Moulettes – Preternatural: Round 94 – Steve’s Selection

Moulettes-Preternatural

I’m well aware that the DRC have issues with progressive rock, but musical allergic rashes aside I feel that this album offers a fresh take on the so-called genre. It would however also be wrong to merely categorise Moulettes as even folk-rock, let along progressive rock, since there is much more depth to this album. The sounds are complex, and yes although there is a theme running through of a celebration of the mysterious creatures that inhabit our earth (some mythical?) it is not, I promise you, a prog rock record. This is not Yes’ ‘Tales from Topographic Oceans’, although I am sure that there’s some influence in there somewhere (….). It is not Jethro Tull either, but again, there is probably some influence there too. The opening track ‘Behemoth’ is an aural cavalcade. Although not on horseback, the sound may be riding through the sea astride the mythical Behemoth itself. Gasping delightful vocal harmonies are interspersed with a riff that sounds like an electric guitar, but I believe is actually a cello (played by the talented Hannah Miller). As an opener it leaves no room for doubt, this is a rock record and it packs punch from start to finish. But as I say, not just rock though…

World music and the far-east simmer underneath under ‘Patterns’ and I hear Kate Bush in ‘Medusa’, breakbeats on ‘Parasite’ interspersed with power riffs that could be out of any folk-rock crossover of the 1970s, but given new life here on fully mature arrangements covering new ground for a modern audience of any persuasion. It’s that broader appeal that the Moulettes have managed to achieve on this album, perhaps more so than their other outings (this is their 4th studio album), without sacrificing their soon and deep folk/psychedleic/progressive rock roots.

Their craft and musicianship is undoubted here. Many have made reference to their live performances, but I have issue with bands that rely solely on the adage  ‘they sound much better live’. Performance has stand on its own two feet and maybe draw you to the live experience. The production and sound on Preternatural is outstanding, and stands alone without the need to rely on a live rendition – although I am sure they the live shows are very much something to behold. Given this though there is what I interpret to be a lament to the loss of talented singers (on ‘Bird of Paradise Pt 2’) – is this about the loss of craft through the X-factor generation (?) and the loss of wildlife through climate change (?). There’s plenty of depth lyrically to this album, within each of the songs, and credits would suggest some deep political motivations behind them.

The final track on the album (‘Silk’) is one of the standout tracks. Opening with ethereal vocals with drop liquid-like beats, and later samples of sci-fi films, and on the topic of the material itself. Being a scientist who works on natural fibres I can’t help but love the subject matter itself, but what I like most is the ending (on the vinyl version), with the run out groove endlessly repeating…..daring, and a nice touch.

So, if you don’t like prog (I do) don’t be put off. This album has more to give, and influences well beyond easy pigeonholing. Oh, and one day, I will see them live too….

Rob listened: This seemed to be our designated talker-overer for the evening (there’s always one) but even so, there was plenty to dig into in this sprawling, careening affair. For a start, we struggled to decide what it was. That’s helpful for Moulettes, I guess. As Steve has noted, we struggle sometimes to divest ourselves of certain genre prejudices. This thing was like quicksilver, flowing through the gaps between styles. And whilst I’m allergic to the more knowing, self-indulgent end of prog, I can’t deny an affection for a certain type of pastoral psyche-tinged folk, and ‘Preternatural’ seemed to sail more on that bearing. Still, there were sounds chucked in there that hit like nails down an eighties synthesized blackboard. I can’t claim to have fallen completely for Moulettes, but ‘Preternatural’ certainly made me want to listen more, rather than less.

Steve’s further comment: Stop talking over my records…..

Tom listened: I almost really liked this….but a couple of things put me off. I liked the singer’s voice and most of the instrumentation but, as Rob has said in his response, every so often Moulettes would throw in a jarring prog rock trope (is there any other kind?) and my teeth would be set on edge, a cold sweat would break out and a little piece of me would die…mainly because it all felt so unnecessary; a perfectly good tune (Silk being a case in point) spoilt, as far as I was concerned, by the band seemingly feeling the need get the prog rock box ticked on their Allmusic profile. A shame as victory was so nearly theirs!

Oh, and then there’s the album cover!

