Patrick Bateman Vs. Standish / Carlyon – Deleted Scenes reviewed


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.


Deleted Scenes: Standish / Carlyon Interviewed


Deleted Scenes, the debut record by Standish / Carlyon, seems like a complete reinvention. The duo of Conrad Standish and Tom Carlyon made up two thirds of The Devastations, and while that group’s last album – 2010’s darkly sensual Yes U – contained hints of what’s offered on this debut, the sounds on Deleted Scenes are likely to seem jarring to fans of the older band. On this record, the duo has joined an entirely different orbit. The trappings of rock music have been emphatically cemented over, finally.

Deleted Scenes sounds like a strange combination of 1980s smooth pop and the darker industrial leanings of that era. If you can imagine Roxy Music playing with a drowsy early Coil, with all the proto-techno associations that may conjure, you’re kinda close to the mark. The new album is surprising, sure, but it feels like an honest and – most importantly – natural progression. It reconfigures The Devastations as a strange pop band shackled to a rock ensemble. Listen to Deleted Scenes divorced from what you think you know about these songwriters, and you’ll find much to enjoy. Basically, it doesn’t sound like a couple of rock guys dabbling in something weird. It works.

I spoke to Conrad Standish over the phone last week. At the time he was about a day into an effort to give up cigarettes “after years and years of abuse”. He nonetheless dealt with me very graciously. The duo is playing the Gasometer in Melbourne on Friday night with Roland Tings.

For a little bit of context surrounding the references to HTRK, Conrad is married to Jonnine from that band.

The new record is a pretty big stylistic shift for you, would you agree?
It doesn’t necessarily seem like that to me, because things evolved over a few years [during which] I guess it looks like we were inactive. It doesn’t feel that way to me, it feels like a fairly natural thing. If you hadn’t heard anything from us in the last couple of years, it could seem like a shock. On the last album in The Devastations we were exploring a bit of this stuff, so it’s not that weird.

Why isn’t this a Devastations record?
I don’t know really. It certainly wasn’t a conscious thing where we wanted to get rid of Hugo [Cran, drummer for The Devastations]. I guess it’s not a Devastations record because we don’t want to have a drummer, basically. Maybe two years ago when we started to write for this, we were enjoying the dynamic of just the two of us, so we felt like it was important to make it a new thing.

Does it feel like starting again?
It does actually, for sure. It really does. But that’s cool too.

Are there any difficulties that come with starting again, after having established a name?
I don’t know, it’s probably easier in some ways because I mean we had kinda a name I guess, but the hard thing for us was learning how to do this shit live. I guess we came from a trad band arrangement, so learning how to do a lot of these things was a learning curve live. But it’s been good largely, we’re really enjoying it.

You said before that the shift is natural to you, but the audience might not see it that way. Was there anything that triggered this shift? Was it London? Were you getting fed up with rock music? What was the reason?
I guess I was getting fed up with rock music. But also just years of slowly hearing about new things, and getting influenced by different things, and years of living in London. I guess that [living in London] got me into dub in a massive way. My wife and I used to live in a Jamaican area in London and we were exposed to that vibe, it rubbed in. It’s five years worth of listening to records. It’s nothing too sinister.

It must be strange coming back to Melbourne. Melbourne at the moment – and I guess always has been – fairly fond of traditional rock ensemble music.
You do feel that, but there are lots of interesting people working in other fields.

In terms of other fields, what are you enjoying?
Angel Eyes I think is really good. Superstar. Kangaroo Skull. Zanzibar Chanel has been a good addition to the live scene. HTRK, but they’ve been around for a while. Roland Tings. There’s a lot that’s happening here.

I’ve only listened to the record about five times, but…
Is that enough? Is five times enough for you?

