Julian Cope – Fried: Round 105, Steve’s choice

Julian CopR-372058-1380454394-9742.jpege turns 60 on 21st October 2017. The reaching of a milestone, you might say, along the leyline of life for the Archdrude, Krautrock, Japrock psychedelic traveller, rock-pop star and general mad dude. Mr Cope has been many things to many different people. I covered his time in the Teardrop Explodes at previous meeting, chronicling his descent into madness and general chaos. All the pre-solo shenanigans are detailed in his autobiography – Head On. Post-Tears breakup was hard on Julian. Dumped by most of whom he thought were friends, and exiled to his childhood home of Tamworth having been resident both in Liverpool and London, he finds himself in an artistic moment of enforced freedom. ‘Fried’ was his second solo album, having been preceded by ‘World Shut Your Mouth’ (which doesn’t contain the song of that name itself – that appears on St Julian). On ‘World…’ he retains much of the febrile high-tempo sounds found on Kilimanjaro. When that failed to stick, he went into the studio and recorded ‘Fried’. Much under the influence and striking a chord with his visions of himself within a mythological England the tracks on this album have a folksy quality about them, not a million miles from Syd Barrett’s solo ventures. You can draw a line from Barrett, through ‘Fried’ to Blur. On ‘Reynard the Fox’ he embodies himself (perhaps a reference to his shamanic spirit animal) in the folk character of a wise anthropomorphic animal who is outwitting his enemies. Being caught eventually he cuts his stomach open and “spills his guts out onto the stage”, again referring to an actual event in JC’s live performance where he did just that. The music itself is frenzied and despite its gory lyrics it’s a favourite of my children’s! ‘Bill Drummond Said’ is also a list of things that, well Mr Drummond is alleged to have said e.g. “If I pray enough my Christmas tree will die”. So outlandish are these sayings that it’s quite possible that they’re made up. But then it’s not clear that he couldn’t have said them, and so the legend goes. It’s a jolly little ditty, and Bill followed it up a few years later with a folk song riposte entitled “Julian Cope is Dead”.

On ‘Fried’ Julian is not scared of being completely experimental. Later on he would carve out his rock star persona, and have hits with “World Shut Your Mouth” and “Try Try Try”. So, this album is odd in that it diverts from both the successful pop of Teardrops, and his later more accessible work, and hints at an altogether artistically adventurous JC. Tracks from this album still survive as live favourites, such as ” Sunspots” and “Reynard the Fox”. His march into full on shamanic Druidry is attempted here in a less mature way on “O King of Chaos”. Religious ramblings abound on “Holy Love”

“Who’s that rolling in the hay
The baby Jesus or the cavalry?”

He deals with betrayal by his friends and the dropping of him by the record label (he was dropped again after this album) on ‘Laughing Boy’

“Oh no, don’t cast me out of here
Oh no, don’t cast me out of here
Oh no, don’t cast me out, I said “No”
I’ve got no place to go.”

and with the very fact that having success has changed him from the person he was, so much that he can’t go back (on ‘Me Singing’)

“I try my hand at work
Oh, work seems to be for an earlier person”

Musically the album is truly solo, with Cope often playing his own instruments. So, it is quite simplistic in composition, but nevertheless there’s plenty nice tunes here. Lyrically there’s a heavy dosage of pathos, emotion and introspection to take you into the inner workings of his mind. I find its autobiographical and yet legend-spinning approach to be quite refreshing and honest. It was certainly not well-received at the time, hardly selling any copies. Polydor dropped him after this, and perhaps the necessity of having to work to make ends meet he diverts from this style to something much more accessible. People focus too much on the front cover of this album, and are perhaps put-off from listening to it, thinking this is perhaps just the ramblings of a mad-man who got under a turtle shell on a rubbish mound. Much like Mr Cope and his very varied 60-year old CV, it’s much much more than that….He’s a legend, and dare I say it an English treasure. At 60 he ought to be honoured with more than just a free bus pass. Happy Birthday Mr Cope!

