There’s a big difference between an ‘asshole’ and an ‘arsehole.’ Maybe it’s because the shorter ah vowel is a fairly neutral sound formed somewhere in the middle of the mouth, whereas the blunter arr sound gurgles up from the depths of the glottal area*. Even rhythmically the words are miles apart – ‘asshole’ slides out in one hissing syllable, whereas ‘arsehole’ is an emphatic one-two punch. Arse. Hole. I can shrug off being called an asshole but being called an arsehole feels like being hit over the head with a broken table leg. Twice.
This is important because in the first line of Mumble Tide’s latest single Breakfast, lead singer Gina Leonard declares that ‘everyone’s an arsehole.’ She very pointedly does not say asshole, and this – as much as the drowsy electric guitars and the snippets of found sound – sets the tone for the song. Breakfast is a track that weaves slacker melodies with stories of scratching out a living ‘even though it doesn’t pay.’ Despite the laid-back guitars, there’s a real urgency lurking just underneath Leonard’s restrained vocal performance. She may shrug over lines about love, debt, and cheating, but the couldn’t-give-a-fuck façade doesn’t quite hold. The chorus closes out with the line ‘take it somewhere else,’ which seems to finally give voice to Leonard’s frustrations. Slacker cynicism, it seems, can take you only so far.
A delightfully unbalanced guitar solo fizzles in the track’s second half, and snatches of field recordings add to Breakfast’s uniquely lop-sided sound. The narrow low-fi production widens gloriously for the chorus, which finds acoustic arpeggios blending with distant pedal steel textures. If there’s such a thing as Low-Fi Cinematic, this is it. And yet, Leonard remains at the song’s heart, her slacker affectations slowly melting into honest vulnerability. ‘Leave your double-standards,’ she admonishes us towards the end of the song, and it’s hard not to empathise with her frustrations. Sometimes, only an arsehole will do.
* – This glottal purring can also be heard in regional accents that favour long vowels. A barth is always blunter and deeper than a bath, for example.