The Sound of the Ladies - We Went To the Bottom of the Ocean

Owain Paciuszko 04/10/2010

Rating: 3/5

Self-referencing lead track What we did with our lives is a slight, ruffled little number with muted electric guitar chugging along jazzily in the background of Martin Austwick's glum and wry vocal; 'I should have gone to Cambridge and been recruited as a spy.' It saunters off like a drunk wandering down a rain speckled street singing a little tune to himself, before the album title track takes up the reins; it's a wonky guitar ballad referencing 'erectile disfunction' and 'Thunderbird 4' like Neil Young reading from Beck's songbook. Austwick's modus operandi seems to be that he finds a tune, enjoys playing it for a bit, starts deconstructing it with asides and surreal humour, before letting the song tumble away. It's an interesting approach on the one hand, but it also has the flavour of someone giving up on themself at other times.

Department of Homeland Security breaks the mold though, beginning as a lamentful ballad before transforming into Jarvis Cocker doing supper club jazz. It still lumbers to a finale, which is apt considering the lyric; 'Got drunk, fell off an oil rig.' But, to me, Austwick seems to - on occasion - be belittling his own talent, casting it aside with a joke. Up! Went my dreams seems like a more serious affair, even if it does sound like Jeff Buckley goes ukelele, it's a jaunty and bubbly tune having a rich and quirky arrangment.

Meanwhile Every Single One features Austwick dueting with his own falsetto to particularly wonderful effect, occasionally disappearing off onto folk verses like two songs sticky-taped together or occasionally blugeoned into one, like hammering a square peg into a round hole. Maudlin Bank Burns Down is almost, by stark contrast, too serious, it builds towards a bitter finale that turns into a country-tinged sway.

A looped drum beat begins which has an arch-rock quality to it, Austwick's vocal swaggers over the backing like a club singer crooned Echo and the Bunnymen tune. Elsewhere, The '40s never died is a nice little tune, building slowly and steadily with Austwick in particularly self-effacing mode during a tongue-in-cheek 'best of' list. Closing track Wash the sleep from my eyes, for one day I'll have to wake is a bittersweet and erratic ballad with an air of finality to it, Austwick's vocal giving it the feel of a closing number, which momentarily gives the record more structure than it actually has. His voice builds in fervour, and is surprisingly accompanied by military drumming and swoonsome waves of electric guitar which sends the record out on a flutter of a high.

For all my gripes and negativity I do like Austwick's style, it just never seems to be harness into a song that I like from start to finish! There are bits and bobs here and there across the entirity of this record, and it's never a boring listen, but neither is it a satisfying album.