Irma Vep – the alter-ego/passion project of Manchester based Welsh multi-instrumentalist Edwin Stevens is an act with no time for musical social graces. Self-described as, ‘Songs about shit and stuff’, with a tagline of, ‘Ruining your day, every day since 1987’, the fifth Irma Vep album takes pride in its own aggressive inaccessibility.
Its clear from the very opener – an eleven minute shoegaze colossus, ‘A Woman’s Work is Never Done’ – that Steven’s latest effort is a work intended to be analysed and appreciated rather than enjoyed. And that’s fine to a point, but by the nightmarish breakdown of the ending, Stevens’ apparent desire to challenge his listener begins to border on the downright sadistic. ‘Womans Work’ sadly becomes, in retrospect, a microcosm of the album, and possibly of Irma Vep overall – neat at first, then dragging a bit, then mired in its own self-satisfaction.
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As the album progresses, the very track names make one begin to realise just how aware Stevens must be of the precocious hue of his output. ‘It Runs Slow’ does indeed. ‘Plod’ is mercifully brief by contrast, but just as irreverent, a zany 45 second filler track with a ‘for the sake of it’ smell to it. ‘Hey, You’ with its simplistic Moldy Peaches vibe is a nice breather – until it ends in clapping. Stevens is for the most part a solo artist, and this is not a live album – leaving one left with the conclusion that, ironically or not, he couldn’t get through five songs without applauding himself.
By ‘The Moaning Song’ the ‘experimental’ and ‘total self indulgence’ – a hazy one in the world of psychedelia – has been leapfrogged. There are few situations where anyone should be expected to listen to a Welshman making agonised cat noises over a generic Western soundtrack unless you hold some kind of certificate in mental health evaluation.
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Its not until the latter half of the album that Stevens relaxes somewhat on the frills and allows the more traditionally structured songs to display some raw emotion – between ‘I Want to Be Degraded’ ‘You Know I’ve Been Ill’ and ‘Still Sorry’ there’s a palpable sense of inner agony and frustration – would it wound Stevens to know he’s at his most interesting on the most conventional tracks?
Its apparent Stevens is talented – he couldn’t really be five albums deep if he wasn’t – but talented in a smarmy, ‘let me masturbate into your ear for 42 minutes’ way. The rare melodic moments where the music isn’t attacking you aren’t really distinctive enough to warrant battling with it, and if the lyrics are in any way profound, he’s warped them too much to notice. Its hard to imagine what would possess a person to watch this live, unless perhaps they wanted to experience a period of extremely gloomy self-reflection peppered with occasional panic attacks. Those for whom this appeals – good luck to you.