 

 

 

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Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith – A Kid: Round 105, Nick’s choice

akidkas“Phenomenologically beautiful” is a phrase I use with alarming frequency (probably more than anyone else who has ever lived, I imagine), particularly at record club, where I deservedly receive a ribbing for it every time. (In fact, if you google the phrase, most of the results are me being an idiot. I’ve probably upset some philosophers by mangling what they think it means.) Sometimes it’s really appropriate, though.

It’s really appropriate for this Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith record, her sixth in six years, because A Kid is beautiful: the direct moment of experiencing it, shorn of context or analysis or discussion or wider epistemological considerations, is physically beautiful, on a sensory level of consciousness.

It achieves a similar goal to the James Holden record I played last time we met, but from a different direction and by different means. They both head for sublimation, that experience of forgetting who you are, feeling your own insignificance in the face of the universe. They both kind of get there through sensory overload, but instead of the energy and edge-of-chaos, dancing-uncontrollably-in-a-forest hysteria of The Animal Spirits, A Kid gets there by being… nebulous, difficult to touch, extraordinarily pretty, calm.

Excuse my guff at the start, though, because Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith makes the kidn of music that inspires people to delve into breathless hyperbole; in fact there’s an entire, mealy-mouthed, patriarchal, joy-shaming thread on I Love Music dedicated to the things people wrote on the forum about her previous record.

And some of the phrases polled are pretty ridiculous, taken out of context, but they’re also brilliant, and my favourites are also the ones with the most votes:

“superoxygenated synth fantasias”

“we looked at each other and wondered aloud how we were going to put on another album after this one.”

“a cornucopia of wondrous sound, and i’m excited to have it accompany my life in these next few spring and summer months.”

“I’m going to have to download this and go and sit quietly in a forest with it for a while.”

Far from being shamed, the authors of these lines should be pleased that they’ve
inspired other people to go out and listen to this music, because they have.

Some bio in case you can’t be bothered to google for her wiki page: Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith is from Orcas Island, an isolated part of the Pacific North West, and studied composition and sound engineering at Berklee College of Music in Boston (not Berkley in California, as I’ve seen referenced in a couple of locations), before moving back to Orcas Island and discovering synthesizers, especially the Buchla, which she does most of her work on. From pictures on the internet, Orcas Island looks like the kind of place where a creative kid would grow up with an appreciation of the vastness of nature and the insignificance of the self.

Her last album, 2016’s Ears (the one that people were so unreasonably shamed for enjoying on that thread), was on my list last year of things to buy if I ever saw it anywhere, but I never saw it anywhere. So I’ve ordered it (and the preceding Euclid) from Norman now, and hopefully will soon be able to bask in its pleasures.

She recently did a Baker’s Dozen for The Quietus, and there were a couple of key quotes about other people’s records that I thought could be used to describe her own rather well:

“music that… confuses the listener in a way that they can just relax and listen…”

“I love music that I can just play like that, where it can continue going and my brain won’t hold onto it too much…”

So what does it sound actually like? Who or what might be the frames of reference or comparison points or “like that? Try these” pointers that will make you go “ahhhh” and want to listen to this wonderful record?
Well, imagine if Julia Holter’s Ekstasis had evaporated, or Panda Bear’s Person Pitch had dissolved. Make Anna Meredith’s Varmints really vague.

But really she sounds like someone with a phalanx of synths, a universe of ideas, and a belief that music can and (sometimes) ought to be exceptionally beautiful. Her music is.

Steve listened:
I found this quite beguiling and would like to listen a little more closely. It felt it could be good mood music. I would agree that it’s music that my brain didn’t hold on to much and so I would probably listen again and again having forgotten what it was that intrigued me. There was a rich texture to it and many layers that would allow you to explore more and more. I’ve not yet hit the “buy” button but I may keep it in reserve.

