Album name: Life
Artist name: Uniform Motion
Released: 9 February 2010
Label: Aahhh Records
ZME Rating: 5/10
I’m something of a deliberate philistine when it comes to fine art. Despite spending six years or so studying the subject in one form or another, I never really saw the appeal. I mean, sure I can appreciate it up to a point; I’ll give you your Da Vincis, your Rembrandts, your Dalis – all very talented paintbrush-pushers. But the likes of Picasso and Rothko can suck an ectoplasmic lemon for all I care. Vincent Van Gogh? Vincent Fack Off more like. Art – and especially modern art – is for proles without imaginations who need something to fill the colourless void that is their brains.
The one piece of art I would like to display in whatever scummy, low-rent hovel I eventually find myself dismally inhabiting is an original Dave Kellett Sheldon comic. Because, if I’m gonna be stuck staring at a picture every day for the rest of my interminable pauper’s life, it had bloody well better make me laugh. It is upon this flimsy altar of personal preference that I place this blood-filled, golden chalice of truth: cartoons are the best art of all the arts.
Perhaps it’s on this poorly-fleshed out, though thoroughly unassailable, basis that I so enthusiastically rallied around the Uniform Motion banner late last year. Their press release described them in the most absurd, preposterous terms possible – “a perpetual multimedia art installation” – which is precisely one step removed from labelling them “an Austrian collective of matchstick sculptors-cum-operatic xylophonists.” Sensing an opportunity to dig some conspicuously word-shaped boots into their soft, spongy craniums, I duly investigated, only to discover that Uniform Motion, in fact, consists of a perfectly nice indie folk singing man, and also a man who draws (and this is why the intro exists, good people) cartoons!
Quite the winning concept, actually: instead of having some frustrated, out-of-work, going-nowhere Hollywood nobody direct your pointless and expensive video, have a member of the band on hand to illustrate your songs in real-time, with cute little cartoon characters. Despite initially sounding like a stupid idea surgically grafted onto the back of a boring band’s neck, the effect was in fact more like a helpful blood transfusion for a slightly anaemic band.
Which, sadly, leaves Uniform Motion sort of in the lurch on their sophomore album, Life. But we’ll get back to that.
The good news is that Andy Richards, the musical half of the band, has created a very acceptable folk album, one that’s never less than pleasant to listen to. There’s a nice interplay between dark and light throughout the album – the melodies are often bright, the lyrics often tinged with a contrasting sadness and even some minor existential fear. And there are some quite beautiful harmonies (presumably Richards’ layered vocals) that verge on haunting at times. They occasionally – and perhaps inexplicably – put me in mind of the freaked-out soundtrack cult hero Jarboe did for The Path, Tale of Tales’ bizarre, distressing “video game” take on the Red Riding Hood story.
But that game scared me something awful, so I’m not even certain I consider that a good thing.
But speaking of wandering off the beaten path and into “foresty” areas (wait for it, that’s a completely worthwhile set-up), let’s discuss Renaud Forestié’s illustrative contribution to Life. (O-ho!)
Except, I can’t. Because I’ve got a digital copy of the album with only the cover attached as a JPEG, and so my limited understanding of Forestié’s relevant work comes from the artwork displayed on their website, and this Flash gizmo thingy the honourable Mr. Puiu mentioned previously. This may or may not be representative of the art that comes with physical copies of the record, and it certainly is quite prettiful to gaze at for a few minutes, but it does hammer home an unhappy truth: Uniform Motion’s music is substantially less appealing without the constant visual accompaniment provided by the videos and flip-book style dealies the band dished out for their Pictures album. Whether they’ll eventually do something similar for Life, I don’t know, but it does present a problem for anyone planning on taking this album around on their iPod telephones, or their Zune-a-majiggers. As a strictly musical endeavour, Uniform Motion seem just a little too content to gaze navel-wards, meaning the songs are uniformly lacking one thing. Yes: they are lacking motion.
It’s a tricky, disappointing irony – the “artist who’s in the band, look at him, he’s here, and he’s in the band!!!” gimmick that sounds, at first, like a hugely pretentious turn-off, ends up being their biggest strength, and now, paradoxically, their greatest weakness. It’s like some really ridiculous Greek play, possibly featuring gratuitous nudity, which I will now retire to my study to write.
1: Saving Up For Sundays
2: Back Up Your Soul
3: Roll Over
4: Storm Eye
5: Dry Eyes
7: The Black Box
8: Words Run On Ice