Irma Vep “Embarrassed Landscape” (Gringo Records, 2020)

Irma Vep… anagram of vampire – you saw that, right? – the name of a film made as a satirical look at the state of 90s French cinema and a musical vehicle for Edwin Stevens, originally from Llanfairfechan, North Wales now resident in Glasgow. For those whose French cinema knowledge is sketchy at best these days, we’ll focus on the final version of Irma Vep if that’s OK.

‘Embarrassed Landscape’ is the 4th full album from Irma Vep and has been a little time in the making but then recorded in just a couple of days. It opens with ‘King Kong’, a track that could end any live show in some style. A 9 minute 55-second beast, pacy instrumental for the first half, which crashes to a pause after about 5 minutes, then starts to build again, wah-wah guitar screaming across an almost jamming freestyle backing track, with a heavily reverbed angry vocal, before tumbling to an end that should really have “Glasgow! Thank you! And goodnight!” bellowed out across a cheering, baying, sweaty crowd. Phew!

The album has a mix of styles and rhythms and that tumultuous opening is followed by the thankfully more relaxed pace of ‘Disaster’, with curious chord changes, strings, excellent guitar and one of the main features of the album, the heavily reverbed vocal. This record is most definitely a different kind of folk, if indeed that’s how it is to be pigeon-holed, with heavy tinges of indie, earworm guitar hooks (most evident on ‘I Do What I Want’), well-placed strings and unexpected chord and pace changes throughout. Song durations range from that 9 minutes 55 opener through tracks as short as 2 minutes 21 and 2 minutes 54 which also help to keep the listener on his or her toes.

There is an unevenness to the album which is a little jarring on first listen but one that is almost charming on further review. The random ending to ‘Standards’, which is either a recording of the Clangers having a party or someone trying to tune into a distant radio station on an old valve set is one such example. ‘The Feeling Is Gone’ opens with bright guitars and more crashing drums, almost a touch of Neil Young, and then just pfft! it’s gone. Then there are more mournful songs, notably ‘Tears Are The Sweetest Sauce’ and standout final track ‘Canary’, with its delightful strings and twangy guitar that help build to a great climax. Without question, one of the most interesting starts and finishes to an album.

This is a busy record, there really is a lot going on. Recorded quickly, in several areas the production feels same-y and could perhaps have done with a little contrast in parts. Or maybe that was the target, in keeping with the whole lo-fi package.

I think this is a primarily a folk album – the press pack references Richard and Linda Thompson, so it must be! – albeit way out on the furthest edges of folk, with hints of indie, psychedelia, even punk. One thing it isn’t is boring.

Recording may have been hurried but a fascinating result
7/10

Author: Russell Murphy

Can't get enough of this Americana stuff. Live or recorded, it's all good to me....

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