Vanishing Point is a pretty great Primal Scream album — and a hell of a film in its original, 1971 incarnation, I feel it should be noted — but it was really the follow-up, XTRMNTR, that blew my head off when I first heard it. I guess because of age and geography I came to Primal Scream in an odd sort of way, and it wasn’t until that record that I really put together who the hell they even were. Screamadelica was way off my radar when it broke, wherever it broke, even though the big tracks felt familiar when I finally did get around to giving them a proper listen. And I imagine that not really understanding their unusual career arc — or that Bobby Gillespie was the fucking drummer on Psychocandy — allowed me to listen to those records with fresher ears than I might have otherwise.
Whether that allowed me to be more receptive than I might have normally been back then, by time the bass finally kicked into lockstep with the high hat on Kill All Hippies, the first track on XTRMNTR, I was pretty much hooked.
Had If They Move, Kill ‘Em been my first taste? Maybe I would have missed it all. Because… yeah… it’s fine enough. It just isn’t exactly the first song I’d play anybody off of any of their records. Or the second. Or the ninth.
The track mostly serves as a segue between more fully formed Vanishing Point numbers; the spirit-lifting and sometimes-too-hokey comedown track, Star, and the moody slow burn of Out of the Void — all three of which lead from the relentless and amazing Kowalski to the Boards of Canada-meets-PIL churn of Stuka, and give you a little bit of breathing room between the real monsters of that record.
Listened to in isolation, If They Move, Kill ‘Em is maaaaaybe a bit of a fuck-around. A cycle through some sounds and effects largely built around a cheesy Halloween screech and a bass groove that feels like it’s always about to do more, but works because it doesn’t.
I thought it was fucking Thievery Corporation at first! And actually if you listen to the first track on The Richest Man In Babylon you can maybe hear it. But holy shit, Primal Scream are so much better. So much darker and denser — during their better, darker, denser flourishes, at least. (One of which is the remix of this track by My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields, which shows up on XTRMNTR as MBV Arkestra (If They Move, Kill ‘Em).)
Much less likely to be listened to by a man wearing a scarf indoors, too.
Anywho… perhaps the nicest thing I can say about this particular track, in this particular version, is that Mani’s bass line is lifted from a hell of a Bill Withers song, Who Is He (And What Is He To You?). Talk about a slow burn! That tambourine! And the bass there is beautifully atonal in a way that serves to ratchet up tension that, just as in If They Move, Kill ‘Em, never quite breaks. In this case, though, if it had it might have made Withers’ track come off a little more formulaic, but… also probably a better song. I really want to hear it go up just one more notch, and have Bill and the band really let loose before it fades out. It needs to go somewhere, I think.
So, yeah… I can’t lie, I’m a little disappointed that my first Shazam track was something I knew pretty well, but based on how I use the app — i.e. often to come up with the name of a song or an artist I can’t remember because I’m drunk — I guess that’s probably how it’s going to go sometimes.
I remember that it came on in a bar in Peterborough and I was the only customer at the time. Why didn’t I just have a damn human interaction with the damn bartender and ask what was playing??? Fucking technology.
Primal Scream – MBV Arkestra (If They Move, Kill ‘Em)