Paul Hawkins & The Awkward Silences ‘Outsider Pop’ (Blang Records)
The Kent estuary polymath Ian Button has made his end of the London train line home a hub for many maverick pop, folk and alternative artists over the years. The former guitarist with Death In Vegas, producer and collaborator with Darren Hayman and Mary Epworth, has brought out a series of albums himself on his own Gare Du Nord label; the last of which, under the banner of his Papernut Cambridge alter ego, Nutlets, was a Pin Ups style salute to fondly remembered songs from his youth: reinterpreted with a fond sepia glow, a collection of mostly forgotten and uncool tracks given a new lease of life.
On the third album with the gnarled antifolk troubadour Paul Hawkins, Button’s penchant for disarming the inner turmoil, isolation and beak realities of life in glorious pop washes works well on the white funk meets loosely played no wave Outsider Pop album. This pop approach works wonders with Hawkin’s often dry and resigned lyrics, which also benefits from the addition of Mary Boe, who sounds like a cross between Debbie Harry and a coy diner waitress. Boe acts as doo-wop Annie chewing gum chorus to a peeved (and for good reason) Hawkins. Though she also gets to lead at times; especially on the twee resigned Leonard Cohen does a cryogenic Disney parody, ‘Walt Will Rise Again’.
Hawkins, billed in his bio as a Daniel Johnston-esque figure, still retains the same grizzled discord as before and still follows Nick Cave into the night darkly: his eerie black comedy and twanged Gothic rock and roll spectre looms large on ‘Johnny’ and on the bell tolled plaintive ‘The Black Hound Of The Western Wood’. Yet this latest songbook collection also sounds like a vague covers LP, or a bastardised appropriation of influences rebooted for a cynically romantic take on modern life. Hawkins and his Awkward Silences enact the late great dame himself, David Bowie, on ‘The Precautionary Principle’, taking ‘China Girl’ for a spin, and steering close to the Scary Monsters era on the opening disco slop anthem ‘How We Lost The War’ – both brilliant stand out tracks from the album. The idiosyncratic blues of the ‘Day I Saved The World’ is sweetened with a languid mix of Carl Douglas and Hot Chocolate and ‘The Canonbury Witch Trials’ takes a cool ESG bass line into the murky underbelly of our dependence towards lucre. Other foibles of inspiration come from REM, The Fall, Toto and The Art Of Noise; reflecting a much broader sound than before. These no wave, white funk, pop melodies then, act as a Trojan Horse, the themes far from advocating a hedonistic lust for life or, suggesting the listener suppress the doldrums of modern life, are filled with malcontent at the state of the world.
Lethargically executed and quintessentially an antifolk statement of protest, Outsider Pop is a highly infectious album of pop parodies that penetrate the bland veneer of the contemporary irksome vacuum known as the mainstream. Shambling discontent at its finest.
Words: Dominic Valvona