It’s not always, but I think I have a feel for it. One of my impressions is that previously I’ve found your songwriting very frank and vivid. The “child bearing hips” in ‘Sex and Mayhem’ come to mind, and the song ‘I Don’t Want To Lose You Tonight’. But now your lyrics seem more cryptic. It’s not as visually vivid. Has your approach shifted?
I still think it’s very visually conceptualised, but I’m writing less about myself now. When I was younger I would take everything down in almost like a diary entry way. I feel like that’s how a lot of artists approach songwriting when they’re starting out. But yeah, I’m less interested in myself and more interested in other things outside of that. But I won’t tell you what those things are, but I’m writing about those things. Escapism really. [laughs]


I was wondering whether there was anything philosophically connecting HTRK and Standish/Carlyon at this point in time? The sounds aren’t exactly the same, but they share a bit in common mood wise, I think.
I know that this is probably going to come up a bit. You know, we’re family obviously. Years of living overseas with each other, me and Nigel shared a lot of music with each other and have done for years. It is safe to say that quite often we’re interested in a lot of the same things, which I guess is a natural progression of being around each other all the time for many years, and having many highs and lows.

One thing that I’ve identified on the new album is an ‘80s adult pop aesthetic – particularly the canned handclaps during ‘Moves Moves’, and a lot of the synth lines remind me of smooth radio pop from the ‘80s. Do you identify that in your music?
To a certain extent. I love a lot of that kind of stuff – The Art of Noise is quite a big influence. I love these dudes that make highly highly chic but weird kind of pop. I guess later period Roxy Music, the Avalon album was the height of yuppie fantasies. In fact I was quite interested in yuppie culture when I was writing the record. But you’re right – I love ‘80s adult pop.

You’ve spent a lot of time in London, Berlin and Melbourne over the last ten years. In which of those cities have you felt most creatively potent?
In all honesty, London. Though all three of those worlds have things that have attracted me to them in the first place. My wife and I moved home to Melbourne last year for family reasons – we had to be here to deal with emergencies – so it wasn’t a planned move home. But there are certain things about the Melbourne scene that I like. It’s easy to get things happening here. In London it can be a pain in the arse even to get to a show, lugging amps in cabs… it can be difficult. All three of these places have very intense vibes to them, and I get different things out of each of them. But in Melbourne, it’s so expensive to live here at the moment, I’m not even sure how long I can stay.

I noticed the same thing in Sydney, moving from London – traditionally it’s been the other way around.
When we first moved over to Berlin in 2003, it felt like a city full of runaways. That was a really fun vibe, and there were loads of Americans, loads of weird Norwegians, and everyone was on the run from something. It was this weird island. When we first arrived, reasonably quickly we were taken under the wing of Einsturzende Neubauten, which felt hugely validating for us and exciting. I was in my early 20s. I couldn’t believe that we were in this world all of the sudden. But it’s a lifestyle over there that can really wear you down. That’s what it did to us.

What kind of lifestyle? Is it hard to get work? Why was it hard?
It was hard to get work, and we were surviving off our music at that point. It was more the fact that it’s a 24 hour culture. There’s always something on, and I don’t think that any of us at that point had the self-discipline necessary to know when to reign it in. We had a winter there where every night we’d be home at 8 or 9 in the morning, and we’d wake up at 4 in the afternoon, so we’d never see sunlight, for months. That does things to your brain.

Did Berlin influence the more electronic leanings on Yes U and on the new record?
No. It was more London than Berlin.

Have you always played around with the electronic instrumentation, or have you learnt it recently?
It’s something that I’ve had to learn, but I personally am still a bass player. Tom mainly handles the electronic side of things. I know my way around an 808 but I’m not a sequencing whiz by any means.

Now that the record is finished, do you like it?
Yeah, I really like it. It’s been finished for a while. The fact that I still like it now after longer than I’ve ever sat on a record, yeah I think it’s great. I’m super happy with it. We now just want to move onto the next thing, mentally at least. So we feel like we’re ahead of the game.

Is there any anxiety with how the record will be recieved?
That’s something that you can’t control. You can’t force people to like you, and while I’m sure every artist will say things along these lines, everyone wants to be appreciated, but there’s nothing you can do about that. You just have to do what you do. Me and TOm make music for ourselves. If other people are into it, that’s great. We can’t afford to worry about whether anyone will like it or not.


Standish / Carlyon will play at the Gasometer in Melbourne on Friday night. Their debut LP Deleted Scenes is out through Chapter Music in May.