Rickie Lee Jones – Pirates: Round 104 – Tom’s Selection

Before acquiring Pirates a couple of years ago, all I knew of Rickie Lee Jones was that she was the voice of The Orb’s magnificent Little Fluffy Clouds. I guess it must be pretty galling to be an esteemed singer-songwriter of yore and yet have swathes of an entire generation of music lovers whose only connection is a sample of a snatch of conversation of a promotional CD for one of your albums, even if that sample becomes one of the most recognisible, iconic samples of all time! Of course, I also knew the song Chuck E’s In Love, but never knew who sung it until I bought Pirates and started to do the obligatory on-line research.

So I really had no idea what to expect when I first played Pirates. And I guess that by the time that first play had ended, I still wasn’t sure what to make of the record; its mellifluous, jazzy soundscapes and Springsteenesque storytelling being at odds with what I would normally look for in a purchase.

But, with a little help from my daughter (who immediately clicked with the album, unencumbered as she is with the weight of musical prejudice) it, quite slowly admittedly, dawned on me that Pirates is a keeper, one of those records that reveals more with each listen, where the things that put you off in the first place become distant memories as the listening experience becomes more and more immersive and encompassing. I have loads of records that have pulled this trick in my collection (Forever Changes, Clear Spot, Pet Sounds, every American Music Club album ever, The Chills’ Brave Words) and have written about it in the blog many times over, yet it still never ceases to amaze me – how the songs obviously don’t alter at all, yet my relationship with them transforms them from anathema to essential with just familiarity, a little bit of close listening and an open mind.

At record club, however,  I was caught somewhere in between; the fact that there were two newbies listening for the first time brought back memories of my own experiences of first fetting to know the album. So, whilst the unimpeachable magnificence of opener We Belong Together remained untarnished, some of the other, more challenging numbers reverted, for the night at least, back to being…challenging, Skeletons vaguely musical theatre like qualities, for example, becoming unavoidable when listening in the presence of my esteemed and experienced fellow clubbers. Funny thing is, on my own or in the company of my family (all of whom are fans) I don’t really hear it like that at all!

I played Pirates again this evening for the first time since record club and  it all sounded fabulous again. It’s of its time, of course, and very much in the Springsteen/Waits (early years) mould of third person storytelling. Musically it harks back to some of Joni Mitchell’s more complex, jazz inflected mid 70s fare and forward to, say, Jane Siberry’s The Walking – maintaining that balance between the complex and the accessible; hooks abound but are rarely repeated, songs writhe around never really falling into a recognisible verse/chorus/verse structure whilst never veering too far away from that either. Many of the songs are exercises in delayed or unfulfilled release, We Belong Together  being a case in point as it threatens on a number of occasions to explode into a Born To Run style rocker, but Jones reigns it in almost immediately lest it should become too predictable.

I have no idea where Pirates sits within the pantheon, I still feel that it is a bit of an outlier in my collection and I know that my 25 year old self would have mocked me for even entertaining the idea of putting it on the record player. But for a 48 year old man (or a 15 year old daughter), Pirates works just fine and has brought many hours of unexpected aural pleasure over the past couple of years.

James Holden & The Animal Spirits – The Animal Spirits: Round 104, Nick’s choice

 animalspiritsI’d only bought this record on the Friday before our Tuesday meeting, but the half-dozen (occasionally broken / distracted) listens I’d managed to accumulate in that short time revealed this to be about the most ‘Nick’ record I could bring to record club. Indeed, perhaps the most ‘Nick’ record I could even imagine at this point in time; it feels like the square route (or the sum, or something – ask one of the mathematicians in the group what I mean) of much of my favourite music for the last few years.

So what is it? Well, four and a bit years ago (pre-kids), James Holden’s last record was one of my favourites of the year; massive, semi-improvised synthesiser explorations, with nods to jazz, trance, krautrock, and evocations of enormous natural British landscapes.

A particular standout track was “The Caterpillar’s Intervention”, which felt like a weird, acid-soaked, pagan, forest-dwelling jazz recreation of “Atlas” by Battles. Percussion, synthesisers, slightly deranged brass; these are a few of my favourite things. The Animal Spirits feels like it takes that track as a direct jumping-off point, and runs enthusiastically down the (heavily wooded, less-travelled) path it pointed towards. Which is basically exactly what I wanted Holden to do after The Inheritors.

