DIVISION S: Something To Drink & Smoke
Release year: 2022
Label: Steinklang Records
Italian Division S – who unfortunately share the name with, and should not be confused with, an old RAC band from Sweden – seem to have an idée fixe. Looking at their discography, they have the albums Something To Drink 1-6 and Something To Smoke.
And now, as their last album, Something To Drink & Smoke.
Division S are one of those bands that are impossible to pigeonhole. By and large, they’re usually included in the wide-reaching, vague field of neofolk, but there’s nothing of any kind of conventional neofolk here. The term I’ve seen thrown around is neo-cabaret, but what does that even mean? Nothing, really.
So what does Something To Drink & Smoke sound like?
Well, like you did just that. Had something to drink, and smoke. That’s the short of it. The long of it is that musically, Division S are a curious mixture of this and that. There’s Leonard Cohen-esque dramatic pop, chirpy 60’s pop in a disjointed way that would make Boyd Rice proud, absurd cartoon music and sleazy lounge moods. And it all comes across in a slightly stilted, stuttering manner, like you, the listener were drunk.
It’s actually pretty genius.
The album starts with a couple of tracks that feel pretty straight. The fourth track, Long Time, which really is like some lost Leonard Cohen track off of the Natural Born Killers soundtrack, feels like a deceptive watershed. Up until that, you’ve been downing drinks without feeling too much effect. This is the last moment of lucidity. After that, things become increasingly blurry and incoherent.
Things start to become hyponotically jerking, repetitive, churning. On many tracks, the music feels like in the background, there’s a short loop of some 10-20 seconds repeating, upon which in increasing amounts absurd effects and elements are layered. Buffoon vocalisations, odd effects. And, as the album has almost reached it’s close, along comes One Step, a suave, jazzy little piece that feels like it’s playing a bit too slow, kind of like how you perceive that world in the tunnel of drunken stupor when the lights are starting to go out and your brain can only fixate on bright lights and loud noises. It’s like a falling down drunk excursion to the red room in Twin Peaks, an alcoholic nightmare scene in the David Lynch vein.
The way the album subtly goes from relatively normal towards increasingly pronounced elements of disturbing anomality and absurdness is outstanding. It takes quite a few listens before one actually realizes this, which is all the greater: Division S don’t rub it into your face.
Something To Smoke & Drink certainly isn’t music for all occasions. The jerking, repetitive nature of the songs combined with the slowly increasing weirdness makes it far too heavy to listen to casually. It’s not one of those albums you put on when you’re washing the dishes. No, it’s one of those albums you put on as you take out that good whisky.
When the mood hits you, this is a great album. When it doesn’t hit you, this album can be infuriating. Even so, the craftmanship and wry humour of Division S just has to be appreciated.