Cornelius Buttplug is alarmed and angry: the new Sulk Station album is not only what he thinks of as “music for housewives and spastics”, it has been met with nothing but praise, and, if there’s one thing Cornelius cannot abide, it’s praise for people who aren’t him. The elegant Larry L’amour tries to stop him from popping a blood vessel with a flick of the tongue here and a gentle fondle there: as to a child, he explains how this isn’t one of the Black Flag records he loves brawling to, and that a change of expectations might be in order, but Cornelius will not budge. His point is simple: Sulk Station make you want to neither drink, fuck, or kill yourself; what, therefore, do they exist for?
Fighting back the rising sense of injustice Larry always feels when this man, otherwise so delicious, flies off on one of his wobblies, he persists that Sulk Station aren’t a punk group and don’t need to be: they do slow, moody stuff which doesn’t try to goad a reaction out of you. You are to sit back and relax, calm yourself, feel the powdery sound float down and settle on your skin, and lose yourself in this gently glowing electronic world. It’s a matter of taste, he says.
Easier said than done: of the seven deadly sins, Cornelius does a premier line in wrath; though he’s working on his lust, gluttony, and pride: soon – if he doesn’t first cave in to cardiac arrest – he’ll be the poster child for a thousand gleeful priests. Larry, a glass of Cabernet pinched delicately at the stem and a boater on his very shapely head, begins to feel a little oppressed: love or money will not convince this brace-wearing, tobacco-chewing brute that there is a place in this world for sparse, understated grace. “He just doesn’t get the finer things”, Larry sighs.
There are many ways of coming at Sulk Station’s album. As a piece of music, it is almost austere, with little by way of immediacy: avoiding the pop verse-chorus-verse premise, it works instead with atmosphere, texture, and space. The effect is that of suggesting feelings rather than overtly stating them. It is minimal to the point that Cornelius Buttplug’s ears, attuned to clearly hammered-out grooves and major-chord singalongs, would not register anything, dismissing it instead as ambient noise. If you draw a scale for electronic music with Holy Fuck’s adrenalin rush at one end and Allison Goldfrapp’s atmospherics at the other, then Sulk Station exist further beyond still.
As, nominally, a “fusion” record, it is, by some distance, one of the most seamless I’ve heard: the Indian-Western hybrid has been staple fodder for Indian groups for donkey’s years, used more often than not as an easy way to establish a “local” identity; for once, though, the Hindustani bits sound as if they really are part of the package. The girl tackles the vocal challenges without any apparent difficulty; the arrangements drift easily from style to style.
As a product of its time and place, it has the bedroom-and-laptop air that seems to be a defining characteristic of the new wave of Indian pop. Freed from the need to be perpetually obvious, it is as eccentric as it bloody well likes to be: like all the good records cut here in the last year, it points away from arse-rock hell, towards more creative, more original, more heartfelt things.
As a piece of branding, Sulk Station do a far better job than, for instance, their scene contemporaries from Chennai: their own “mellowdramatic” tag has caught on wildly, and they run a regularly updated website with download stats, interviews, photos and all manner of other useful information: listen up, Chennai boys, here’s your role-model for not making life hard for people who might actually be interested in listening to your music.
I missed Sulk Station’s album launch show here last week, and more’s the pity. A YouTube clip of them live reveals that they pull off their stage act with flair, which is hardly easy given that this music is best heard alone, in the dark, with headphones on.
Like with all the cool little new groups out of India, I hope there’s a second record, then a third and a fourth. This arty, spare album contains enough talent, prettiness, and personality that I’m convinced they aren’t about to run dry yet. Larry L’amour is already counting the minutes; who knows, Cornelius Buttplug might come around too one day.