For this new record – only his third album in well over a decade of making music – James Holden has put together a band with whom he’s recorded a number of live (no overdubs, I gather), semi-improvised synth + drums + brass + percussion (+ occasional wordless, chanting vocals) jams. This makes his 2006 debut (The Idiots Are Winning, a title which gets more and more prophetic / bathetic with every disquieting event in global politics), a one-man-in-his-bedroom techno album which took the beatific, widescreen trance of his early singles and remixes and edited it until it teetered on the edge of collapse, an outlier in his discography. To go from control-freakish, micro-edited techno experiments to what’s essentially live, improvised kraut-jazz-prog-rock, is quite a move in only three albums. When you consider that his first single was released in 1999, when he was just 20, it’s not actually that rapid an evolution, but still.

At times The Animal Spirits is a very heavy record; it could almost be hard rock or even full-on metal at times, but played with a very different set of instruments. At 9 tracks over 45-ish minutes, it’s considerably easier to consume than The Inheritors, which has 15 tracks and lasts about half an hour longer. The Animal Spirits feels focussed, lean, and precise, even as the music on it is raging, exploratory, and verging on hysteria. In many ways it fits very neatly as a wilder, less manicured partner to Floating Points’ material released this year: the progrock synth explorations of Reflections: Mojave Desert, and the strung-out, meticulous, almost-back-to-the-dancefloor pseudo-dance of “Ratio”.

It sounds fabulous; the synths are the main attraction, and the mix gives you full access to their warmth, buzz, groove, and melody. I’ve seen a couple of people suggest that the drums are too low in the mix, and compared to the kind of pumping, side-chained beats of Holden’s origins in dance music they certainly sound very different, but they’ve got the ragged crispness of a live kit performance, and all the excitement that goes along with that. If you want them louder, just turn it up; the mix and performances reward, even demand, that volume. The brass – cornet and saxophone – works both melodiously and chaotically depending on the track. On more than one occasion there’s a flute or a recorder, and a massive whiff of Canterbury hippy, which could put you off if the whole thing wasn’t so damn compelling. It draws from Morroccan gnawa music, ancient African Islamic spiritual religious songs and rhythms, and you can feel that it’s striving for something limbic, something sublime, not quite secular but… agnostic, and yearning.

In many ways it fulfils the promise I first heard in Caribou’s Up In Flames album way back in 2003, fusing electronic experiments with jazz, rock, dance, and more in order to find the head-spinning psychedelic space that they can all inhabit when they cut loose. There are a lot of people working in this milieu now, a karass (to again use Kurt Vonnegut’s neologism for a group of people with shared interests who are somehow spiritually bound together) including Floating Points, Four Tet, Caribou, Nicolas Jaar, the Polar Bear / Melt Yourself Down / Sons of Kemet British jazz cohort, Nathan Fake and Luke Abbott (obviously, as people signed to his label Border Community), The Invisible, and probably (hopefully?) some others I’ve yet to discover, too. It might just be the best record that any of them have released thus far; ask me again in a few months.

Poly Styrene – Translucence: Round 103 – Steve’s Selection

R-871344-1167646732.jpegSometimes albums surprise you in a way that you wouldn’t necessarily describe as good or bad, but make you want to know more about the artist. So it was with this selection of mine. I was drawn to it through a short interview in the Guardian by Neneh Cherry. She of course has some links to the post-punk scene of her own through her former group Rip, Rig and Panic. This band also featured one Andrea Oliver – the mother of Miquita Oliver, the former host of  Pop World…ok, too far down that branch of the family tree now. But, somehow Poly Styrene was intertwined with her life enough to make her also want to know more about her. A crowd-funded film is being produced about Poly, which is due out next year. But just how this strangely iconic woman burst onto the punk scene, and beyond into critically acclaimed obscurity via a Buddhist community is enough to intrigue. Neneh mentioned this album in her interview, which at the time confounded and confused the post-punk scene, preferring instead to draw more heavily on jazz- infused folk. It really is not what you would expect had you only listened to the shouty in your face X-ray Spex (whom I also love). What you have to understand though is before Poly Styrene emerged onto the punk scene, she spent some time floating around the mid-1970s hippy festival scene (from about the age of 15 till her 17th birthday I believe). This album takes her back there and it is as delightful and beguiling as the front cover – with only the eyes present behind the headdress.

