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Jeff Runnings – Primitives And Smalls

In the late eighties, For Against were a very welcome discovery. Weaving gently gothic dreampop with doomy scales the band evoked the Brit Indie Rock Label axis of 4AD and Factory Records. The Nebraska act may have been signed to neither but somehow belonged on both. Coming, as they did, after post-punk’s UK heyday, For Against picked up the baton which had been dropped by Comsat Angels, The Chameleons and The Sound. A fine sequence of releases ensued. Most memorably the beloved fan trilogy of Echelons, December and In The Marches. At this point line-up changes began to affect the groups output and career path. Although Jeff Runnings continued the For Against name, releases, became sporadic. There was even something of a hiatus before 2008 when the band presented new and frankly wonderful material. For me it was one of those ultra-rare ‘pinch myself how lucky I am to have this job’ moments, covering Shade Side Sunny Side and then Never Been.

Fast forward to the now. Primitives And Smalls is, I believe, frontman Jeff Runnings first solo effort outside of the For Against moniker. The obvious first question is therefore – will For Against fans like this record? You bet they will. Jeff himself is the one constant throughout the For Against career and, tonally, this is a For Against record in all but name only. Runnings distinctive, ‘little lost boy’ voice is present and correct here. His adult lyrics remain shocking juxtaposed against such an innocent sounding vocal pallet. Sonically, yes Primitives And Smalls is somewhat different. As you might expect from a record made by one man, electronics are more to the fore. The sound is cleaner, and a touch Spartan. Yet wasn’t For Against always about bleak, musical and lyrical landscapes anyway?

There is something intrinsically satisfying about going on a musical journey with certain artists. Watching and listening to how they evolve can be rich and life affirming even if the music itself is melancholic. I’d liken Primatives… to something like The Cure’s Bloodflowers, or the more recent work of Wire. There’s a vintage and maturity to it that is most welcome. As we age, we change. We continue to learn and evolve. The idea that pop music is somehow the province of teens and twenty year olds has always been preposterous. In Runnings case, his lyrical themes remain fascinating. Where before, the younger Jeffrey may have explored frail, lonely places, he has since moved onto bitterness and recrimination. It is like Port and Stilton as compared to beer and sandwiches. I jest, of course, the point being we have grown up with him and he has grown for us – musical journeys matching life journeys.

Primitives And Smalls is also a properly assembled album with a distinct arc and structure, another rarity, especially in this era of downloading. ‘Mazes’ is a strong opener, a clear candidate for radio play but not the only one. ‘Outside Oslo’ could have been another. The point being that care has obviously been taken over sequencing. Packaging for the physical product is gorgeous. The whole record is a really good listen and just like 30 years ago, arrives right when we needed it most.

A breath of fresh air, with a top note of dry ice.

Primitives And Smalls is out now on Saint Marie Records.

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Never Been

Shade Side; Sunny Side