Bedroom pop is a tag that’s always seemed ripe for smirks and derision, a buzz term fated for the indie-fad scrap heap along with the likes chillwave and witch house. It’s not difficult to see why. Depending on your level of cynicism, you might perceive the whole aesthetic as one of faux-modesty (“oh-this-is-nothing-just-something-silly-I-do-for-fun-but-PLEASE-buy-my-super-limited-cassette”), plus any strict genre label tends to ultimately become reductive and limiting and usually inaccurate. But, forgetting the tag itself, the base idea behind bedroom pop is still something we at Various Small Flames firmly believe in. The fact that pretty much anyone, anywhere, is able to write and record an album, make it sound however the hell they like, and share it instantly with the rest of the world via our good friend the world wide web carries an immense artistic power.
Viewfinder is the recording project of Joel Burton, the latest addition to the Memorials of Distinction roster. Burton makes music that straddles many genres, but is probably destined to rest finally in the bedroom pop bracket. According to the label’s bio, his latest album was made during a period of personal upheaval. “After disbanding his Edinburgh based noise-rock band and dropping out of university”, it reads, “Joel Burton returned home to London disillusioned. Using cheap synths, an FX unit, and some multi-track cassettes as his compass, he set about re-discovering how to write songs with subtlety and meaning.”
The result is Born Ticking, an album that may not be instantly recognisable as “bedroom pop”, in the original Orchid Tapes-led definition, but ticks all the boxes in terms of pure self expression. It’s part slacker rock, part lo-fi pop, part post-post-punk with some rickety, almost country-style nostalgia thrown in. Add to this lyrics that read like the paranoid poetry of a listless wanderer and your getting close to the Viewfinder style. A straightforward mope record this is not.
The title track, one of the album’s strongest, makes this clear from the off. A beautifully meandering song with echoes of Mazzy Star and the languid folk rock of Nap Eyes, this is an opener loaded with vague but significant turns of phrase and a sense of cynical fatalism.
“some nasty spirit mixer
drunk in the church
so far has it come
so deep has it sunk
and buried beneath
all the crap and the junk
that funnelled itself
from the sky since the start
into the mouth of the babe freshly bawling
In comparison, follow-up ‘Money’ is from a different universe, a bold and brash descent into some weird, wobbly weekend, where wide boys stumble upon a briefcase stuffed with fifties and trip out in a mixture of fearless delight and creeping paranoia. The track is the first sign that Viewfinder doesn’t intend on playing by the rules, at least not those set by anyone other than himself. Much of the album feels personal in this way, painted in broad and instinctive brush strokes, with an almost free associative approach to themes and imagery. ‘Vibrations’ is like a twisted ‘Parklife’ for the Twenty-First Century, the spoken-word vocals full of Millennial angst and crippling self-awareness, the narrator becoming increasingly panicked and clammy before descending into blazing insect-induced madness.
There are also two instrumental tracks on the the record, which, instead of offering brief respite, feel as urgent and necessary as any of the other tracks. ‘Instrumental 1’ is all elegant piano and shuffling drums and croaky horns, all the while maintaining some intangible sense of unease. The second wheezes slowly into life, eventually opening with sparse piano and the unfurling clatter of drums.
‘Instant Moonlight’ is another standout, a down-tempo lo-fi indie pop song that despite its sprawled and exhausted misanthropy (“you didn’t ask to be born” goes the opening line), somehow sparkles with some kind of positivity. The effect is like seeing a divine image in the burn mark your cigarettes have left on a battered sofa, or some symbolic order to the constellations of bargain beer cans that litter the carpet. Closing track ‘Nightime Rider’ is sparse and clear, Burton’s vocals ringing with newfound clarity over muffled drums and subtle electronics, building throughout into an almost devotional bright-white glow.
With Born Ticking, Viewfinder has not only shown why bedroom pop is such an important genre, he’s also challenged just what the tag entails and in the process epitomised why we champion DIY artists. The album takes a melting pot of influences and creates something entirely new, something that’s difficult to put into words. Yes, it’s a record borne out of feelings of confusion and imperfection, but it somehow works through these struggles simply by presenting them in a raw and unique way. As MoD put it, “There is melancholy, sadness, and a rumbling undercurrent of anger—yet creeping out of Born Ticking’s meditative tape-hiss is a profound sense of hope.”
Born Ticking is out now and you can get it on cassette or name your price download from the Memorials of Distinction Bandcamp page.