The first track, ‘Dreaming’ is immediately softer than its predecessors, with reggae-style drum rolls, and a drifting flute floating across the chorus (“I’m dreaming, I’m dreaming of you’). Her voice is lighter, less in your face, and she manages to reach vocal levels not achieved on the punkier songs on Germ Free Adolescents (X-Ray Spex’s only album). Straight away, a surprise, and in a nice way…’Toytown’ is in a similar vein. Trading raging guitars and roaring sax for light keyboard and reggae beats. The similarities with early Blondie are there. Later tracks with jazzier tones pre-date Everything But The Girl. The change in tempo displayed on ‘Bicycle Song’ is subtle and sophisticated, and the overlaid sound effects have a touch of the playful Barrett-esque psychedelia. ‘Translucence’ has a beautiful flute backing that make you feel like your gliding through a 1970s hippy folk festival waiting to catch the end of Pentangle’s set.

Poly Styrene went into hiding after this album. Her next ‘Generation Indigo’ was released when she knew she was dying from cancer. I can’t wait to hear her again in the crowd funded documentary film out next year. I bought a very fine mug (polystyrene cup?) designed by her daughter to help fund the project to pay tribute to this fascinating, perhaps underrated and secretive figure in UK music.

King – We Are King: Round 102 – Tom’s Selection

At our ‘End Of Year Playlist Night’, Nick commented that my list of songs was miles off what he would have expected when we started meeting way back in early 2011. I had to concede that he was spot on in his assertion. Whilst my playlist had a couple of unsurprising selections in it (Okkervil River made it in – seeing them play Judy On A Street made it an undeniable choice; as did Kevin Morby, his Singing Saw album from last year whilst not really breaking any new musical ground has revealed itself as a work of richness and great staying power), the majority of the other tracks probably wouldn’t have entered my psyche, let alone my record collection, if it hadn’t been for DRC and its influence on my listening habits over the course of the past decade.

Of the less likely stuff on my list, Margaret Glasby, Katie Gately and Dele Sosimi would have probably missed out through obscurity – although I would have been well predisposed to these artists back then, I wouldn’t have found out about them without being nudged in the right direction by online recommendations. The rest – Solange, Dawn Richard, Petite Meller…and King, well I just wasn’t listening to this sort of stuff in 2011. I would have dismissed it as ‘not for me’; with a closed mind, I find it all too easy to convince myself that a sound is anathema to me, hit ‘reject’ and not bother to look beyond that initial impression.

More fool me!

Fortunately, though, my musical palette has widened considerably since then and hence I get to write about amazing albums like We Are King! However, being a relative newcomer to the delights of modern day R&B I feel somewhat wary in trying to pick out what it is about the King debut album that I like so much – I couldn’t begin to link it to influences and precursors and I have no idea whether what King are doing is particularly innovative or original. What I do know is that when I play the record it makes me feel great. And that’s good enough in my book! Even on the most horrible of days (today, for example) I can put We Are King onto the turntable and suddenly the skies clear, the sun shines, the birds tweet, flowers bloom…all is well with the world.

Remarkably synchronous with Devon Record Club, King started out in earnest in 2011, perhaps spurred on by the burgeoning record club scene in the south west of England; their debut was a long time in coming, and the attention to detail and perfectionism shines through on the album. This is not an album that would have been tarnished by any lack of spontaneity – Pink Flag it most definitely is not – so why not take the time and get it right? It does say something about the confidence that the band must have had in their music that they were prepared to toil away at it for such a long time though. I guess their hourly earnings over those five years wouldn’t have been all that impressive. But the cliche goes that you are meant to suffer for your art, right? And, in this case, it has surely paid off – twelve exquisite tracks, not a weak link amongst them has led to encouraging reviews across the board, the metaphorical thumbs up from Prince, and the Album Of The Year award on the ILX music forum. If success in the music business is all about momentum and earnings then I guess King’s second album could be the point where they go big. If success is measured by the works of art you have produced, I would assert that King are already as successful as most recording artists would ever reasonably expect to be – in We Are King they have already produce a soulful masterpiece for these unenlightened times.

