The phrase I keep seeing in connection with Pin-Up Went Down is avant-garde. I am as pretentious as the next man, yet I feel signallly under qualified to evaluate their second album 342 on such a basis. The problem is that on paper, they very well might be avant-garde, whatever the flip that is supposed to mean. They’re doing this whole thing of drawing together wildly disparate influences, from electronica to funk, and creating a gothic metal post-modern patchwork pastiche that is intended to both satisfy and surprise.
To my ears though, it just sounds like a load of bobbins, and cut from whole cloth, at that. And in such circumstances, the phrase avant-garde becomes an escape clause. I probably just don’t ‘get’ it. Maybe I should take my cloth ears back to my safe-zone of smug, comfortable, stoner psychedelia and just get lost there, eh?
Even though I’m about unleash a big, orange, slug-esque turd upon this record, I want to get something clear at the off, just so we know where it is that we are standing. Pin-Up Went Down are fucking monumentally talented. Alexis Damien is responsible for all of the instruments here, and he is evidently a technical wizard, right down to his gnarled, gallic wand made of petrified wood. Principal vocalist Asphodel, similarly, is possessed of a staggering vocal range. Part of being technically proficient, though, is knowing when to rein it in a bit, and that’s something Pin-Up Went Down still need to figure out.
In a way, it’s the Keelhaul dilemma all over again. Where Subject to Change Without Notice made a similar wide palette of influences fucking sparkle, their last record Triumphant Return to Obscurity just sounded like a mess to me, and never, ever gelled, and I still don’t really quite know why. I don’t think Keelhaul have ever been called avant-garde though, so I got away with my credibility intact on that occasion.
A fun game to play while listening to 342 is to try and spot the bands Pin-Up Went Down are nicking ideas off of. Make a list, then feed it into Wordle and exclaim gleefully as the words Evanescence, Tool, and A Perfect Circle smash boisterously out of the borders of your monitor, in 10,000pt MS Comic Sans. Besides them, it’ll run the gamut from Portishead, to Faith No More, to Bjork, to the horrifying funk-metal of Infectious Grooves, to sodding Aqua.
Put like that, it might sound quite appealing, but it all feels loose and buttery, hard to get a grip on. I’m all for diverse influences, but you’ve got to have some vision in order to find a way to synthesise them into a consistent, finished product that holds water, rather than a ragged sequence of leaps between a bunch of entirely unrelated stepping stones. One bit never seems to segue logically into the next, and it’s really difficult to find a unifying thread in any of it.
The one song I genuinely dig is Escargot, which isn’t really like anything else here, in that it maintains a single idea throughout, while still managing to be interesting. A nice, simple winding vocal lead, self-harmonising, tops a rhythm made of nothing more than an engaged-telephone signal. As to the rest of it, there is only this to say: for as interesting and quirky as it tries to be, it doesn’t half bore me. Also, their first record was called 2 Unlimited. Good choice.
I mean, 342 is not out-and-out terrible. The individual bits that it is made of are actually all very good, in and of themselves. Perhaps my cruelty is exaggerated, based on the fact that other reviewers seem utterly bowled over by it. And, as arrogant as I am, I am led to assume that the novelty of metal calling itself art is frightening and exclusionary enough to have them scrambling up its beaches, as if it is an island in a flood, just so they’re not seen to miss the point. I can sympathise, because the avant-garde label alone is enough to make me wonder if there’s something I’m missing. But even if there is, I don’t care enough to make an effort to look for it.