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The Unmasked Thrill of Voyeurism – Das Fluff’s “Meditation and Violence”

Das Fluff
Meditation and Violence

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I first encountered the mysterious power of London outfit Das Flüff last summer, when restless impresario Sean Hocking brought the core of them, Dawn Lintern and husband Christian Ruland, to Portland for the second annual Sometimes A Great Notion festival. The little local station where I host a post-punk show on Monday nights had agreed to help sponsor the event and I was there to blog the festivities. Here’s what I wrote then (dark coquettish allure, reference to the Bromley contingent, the words ‘fierce’ and ‘Weimar,’ for those that skipped the link) and really not a lot has changed from either that or the previous record except to say that, on the just-released Meditation and Violence (Sohappymusic), it’s better, it’s stronger, it’s more beguilingly dangerous. Which is a good thing, really, since, insofar as a sound like Das Flüff’s is concerned, ‘more of the same’ is what you want and want now, much as it is with any addiction.

One of the highlights of that set last July, aside from trying to suss how such a wild, enthralling beast of sound could be coming from just two people, was “Rage,” a stormer of barely-contained same that distilled into one compact, emotional quasar of a moment the gist of Das Flüff (which is to say Ms Lintern herself, as these are her songs, her lyrics, her arrangements) and it opens the album here with a lurid roar. Set off by a hounding brood of a synth rhythm and full of menace and a kind of urban jungle heart pound, it’s a dark trawl down the alleyways of a dark sexuality – the title refers not to a reaction but an invitation, a need that boils into a demand – that also happens to have the requisite catchiness to hit like a single and was in fact the second song pulled from the album for video treatment.

That basic template set, we’re drawn henceforth through a sometimes queasy journey, exploring a wounded but challenging – and often defiant – psyche. “Drop Break Slip Crash” lowers a tantalizing boom with a gloomy gloam of atmospherics and some stabbing fills from guitarist Steve May, Lintern’s voice its usual throaty authoritative tinged with desperation, the ideal vehicle as the song traverses from garden-variety alienation (waking up, not knowing who she is) to hair-trigger nihilism (waking up, wanting to kill). That voice, it must be mentioned, is key. Husky in a way but at times near-angelic (the first verse of “100%,” the chorus of “Disconnect”), at times fragile but mostly its opposite, presenting a persona it’s probably best not to mess with, it’s a bluntly complicated instrument that’s as central to the gritty dioramas on display here as Siouxsie’s was to the Banshees’ more exotic palette. Lintern’s alto/mezzo purr is unmistakable and can’t help but dominate. Rather obviously, it’s also perfect for surveying the shadowy places this record goes.

The darkness can be dizzying. First single “Tokyo Daisuke” wraps a sort of super-urbanized, hyperactive mix of fleeting desire and pure sensory overload in a relentless taiko-like bomp and an anxiously busy electronic quilt that won’t quit, all twitchy and bustling and claustrophobic. It’s wonderful. The insatiable “Never Too Much” evokes the fraught, uncaged atmosphere of watching every second’s every step, as if walking unaccompanied through a very restless zoo on a moonless night, guitar echoing overhead like the ghost of Mick Ronson. “You Lied (The Minute You Opened Your Mouth),” meanwhile, whiplashes from consensual (if indelicate) beckoning to wickedly righteous recrimination and will have you reliving whatever similar misadventures may have befallen you, complete with all the attendant gasps of frightened excitement.

At heart it’s the unmasked thrill of voyeurism that’s quickening the pulse here, a listener-involving vicariousness that triggers a conspirator reflex in us, as if we’re listening in to the driving urges of a very adventurous, possibly reckless heart. It’s a sense enhanced, oddly enough, in Meditation and Violence‘s two more stripped-back tracks, the darkly lovely “Insomniac,” full of hauntalogical pings and echo and again the ghostly tracer-round presence of May’s guitar, and album-sealer “Moonsong,” a lonely-toned letter to a lover in a final fade, Lintern’s voice standing as naked as Sinead’s on that song, bracingly clear in a lilting, steely flutter, backdropped by nothing more than a couple of Ruland’s lowing humming synth lines that sound like electronic recorders presiding over a midnight wake, a beautiful exit. No doubt it’s that very (relative) isolation of Dawn’s vocals that ups the power quotient but whatever the case those two songs prove you could slow this woman down to a crawl and she’ll still floor you.

So, yeah, more of the same from Das Flüff – bewitchedness, defiance, love and disorientation – and thank the netherworld for that.