Cazz Blase has a listen to Gaptooth’s debut album and finds a raw and honest but mixed result that nonetheless shows a sense of integrity and politics
Holly interviewed Hannah Lucy, a politics, philosophy and economics graduate who performs as Gaptooth, in late 2012. At the time, Gaptooth was due to release her debut single, ‘Ladykillers’, a searing feminist anthem. One year on and Gaptooth’s debut album Connections/Departures has arrived.
On a first listen, Connections/Departures is something of a mixed bag. There is much of interest here and some moments of sophisticated and effective songwriting, but there are also some songs that don’t quite come off. Like most debuts, it is imperfect but charming and worth persevering with.
The album opens well with the single ‘Ladykillers’, a statement of intent and a modern feminist anthem powered by choppy guitar and pounding electro beats. “It’s a man’s world/It’s a man’s business,” states Gaptooth, before asking “How does it feel? To be one of the few?” With its reference to women who are “cheerleaders to a revolution”, it quickly becomes clear that ‘Ladykillers’, unlike its namesake by Lush, is as much a critique of modern womanhood as it is a critique of misogyny and modern men. Gaptooth illustrates the barriers to equality and the frustrations of inequality beautifully with her frustrated chorus cry of “I’m tired of settling for less”. This rage and frustration is refreshingly raw and honest in an era of music that appears to be dominated by a kind of arch pop that is polished in every sense, including the emotions. It’s a standout moment.
Other highlights include the brash glitch-pop of ‘Tigerstrikes’, which begins with the lament “I’m always the DJ, never the bride” and has a killer chorus: “You mistook me for a pussycat, so watch out for when the tiger strikes.”
The pared down guitar of ‘Plans and Friends and Records’ is also very effective, a wry and observational song reminiscent of Billy Bragg meets Patrik Fitzgerald via Life Without Buildings with a smidge or two of Lily Allen. It’s a strong song, albeit one that reveals the limits of her voice, and it suggests that Hannah Lucy’s songwriting is sophisticated and liable to get stronger. The sardonic re-writing of the marriage vows is particularly effective.
The whirling electro of ‘No Man is an Island’ is full of bounce and attitude. It’s a strongly structured song packed with light and shade variations. It comes across as an elegant and hopeful kiss-off, with a quirky fadeout of a fruit machine. By contrast, ‘Same Ghost Every Night’ is a sombre song in a minor key, with a droney menacing tune against high vulnerable vocals. Gaptooth sounds as though she’s trying to do something different with this and, while it doesn’t entirely come off, it does kind of work and it’s a song that improves on re-listening.
Another jewel is ‘Take It Down’, an acoustic piece in the agit prop indie singer/songwriter tradition. It’s a strong, impassioned song and it makes a good companion piece to Poppy and the Jezebels ‘Sign In, Dream On, Drop Out’ from last year. It’s an anthem for the post-Occupy and Naomi Klein reading world, and we could definitely do with more of those these days.
Third track ‘Baggage’ is a more minimal affair, with the vocals more up front. It concerns a young woman searching for a job through ads in the paper, needing a holiday and thinking of drinks out. The theme of restlessness is reflected by the bouncy, bleepy fairground organ feel of the tune. It’s OK, but it’s not a standout piece.
There are moments that don’t seem to work, such as ‘Enduring Freedom’, in which the male/female vocals are effective, but Gaptooth seems to try to cram too many words into the song; it’s as though she has almost too much to say, with the words stumbling out of her. The result is gauche and slightly clunky, but not uninteresting. ‘These Machines’ is gurgly electro spliced with guitars and infused with punk and a bit of distortion. It’s somewhat shouty and agit prop, about aspirations that are unaffordable. But, unfortunately, it comes off as a bit too didactic, a general lament at the sorry state of the human race.
Finally, ‘Some Kind Of Badly Planned Recovery’ features wistful vocals layered over flanged guitars and minimal beats. It’s a guitar-led meandering song and something of a self-lacerating confessional. However, I can’t help but think that the album would have been stronger had it been left off.
What makes Gaptooth stand out is integrity and politics, and these two things give her a bite that enhances her music. Her songwriting skills will serve her well regarding this and it’s unlikely that this will be the last we’ll hear of her. Which is all to the good.
This is the cover for Connections/Departures and is a large square shape containing 12 smaller squares with simple bold black shadow drawings of various symbols and objects on them. Each square is either purple, light blue or fuchsia.
The drawings from left to right are: three palm trees (purple background), two birds (light blue background) and a clock (fuchsia background) [top row]; two mortar bombs (?) (fuchsia background), a mountain lion or some other big cat (purple background) and plane (light blue background) [second row]; a suitcase (light blue background), traditional skirted female toilets symbol (fuchsia background) and a rectangle with a pound sign inside it and a yen, dollar and euro underneath (purple background) [third row]; headphones (purple background), a cloud with three stars under it to presumably symbolise rain (light blue background) and a splodge with the ‘GAPTOOTH’ logo over it in fuchsia (fuchsia background) [bottom row].
ADDENDUM 22.30 (29/11/13): I’ve had an update to say the big cat depicted in the second row is a tiger!