Ought – ‘More Than Any Other Day’: Round 94 – Rob’s choice

oughtImitation is the sincerest form of flattery, they say. Or is that sarcasm? Anyway, flattery will also get you nowhere. No, hang on, that can’t be right, cos this record is gloriously imitative and it goes to all the right places, at least for those who grew up on spiky, exploratory underground guitar sounds coming out of US college towns in the late 80s early 90s. i.e. me.

Let’s start again. I can boil this down for you. This record sounds like lots of others, and that’s great.

Much like the Meilyr Jones album Tom brought to the last Record Club, the trick here, hang on, that’s not fair, it’s not a trick, a swizz, a rip-off… the secret here is that ‘More Than Any Other Day’ is a record that weaves its influences and its references through its DNA. Rather than hit them like a series of targets, it works with the raw material of the band’s favourite sounds and then allows these to bubble to the surface as and when they need to. It’s a group of four young men making music influenced by the sounds they love. Is that a crime? What? No it isn’t? Okay then. I’m glad we got that one sorted out.

Let’s be clear, this is no pop-post-hardcore party piece. The Montreal foursome run the gamut from Talking Heads and The Pop Group up through classic Dischord, think the searching geometric patterns of Lungfish, Shudder to Think, Circus Lupus. Somewhere in the background someone strikes a guitar and it goes ‘SKIIING’. The For Carnation, Seam and Bitch Magnet hove into and out of view. There’s a moment at the beginning of the title track that, viewed from a distance, is the moment at the beginning of ‘Breadcrumb Trail’ which is the moment at the beginning of ‘Spiderland’ by Slint and that is not something you want to be dabbling with unless you’re very sure of yourself.

And yet throughout this is not a set of knowing nudges, rather a long ticklish buzz to the musical memory. I’m getting old now. I’m 45, for heaven’s sake. As my performance at Record Club most weeks shows, I no longer have the encyclopedic grasp of (a very narrow slice of) the stuff that echoes around between whichever synapses fire when I feed them these sounds. I spend about 25% of my time at our gatherings declaring, of some minor detail of some record or other, ‘Oh yes, it sounds just like, oh wait, wait, I’ve got it… no. No I haven’t.” And so it is with Ought. The voice at the beginning of ‘The Weather Song’ is the absolute spit of… somebody else. It’s been driving me spare for about two years. But, that’s actually okay for me. In a weird and ultimately pleasurable way, what I get from an echo like that is a wobbly Proustian rush of all the music I used to know and love that used to, and I assume still does, sound like some of these sounds.

There are always records that sound like the records you like the sound of. No-one is doing this in complete isolation, producing sounds that relate to nothing. Even those bees sound a bit like Stars of the Lid or ‘Chill Out’. You can never keep hold of all the pieces of a subculture, never wrap your arms around a genre or, worse, keep it pinned down. And as of now, more than any other day, the connections go in all directions, backwards, forwards, sideways, upwards, downwards (like I said, all directions) in time and in space, as well as in politics, sensibilities, meanings. I get a real kick from this album. That’s perhaps partly explained, but certainly not diminished, by the connections I’m making and the reactions those connections are enabling.

Have I over-explained stuff you already knew enough for you now? Can’t we just get on and talk about the songs?

‘Pleasant Heart’ kicks off with energisingly bitey guitars and vocals, spiky, urgent, anxious. Good things. But the heart of the record comes in the next run of tracks. ‘Today More Than Any Other Day’ begins in Spiderland and then, over 5 minutes, accelerates and veers to somewhere completely different, building a rush of giddy existential joy, both liberated and liberating. Then comes ‘Habit’, one of my favourite songs of 2014. Imagine, if you will, that you are hunkered in a cell, contemplating your last night on earth when, just before your promised last meal arrives, a priest comes in to offer you some final absolution. You wave him away, but the priest is Christopher Walken, who precedes to crouch with you in the corner of the room, grasp both your hands in his, and tell you what’s on his mind, a surging sermon about absolution and addiction. ‘Habit’ is a bit like that.

All three songs feature guitars and drums of the sort I have previously alluded to. But they also feature Tim Darcy, a wonderfully lithe and animated vocalist who performs, rather than sings, his meanings. His voice shifts and pivots, sometimes mid-sentence. His yelps and gasps and barks are electrifying punctuations. He is the embodiment of the skinny, bespectacled college student jazzed to high hell on the possibilities of being in a powerful rock band. I have no idea of he wears spectacles. I guess he may have gone to college. I think I heard somewhere that they met at college.

