD). And yeah, multiple copies. I wasn’t kidding about the privileged white male middle class thing.
So much of the connection made by music (or any art) is wrapped up in personal contexts. It’s why some records, when we hear them again thirty years or more after we first loved them can either sound immediately familiar and evocative (and sometimes provocative) or strangely thin and emotionless. Occasionally they can be both of these things simultaneously, which is a moment of head battling heart, or of memories fading and being replaced by chilly objectivity. These moments can be sad or liberating depending on mood and uh-huh, context again. New contexts reconfigure our memory after all. Well duh.
What the fuck has this to do with The Goon Sax? Well, see, it’s the way in which ‘We’re Not Talking’ short-circuits the synapses in my brain and creates a thrilling space in which the essence of being Young and Foolish (or indeed Stupid) writhes and cries like a disembodied ghoul. The songs on ‘We’re Not Talking’ may be irrelevant to my life as it is now, yet they are at the same time impossibly valuable for they instil in me feelings and energies that inspire and provoke action. I mean, remember how we were always (still) talking about how Great Pop is about the IDEA of being sixteen? Well that. That in spades.
And uh, hey, just to be clear, this isn’t about wanting to re-live or reclaim any of those feelings. It’s certainly not about wanting to BE sixteen (seventeen, going on early twenties) again and it’s not even about wanting to be in situations where those feelings are created afresh. It’s more about enjoying the memories of the moments that created the feelings. A meta-memory, if you will.
So ‘We’re Not Talking’ is a time machine that takes us to moments that never occurred except in a self-mediated/medicated universe. And I say ‘us’ when of course I mean anyone over twenty-something or maybe thirty-something at a push. For everyone younger the rule is simply that ‘We’re Not Talking’ is the time-capsule in which you are ecstatically embedding the very essence of your being. All the fears, the desires, the ‘oh-no’s and the enormous ‘yeses’. Every one wrapped in the grooves of this record and gashed open again to be exposed like raw wounds you treasure forever. Because why wouldn’t you? And I mean, you ARE, right? (These last few sentences aimed at the one or possibly two People Younger Than Forty Five who might actually read this at a contemporaneous moment in time or who might have stumbled here from a future in which bored teenagers have the ability to focus for more than five seconds – in which case welcome and tell me if I ever found the time for that haircut and if I did, in the end, have more than enough cheese).
Look, ‘We’re Not Talking’ is, like that mix CD curated by the group for the Monorail free gift, all over the shop in terms of points of reference yet ultimately gloriously coherent. It is a record of a group who are excited by possibilities and overflowing with ideas BUT who know the value of leaving things out.
What do I love about ‘We’re Not Talking’?Well I love those, ah, what are those? I think it’s cowbells (in the video it’s certainly a cowbell) although they sound more like those wee wooden percussion blocks you hammer on in Primary school class… anyway, hell yeah I LOVE THOSE. Whatever the hell they are. They’re one of the first instruments you hear on the record (chattering like a dervish in ‘Make Time For Love’ and tell me was there ever a greater album opener anywhere at anytime that ‘Make Time For Love’? No there wasn’t. No there won’t be. Ever. Until maybe the next Goon Sax record) and every time they surface again (and they do! They do!) I’m all like grinning like a loon and thinking that it takes either a lot of guts or an enviable lack of self-awareness to insert a noise so primitive into a Pop song in this or any day and age. Breathe.
I love the way the bass guitar doesn’t sound like a bass guitar. I mean I have no idea if that really is a bass guitar but it’s THAT sound and the way in which it rolls me up and rocks me along the tracks, doing the delicate balancing act between earthy, primal rhythm and carefully considered composition (it’s the ACT that’s delicate of course, not the noise, which is gleefully indelicate).
I love the way guitars dart this way and that way and don’t give a fuck if they’re in tune or sync or whatever the hell you want to call it. I’m no musician (yeah yeah yeah you wryly observe that I’m no fuckin’ writer either but if that’s your idea then fuck you and you’d never dig The Goon Sax in that case anyway – and yeah, apologies for the swearing I know it’s unbecoming BUT BUT BUT remember what we are always saying – yawn – about context being everything) and I know all this sonic chaos is choreographed to elicit this feeling but ultimately it is this feeling. Breathe.
I love the way ‘We’re Not Talking’ knows when to breathe like Jonathan Richman.
I love that ‘We’re Not Talking’ has string arrangements that walk the line between arms uplifted to the heavens and feet that skip with the devil. The Goon Sax know that a short blast of colour can be so much finer than a technicolor extravaganza (though there is nothing wrong with that in the right place and when crafted by the right hand). In other words, The Goon Sax are a group that surely knows it’s worse to swagger than to stumble.
I love that ‘We’re Not Talking’ has drums that know when to take a back seat. I love the way it knows percussion is a more valuable tool for these songs (those whatever the hell they are we mentioned previously; the dark shadows of softly stroked plastic barrels; the restrained tap, tap, tap of biscuit tins and cardboard boxes – no I know they’re not but, but, but…). Traditional instruments used in ways that are now enshrined in new traditions crafted by generations of artists (you know the ones, but I swore I would keep Musical References out of this, or at least to a minimum or at the minimum be nods and winks) but that still have the energy to come across as unexpected in an entirely expected manner. Sounds dumb, right? Sounds easy, right? But if that’s the case how come so few artists can actually carry it off? In music, in painting, in photography, in film or whatever. Break the rules within your own set of rules. There is no sense but the sense of the feeling and the feeling of the sense.
Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. And don’t forget to dance.
I love the way that ‘We’re Not Talking’ dances. It dances close. It dances alone. It dances inside and it dances in its own secret public.
I love that ‘We’re Not Talking’ is a record that sounds like the embodiment of the fact that all the greatest Pop groups are trios. James, Louis and Riley sound like the most glamorous gang of lovely reprobates you could ever hope to fall in love with and every one of them has moments of individual brilliance on this record that send shivers down my spine. Yet it is also true to say that Riley, Louis and James compliment each other with a charm and a warmth that you can’t get other than by growing up together (as a group, as a gang, as friends, lovers, enemies) and that I’m so glad has been captured on record because who knows what tomorrow brings. Louis, Riley and James might stick together for years to come (I hope!!) and if they do then I look forward to at the very least a third album where perhaps (I can dream) they have the confidence to expand on those strings and do the Grand Statement in an eloquent fashion. Or not. Because equally, James, Riley and Louis might get bored of each other and chuck it all in, go solo, make films, photographs and books instead of records (or not), who knows… BUT, but but they’ll have left behind them at least two of my favourite albums of the late twenty teens and that’s more than enough to be grateful for, more than enough reason to pledge (fleetingly Popist) Love and Devotion.