I was driven to write this post by hearing Thomas Tantrum on the radio. They were AWFUL, symptomatic of the problems with the current music scene, all faux cockney speech and over peppy music. Despite their faults there was something that made them stick in my mind, something i recognised and loved. It was then I decided to dig out my old copy of Life Without Buildings' only LP 'Any Other City'. It was beautiful and simple but made me angry, I'd realised the jokers I heard on the radio were just recreating it almost word for word. It really annoys me that Thomas Tantrum are all over the radio and the N*E yet Life Without Buildings disappeared without a trace, this is why I'm giving their only album this long overdue re-appraisal.
A re-appraisal of 'Any Other City' by Life Without Buildings
Listening to 'Any Other City' makes me wish Life Without Buildings had hung on longer, long enough to hit this current burst of music they have inspired. It's honest music, heartfelt and to the point. Realistic love stories woven poetically over stark, bass driven grooves. Singer Sue Tompkins' beautiful, half spoken vocals lift the spirit and ease you in to her world of architecture, lost love and obsession. At times childlike, her lyrics display great compassion and humanism, she is a voyeur who deeply understands the inner thoughts of the average person, whilst keeping her own under wraps behind some clever imagery. The words are fractured, half stories that you have to listen to over and over again to truly understand. On 'The Leanover' Sue yelps and whispers, anguish and acceptance together in one song. 'If I lose you, If I lose you' she mutters as the song takes shape, followed by a stream of disjointed words expressing her love. It's a charming way of constructing a song, bursting out those words that express your situation, not necessarily a coherent story but a stream of words that represent you emotions. It's the musical equivalent of abstract expressionism, paintings constructed quickly and forcefully to express feeling and emotion rather than a recognisable picture, just as Sue's lyrics create feelings and emotions but not a lucid sentence. Elsewhere on the album lay pop gems, much more concise and together compositions like 'Philip' and '14 Days'. Beautiful little pop songs, emotive, punchy and musically reminiscent of early Bloc Party. These tracks veer between strumming and stabbing guitars, with the drums light yet fast and tight bass hooks popping up and down throughout. The album's more downbeat and gorgeously morose moments come in the last two tracks, 'New Town' and 'Sorrow'. Two exercises in all the best parts of Life Without Buildings. There are chopped up bursts of lyrical expressionism, slow drum grooves and prickly guitar lines weaving and darting over. It all comes together in 'Sorrow' to massive emotional effect. A downbeat drum and guitar open the song in a rather innocuous manner and the song builds and builds in this way, the vocals going from indifference to agitation. Extremely beautiful statements stick out of the stream of consciousness; 'eyes like lotus leaves, no, not even LIKE...'. It's the sound of our heads when we're in love, questions and worries mixed with those little bits of the person we adore, all cluttered and full of bits of past conversations.
Quite simply, Life Without Buildings were timeless. When I first heard them on Rough Trade's wonderful Post Punk compilation (buy it here) I was hooked yet confused, unaware of who this amazing band were or when they had graced us with this fantastic record (the record in question being 'The Leanover'). I scrabbled through the sleevenotes to find they were to be found languishing in 2001, a weird year for British music. A time of fictional cartoon characters, guitar bores and the arse end of boybands. It was the year blonde pop nightmares A1 won Best Newcomer at the Brit Awards, but also the year PJ Harvey released 'Stories From The City...', a very strange year. It was a weird place for Life Without Buildings to inhabit, their contemporaries really should have been bands like Essential Logic and The Slits, yet they were stuck in 2001 with Bob The Builder, Travis and Coldplay!
You can buy 'Any Other City' here
Download their track 'Sorrow'...