He is Albini, David Byrne, Ian Svenonius, David Yow’s younger, calmer brother. He’s like the smart singer of that smart band you used to like but can’t quite remember but is actually a summation of all of the smart singers in all of the smart bands.

And that’s Ought. And the rest of the record is pretty much just as good. Good sounds, good band. Good.

Steve listened: Sounds like Talking Heads, like Pavement, oh there’s the Fall (as always) but I like Rob am cosseted with the familiar sounds of the music of my past. I liked this album and it was easy on my ear, but then it didn’t blow me away and awaken me to a new sound that I hadn’t heard before. I’d listen again though, quite happily. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but only if you mean it, and you do it well, and Ought seemed to have at least carried this off with aplomb. I’d be interested in hearing how they developed their own style later on and how they sounded after this “get it out of our system” album had passed through…

Tom listened: Rob emitted a little sigh as I put Robbie Basho to bed (not literally, I hasten to add) and then went on to mutter, in an uncharacteristically doubt-ridden manner, that he wasn’t sure his album would work well coming after Visions of the Country. Well…he needn’t have worried! By the end of More Than Any Other Day, Basho’s acoustic warblings had been all but wiped from my memory and if it hadn’t been past my own bedtime, I would have been reaching for my old Feelies/Shudder To Think/Jawbox albums.

Although, as Rob and Steve have both suggested, they are not really doing anything that hasn’t been heard before, in stark contrast to Parquet Courts (for whom I have really struggled to see what all the fuss is about), Ought are doing it really, really, really well! The playing is sharp yet loose, the singing is surprising and welcoming, the rhythms are infectious and, crucially, the band seem excited to be playing their music…they sound like a team having fun! I liked the album more and more as it went on and, by the end, I had fallen pretty much hook, line and sinker!

Robbie Basho – Visions Of The Country: Round 94 – Tom’s Selection

visions_PINAlthough I have had a healthy interest in music since I first discovered the records of the Beatles when I was about ten years of age, my obsessiveness developed into encyclopedic around the time I started university; a time which happened to coincide with my purchasing of the weekly music mags (partly as a way of avoiding my studies?) coupled with listening avidly to John Peel’s nightly radio show.

Of course, despite my voracious thirst for musical knowledge, there were many genres of music for which my research came up short, but when it comes to white American men strumming or plucking or plonking acoustic instruments, until recently I have felt as though, even though I may not have heard the music itself, I would know of the key players, the movers and the shakers…that new names would not crop up or, if they did, it would be because they weren’t particularly good! Robbie Basho’s Visions Of The Country has been a revelation and makes me wonder how many other gems are out there, flying under the radar.

Until about two months ago I hadn’t heard of Robbie Basho. Flicking through the ILX forum one day, lost for inspiration, I noticed his name as a thread title and had the thought, ‘why not actually click on the thread’ rather than do what I would normally do and dismiss it as someone not worth bothering with…simply because I had never heard of him!

There was the usual level of internet devotion on the thread, but as respondents are a self-selecting group, that’s hardly surprising…I could click on a Whitney Houston thread and find a similar level of enthusiastic devotion but she would still sound like a bunch of cats being tortured no matter how many times someone tells you she is the greatest female singer of all time! However, there was also a link to a youtube clip of Blue Crystal Fire and this had me spellbound from the off. A simple strummed acoustic guitar which wouldn’t have sounded out of place on The Palace Brother’s wonderful debut ‘There is No-One what Will Take Care Of You’, or Smog’s masterpiece ‘A River Ain’t Too Much To Love’ and that voice, kind of like Bill Callahan doing his best Anohni impression. The song was ponderous/funereal in terms of pace, repetitive, overtly earnest…and, for me, absolutely captivating. Usually a youtube clip, even of a song I like, will keep me interested for a minute, maybe two, before I see a suggested link and click on that. Well Blue Crystal Fire got about four full plays…and then I bought the album, avoiding playing anything else from it lest it diminished the impact of the first run through when the record arrived.

