Music

The Homesick Make a Big Noise on 'The Big Exercise'

Photo: Sarah Cass / Courtesy of Sub Pop Records

Dutch post-punk, pop trio the Homesick blend a host of influences, from Scott Walker to Meredith Monk, in with their kaleidoscopic sound on their second album, The Big Exercise.

The Big Exercise
The Homesick

Sub Pop

7 February 2020

"What do you call that noise that you put on?" asks Andy Partridge on XTC's 1978 debut album. Answering his own question, Partridge, in what might be his most punkish moment ever, sneers, "This is pop!"

Spinning The Big Exercise, the second album by Dutch trio the Homesick, might prompt some listeners to ask Partridge's question. Still, the answer would be the same: at the heart of the knotty, twisty-turny, sometimes noisy songs on The Big Exercise, this is pop. And, once you get used to it, you'll find that it's wildly inventive pop. It might not be conventional pop – it's certainly not Justin Bieber pop or BTS pop, which, mind you, are just fine pop brands – but it's pop just the same.

Getting used to The Big Exercise could be an issue though, at least at first. Like many great albums, The Big Exercise doesn't reveal its secrets on first listen. Listening casually to the album might reveal nothing more than what seems like a complicated wall of noise, varying slightly from song to song. Open yourself up to The Big Exercise, though, and listen to it closer, and all the complexity begins to make sense, and favorite songs will emerge.

The Homesick open The Big Exercise with "What's in Store", clearly a candidate for the best-ever title for an opening song. Flowing water and a bed of acoustic guitars give "What's in Store" a pastoral feel, though the song gets progressively more widescreen. The second track, "Children's Day", also features the initial water sound effect, but replaces the acoustics for power-chording electric guitars. Still, "Children's Day" has a similar feel to "What's in Store", making it almost feel like the heavier conclusion to the opening track.

The third tune, "Pawing", shakes things up, with its swirling keyboards, shifting tempos, and martial drumming. The driving album highlight "I Celebrate My Fantasy" follows. It is a suite-like song with lyrics describing a scary nighttime vision. "I Celebrate My Fantasy" brief, but ominous guitar-bass-drums intro evokes early 1980s dark new wave and showcases the musical interplay between band members Jaap van der Velde, Erik Woudwijk, and Elias Elgersma.

Gradually, though, keyboards and even a clarinet, enter the picture, contributing to the eerie atmosphere of the song. And, while this may just be a coincidence, the song's chorus has a little bit of an XTC feel to it. "I Celebrate My Fantasy", like much of The Big Exercise, puts a nifty 21st century spin on music that used to fall into genres/marketing terms like "prog rock" and "new wave".

XTC isn't the only possible influence that can be detected on The Big Exercise, though. The band members themselves note that they have been obsessed with Dolmen Music, the 1981 album by American composer Meredith Monk, and the album's title is derived from a biography of avant-garde pop star Scott Walker. Plus, many of the songs on the album have an overactive Sufjan Stevens "Chicago"-style vibe to them.

All of this, plus the band's musical attack and intricate vocal interplay, serve to make The Big Exercise a bit of a complicated listen, but only if you planned to listen to the album merely as pleasant background music. There is too much going on for The Big Exercise to be consigned to the background, and the album quickly demands that you either pay more attention to it or turn it off. If you like music that rewards the deep dive, it would be a mistake to turn off The Big Exercise. After all, this is pop.

8
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Books

90 Years on 'Olivia' Remains a Classic of Lesbian Literature

It's good that we have our happy LGBTQ stories today, but it's also important to appreciate and understand the daunting depths of feeling that a love repressed can produce. In Dorothy Strachey's case, it produced the masterful Olivia.

Music

Indie Rocker Alpha Cat Presents 'Live at Vox Pop' (album stream)

A raw live set from Brooklyn in the summer of 2005 found Alpha Cat returning to the stage after personal tumult. Sales benefit organizations seeking to end discrimination toward those seeking help with mental health issues.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

A Lesson from the Avengers for Our Time of COVID-19

Whereas the heroes in Avengers: Endgame stew for five years, our grief has barely taken us to the after-credit sequence. Someone page Captain Marvel, please.

Music

Between the Grooves of Nirvana's 'Nevermind'

Our writers undertake a track-by-track analysis of the most celebrated album of the 1990s: Nirvana's Nevermind. From the surprise hit that brought grunge to the masses, to the hidden cacophonous noise-fest that may not even be on your copy of the record, it's all here.

Music

Deeper Graves Arrives via 'Open Roads' (album stream)

Chrome Waves, ex-Nachtmystium man Jeff Wilson offers up solo debut, Open Roads, featuring dark and remarkable sounds in tune with Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus.

Featured: Top of Home Page

The 50 Best Albums of 2020 So Far

Even in the coronavirus-shortened record release schedule of 2020, the year has offered a mountainous feast of sublime music. The 50 best albums of 2020 so far are an eclectic and increasingly "woke" bunch.

Books

First Tragedy, Then Farce, Then What?

Riffing off Marx's riff on Hegel on history, art historian and critic Hal Foster contemplates political culture and cultural politics in the age of Donald Trump in What Comes After Farce?

Reviews

HAIM Create Their Best Album with 'Women in Music Pt. III'

On Women in Music Pt. III, HAIM are done pretending and ready to be themselves. By learning to embrace the power in their weakest points, the group have created their best work to date.

Music

Amnesia Scanner's 'Tearless' Aesthetically Maps the Failing Anthropocene

Amnesia Scanner's Tearless aesthetically maps the failing Anthropocene through its globally connected features and experimental mesh of deconstructed club, reggaeton, and metalcore.

Music

How Lasting Is the Legacy of the Live 8 Charity Concert?

A voyage to the bottom of a T-shirt drawer prompts a look back at a major event in the history of celebrity charity concerts, 2005's Live 8, Philadelphia.

Music

Jessie Ware Embraces Her Club Culture Roots on Rapturous 'What's Your Pleasure?'

British diva Jessie Ware cooks up a glittery collection of hedonistic disco tracks and delivers one of the year's best records with What's Your Pleasure.

Music

Paul Weller Dazzles with the Psychedelic and Soulful 'On Sunset'

Paul Weller's On Sunset continues his recent streak of experimental yet tuneful masterworks. More than 40 years into his musical career, Weller sounds as fresh and inspired as ever.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.