This two-track spoken word and electronics cassette from Bletchley’s Bad Body is like a warped inversion of Sleaford Mods, that duo’s tin pot synth beats mulched into grainy, melancholic soundscapes, the rage of their splenetic tirades turned inwards to despairing autobiographical monologues.
Yet both groups, in their separate ways, hold a mirror up to the ruin that is everyday life – the Mods highlighting the banal and mediocre before machine-gunning it, while Bad Body enact the numbing psychic effect that the parade of endless injustices and humiliations that passes for austerity politics in this day and age enacts upon hard-working people [sic] throughout the land.
This is introverted, almost despairing music, the dense, scarred textures of its drones, static and wheezing electronics – courtesy of The Engineer and Patrick John Carney – resembling the cracked and corroded concrete of an abandoned municipal building, once a place that dispensed help and advice to the less fortunate, now a crumbling edifice earmarked for redevelopment in the coming storm of penthouses and pavements, atria and affluence.
Through all this weave the fatigued monologues of the band’s vocalist, known only as Paul. Expressed in a flat, affectless monotone, Paul mines his autobiographical traumas like a kind of Mike Skinner with PSTD, the ravey-davey banter replaced with stories of childhood bullying and efforts to stay sane in an increasingly unhinged world.
One section, towards the end of side 1’s Redway, narrates an encounter with a potential suicide, a pregnant woman poised to jump from a road bridge onto railway tracks below, is particularly affecting. While the woman’s attempts to end her life are thwarted, the ending seems anything but happy – perhaps because her self-harming (“her own self-inflicted Redways”), pregnancy (“the bun in the oven”) and mental health issues (“I couldn’t help but wonder what’s damaged her brain”) point to anything but a happier future.
Side 2’s Right is, if anything, even more desolate. A rubble-strewn field of hiss and distortion overlays a worn-out orchestral sample – or is the destroyed jingle of an ice-cream van? – its mournful tones like listening to the BBC Third Programme among the bombed out wreckage of a nameless city.
Paul’s words, meanwhile, seem even more collapsed and fragmented, a surreal, singsong collage, seeming to oscillate between detached whimsy and obsessive, hallucinatory paranoia. “My body is always aching / I want to be beautiful / I want to be alone,” he sings at one point, to the tune of Good King Wenceslas.
It’s fair to say that Do You Know I Live? isn’t exactly a laugh a minute collection of tunes. It is, however, darkly compelling, impressive and, at times, moving. It is also, arguably political music, but of a stripe that’s much harder to assimilate – and dismiss – than a typical protest song. Like the best novels and films it shows, rather than tells. And what it shows isn’t nice.
Scarred music for a scarred culture.