As a fan of Earl Brutus, I was excited to hear that Jamie (Jim) Fry, Gordon King, Stuart Borman, and Shinya Hayashida, decided to form a new band, The Pre New, with Laurence Bray and Stuart Weldon. Their debut album, Music for People Who Hate Themselves, was released on April 2, and it covers an astounding amount of musical ground while remaining a cohesive, fascinating record. There’s an arty knowingness to their genre play and topical lyrical content that reminds me of other witty glam fans like Luke Haines and Lawrence (as much as Haines would likely loathe being compared to Lawrence). However, they also retain that trashier glam rock element that reminds me of a band like Sigue Sigue Sputnik. But perhaps due to their arty knowingness and trashy glam, the Pre New recall their earlier incarnation, Earl Brutus, most of all. The band’s description of themselves:
Imagine, for a moment, a modernist decadent block of flats from the 1950s, a work of art, utopian, a design for living. The building becomes rejected, vandalised and defecated in and is nearly ruined by the events and attitudes of the 1970s. Now in the first part of the 21st century it has now been fully refurbished into beautiful expensive designer apartments on sale in Foxtons in Shoreditch…That is what The Pre New is.
The focus may have shifted from Barratt Homes (see Earl Brutus’s “Blind Date”) to Foxtons, but the Pre New is still very much a continuation, hyper-conscious of its own self-reflexivity. According to Fry, the British Rail logo on the cover art acts as both a tribute to the late Earl Brutus vocalist/lyricist, Nick Sanderson, and as a symbol for the tension and dynamism of opposing forces, Newton’s third law of motion co-opted into the realm of musical pop art. While the colours used in the cover art could reference the Sex Pistols, Fry says they’re actually the colours used in this season of Polo Ralph Lauren. This ambiguity and possibility, this tension between past and future creates a pushmi-pullyu of musical and lyrical references. The record is threaded with the suspension of anticipation, the reminder of modernist impulses in limbo with unfulfilled futures. One of Earl Brutus’s most famous lines was “You are your own reaction” from “The SAS and the Glam That Goes With It.” In many ways, Music for People Who Hate Themselves uses reaction as both a response to past events and re-action as in action repeated. Incidentally, the entry for “reaction” in my Oxford thesaurus provides this example of usage: “a reaction against modernism is inevitable”; the Pre New appears to be the inevitable reaction against the post-modern reaction. It feels like they are reaching back to a time before the 90s buzzword “new.” The Pre New sits on the brittle chest of the whole hauntology music genre and pummels it with incendiary fervour.
The record roars into life with the snotty spitfire of “I, Rockstar,” exhorting you to burn down Foxtons. Halfway through its unhinged chaos, it breaks into a heavy dose of nasal sighing that recalls “(Curtsy)” from Earl Brutus’s Your Majesty…We Are Here. Foxtons appears for the second time in “Cathedral City Comedown,” which mocks “the perfect recipe” of bourgeois life and the “death of England.” Sneering, bashing rock drifts into a psychedelic detour before driving back with a vengeance, augmented by grungy banks of synth buzz. This railing against the significance of property ownership in conjunction with “civilization” status ends with Borman reciting poetry about roundabouts, pound shops, Letraset, the rotting ripeness of England, and of course, the burning of Foxtons. The humourous melancholy of contemporary society is lampooned again in the first single to precede the album, “Do You Like My New Hair?,” which I first heard when Jeremy Deller sat in for Jarvis Cocker on his Sunday Service show last year. Suffused with razor-sharp synths and plashy guitars, it’s the sunniest, most indie pop song on the album. Fry sings “Text me/SMS me…M and S me/S and M me/B and Q me,” conflating consumerism and communication culture. The Pre New return to the emptiness of real estate in the track “In the Perfect Place,” which features Sarah Cracknell. It’s an alternately snarling and glimmering Kraftwerkian track that provides a perfect balance between the dreamy Cracknell and the heavily vocodered Fry. Fry sings like a forlorn appliance while Cracknell, known for her breathy coolness on Saint Etienne tracks, sings details that an estate agent would likely point out to interested buyers. Though Cracknell is ostensibly the only human element to the song, she sounds like a shiny android agent. Fry’s vocodered pronouncements continue on “Albion (You’ve Done Nothing Wrong),” which was released as a single on Valentine’s Day this year. It sounds like a pile driver dirge and was supposedly originally intended to be chucked into Buckingham Palace’s backyard in time for the Royal Wedding. Instead, the song becomes an absurdist indictment of England as a whole. The country is satirized with appropriately shallow acronyms like “lol” and “omg.” In addition to the second appearance of the archaically modern Letraset, the Pre New deride the instant, superficial celebrity of Susan Boyle with the line, “I, too, dreamed the dream/Karaoke machine/Obviously.” The song concludes with haunting, almost robotic, lines from Samuel Beckett’s enigmatic, Beethoven-referencing television play The Ghost Trio. In a brilliant correspondence with Earl Brutus’s “You are your own reaction,” and this current band’s name, The Ghost Trio is divided into acts entitled “Pre-action,” “Action,” and “Re-action.” Beckett’s motifs of waiting and time provide the perfect shades of gray for this album’s themes.