It turns out that Blue Crystal Fire is a bit of an anomaly, at least as far as Visions Of The Country is concerned – most of the other songs on the album involve lengthy passages of semi-improvised(?) finger picking interspersed with relatively brief blasts of Basho’s deep baritone. On many of the tracks there is no discernible repetition, no conventional song structure, it should be a formless mess, almost impossible to access and intimidating to listen to. But…it’s not. At least as far as I’m concerned!

As Nick suggested on the night, possibly that’s down to the images and atmospheres the songs evoke (the image on the album sleeve is almost exactly the image Basho’s music conjures up). The record transports the listener – perhaps to another (better?) place, almost certainly to a simpler time, perhaps a time we all yearn for where we are closer to our natural environment; where we would be more likely to take notice of the beauty of a flower or a waterfall or a deer; where there is time and space and, ironically, silence. Whilst this may sound like hippy dippy shit, Visions Of The Country avoids all those trappings by mining the source and in the process it sounds like it has always been there, just like the mountains, lakes and streams it so exquisitely evokes.

Rob listened: Blimey.

One of the beautiful things about record club, some of the most memorable, tangible moments, come when some record or other, and it’s almost impossible to predict which ones, just end up captivating us. We’re extremely capable of talking over almost anything, quiet or loud, long or short, insistent or passive, but every so often an album just captivates us. So it was with ‘Visions of the Country’. It could have passed us by. We could have been non-plussed and untouched, as we seemed to be by Tim Hecker in the previous round, as Robbie Basho also tinkled out a load of abstract, unstructured sound. But we were completely drawn in.

And yes, I was reminded of some of Will Oldham’s instrumental outings, and also some of the Derek Bailey improvised guitar stuff I’ve heard. It also reminded me of some of the abstract twinklings I like to listen to, and I also got Tom’s suggestion that it captured the same desert spirit as some of the good Captain Beefheart’s music.

But it was also wonderfully idiosyncratic and helplessly absorbing.  I’ve got a feeling I had heard of Robbie Basho before, only in that I can faintly imagine someone American saying his name in an interview. Now you can mark me down as someone actively seeking out his records. Thanks Tom, an absolute winner.

Steve listened: Blimey indeed

This was the album I talked, effused and waxed lyrical about when I got to talk about the night’s proceedings with my wife. I was most struck by the level of musicianship, and how he managed to take a 12 string guitar and play it like a sitar. This approach completely contrasts other western musicians who have embedded eastern music into a western style, almost as an add on. Here the subject and sounds seemed to blend seemlessly. Yes, thanks Tom, I will seek too.

Meilyr Jones – 2013: Round 93 – Tom’s Selection

a1595449745_10As we drove over to record club, Nick and I were chatting about one of the current Netflix offerings, Stranger Things. Initially just checking in that we both liked it and sharing our general thoughts, the conversation soon focused in on the programme’s undeniable and overt use of cliche. I had seen this as a weakness at first and, during the first couple of episodes, they had been sufficiently obtrusive as to make me question whether or not to bother continuing with the show. However, my wife did a little bit of digging around on the interweb and before long found plentiful evidence that the use of cliche was a deliberate move on the part of the programme’s directors. For me, this changed everything – what I had perceived as weakness, laziness or, at best, an extreme lack of awareness transformed instantaneously into a mixture of homage, innovation and nostalgia. Before long, I was loving all the references to 80s kidcentric schlock horror, and not long after that I realised that I wasn’t noticing them at all as the characters and story drew me in!

Which brings me to 2013 by Meilyr Jones. He performs a very similar trick here but in a musical rather than cinematographic setting. Operating within the wistful chamber pop side of things, listening to 2013 it’s as if Jones is holding up his hands and admitting that the best tunes have already been taken, so let’s nick bits from here and there, create some new melodies along the way, have some fun and, ultimately, just do it all really, really well. Throughout the album, you will hear snippets of stuff you recognise, either lyrically (Carly Simon’s You’re So Vain makes an appearance on second track Don Juan, Wild World by Cat Stevens on Rome) or musically (Smoke on the Water’s pivotal riff forms the hook in Strange/Emotional’s propulsive and surprising chorus, Jarvis Cocker’s off stage asides are echoed on the baroque masterpiece that is Olivia). Elsewhere, similarities with your other favourite artists are evident, if less direct – Morrissey’s phrasing and singing style is recalled on a number of tracks (albeit with a discernible Welsh lilt on most tracks), Jens Lekman is evoked on closer Be Soft and, unsurprisingly, fellow Welsh wizards Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci can be heard reverberating throughout. At no point, however, does Jones sound anything at all like Paul Heaton!

