"Undoubtedly good stuff, a solid piece of work and obviously heading in the right direction, but you'll need a cup of tea and a biscuit after…"
Nux Vomica – The Veils (Rough Trade/Konkurrent)
One thing that is immediately apparent on Nux Vomica is the fact the music is very uncompromising in its tone and lyrical content. It's not going to be an easy listen. This is passionate, ragged, theatrical music that demands your participation from the first beat. If you're in the mood for something light then you'd better sling your hook. Not Yet is a paranoid tale of unrequited love (and maybe murder, there's mention of burial) with a steamy musical accompaniment; pattering drums, screaming vocals and a raking, guitar line that saws viciously through the track now and again leave the impression that there's something serious going on. A huge chorus tops it all off. Phew! Calliope! is somewhat more positive in it's outlook and jaunty in its tone. Still it's passionate stuff. Lyrics about waking up in the cold earth, crawling under the sink and holding your loved one certainly don't suggest a tea party.
One always gets the impression that singer Finn Andrews is conducting a series of incredibly personal conversations with a set of characters that are placed slightly offstage, ghostly presences that we can never quite visualise. This is very noticeable on Advice for Young Mothers To Be; again, a personal story set over a pastiche of a sixties girl band, Shirelles-style. You know the stuff - question and answer backing vocals; clear as a bell guitar trills, rising and falling harmonies.
All fluffiness is dissolved in acid with Jesus for the Juglar, which crawls around on its belly, growling and spitting at anything that comes near it. A reference in the lyrics to the physical attributes of foxes brings Tom Waits to mind. It's very Bone Machine...
Pan starts on a pleasant piano roll. The opening line, "I knew you'd starve in heaven/and I prayed for your release", however, suggests we are in for something more challenging. Still there's a very solemn and quiet refrain half way through to give some sense of space before the guitar fuelled ending allows Andrews to holler like a man possessed.
In some ways Nux Vomica is young man's music, and, at times nothing more than that. Passionate, unfulfilled and restless, at one moment lurid and then morbid, it writhes around snarling and then licking its wounds in public. Still, A Birthday Present brings The Triffids, or Ed Kuepper to mind with its crashing keyboards and sense of space. In some ways this is the best track on the LP; the music's elegance and remove gives the passionate vocal delivery added potency. It's certainly the most approachable song, and easily the most hum-able. (God, I really do sound like a maiden aunt at times, do I not?). Under the Folding Branches continues the karma somewhat; a beautiful piano-led confessional ballad allows Andrews to show off his incredibly empathic, sensual softer side.
The title track builds up to a shaking crescendo, guitars smashing a crystalline silence like a brick through glass. It's impressive stuff, very baroque in its attitude, what with the huge, angular sonic contrasts offset by the rather morbid, anxious silences. One Night on Earth is as close as we come to a straight pop song, sounding (rather surreally) like Ed Kuepper covering the Editors. Now there's a strange mental image for you. Still, it's a thousand times better than the Editors' stodgy Roundhead muse, especially with the great vocal backing arrangements. House Where we All Live returns to the confessional ballad style of Under the Folding Branches. I sometimes wish that the whole LP could be made up of these quieter moments, as Andrews has a very rare talent for holding your attention during these "slowies", better it has to be said than Mr Waits as Andrews plays it very straight, not trying to be the trickster at any point.
So, Nux Vomica (which, Latin freaks, is the botanical name for the Poison Tree); what should we make of it? Undoubtedly good stuff, a solid piece of work and obviously heading in the right direction, but you'll need a cup of tea and a biscuit after...
Words: Richard Foster.
to read what Finn had to say, click here..