By Christopher Nosnibor
Life’s complicated. I mean, insanely so. You go to the shop and have to figure out if the three for two-offer is actually a better deal than just buying the big catering pack. You’ve got to figure out on-line banking, how to work your new smart phone or table device, there’s the bus or train or drive to work to negotiate and there are times you probably feel like your head’s about to explode.
What’s perhaps most unusual about the Wingdale Community Singers is that they’re a surprisingly low-key project given their lineup. Novelist Rick Moody fell into collaboration with singer Hannah Marcus in 2001 with no end purpose in mind. ‘In fact,’ Rick Moody wrote in The Guardian back in 2005 ‘the Wingdale Community Singers never really expected to get out of the living room.’ The duo were subsequently joined by the multi-talented David Grubbs, who boasts an illustrious CV that includes Bastro, Gastr Del Sol, Codeine and Bitch Magnet, in 2003 and have convened sporadically ever since. Night Sleep Death is their third outing, and still feels very much like a hobby rather than commercial venture. It’s all the better for it, too.
‘So What (Andy’s Lament)’ is so refreshingly simple not only in its humble musical arrangement, but its lyrical approach. The words are straightforward, and on first listen could be mistaken for being clumsy. ‘I was walking down the road / When I came upon a bunch of people having a great time / and the reason was a friend of theirs they really liked had just died / and I realised everything is just how you decide it.’ But that’s precisely what’s great about it: the words are natural, colloquial, unforced, uncomplicated. In stripping out poetic artifice and concentrating on meaning and sentiment rather than forced rhyme and scansion, the song touches a truer, sincerer emotion than so many lyrics that are crafted and honed.
‘White Bike,’ too, recounts simple observations of the humdrum and the mundane and turns them into something magical through their humanity. The songs evoke a bygone age by virtue of their honesty and simplicity and uncontrived narratives. But that doesn’t mean they paint sugary scenes of false perfection. This is no example of wide-eyed naïveté and blissful ignorance (or, worse still, a refusal to accept that life isn’t, and never was green grass, golden sunshine and skipping merrily through the meadows without a care in the world). No, death and burials and hardship and strife are interwoven into the fabric of the songs, notably the bittersweet and unexpectedly dissonant yet equally sweeping ‘Night, Sleep, Death and the Stars.’ ‘No Rest’ is dark, intense and harrowing in its swirling torment.
There are more conventional compositions, but rather than detract from the more unusual slant that characterise Night Sleep Death, the mellow country tones of ‘Use As Directed’ provide well-placed moments of respite.
It’s not just the music and the words it accompanies that are organic and heartfelt: the lo-fi recording, rather than working to the detriment of the songs, serves to render them with a greater immediacy. You don’t feel like you’re listening to a band’s album, but a tape recorded by some friends gathered in a room around a cassette recorder. It feels unusually personal. And that’s actually something pretty special.
Night, Sleep, Death is released by Drag City