Paul Hawkins & Thee Awkward Silences, new Video, new Album
With their sprawling new double disc, “Apologies to the Enlightenment” Paul Hawkins & Thee Awkward Silences have produced at once their most challenging & their most accessible work to date
Date published: 4th Mar 2010
Paul Hawkins & Thee Awkward Silences began in 2006 as a collaboration between antifolk songwriter Hawkins & former Death in Vegas guitarist turned producer & drummer Ian Button in order to develop Hawkins’ then mostly-acoustic songs into the compelling, twisted outsider pop that existed in Hawkins’ imagination. Over the next few years they evolved into a six-piece & gained a fearsome live reputation as one of the most original & uncompromising live acts in London supporting the likes of Blood Red Shoes & Wreckless Eric & gaining slots at the Latitude & Swn festivals. Debut single “The Bigger Bone” was the UK Student Radio Association’s track of the week & was followed by a glut of critically acclaimed singles & their 2008 album “We Are Not Other People”, which was crammed with wickedly twisted pop songs contrasted Hawkins’ distinctive snarl & bleakly humorous lyrics with insanely catchy singalong tunes. The band have been championed by the likes of Radio 1’s Huw Stephens who rejoiced in their “energy, individualism & off-kilter rock n’ roll” & have drawn comparisons with outsider punk champion Ian Dury, the melodrama of Nick Cave & the uncompromising post-punk of The Fall, PiL & The Pogues but have a take that is uniquely their own.
With their sprawling new double disc, “Apologies to the Enlightenment” Paul Hawkins & Thee Awkward Silences have produced at once their most challenging & their most accessible work to date. Opener “The Beasts in the Upstairs Bedroom” buzzes with menace & delves into the heart of a Suburban subconscious nightmare, “I’m In Love With a Hospital Receptionist” scrapes the romantic fantasies of a hapless hypochondriac against an almost jaunty rhythm section, the Cramps-esque “Monkey Serum” bounces on a wonky harpsichord & communal shoutalong chorus & the fuzz-pop of “Stop Making a Scene” sees Hawkins turn his frustration with the modern world on friends, inanimate objects & all else in his path. The first disc ends with two significant shifts in mood – on “Seven Inches Tall” a lonely piano motif accompanies a haunted Hawkins watching his self-esteem crumble before Krautrock-inspired behemoth (& recent single) “I’ve Had My Fun” relentlessly sears into your skill as Hawkins rages at dead end jobs, dead end societies & dead end governments over a constant cycle of despair until the whole edifice destroys itself in its crushing outro (‘The Party is over & I’m on the scrapheap/I’ve been forgotten & its been too long’)
The second disc opens with perhaps the bleakest & most startling work on the album “The Yellow Castle on the Hill” charts the despair of an institutionalised mental patient, whose remorse over the life he has missed is matched only by his fears & doubts regarding his forthcoming release. It’s poignant, touching & quite unlike anything else on this (or virtually any other) album. New single “Every Word I Say To You Today Will Be A Lie” swaggers wonderfully down the street on a bed of clomping basslines, strings & guitar screeches reminiscent of the best moments of Ian Dury & The Blockheads underpinning a lovesick Hawkins’ feverish escapist fantasies. Elsewhere underdogs like “Alexander Martin” & “Eddie The Eagle” are inhabited & used as personifications of Hawkins’ constantly questioning existential angst. “The Lowest Low” sees Hawkins’ powerful stream of consciousness augmented expertly by Kate Arnold’s cutting vocal counterpoint. The album finishes strongly with “I’ve Had My Fun” flipside “The Epilogue”, which sounds something like the grand finale of High School Musical’s deeply fucked-up older brother.
Hawkins said “it’s an album about frustration, confusion & loss of direction. About realising your qualifications are meaningless, you’re doing a job you hate, you’re no closer to any kind of meaningful long-term relationship, you’ve no idea where your life’s going & you live in a society guided by a large-number of irrational & illogical systems that you know full well make absolutely no sense but nonetheless have to abide by if you’re going to in any way exist as a functional human being. And it’s about trying to dive into that irrationality & emerge with enough misplaced hope & misguided optimism to get you through.”
Paul Hawkins & The Awkward Silences are perhaps the most idiosyncratic pop band in Britain & their latest work demands attention from the outsider in us all.