So….let me tell you a story.
Six weeks ago I was fortunate enough to chance upon London/Berlin duo Lea Porcelain live in a tiny, claustrophobic sweat box on a Sunday afternoon. As the Spring rays weakly shone outside, I stood mesmerised and transfixed in my subterranean bunker for thirty minutes of dry ice, strobing white lights and a seemingly never-ending guttural throb of post punk, post industrial, ear-shredding…noise. It was so magnificent that it moved our Albums Editor to declare it was his high watermark of the weekend, as he walked off to watch IDLES!
It was with more than a modicum of excitement, therefore, that I approached Hymns To The Night, the debut by Julien Bracht and Markus Nikolaus. Let me save you all some time and cut to the chase. If you’re a sucker for early 80s miserablism then please continue reading, chances are you’re in for a treat. That’s not to say Lea Porcelain are doom mongers, far from it but they emit a deeply unsettling racket which turns the sky dark and my legs to jelly. This is particularly visible on Similar Familiar with vocals that are either deeply heartfelt or sung by a man who is being tortured with a medieval instrument.
The consistency across the piece is remarkable for a debut release, every song drips with atmosphere and a joyous, uplifting agony. Even the brief, yet sparse, White Noise confounds as its simplicity just serves to unnerve even the most hardened of musical constitutions. The references to The Cure and Joy Division cannot be glossed over and ignored, simply because Lea Porcelain come across as a supergroup amalgam of those two brooding heavyweights. The fact they hail from Berlin merely adds some further mystique which may not be the case if I knew they lived in Exeter, for example.
Only on recent single Bones do the lads show any sign of cheering up, although they still manage to evoke the stroppyness of Kevin and Perry as they pulse through another tale of lost love in a world none of us really understand anymore.
Having lived with Hymns To The Night for the last month I still haven’t worked it out, every listen finds yet another nuance I had previously missed and the pervading feeling is one of rapturous, inclusive isolation. Yeah, work that one out for yourselves! What I am still struggling to articulate is the chasm between Lea Porcelain the studio artists and Lea Porcelain the live act. The album is clever, complex, intricate and bathed in the fading glow of 80s nostalgia. Live, however, the band are a visceral, immediate experience, one which leaves you haunted and more than a little punch drunk.
Hymns To The Night concludes with Endlessly which is the only time they put a foot wrong, it recalls The Unforgettable Fire and there is never any excuse to resurrect that memory. Debuts albums come and debut albums go but occasionally someone tries to resuscitate life into an old formula and on that basis alone the Lea Porcelain lads should be applauded.