Naked on the Vague
Heaps of Nothing

It’s fitting that we bookend this week with another band from the Land Down Under, though Naked on the Vague are probably the most polarizing act to come from Australia since the Dead C, while Tame Impala keep busy polishing their radio hits. In my interview with Tame Impala they claim to not let their surroundings have any sway over the sound of their music, though their music often sounds like it was generated on fading solar energy and the salt air of the Pacific Ocean. Lucy Phelan and Matthew Hopkins, the duo at the core of Naked on the Vague, would have a hard time convincing anyone that the bleak perpetual heartbeats and grey-sky ragas on their sophomore album, Heaps of Nothing, are not inspired by the vast, dry, barren landscape that encompasses most of their continent. If Tame Impala are enjoying the surf in bare feet, then Phelan and Hopkins are digging to find what’s underneath, burrowing below to find a reprieve from their growing desolation. Maybe that’s not the case, but there are touch and go moments on Heaps of Nothing that wholly envision the origin sequences in 2001: A Space Odyssey, imagining what happens when the orange-rusted horizon fades to black and the moisture-sucked atmosphere switches over to a spirit-filled chill.

That’s basically where it ended for the duo on the stunning, yet doom-laden, skronk on The Blood Pressure Sessions. Theories as to what possessed Naked on the Vague to somewhat abandon that post-apocalyptic nihilism and assemble a full-band are as mysterious as the fuzzily obscured artwork that goes hand in hand with their sonic brute. On Heaps of Nothing it sounds like either they wanted to bolster the already harsh buzz of that initial album (which they succeed mightily in doing so) or they actually wanted to rock a little harder, add some pizzazz (for lack of a better term) and give us a widescreen view of their capabilities and aspirations in the “trad” rock format. I’m also under the impression that Naked on the Vague never forcefully strayed from convention and melody on past efforts, but on Heaps of Nothing, especially songs like “Treading Water” and “Wrong Room,” they are dragging their feet like “Transmission” or a cold wave version of Jefferson Airplane. On the former, there may even be a slight New Order fixation in the cards, though a magnetic field of celestial landmarks still pulls them towards tomorrow’s eclipse. It’s not hope or uplifted moods or even happy drugs that have them stepping slowly into those color-drenched chords and motley organ jaunts, so it must be something more sinister, a medium in which they’re grinning at such meddling and mutating. “These Days” is the pendulum swinging back and forth between these faces, filled with “Telstar” sci-fi flutters and megaphoned chants, but continually cut with Hopkins’ overwhelming urge to snake through the song with grotesque gutter guitars that constantly shift the Naked on the Vague flow.

So what does it mean now that Naked on the Vague has a full band in tow? Does it mean that the duo is no longer an insular mess of rhythm and coarse riffage not suitable for communal use? No. It’s still a tough swallow, even in small doses. “The Joke” might be the easing-in petroleum for Heaps of Nothing, a song that summons the cataclysm as well as anything they’ve written and which simultaneously shows just how much Naked on the Vague benefit from having a “real” band by their side. Sure, I’m getting a huff of Royal Trux/Confusion Is Sex fumes off the tailpipe of this one, but I also hear Deep Purple melanized to a mordant shade of desperation sable, or as on “Blank Minds,” your favorite church-burning black metal band screwed and chopped inside the boiler room. It’s the theme to your next satanic vegan, para-military rain dance.
Kevin J. Elliott

MP3: “Wrong Room”