I first saw Baby In Vain at the brilliantly eclectic JaJaJa Nordic Music Night at The Lexington in London back in April 2015. Baby in Vain closed the night and, though age should not determine your opinion, I will admit to wondering what three such young people were going to play; well, I wondered right up until the first wave of subcutaneous distortion hit the audience and anyone in the bar downstairs would have heard the audible thud from 200 jaws hitting the floor as this fledgling Black Sabbath stomped and howled through a set of heavy rock detonations. If you listen to ‘Martha’s View’ from the For the Kids EP you’ll see what I mean. Since that night Lola Hammerich Binzer (vocal, guitar), Andrea Thuesen Johansen (vocal, guitar) and Benedicte Pierleoni-Nielsen (drums) have produced a string of singles, EPs and, in 2017, their first album More Nothing. Whereas their live show can allow for an amplifier-punishing assault, they have used the studio to explore a richer sonic palette on See Through.
Rather than the out of control blaze of those early releases, this album is more of a smoulder which leans towards Sonic Youth than Sabbath. It’s a dragon of an album, unfurling itself, flexing muscles and contemplating whether to head out and destroy the village but ultimately deciding to stay inside where it’s hazy warm. The opening track ‘Before You’ builds from a laid-back Sunday morning vibe to Friday night hedonism and with woozy vocals swimming around the instruments. ‘Koreografi’ starts with a gentle guitar breeze before you’re sucker punched by a heavy musical 1-2. ‘Million’ is infused with a half-awake drawl also unlocks a bonus level to their sound by adding a beautifully lilting string section at the end. There are lullabies to love and loss on the dream-like ‘2019’, ‘You Don’t Have To Pretend’ (with its sparkling diamond of a repeated guitar, church organ and harmony refrain), ‘The Real World (which features a glorious undertow of rolling drums), and title track ‘See Through’ with an almost pained vocal line and restrained feedback in the closing part of the track. And in the middle of these drowsy gems sits the full burn of ‘Be My Baby Now’ (where the dragon gets to flame-on with battling drums and guitar) and ‘Wherever I go’ which shares more DNA with The Cardigans or the shimmer of Stockholm’s HOLY. The closing track ‘Bodyface’ is a gentle meditation before the dragon sleeps and dreams of going back out on the road to burn some villages.
Baby In Vain have made a record which is, at times, understated and seems to exist in the miasmic sliver between consciousness and dreams. Having listened through a dozen or so times, little moments reveal themselves: the interplay between the two guitars is subtle but complex, the responsiveness of the drums is a joy and, though it isn’t always in your face, it shows how these three are in glorious symbiosis. The other elements present are born of the studio: experimenting with sound and production techniques (the band mixed and produced the album with Nis Bysted) as well as intelligent use of additional instrumentation like the strings and keyboards. All these musical elements hold the balance of this record beautifully and on top of this the band say it’s “a record made by young people, about being a young person. Its themes include self-image, love and lust, risk-taking, abandonment and society”. But whether they are lost in the dreams of their youth or scorching the earth with distortion Baby In Vain get under your skin.
Review by Paul F Cook