Posts from February 1999

18
Feb 99

A Cult That Wasn’t

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Earwig – Under My Skin I Am Laughing

In some respects, this band was perfect for nineties cult worship, so that’s why I’m very surprised that they’re apparently not more well-known or remembered among the underground types. There’s a comp of earlier singles called Past out there somewhere as well, but this might be marginally more easy to find. A three-piece, the reason why they worked so well for this decade was the fact that they were Stereolab just before Stereolab without being Stereolab. Sort of.

Lead singer Kirsty Yates, besides being of equally tall height, also works in the same realm of Laetitia Sadier in terms of understated, ‘cool’ projection — the whole ‘easy-listening MOR Muzak vocals’ aesthetic which was thrown around about the time Switched On first was released, just about when Under My Skin came out. But whereas Sadier aims to be more deliberately alluring, more siren-song to better expound theories of post-Information Revolution struggle of the proletariat against capitalist orthodoxy — or so the plan goes — Yates is a touch more deliberate and paced, a touch — just a touch — more brittle, and even more deadset against verses and choruses than Sadier. Yates’ pill is not quite so easy to swallow, and what she has to sing about is maybe not so radical, but still digs deep. Analyzing relationships from both inside and out, the lyrics, if raged or shouted, wouldn’t quite work so well as it does when Yates gently but relentlessly goes forth with lines like “if you’ll say you’re sorry and may be if you’ll say you’re sorry I will apologize like Hell I will” and “stop being spiteful hold your tongue sometimes I’d prefer it if you’d look straight through me.”

Musically, meanwhile, Yates and bandmates Sergei Tardo and Dimitri Voulis create a very puzzling, interesting take on rock by barely rocking. You could claim a Stereolab link in terms of, again, easy listening, but while ze Lab made its early mark mashing Krauty drones into cocktail lounge [though Triggereader ML Compton has an interesting story about how they tried to deny their Neu! worship at the time!], Earwig were much more modern in sound, eschewing sixties fetishisms, however obscure at the time, for a clean, almost antiseptic approach. Drum machines are used in favor of real percussion, sequencing is credited to all three members, and though two guitars and a bass are used, restraint is key — not an aim to be ‘tasteful’ or the like, just…held back. Matching the non-verse-chorus-verse structure of Yates lyrics, the songs start up, move, and end, musical hooks barely there.

After this album, Earwig parted ways with Voulis and became the duo Insides, signing to 4AD via its Guernica imprint and releasing two more deceptively gentle albums — Euphoria, another collection of barbed meditations on desire [including possibly Yates’ best ever lyric, “I hate lovers. I hate the way they go the bathrooms in shifts after they’ve fucked.“] and “Clear Skin”, a single track 40-minute or so piece that focuses simply on the art of the multilayered musical build and erode. Haven’t heard from them at all since 1994, so who knows what’s happening now? A severe pity if they’ve simply disappeared.