Life Without Buildings : Any Other City

Only mad people and immediate family could warm to Tompkins.

For some, the scrape of fingernails on a blackboard is an exquisite sensation. Dentists’ drills provide a satisfying tingle. Animals dying in agony make a heavenly choir. And Sue Tompkins, ‘idiosyncratic’ frontwoman of Life Without Buildings, makes a beautiful noise.

Whether or not someone has a good voice is one of those subjective arguments that isn’t usually worth even starting. But really, only mad people and immediate family could warm to Tompkins. Hers is the sound of a performance artist having a self-conscious breakdown, all freestyle poetics and an incalculably avant-garde approach to singing in tune. Plainly, she thinks she’s Patti Smith reborn with an estuary accent. Actually, she’s Toyah Willcox working on a cruel experiment about the limits of tolerance to quirkiness in contemporary culture.

The principle, to invest post-rock with a lively shot of personality, is actually rather noble. And when Tompkins and her three colleagues from the Glasgow School Of Art get going, on ‘PS Exclusive’ or the Velvets chug of ‘New Town’, you can see the point. But – and it’s

an enormous but – [I]That Voice[/I] is enough to make even the staunchest apologists for cranky music reach for the morphine. Now that Whitney Houston, she can hold

a note…

John Mulvey

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