This is how it should be done. A couple of weeks ago, a vestigial twitch of the ludicrous notion that if one has nothing kind to say one should say nothing at all found me unconvincingly playing the solicitous social worker while gently pointing out that some hapless turn’s first album wasn’t, shall we say, likely to win them any Ivor Novellos. If only Laki Mera had arrived at the same time to provide a little perspective, I could have saved all concerned a lot of mealy-mouthed faux-niceness and just admitted it was piss-poor. But The Proximity Effect is not merely better than piss-poor. It’s the most confident debut I’ve heard in a good while. It has the calm authority of musicians who know exactly what they want to do, are prepared to work stupid hours to realise and perfect it, and who couldn’t give a rat’s cock what anybody else thinks. I’m enjoying it more with each listen.
Laki Mera is – mostly – a vehicle for the songs of vocalist/guitarist Laura Donnelly. But the finished product is very much a collaboration between Donnelly, bassist/programmer/producer Andrea Gobbi and the other two band members. Although they appear to be primarily a studio entity – this record is fucking pristine, in a good way – Gobbi still manages to capture an unregimented, organic sound, and I’m sure they have no trouble 'cutting it' live. They’re partial to a spot of geeky wordplay – the album’s title is a sound engineering term as well as a statement of its themes of love and estrangement – so maybe the act’s name deliberately echoes 'chimera'. One sense, 'a wild and unrealistic dream or notion', evokes the single-minded artistic focus and ambition at play here, while 'a fabulous beast made up of parts taken from other animals' points to both the collaborative and the genre-bending aspects of their work. Oh, and 'la' grounds the whole caboodle in a (musical) femininity, a quiet assertiveness, the lack of any blustery need to impress.
Perhaps this kind of gender stereotype, even applied only to music, is as offensive as its opposite. And perhaps I’m reading too much into things. But that’s my job, innit. Trying to describe what stuff sounds like is so… Nineties. Nevertheless, The Proximity Effect will stand a bit of that, if only to locate it in a contemporary Sound Of Young Scotland. Donnelly’s voice occasionally reminds me of Emma Pollock and Campbells Isobel and Tracyanne, although all of that could just be her accent, and really she’s a much more self-possessed (read: better) singer than any of the above, more like a less wilful Jane Siberry (um, OK, so Siberry’s not Scottish. But Canada’s a bit like Scotland, isn’t it?) And, while sometimes the combination of acoustic guitar and ticklish programming – 'folktronica', if you must, although how we arrived at a point where a dead dog can be described as folk music if it has an acoustic guitar on it is beyond me – is reminiscent of the Pictish Trail or a Scottish Psapp, Laki Mera happily sport a number of other hats. I’d sooner file them alongside the more eclectic, poppier likes of the Phantom Band, the Burns Unit or (especially) Swimmer One, whose 2007 debut The Regional Variations is an unsung classic of the last decade.
The obvious criticism you’d find levelled at Laki Mera is that they’re a little too understated, too smooth, too Nineties coffee shop. I understand that. I’m as egregious a Stretchheads-enabler as the next psychopath, and try as I might I just cannot be arsed to listen to anything the Blue Nile did after A Walk Across The Rooftops. But to damn this record in those terms is too simplistic, too surface. It’s the same kind of category error as the ones that would deem Dummy somehow 'safer' than Third, or ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ somehow more harrowing than ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’. For all its high-tech, low-budget precision, The Proximity Effect is as 4 REAL as a suture, and even if the piggies who are bringing it to market fuck up and Laki Mera disappear without trace – stranger, unluckier things have happened – I suspect we’ll be hearing from its two main protagonists for some time to come.
8Chris Trout's Score