Whether these reference points devalue or enhance your listening experience (or have no effect at all!) is up to you, but by the time the record ends, Jones leaves you in no doubt that he knows exactly what he is doing and, for me, that makes all the difference. In fact, to my ears, 2013 is one of the freshest, wittiest and well executed pop records I have heard in ages and, in another era, songs like the poppy How To Recognise A Work Of Art and Featured Artist or the devastating Refugees (which urges you to ‘turn off your TV’) would be topping the charts rather than only occasionally finding their way onto the late night shows on 6 Music!

Nick listened: Unlike Stranger Things, which I loved, I found it difficult to get a handle on this – I think because, while the former eventually pulled me into the world of the new characters it presented, I never really got a handle on who this Meilyr guy is. Obviously talented, I get the idea he’s hiding behind all these references (oh look, the Rebel Rebel riff!) as a kind of intellectual exercise. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but a single 40 minute exposure often isn’t enough to get beneath the signifiers and discover what’s driving them.

Johnny Dangerously – ‘You, Me and the Alarm Clock’: Round 93 – Steve’s choice

You,_Me_and_the_Alarm_Clock

Johnny Dangerously, not to be confused with the Michael Keaton film of the same name, was the once alter-ego of Johnny Bramwell of I Am Kloot fame. This record was released in 1989 at the peak of the ‘Madchester’ baggy era but bears no resemblance to the sounds of that time (Stone Roses for one). It’s straight singer-songwriter, troubadour guitarist eking out a living on the dirty streets of Manchester – which is where Mr Bramwell was probably at during this period. He still plays impromptu gigs in Oldham Street, one of the former epicentres of the Manchester music scene. It bares the skeleton structure of I Am Kloot’s later work, but stripped back it still sounds crisp and fresh today. Its a remarkably accomplished debut, signalling much promise to come.

This mini album (defined as such in various sources although it’s just 6 songs, plays at 45 rpm and only lasts a little over 16 minutes – our shortest album yet Rob?) featured in an article in the Guardian titled “The Greatest Albums You’ve Never Heard“. Although some of the entries in this article (Neutral Milk Hotel for goodness sakes…) should not be there, this absolutely deserves its place. It is a musical gem, a lost one for me as well, falling between the cracks in my life. I used to “own” this album. My ex-wife had it in her collection so I can thank her for introducing me to it. When we split the album went with her. Poignant enough then that the last track on here (‘Tearing it Down’) sings about the loss of possessions and someone.

“She left me a reminder, of a world she left behind her. An overcoat, a coffee cup, an old…(something indecipherable) book binder. I could catch her right away but I would never find her”

So I sadly lost the album. Years later I read the Guardian article and tried to find it again, to no avail. I went to see Johnny Bramwell at a gig in Bristol a few years ago, and he started taking requests. I shouted out ‘Pierfront Arcade’ (track two on the album) to which he replied that he’d forgotten how to play it. So, there we go, lost to the artist himself……

‘Junk Culture’, the opening track, starts haplessly amongst the trash and rubbish of life, evoking images of the back streets of England, the US, trying to make sense of it all

“Stumbling through small life Nowhere, England. Shaking hands with the big time life idiots. I was trying to pick up some ordinariness. From the shopping bag inspirational choir”

UK artists have often tried to make sense of the US on their albums. Prefab Sprout do it on Steve McQueen. As an artist just coming into the world, Johnny Dangerously seems more vulnerable than most to the enormity of gaining success over the pond

“Sweeping through middle town America. Stepping into fact-or-fiction trash TV world. I caught a glimpse of myself scraping and laughing. Shuffling about amongst the newspaper”

Lyrically this album has recurring themes of love, loss, regret, fear, hope and valediction to memories. The imagery of the opening track is simple yet efffective, getting you to view things in a way you know to be true, and yet perhaps you missed them. ‘Junk Culture’ evokes images of the old cathode ray tube TVs and how they used to shut down to a small spot on the screen…”And a million TV screens close their weary eyes”.

