Lowlife - Permanent Sleep
It has long been axiomatic to me that post-punk was both the forerunner and progenitor of both dream pop and jangle pop. The Smiths seem to indicate the latter, but finidng a link to the former was not so easy. But in the same way that 47 million year old fossilised skeleton of a small mammal is now seen as the ancestor, the missing link between apes and men, so Lowlife are the post-punk ancestor, the missing link with jangle pop and dream pop.
This is not just because bassist Will Heggie was formerly of the Cocteau Twins, perhaps the leading dream pop band of their era. No, listen to the album and you will spot the link instantly. The first three tracks, "Coward's Way", "As It Happens" and "Mother Tongue", are all post punk musically, but with a deep male voice pushed to the background overlaying them, heavy with echo to the extent that you can barely make out what the lyric is, and the connection with dream pop becomes instantly clear. The next track, "Wild Swan", which is probably the best track on the album, is unmistakeably jangle pop. Those guitars could be nothing else. At long last, then, I have found it. Lowlife are a musical Ida, the missing link. It's all here. It all falls into place.
The album itself is, as you might expect, an odd mixture of the some rather weird production and typical post-punk miserableness. Craig Lorentsen, the vocalist, does a more than passable job at conveying the moodiness of the band and the era, but his voice is rather limited to a deep, back of the throat singing style. It suits the band, but it does have its limitations. The principal one is lack of clarity, which the aforementioned production does little to make up for. However, the sound is redeemed by the quality of the guitars, clear cascading chords in the mold of the Chameleons, clearly evident in tracks like "Permanent Sleep" and "Sometime Something" which featured off their 1985 EP, Rain, which is included here on this reissue.
The result of this combination of styles is a satisfying but occasionally mystifying album. Permanent Sleep gained much in terms of critical reviews when it was issued, but like many bands of the era, they were largely overlooked and passed by most people, including myself. But while listening to the album it is easy to forget about virtually everything and allow yourself to be carried away by the music. The extensive use of echo on the vocals imparts a truly dreamy quality to the songs, reminiscent even of darkwave, though I would not go as far as to cite this as a link to that genre. But it should not be overlooked that this is music which fitted well with the times, and the often gloomy and bleak futurescape that was Thatcher's Britain at its height.
So, if you are a fan of post-punk, jangle pop or dream pop, this must be regarded as an essential album. Not necessarily because of its associations with all three genres, but because it encapsulates so much of what the times were all about. Post-punk may have died shortly afterwards; dream pop may have evolved into something sparse, only coming to life again when married to the feeback of the Jesus and Mary Chain's Psychocandy; while jangle pop delivered some classic, yet largely overlooked music from the House of Love and the Stars of Heaven. But in Permanent Sleep all three genres may have found a common home.
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