Sugar – Copper Blue: Round 103 – Tom’s Selection

In a moment of gay abandon I thought I would actually write up my choice from our last meeting. It appears that life has got ahead of us and, whilst we still meet up (occasionally), our blog has seemed to have stagnated to the point of ossification. But, seeing as I am gearing up to going back to work next week and, as a result, I am going to be spending an inordinate amount of time tapping away on a keyboard – when I started out, I thought teaching would be about…teaching (how naive I was!) – I thought it would be a good idea to get a bit of keyboard tapping practise in. So, here goes…

I took Sugar’s Copper Blue to the last meeting. I took it because it’s brilliant.

In fact, and I feel a bit disloyal writing this, I am increasingly of the opinion it’s the best thing Bob Mould has ever done. This is not something I would have ever admitted at the time, but over the years Copper Blue has become the undeniable choice from the ‘catalogue of Mould’ as far as I am concerned. In fact it’s also, for my money, one of the best rock albums of the 90s by anyone, its writhing, swirling melodic lines built for longevity and exploration..in stark contrast to some of the more heralded yet straightforward LPs that were covering similar landscapes at that point in time.

In comparison to Mould’s previous work in Husker Du, Copper Blue pounds its way through its 45 minutes, the tinny, trebbly production of New Day Rising and Flip Your Wig transformed into an irresistible melange of thundering drums and relentless bass, overlaid (most of the time) with Mould’s trademark guitar squalls and reverse solos. As a result the album exudes a warmth that was only hinted at on The Husker’s last two records and wasn’t really evident at all on their output prior to their move to Warner Brothers. And, in my opinion, Mould’s song writing is at its zenith on Copper Blue, ten tracks of peerless quality, from the ominous minor key riffage that opens The Act We Act, to the gloriously uplifting exit of Man On The Moon and pretty much everything in between. In fact, as a thought experiment, try supplanting any of Mould’s Husker Du tracks for a song on Copper Blue and it would only serve to weaken the album…that’s how good it is!

Pointing out highlights seems superfluous but I’m going to have a go…

‘A Good Idea’ is a Pixies’ song in all but name but, as if he’s pointing an accusatory finger their way, Mould seems to be saying, ‘Look, I invented this stuff and I can do it really easily and really well and…here’s a song that’s just as good as Debaser or Gouge Away or Where Is My Mind and it’s not even the best song on the record!’ ‘Helpless’ recalls Mould’s previous power pop triumphs when in his former combo (Makes No Sense At All, Could You Be The One), but with generous lashings of extra pop. ‘If I Can’t Change Your Mind’ harks back to The Byrds circa I Fell A Whole Lot Better and ‘Slick’ kicks up a maelstrom of noise all snarled vocals and reverb and anger.

However, my two favourite cuts on the album, and as a result, my two favourite moments in Mould’s entire canon are the aforementioned The Act We Act and side one’s epic closer Hoover Dam. The two seem to me to be two sides of the same coin, both tracks weaving an intricate path through light and dark; minor and major keys being used to accentuate the release and keep the listener guessing, even after riding the beast for the 100th time. They are astonishing songs on an astonishing album in an astonishing career and if Bob Mould ever goes on to better Copper Blue, he will have produced a work of such unimpeachable quality that ‘rock’ as a form of popular music may as well consider itself truly dead and buried.

Or maybe that’s what Copper Blue did all along, it was just that none of us realised it at the time!

Steve Listened: It was great to revisit this album. I had forgotten how truly great it was. It also helped me unlock his latest solo album (‘Patch the Sky’) which I played at “full tilt” all the way home that night. I’ve also been re-playing Copper Blue a lot so thanks Tom – made me feel 20 again!