Scathing and Satisfying Pop

With even DJ Huw Stephens saying that he can’t get Paul Hawkins & Thee Awkward Silences out of his head, it’s time to sit up and admire the virtues of the London band’s quirky album full of savage pop and vivacious stories from the street.

The album kicks off with ‘Unexpected Error’ with Paul crooning in his leery but passionate vocals about that ever-present computer message on a grander scale, pulsing percussion and a sinewy reed instrument riff add to the sinister nature of the tune. Though this is dark pop, don’t read “dark” as dismal, because ‘We Are Not Other People’ is a highly entertaining listen.

Hawkins channels the essentially comic, but musically sound sense of one of Britain’s other best undiscovered quirky performers, Vinny Peculiar, while both are very much in the vain of Jarvis Cocker’s oddball style. There is a solid base to Hawkins’ songs though, for example, ‘The Battle Is Over’ is a rousing duet about a soldier returning from home, the vocals and rhythm feel like they have a distinctive folk element, rather like a ribald Dylan.

‘The Evil Thoughts’ is a wicked, tragic-comic tale about misplaced feelings with luscious violins and a rambunctious rhythm. It’s an example of Hawkins’ twisted, glorious wit at its best. ‘I Had a Friend in Sarah Vincent’ talks of an ill-fated friendship with a vicar’s daughter and the steel string guitar again brings about an edgy folk vibe. It’s simply mesmerising storytelling at its best with enough musical tension to carry it off. The dark nature of the tale is enough to draw instant comparisons to Nick Cave, but it’s a cheap and far too easy parallel to draw as Cave has never shown the depth of dry wit that Hawkins mines.

‘There Ain’t No Carrot/There Ain’t No Stick’ delivers a relentless, blustering flood of lyrics over a sharp indie tune with sparkling, racing keyboards that’s over in 2 and a half minutes long. Elsewhere there’s, ‘Gentlemen on Crutches’ a salacious story of self-harm to get attention from nurses. ‘Don’t Be Afraid of Love’ is like the anti 80’s power ballad with some soft guitar warbling the sorrowful affair has plenty of moral life advice to offer (and not this time on the theme of valley girls).

Paul Hawkins & The Awkward Silences deserve a place on the stage in any British town with tunes that have real substance and import and should silence the blathering indie kids within seconds. There are few bands in the country right now doing anything as interesting in the caustic cabaret vein, which is why this band deserves to be saluted.