I stumbled upon Satellites, aka Johnny Vic, by chance in Rough Trade, nestled anonymously in a corner. The sticker on the CD box was so flagrantly pretentious you almost forgive it for being so: “It doesn’t matter who wrote this album. What matters is that it needed to be written.”
It is a wonder why Vic adopts this deliberate elusiveness (even his moniker is overshadowed by another existing band, The Satellites). Annoying indie gimmick, or disciple of Roland Barthes on authorial absence? Either way, Google serves up nothing on him, and Vic’s detached persona and minimalist album title are at paradoxical odds with the intimacy of the album.
It would be unfair to reduce 01 to an intelligent version of Snow Patrol’s pedestrian music. Vic shares the same anodyne and intimate vocals layered on top of pianos — except against a backdrop of muted ticking keys, and with more concern in examining and navigating a journey through life than with love and running after motor vehicles.
The album was a product of a life’s work, and the ambitious span of its musical journey within nine songs certainly mirrors its traverse through this course of time and space. Written and largely recorded on the move around the globe, it is not difficult to hear Vic’s sense of displacement and alienation in 01.
It is contemplative, private music best for being alone and indoors on rainy days, curling into a foetal position to sob and think about life, and also birth videos and PSAs. ‘In a City’, the first track, sweeps the album into a gritty but lush swell of guitars, piano, horns, strings, and chorals, and carries through to the pensive ‘Railway Lines’, which is the last we see of Vic’s mastery of his material.
The subsequent tracks fall victim to tedium and pop humdrummery and start to meld into one another (Vic seems only to know one drum pattern). His best songs are, sadly, those that pare down their optimism, and ‘Boy Cries Wolf’, the penultimate track, is a polished balance between his attempts to be upbeat and his more ruminative tracks.
They’re comforting, warm, and fluffy for the ears (like earmuffs), but none of the tracks truly push the album to the realm of stellar eargasmic artistry. It is, however, a more than competent effort for a debut album, full of earnest honesty and raw, direct lyrics. The aural experience is much like being in a first-class cabin trodding along a railway line across a wintry landscape: the view is great, you’re snug, comfortable and happy, and the tracks sometimes take a right or left; but you’re also waiting for something exciting like a rise and dip to happen, and it never comes.
Listen to: ‘In a City’ ‘Railway Lines’, ‘Boy Cries Wolf’
[vimeo width=”457″ height=”343″]http://vimeo.com/38975216[/vimeo]
By Zixin Lin