Brett Easton Ellis has said that if American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman were alive and killing in 2013, his favourite artists would include Coldplay and Mumford & Sons. It’s easy to see why. These artists share parallels with Bateman’s canonical favourites because they’re basically designer responses to popular rock’s early tenets of abandonment and frivolity. For these neurotically neat and fussy artists, songs must be neatly shorn of that formerly celebrated mess and impulsiveness. Sentiments and melodies must be offered with clinical precision, and no ambiguity is permitted. That’s immensely important in popular music nowadays: that sense of knowing exactly what it’s about, that requisite adaptability.
By contrast, had Standish / Carlyon existed in 1985, you might initially predict the psychopath to own a copy of Deleted Scenes, because at first glance this album is fixated on a surface-level vapidity. In its glistening, oily bass lines and cocaine-glazed synth bliss, Deleted Scenes sounds like some bygone epitome of pop glamour, but also simplicity. It sounds like pop geared to assauge the delicate hearts of the terminally wealthy, but also, perhaps as an afterthought, anyone else within shouting distance of an FM radio.
But in 2013, Standish / Carlyon is none of this. I’d wager that modern Patrick Bateman would hate it.
Because Standish / Carlyon is divorced from this lineage for many reasons, not least because this is not boardroom ‘80s pop music for the burgeoning affluent, despite it wielding a lot of sounds that suggest it could have been. Born from the ashes of rock group The Devastations, Conrad Standish and Tom Carlyon have never been this fussy or precision-oriented. They’re working musicians with a limited, appreciative audience. In other words, they’re not popular. To put it indelicately, they’re ‘underground’. So Deleted Scenes is actually quite a strange and complicated album, if you assess it based on where and when it’s from. The glamour here is so remote and so mythical that it ceases to taunt or tantalise. Instead, it soaks those associations, nurtures them, and presents a kind of warped mirror that you reservedly behold.
Nothing at face value
For the past five years or more, independent pop music has not shied away from channeling these glamorous and sensual ‘80s associations. Whereas a kind of timidity or neutrality usually marks an independent pop band’s relationship with class, Standish / Carlyon, alongside the likes of Toro Y Moi and many other artists dealing in formerly ubiquitous pop tropes, seem to indirectly address it by muddying the waters. Because while Patrick Bateman may have enjoyed the affectingly uncomplicated strains of Whitney Houston or Huey Lewis and the News in the ’80s, so indeed did every-bloody-one else.
If there was any group aloof to this, this ostensibly simple and direct pop, it was the complicated and delicate middle class: the liberal educated who demand insinuation and subliminality, some kind of hidden meaning, those who hate the characters in Ellis or Martin Amis novels. Those who search out something else and, maybe, define themselves by it. And so it makes sense in 2013 that this complexity is sought in what was previously taken for granted as vapid toss. It makes sense in an age when artfully constructed and literary rock music is basically for everyone. It makes sense “post-taste”. This realm that Standish / Carlyon explore – it’s a new refuge for those people in the middle.
Standish / Carlyon apply very small doses of dub and late ‘80s industrial music to their sound, but the effects of these elements is negligible when the similarities to say, Duran Duran (‘Nono Yoyo’) or even early ‘90s euro-dance (‘Moves, Moves’) are so front and centre. Even so, these moments of pop lucity are punctured by monochrome dirges (‘2 5 1 1’) that pin the record to 2013, to a time when the mixing of these inclinations no longer cause frissons, but instead resignation. One of the best moments on Deleted Scenes is ‘Feb Love’, during which these contrasts collide: lovely, ghostly harmonies combat against Jonnine Standish’s bleakly disinterested lyric recital, and this feels epochal in a way. It sounds like the playing out of a battle between what we instinctually want, and the way we address and understand those instincts.
What is it that we instinctually want from pop though? Is it really all about us? Standish / Carlyon make an effort to look unusual. Their press shots (pictured above), in contrast to a lot of their peers, are hyper-stylised and the very opposite of the everyday. Standish / Carlyon don’t adopt conventions in order to be conventional, but perhaps instead to alienate you, to trigger that ancient sensation of pop music and pop artists being something bigger than ourselves. So while these lyrics may be platitudinal, there’s the sense that they’re coming from somewhere unusual. The outre stylistic incursions – the dub, the industrial – serve to present a pop music that shirks the oppressive relatability and intimacy many independent artists convey. Maybe, in 2013, an Australian Patrick Bateman would love Bitch Prefect, if he could suffer that voice.
Let it be?
Let’s face it: as amazing as this record is (and it is), it cannot escape the question of why. There are too many contexts here, too many references, too many potentials as to why it sounds the way it does. Standish / Carlyon, being who they are and with the background they have, cannot escape this. They’re a rock band gone rogue, playing with tools that weren’t built for them.
But maybe Deleted Scenes is archetypal in its reflection of modern independent pop’s desire to simply be in the face of an audience educated in its ways, hip to its signposts. In our late-Capitalist confusion, these distinctions remain as important as they are increasingly vague. As ‘consumers’ of non-popular music we don’t immediately know, anymore, how to address something that offers just sensation. We can’t tell if something is strange or just affected. We don’t know whether any of these is good enough, and so nothing stays forever. We shed music quickly. We churn through ideas rapidly now: too quickly for enduring philosophies and outlooks to sprout. There’s not the time to deconstruct.
Because perhaps this is just a pop record. Maybe it’s dumb. Maybe it’s vapid. I don’t know. But it’s too slippery to fit that mould in 2013. There is no neat appellation. 2013 Patrick Bateman would hate it. I think it’s incredible.
Standish / Carylon’s Deleted Scenes is available through Chapter Music.