The theme of nostalgia is very strong here too. ‘Pierfront Arcade’ highlights the true fragility of memories, and our inability to leave places without never returning, perhaps only in our minds

“Love is built in pieces, made right here in Fragile Town. You said once you were weaving, oh, but who is fragile now?….I said once I was leaving but I came back before too long”

‘Black and Blue’ is a tragic love song, recognising what ultimately you will lose in order to gain the heart of one you desire (“Lights are shining all round this world. You want them all but what you want is this girl….So give up the chance to be true. And all wind up like we knew we’d do. Bruised black and blue”). ‘This Town and Mary’ remembers a girl who came into his life, and to a ‘town’ unknown. Perhaps this town and Mary do not exist at all but I have sneaking suspicion that this references the same ‘Mary’ that featured in a short film I once saw. The subject matter of the film was a bright eccentric girl that was ‘on the scene’ in Manchester in the early 80s, but left suddenly for no reason, right before the ‘Madchester-Hacienda’ music explosion. The film featured one Vinni Reilly (of Durrutti Column, who we haven’t covered yet) remembering her as being quite fragile and full of contradictions. People said she wouldn’t have coped with the scene as it evolved, so perhaps she was best to go. I couldn’t find a link to the film, but would love to make the connection. The song however suggests ‘Mary’ is all of us (“Mary came from our town and was kicking at the ground. She was lost, she was found, she was me, she was you. And all the lies you tell sound true. You say you don’t til you do”). Mythologising people in your life, placing your own personna over them….

There’s not much to say about the musical ability on the record, because it is just him and the guitar. Anyone who has been to see him live will know that he can fill a room with that simple formula. The vocal is very rich, regional and distinctive. The guitar itself accomplished and not readily accessible in terms of chord sequences and tunings. In some ways he bears resemblance to John Martyn (again we haven’t covered him…), some would say Go-Betweens are in there (I think that was you Tom?). Nobody bought the album when it came out, and Johnny Bramwell never released another under this name. So, there it is, gone but not forgotten. It deserves a higher place in the past, and perhaps even in the present, but then again it seems all that more beautiful as a hidden lost gem amongst the newspapers and dirty alleyways of Oldham Street in Manchester….find it if you can.

Rob listened: I listened indeed, but ‘You, Me and the Alarm Clock’ was gone before I’d managed to get a grip of it, like the old newspapers it invokes, it was swept away by the buffeting breezy conversation and, at the point where we might start to settle down and listen properly, it finished. Thanks the Steve for an impassioned write-up that leads us back into the record and reminds us that sometimes when we talk about the things we’re hearing, we do so at the expense of listening.

Fortunately ‘You, Me and the Alarm Clock’ is not quite as unfindable as Steve might have implied. Youtube seems to have most of it, revealing grounded, heartfelt, melancholy melodies and swirling words. Bramwell’s distinctive voice binds the two together.

I never really got fully on board with I Am Kloot. I bought their first album when it came out, I think just because I’d seen their name knocking about. I liked it a lot and can still get carried away on the beautifully woozy opening track ‘To You’ despite not having heard it for more than 10 years. Although the gap from this Johnny Dangerously record and ‘Natural History’ is even longer, the connection is direct and immediate, and sufficiently energising to send me back there properly.

Tom listened: Blocking out the Exeter University chit chat is something I have become increasingly adept at over the years (surprisingly, much of it is not all that relevant to me!) and, as a result, I was rewarded with a little gem of a listen. The fact that I was reminded, time and again, of The Go-Betweens at their most acoustic certainly helped to entice me as they are one of my all time faves but, to be honest, this album would easily have held up on its own merits without the help of its Antipodean counterparts. Just a shame it didn’t stick around a bit longer!

Nick listened: Sounded like he owned a bobble hat.

Tim Hecker – ‘Love Streams’: Round 93 – Rob’s choice

tim-hecker-love-streams

It’s tempting to hear and see ‘Love Streams’, the eighth album from Canadian electronic artist Tim Hecker, as his warm and fuzzy record. It certainly has a more organic, perhaps even welcoming sound than his previous couple. Also, it has a nice pink-infused cover, so, y’know, it could be ‘Chill Out with Tim’ couldn’t it? Well no, not quite.