The short interlude of “A Song for People Who Hate Themselves” is a sleazy saunter of a tune with drums banging away like the swinging hips of a cartoon femme fatale as Borman recites lines like “bring me the head of Susan Boyle” over top. It is a reply and extension to Earl Brutus’s “On Me Not In Me.” As he repeats a bitter “now what?,” he seems disappointed by the state of futuristic imaginings, but he is also daring you to attempt a response. His remark of “we slide this way/we slide that way” could be an acknowledgement of the band’s ambiguous flux and the album’s ongoing slippage between genres. “I Believe in Jackie” is a foray into surf-rock guitar twang, which melts into a pumping electronic groove, signaling the rock-dance dichotomy of following track, “A Night on Leather Mountain,” the DAF-referencing disco paean with camp macho vocals. Snarling guitars smash into 8-bit figures as Fry announces “I need disco/I need Berlin.” The song then transitions into an instrumental ambience with a woman speaking over top of ghostly German radio transmissions. She discusses the stagnated waiting of the Cold War, and ends with “It never kicked off,” which could just as well be applied to the hopes of modernism in general, before the track bursts into blistering, epic synthpop.
Stuttering electro and cabaret/vaudeville merge to create the next brief interlude “The New Black Hole.” Slinking ride cymbal accompanies visions of an apocalyptic Los Angeles, already referenced in earlier songs, and then the track swiftly expands into “The Pre New Anthem,” a modernist manifesto as rave anthem. Fry intones “This is a premix/This is a preview/We came before you /We were brand new/We are Pre New/This is what we do.” Earl Brutus crops up once again in the lyric “Action time/Satisfaction/You are your own reaction” along with further references to Pop Art, futurism, and the death drive. It ends with what sounds like the TARDIS, a machine for another cult time traveller, which is highly apt for what follows: the only song fully recovered and resuscitated from the last days of Earl Brutus, “Teenage Taliban.” It begins with a profanity-laden brawl, breaking glass, and car alarms, and then goes on to poke fun at the ridiculous rules and tyranny of adolescence with the freedom of middle-age perspective. The closing track, “Transfer,” is an ethereal wisp of a song that foregrounds the sound of measured exhalation, which now recalls both the opening track “I, Rockstar,” and in turn, “(Curtsy)”. It is literally the breathing room at the end of the record; with its flatline of synths, tendrils of glockenspiel, and minimalist drum machine beats, it ends up becoming nearer to a cathedral of ventilation. The sound of breath could be that of trepidation or meditation. Nearly four minutes into the song, it merges into an echoey swirl of Earl Brutus, eventually ending with “The SAS and the Glam That Goes With It.” It’s like hearing a song from another room. Or opening a stage door into the past. As the chant of “You are your own reaction” fades into oblivion, you’re left with a bittersweet sense of palimpsest. While it could have just been another reference to Letraset, “Transfer” instead becomes a poignant, out-of-time tribute.
There are specters on Music for People Who Hate Themselves: lost friends, lost futures. Nevertheless, there are also vibrant comments firmly grounded in the present, moving forward on an alternative trajectory. This album is a response to personal and collective pasts through an energetic repetition and refashioning. This band is an industrial project for the cyberspace age. Since unfortunately so few bands seem to have picked up the Earl Brutus torch, the Pre New had to step in. They are their own reaction.
You can stream and purchase Music for People Who Hate Themselves on Soundcloud.