JOHN TRON DAVIDSON
The greatest drag name never used, please welcome to the stage the incomparable, the inimitable, BARREN WOMB. Keeping up the Scandinavian tradition of slightly unpleasant names (hello Denmark's PISS VORTEX), Old Money/New Lows is the duo's first album in three years and their 4th full length release, presented as a more considered, pop-minded record.
That's a fair assessment; Barren Womb's earlier records - like the daftly titled THE SUN’S NOT YELLOW, IT’S CHICKEN and the unforgiving racket of CROWN CONTROL - had more in common with Coalesce and Winnebago Deal than Nicki Minaj, but that makes Old Money/New Lows even more exciting. Now feeding on more of an Unsane/Big Business axis than before, there's an oddly relaxed quality to tracks like 'Mystery Meat' and the brilliantly slack 'Theory Of Anything'. It's as though, despite no shortage of screaming, the two-piece have realised that they don't need to shout to be heard.
Settling into your work is a lengthy process, and if that means making it more palatable, there's nothing wrong with that. For Barren Womb it seems to include incorporating a Western tinge (see 'Slumlord Millionaire'), slowing down, taking more time to enjoy their distinct in-no-way-a-two-piece sound. This is the first duo this writer's heard in a long time that don't have holes anywhere, due in no small part to a well-judged production. While their previous works clattered and rattled with a certain wiry dryness, the sound of the space they recorded in is a fundamental part of this album; the drums shake in conjunction with the air around them, and the vocals of both members are as right and present as they could possibly be.
There's no fat on these songs at all; at only 8 tracks it doesn't outstay its welcome, and there's enough variation in the riffs to satisfy both the casual and ardent listener. The lyrics seem to be deliberately less amusing than on previous albums ('Less Is Roger Moore'/'Man Fucks Burning Goat' etc), and Barren Womb seem to be taking themselves more seriously. They touch on softer fare, with an almost singalong quality to tracks like 'Mad 187 Skills', and more pause being given within all the stomping. Talking softly doesn't diminish what you've got to say, and indeed it's rewarding to hear a band truly push what a two-piece, riff-centred construct has to offer. Those of you desperately wishing for a bit more of Norwegian-ness to be mentioned will be pleased to know that, as on previous records, there's the odd moment of blasting, which is ace.
The biggest shift is on the 7 minute closer 'Russian Handkerchief'. The press release calls it 'haunting', but there's something else lurking here; a knowing, Waits-ian quality. They also don't mention how Weezer-y the chorus is, which is something few would have predicted on the basis of the rest of the record. Carrying so much weight on such a skeletal framework makes for a compelling listen, and the track feels closer to a short film than some song by some band. In this, the latter-day spirit of Barren Womb is unveiled; a stately, intelligent rogue of a band, built on a shrieking, catatonic foundation.
If you want a bit of maturity to go with your immaturity, this is the band for you. With a back catalogue of quality material behind them, Barren Womb have clearly been building to this, and Old Money/New Lows is a triumph. Wicked.
Timo Silvola: Vocals/Drums
Tony Gonzalez: Vocals/Guitar
Theory Of Anything
Drive-Through Liquor Store
Mad 187 Skills