Say Psych: Album Review: Viagra Boys – Welfare Jazz



Viagra Boys Sebastian Murphy dreams about everyone hating his guts. A lot. “I kept having this recurring nightmare where my mom was crying and my friends were all pissed off at me,” he recalls, almost reverently. The band’s latest, Welfare Jazz out last week doesn’t bargain with the anxiety in that defeated feeling, but rather a boiling certainty that nothing and no one is absolute. There’s plenty of blame to go around, and things are just a lot more interesting when you admit that you’re not always going to be nice, you’re not always going to pick the right words in a fist-fight. So why not keep moving forward, swaying and strutting into the night.

Since their founding in 2015, the Swedish post-punkers have made a name for themselves burning up stages around the world. There’s a little Iggy Pop spit and seethe, a David Yow drunken stumble, and a bite of Nick Cave’s haunted bark. Add a dash of motorik groove, a pinch of post-punk grime, and a dose of no wave howl. For every gruff and gritty croak in the outfit’s catalogue, they come back with a pair of bongos, squared-off synths, and a squonky saxophone. Throughout Welfare Jazz, Murphy digs into the absurdity of the mundane and the mundanity of the absurd–like a kid sitting too close to the TV, taking the Saturday morning cartoons deadly serious and laughing at cable news, all while gobs of mashed frosted cereal threaten to spill out of his manically chewing maw.

In that reality, Murphy may not feel like a million bucks, but feeling like a hundred can be pretty damn good. Welfare Jazz comes with a special dose of hindsight in that regard. “We wrote these songs at a time when I had been in a long-term relationship, taking drugs every day, and being an asshole,” Murphy recalls. “I didn’t really realize what an asshole I was until it was too late, and a lot of the record has to do with coming to terms with the fact that I’d set the wrong goals for myself.” Rather than dig through the particulars of his own pain in diaristic detail, Murphy renders that soul-searching in knowing false bravado and surrealist strings of droll detail.

The record’s rejection of standard genre traditions gains radioactive strength via sessions with talented producers who boast a stunningly large range: Matt Sweeney, whose resume includes collaborating with Bonnie “Prince” Billy and producing Run the Jewels, led the way at sessions in New York’s venerable Electric Lady Studios. Justin and Jeremiah Raisen’s work with Kim Gordon and Sky Ferreira adds a fulminant shiver, and Pelle Gunnerfeldt and Daniel Fagerström have worked with every thrilling Swedish act from The Hives to The Knife. That range is on full display throughout the record.

Opening with ‘Ain’t Nice’ he spits “Got a collection of vintage calculators/ If you don’t like it, babe I’ll see you later,” over a cement-cracking bass line and pinprick synth, the track coyly mocks the patriarchal macho relationship drama of “classic” post-punk via full-throated snarl. ‘Cold Play’ is dominated by a sadistic saxophone before ‘Toad’ adopts a country twang from Murphy’s American childhood and he declares that “don’t need no woman” a dozen different ways until all that’s left is to compare himself to an amphibian. ‘This Old Dog’ is a rhyming interlude before ‘Into the Sun’ hypnotises with the dirtiest bass line imaginable and lyrics laden with satyr and introspection. ‘Creatures’ is a dancefloor filler, the nocturnal offering amps up the slither which features throughout, imagining humanity as some sort of subaquatic monster and ‘6 Shooter’ is a slow building, high intensity instrumental whose subtle changes make it worth repeated listens.

‘Best In Show II’ builds forges a link to their first LP, and ‘Secret Canine Agent’ is the spiritual successor to Devo’s ‘Secret Agent Man’, and from the offset is a piece of post punk genius and the energy created is electrifying. ‘I Feel Alive’ is one of those that is open to interpretation and partly depends on the mood of the listener, it could be taken either way, you decide, the darkly comic edge permeates either way. ‘Girls & Boys’ sums up the primal drive in bassy repetitions of gender identity paired with cliched summations, that is, until that voice starts to replace “boys” and “girls” with words like “dogs” and Murphy relishing in gibberish. ‘To The Country’ could be considered there take on a love song, if such a thing were possible and shows a softer side previously unexplored. Concluding is their cover of John Prine’s ‘In Spite of Ourselves’ rides the twangy country duet and features Amyl and the Sniffers’ Amy Taylor, through an apocalyptic thunderstorm, just for good measure.

Welfare Jazz has a sound primed for massive stages once the world ever pulls itself out of its pandemic tailspin, yet retains the edge that has lifted them to prominence.

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