Album Review/Dominic Valvona

The Awkward Silences ‘ST’
(Blang Records) 27th November 2020

Making a bolshie return with the first album in five years, the annoyed and disgruntled antifolk trailblazers hit their no-wave, post-punk and shambled pop stride with a seriously great record of both offence-taken and offence-given candid rhetoric. Boasting of their rebellious dysfunctional status on the previous Outsider Pop album (which made our choice albums articles that year) of sardonic, peeved white-funk and Daniel Johnston styled resignation, The Awkward Silences make good on a (mostly forced) hiatus to deliver both songs of malcontent and vulnerability – said to be their most personal work yet.

Led once more by de facto helmsman Paul Hawkins – who corrals a band put back by mental health issues, bereavement and other such life complications – the Awkwards rattle the bar with a powered-up seething display of barely-controlled anger. As I said just now, this is a deeply personal affair. Hawkins apart from singing and writing songs and books is a disability campaigner with the Attitude Is Everything charity and newer Beyond The Music initiative (aimed at improving employment opportunities for disabled people in the music industry), and so many of the most poignant broadsides on this album are fueled by those experiences. For example, the Leonard Cohen tangos with the Bad Seeds ‘The Medical Medal’ in some ways reels at the dehumanized way science, especially gene, treat those with “defects” in their DNA code. Here Hawkins rallies against the creeping uncertainties and eugenics of curing and eradicating disabilities: the very disability that shaped and made Hawkins what and who he is: “Scientists fixed my genes for being born this way.”  

There’s a lot of inner turmoil on display; a lot of “feeling fine” but in reality struggling to cope with the overbearing miasma of mental illness and the dark thoughts, overthinking that invades a great many people in these uncertain, pandemic times.  You can hear that on both the disarmingly ironic malaise of both ‘Everything Will Probably Be Fine’ and the following, cracked actor, ‘Pretending To Be Fine’. The first of which features Mary Boe in a sort of daydream mode, channeling Kirsty McCall as she convinces herself that life isn’t a pile of crushed potentials and worn down mundanity – looking for the little wins, such as supermarket bargains. The second of those far-from-fine couplets pushes together PiL and Altered Images for more mental fatigues.

Elsewhere Hawkins finds social interaction etiquette as complicated as ‘Quantum Physics’; fires a clever sneering broadside at that obnoxious and plainly untruthful adage of the “self-made man”, and the misconceptions of what really makes someone working class in the first place, as definitions shift, to a mix of Attila The Stockbroker and Art Brut; and harasses the office dictate of “organized fun” to a backing track of The Auteurs and gospel organ.

The most unusual track however on this entire album is the band’s curtain call, ‘The New World’, which recently also took the finale spot on Blang Records recent anniversary compilation Scratchcard – reviewed last month on the blog. Theme wise taking its cue from The Village People’s ‘Go West’, the Awkwards go for willful optimism in bleak times, taking that old adage that “our best days haven’t happened yet” as they narrate a John Mouse meets The Rakes style bruiser travail about the American settlers. Like a needled David Byrne marauding over a soundtrack of Boots For Dancing, Delta 5, Moonshake, even a lo fi Cars (on the Stiff Records, if it did disco, disgruntled ‘Getting Ready Fro My Life To Begin’), Hawkins and his troupe make a damn fine record; an indictment on the state of dysfunctional Britain. It’s good to have them back and on form; just as unique and rebellious as ever. 

See also:

Paul Hawkins & The Awkward Silences ‘Outsider Pop’  (Here…)

Blang Records ‘Scratchcard’  (Here..)

Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog monolithcocktail.com For the last ten years I’ve featured and supported music, musicians and labels we love across genres from around the world that we think you’ll want to know about. No content on the site is paid for or sponsored and we only feature artists we have genuine respect for /love. If you enjoy our reviews (and we often write long, thoughtful ones), found a new artist you admire or if we have featured you or artists you represent and would like to buy us a coffee at https://ko-fi.com/monolithcocktail to say cheers for spreading the word, then that would be much appreciated.

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