Hecker, as far as I can see, has always used the building blocks of ambient electronic and contemporary classical music as his canvas and then employed distortion and degradation as his primary operating methods. He takes sounds as roots and nicks and chips and twists and bends and burns and intertwines them into shapes and forms that seem simultaneously to have burst from within and withered dreadfully away from their original forms.

Previously he’s been heavily into pipe organs, pianos, guitars, software, the ‘virginal’ (an early percussive harpsichord) and anything else he can get his hands on. He treats these instruments seriously, with reverence and technical curiosity, never as playthings or sound fodder to be thrown willy-nilly. Instead he uses them as serious thematic elements, to enhance, divert, combine and amalgamate, as colours to use to build shapes and as shapes to use as foundations for colours.

I don’t go all the way back with Hecker, not yet at least, only to his last three full lengths. ‘Ravedeath 1972’ took as its intent the destruction of music, and was suitably scabrous. ‘Virgins’ used live ensemble sessions as the basis for its explorations. It seemed to me to say something about the degradation of the human spirit, signified by the juxtaposition between the virginal instrument itself and song titles and cover imagery both of which invoked some of the darkest places in our recent history. It was a remarkable piece of work. I can’t explain why, but that’s always part of the wonder.

Now, with ‘Love Streams’, the human voice is given primacy, featuring for the first time in any of Hecker’s original work. He recorded raw material with the Icelandic Choir Ensemble, reportedly having them sing nonsensical words and abstract sounds, all to give him a source of sound to electronically manipulate, the way he has previously done with acoustic instruments.

The result is simultaneously warm and accessible – the human voice draws us in to any soundscape, almost no matter what else lurks therein – and endlessly fascinating. Following the routes of the interplay and entwined, slow-motion combat of voices and synths and percussion is both challenging and intriguing. the sounds confound, deflect, obfuscate and delight. Still, this is no twinkly piece of ambient electronica. It’s an floating, abstract miasma, an imagination of the way another species might invoke music. Whereas long-time Hecker buddy Daniel Lopatin seems to delight in deconstructing and then reconstructing music, twisting, perverting and destroying its body but retaining superficial traces to allow us to identify the corpse, Hecker is in another realm from start to finish, a place where music evolved under different influences into a different life-form.

There are breathtaking moments on ‘Love Streams’ and a thousand moments that will slip by un-noticed until the hundredth time. There are combinations of colour and flavour and texture that you will not have heard before. It will make little sense to you on many levels and perfect sense on others. Ultimately this is a beautiful work of sound, and perhaps my favourite thing to listen to this year so far.

Tom listened: It’s confession time…I can recall very little about this album, although I do recall liking it! And I think that’s the problem I have with music that is predominantly electronic – generally I enjoy the experience of listening to it, but don’t find myself seeking it out for repeated spins (Fourtet’s Rounds has sat on my shelf for years and year, gathering dust. Music Has the Right…by Boards of Canada has been doing a similar trick in my car, Dubnobasswithmyheadman I’ve pulled out on a few occasions more recently, loved it, but it’s drifted back into the lesser visited recesses of my collection over the last couple of years). So, it makes me even more pleased that Rob and Nick bring this stuff to Record Club – surely exposing you to music that you wouldn’t naturally encounter is what it’s all about!

Apart from those bees.

nick listened: can’t remember a bloody thing about this but wrote it on my list of things to buy, so assume I liked it. Have two other Heckers and feel as if they’re more like homework than hobby, but this seemed to bridge that gap.

Of Montreal – Hissing Fauna Are You The Destroyer?: Round 92 – Tom’s Selection

 

