Singer-songwriters are a maligned breed, understandably so if one considers only that plague of guys with guitars bawling about a whole bunch of first-world problems. But what if we extend the template beyond those dolts who can’t see past their overpriced After The Goldrush reissues, to the squad of lone operators, who draw on a stranger history of outlaw musicking and deploy a wider sonic vocabulary in their ownward quest for truth? What about art-rock maverick Arto Lindsay, for example, whose nonchalant welding of Brazilian polyrhythmic innovations with corrosive no-wave atonality has burned through an exhilarating discography? His latest record, Cuidado Madame, continues a journey started with the formation of Ambitious Lovers with Peter Scherer in the mid-1980s, in which chunky samba beats, silky melodicism and dissonance string abuse are given almost equal space. Cuts such as Ilha Dos Pazeres have the stormy humidity of a weekend in the tropics, the air-conditioned sheen of its surface concealing a turbulent exterior. Vao Queimar Ou Botando Pra Dancar, meanwhile, lets in more of that old guitar scrape, hinting at the dissonance Lindsay is still capable of producing in his live shows (and showcased on the live side of 2014’s Encyclopedia of Arto Lindsay retrospective). For the most part, however, a kind of delicate toughness is the norm, making for an elegant, ever-so-slightly unsettling listening experience.
Move further out towards the margins and you bump into Design A Wave’s homespun postpunk funk, whose Perfectal Bum makes up one half of Bezirk Tapes’ recent brace of releases. While there may be traces of Lindsay’s clotted songcraft in Perfectal Bum’s gurn and squelch, the influence is tangential, accidental, more like the vestiges of viral contagion than any, formal, ancestor worship. If Lindsay’s solo discography is self -administered gene therapy, splicing samba and NY art-rock into a postcolonial hybridity, Perfectal Bum is the sound of someone who once heard Chico Barque’s greatest hits during a drunken binge on their summer holiday, but who still has the chutzpah to try and recreate it using only a broken casiotone and hand me down laptop. Nevertheless, main man Tom Hirst’s combination of squelchy synthetic bass, languid drum programming and monotone vocals – occasionally augmented by wonky guitar and synth motifs – is rarely less than irresistible. Hirst’s ramshackle structures have the stubbornheaded desire to succeed of the classic DIY genius, convinced as they are that all established conventions for making creative work are clearly the result of a blinkered establishment resolutely following a path of bland mediocrity and conformism. Instead, he uses the modest kit and caboodle at his disposal to craft the best possible chassis for his unerring pop instincts. Check out the clunky shuffles and fruity synth parps of Space Face, for example, whose dayglo madness would bring a grin to all but the stoniest of countenances. Or the retro-cheese of Remedy, in which the chewy synth lines and hepcat posturing vocals evoke an image of a cut-price Thomas Dolby running through their latest single on a 1980s children’s TV show.
That’s not to say any of this is a joke. The songs are good. No Disgrace is a killer deep groove, and the album’s exuberance is balanced by grittier cuts (identified by number rather than title) that recall some of The Fall’s recent Korg-driven tracks. 07 is stern delight, while 09 floats off in a toxic cloud of electronics and shuddering echo. This is perhaps why, despite being originally recorded in 2007, Perfectal Bum’s junkshop lurch sounds surprisingly timeless. A life-affirming, oddball delight.