Section: ArtsMarch 10, 2017
From the start of the first track of Luxury Death’s newest EP, “Glue,” a sense of two beings is immediately recognized. An electric guitar begins the opening track, “Radiator Face,” in your right ear, and is then rounded off by the streamlined electric piano in the other: two distinct melodies on each side of the brain, married with the steady rhythm of the tambourine. It is reminiscent of the almost 8-bit tune from The Strokes’ “12:51” from the band’s sophomore album, but more upbeat and light, at least at first.
It is a fitting start for for the Manchester boyfriend-girlfriend duo’s first album. Luxury Death is fronted by Ben Thompson on guitar and Meg Williams on keyboard, although both contribute the enjoyably angsty lyrics and characteristically lo-fi vocals to the tracks. It’s hard to swat a smile away with witty lines like, “I feel at home on your collarbone,” and impossible to refrain from admiring the simple yet saccharine nature of the band’s accessible, homey poetry.
Yet everything is not as it seems. These candied lyrics are often undercut with bold, caustic parallels: “Your body aches for another fake embrace,” for example. There is always some level of tension and emotional unrest lurking under the words of Thompson and Williams, preventing us from defining tracks explicitly as expressions of chaotic heartbreak or heart-swelling love. Although the album as a whole does not boast literary genius with each passing line, amusing gems like, “Did you hang me out the window just to dry?” wedge themselves in approachable lyrics.
Luxury Death was ironically birthed after Nai Harvest, a British garage punk band comprised of Thompson and Lew Currie on drums, broke up in 2016. Although the two bands are decidedly distinct from one another in instrumental composition (namely for the conspicuous lack of keyboard, which is so prevalent in Luxury Death’s sound), they share a similar lyrical sensibility toward life. They present an almost casual nihilism balanced with a playful treatment of complicated, uneasy and wavering emotion. In a way, Luxury Death’s lyricism cultivates the same anxiety and biting sarcasm as that of treasured folky-punk duo Girlpool, although perhaps on a lesser scale. Though Luxury Death does not thrust its anxieties out into the world like the women of Girlpool, there isn’t an expectation that they should. Its expressions are subdued, thumb-twirling concerns behind the facade of modest lyricism, performed excellently.
I’m going to be completely honest: Luxury Death is not a band that I commend for its musical innovation. Generally speaking, its flavor and sound are anticipated, a conglomeration of the audio and ambience of all of the lo-fi punk bands I have ever heard. Although its lyrics seem to mock the sober approaches to relationships that many musicians take on, this is nothing particularly fresh, especially from its genre.
What I find most compelling about Luxury Death’s sound, however, is how dynamic the keyboard is in every song off the EP (admittedly, a four-track compilation does not make this an astounding achievement, but one nonetheless). The title track, “Glue,” showcases a shrieking sequence of notes that sounds somewhere in-between a Talking Heads song and a horror movie theme. “Listerine” is inaugurated with a slightly hymnal treatment of the keyboard that has the likeness of a synthetic chapel organ. In “Needle,” the keyboard drives a tame melody with a sprinkling of vibrantly high notes, almost like a rustling lake glinting with specks of sunlight on a summer afternoon.
What is also notable about Luxury Death’s sound is that even though the woven harmony of keyboard, guitar and vocals all seem to coexist in a singular, lighthearted tone, each instrumental component can be distinguished from the next. Williams and Thompson’s voices easily mimic the pitch of electric guitar or the crooning of the ever-present keyboard, but they do not vanish into the neon melody of computerized sound.
While these specific characteristics individualize Luxury Death in the vast sea of lo-fi punk, I do not believe that they define Luxury Death’s identity starkly enough to prevent them from being swallowed by the other hundreds if not thousands of groups vying for recognition in the genre. It would seem that Luxury Death’s “Glue” is just as reliable as the crafting material itself: able to adhere to a defined sound and sensibility, but subject to fall apart if examined, prodded and challenged forcefully enough.