aarefhissingImagine you’re watching one of those films whose opening sequence starts off with a view of a distant galaxy. The image starts to magnify and suddenly you are hurtling into an arm of the Milky Way (for it’s that galaxy), about two thirds of the way out from the galaxy’s centre. The magnification continues apace, now we’re being given a tour of the solar system, zooming past the gas giants, on through the asteroid belt and past Mars. Earth comes into view, we whizz through the atmosphere,  puncture a wispy cumulus or two to hurtle (invariably) into a suburban landscape, through an open window to focus on, perhaps, the main character of the movie. But rather than cut to the inevitable ‘get ready for school’ off camera dialogue of the protagonist’s mother, let’s continue to their record collection. The dude is an indie kid, but left field indie rather than middle-of-the-road indie and so, of course, has all the Of Montreal albums…and there they all are chronologically arranged pretty much smack bang in the middle of his alphabetically ordered albums. The camera continues to zoom in right to the heart of the Of Montreal selection, to Hissing Fauna (which is the middle album since the kid has a promo of 2016’s Innocence Reaches) and on it goes, to the centre of the album, to the gargantuan groove fuck that is The Past Is  A Grotesque Animal (track 7 out of 12), which happens to be the kid’s favourite 12 minute long existential dissection of a relationship gone bad in, like, ever. We carry on to the middle of the…I hesitate to say ‘song’ as that’s, kind of, doing it a disservice…piece, and examine the lyrics either side of the median:

‘Somehow you’ve red-rovered the gestapo circling my heart
And nothing can defeat you
No death, no ugly world

You’ve lived so brightly
You’ve altered everything
I find myself searching for old selves
While speeding forward through the plate glass of maturing cells’

and you’re amazed that something so poignant, so devastating and poetic could reside there. It’s only later, when you check out that song/opus/monster that you realise that going to its heart and finding such eloquence is not coincidence at all – dissect any part of The Past Is A Grotesque Animal and you’ll find similar, incredible, lyricism; lyricism as exorcism perhaps, as our hero, Kevin, tries to come to terms with the disintegration of his marriage, but, hell, his loss is our gain, so let’s rejoice that his world falling apart has led to such an outpouring; an outgushing if you will!

I only own the one Of Montreal album. There may be other Grotesque Animals all over their catalogue, but I doubt it. It feels so right that this is central, not just to the album, but…to everything! Listening again just now, the twelve minutes sped by. As those of you who follow the blog will know, I’m not, by nature, a lyrics kind of guy, but these, well they’re something else! Every line is quotable in isolation (in fact one of the music forums I used to follow went through a phase where pretty much every regular poster used a different line from TPIAGA as their tagline) but together they tell the tale of a man’s suffering that is heartbreaking in its honesty and breathtaking in its eloquence.

Spiraling out from TPIAGA are all sorts of kaleidoscopic goodies, pop gems mostly, skewed pop gems almost entirely! Some run off in every direction like disorientated mice, tangential to the point of abstruseness but always clinging onto the pop wreckage that Of Montreal choose to inhabit. Others, like the closing pair of She’s A Rejecter and  We Were Born The Mutants Again With Leafling are more straightforward but no less brilliant (She’s a Rejecter features the unforgettable lyric:

‘Oh no, she’s a rejector
I must protect myself

There’s the girl that left me bitter
Want to pay some other girl
To just walk up to her and hit her
But I can’t, I can’t, I can’t’

which is (a) hilarious, (b) shocking and (c) really sad). I love these songs, but they are exist in the shadow cast by their ever looming big brother and, as such, they feel like hors d’ouevres; wonderfully tasty but appetite whetters/palette cleansers.

My eleven year old son Kit described Hissing Fauna as sounding like a cross between Bowie and Prince when I played it to him the other evening. I guess what he was hearing was the same inventiveness and creativity, someone sounding as though they are not taking themselves too seriously, enjoying the process of making music that is shot from the heart, true to the self, groundbreaking yet familiar enough to be accessible. And whilst Hissing Fauna doesn’t make it onto my turntable all that often these days (it’s almost ten years old…blimey!), I always enjoy it, especially as I get closer and closer to its epicentre!

Nick listened: Emma bought this when it came out, but it kind of got lost in the hustle and bustle of other great records from 2007, which I rate as about my favourite year for music in the last couple of decades (Battles, LCD Soundsystem, Caribou, Patrick Wolf, Spoon, Stars of the Lid, Beirut, Studio, The Field, Radiohead, MIA). it wasn’t the only casualty; I got sent a promo of Boxer by The National and shelved it without listening for years. So Hissing Fauna got listened to a couple of times without penetrating what it was doing really, and then put away, eventually ending up in a box under the spare bed with hundreds of others when we cleared the bottom shelves to toddler-proof the livingroom. But I’ve dug it out now, and it’s back in the active collection.