Collected Works: Music
Any Other City
by Life Without Buildings
A chugging bassline sounds a single pitch with each quaver, a ‘D’ that drops to the ‘B’ below every two bars. An electric guitar chimes clean harmonics in syncopation. An unfussy drumbeat completes the tight ensemble, offering a steady platform, readying the stage for the imminent vocal gymnastics. Sue Tompkins’ words are stretched and sent somersaulting in a routine prone to repetition. A lull leads to the song’s climax, an exclamation yelped many times over: ‘My lips are sealed!’
On Any Other City, sentences are shredded and scattered as if cut-up scraps of script, amassed and stuck back together to form a sprawling verbal collage. Some ideas are touched upon transiently and soon forgotten. Others are eagerly repeated until sense becomes skewed. In ‘The Leanover’, the words, ‘If I lose you’ seem to warp over time into ‘Fallujah’ or ‘illusion’. Single letters are subjected to the same treatment, stuttered at times as palpitating prefixes, at others in isolation, shorn of context.
Each passage is preoccupied with a new toss and turn of phrase: ‘Your behaviour, shy kid … I wonder you … Are you real?’ Fragments appear as if snatches of speech that have been collected over time for personal reference, and are often pronounced just as idiosyncratically. Exaggerated hisses and round vowel sounds both bemuse and beguile. Interrupting herself, Tompkins sometimes truncates one line to jump onwards to the next, or leaps into an unexpected, singsong interjection: ‘I can see you!’
Occasionally, a familiar allusion can surface. We may recognise the acronym ‘MBV’ as a reference to My Bloody Valentine, or understand a twice-uttered phrase, ‘I like you mostly late at night’, as a lyric lifted from a Robert Wyatt song. For the most part, though, we can only guess at the origins of each outcry. We are left to listen, closely and keenly, to the tone of delivery in the hope of hints. Far from its promise of sealed lips, Any Other City attests to the allure of a loose, even if not always lucid, tongue.
Words by John Wadsworth