Spoon – Waiting For The Kid To Come Out / Transference – Round 8: Nick’s selection

I took two selections along to Tom’s house for his fiendishly themed week – the pair listed above, and also The Colour Of Spring by Talk Talk and the Mark Hollis solo album – and, because I couldn’t decide, I let the other DRCers pick. As Tom and Rob both know the Talk Talk album and the Hollis album well, but neither had heard Transference by Spoon, they plumped for Texas’ finest. (Had they not, for reference, I would have played The Colour Of Spring in full alongside the opening track of the Hollis album, which is also entitled The Colour Of Spring; it seemed to make sense.)

While Talk Talk would have been an excellent example of a songwriter developing into something unrecognisable, I liked the idea of Spoon as a band who, to some ears, have barely changed what they do at all in over 15 years together, and who have found serious mileage and respect, an actually quite a lot of diversity, through minute examination of the politics of small differences.

Sasha Frere-Jones in the New Yorker described Waiting For The Kid To Come Out, the second track on the Soft Effects EP, which was released in 1997 (a year after their debut album, Telephono), as Spoon’s first “great” song. I’m not sure whether I agree with it being great or not, but it’s certainly both much better than anything from Telephono and also the first song where Spoon started demonstrating two facets that would go on to define them as a band. Firstly, they started to consciously remove elements from their music, and secondly, they started to seriously play around with rhythm and texture.

Even so, Waiting For The Kid To Come Out is complex and overstuffed compared to later Spoon; there are far more compositional sections than latter day fans might expect (it feels like there are about four differently structured versus, two distinct bridges, a chorus that gets two runs through, plus a stripped-back, processed percussive interlude), and more words too. Not to mention more hooks than a Velcro prom dress. Clocking in at just under 2:45, it manages to be both stuffed to the gills and strangely economical.

Transference comes 13 years after the Soft Effects EP, and is the hangover after the party that was Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga; after the relative maximalism of that album and Gimme Fiction, Transference strips back and takes away again, often reducing sections of songs to single instruments. Even when Spoon do play all their instruments together here, they follow Jacki Leibzeit’s “repeat repeat repeat” maxim; The Mystery Zone, I Saw The Light and Nobody Gets Me But You all elongating with precious little variation.

Transference is odd in other ways, though. The poppier, more accessible songs that might have been lavished with trumpets and handclaps on Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga are here corrupted, truncated, left sounding like weird demos where the sound moves around in ways that seem unfinished. The sweetest melody is left with no company but a piano, other songs end abruptly as if the tape ran out mid-song, or else fade-out far quicker than seems comfortable.

I’ve seen people claim that this combination of repetition and obfuscation is difficult or obnoxious or lazy, but I love it; I bought into Spoon’s aesthetic heavily with Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, explored their back catalogue quickly and deeply, and now consider them the best “band” (where a band is a “gang” playing together in a room) of the last decade. Transference suggests to me that they might keep it up for the next decade too. It sounds exactly like Spoon always sound, but just different enough to give it its own character in their catalogue.

Tom Listened: My relationship with Spoon began in about 2005 when I picked up a copy of Kill The Moonlight and I immediately clicked with its punchy production and tight playing. Britt Daniel’s earthy and confident singing and the album’s ability to land a killer punch when you were least expecting it has sustained my interest and has led to this being one of my favourite albums of the past ten years.

For me Gimme Fiction was a disappointing follow up, too hit or miss (I know there are those who suggest this is Spoon’s finest moment) and, although we had a troubled first week, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga and me now get on just fine…I find it to be a consistently good record, at times very good, but it rarely entices me to pull it off the shelf – the edginess of Kill the Moonlight being replaced with pop laden hooks, effervescent horns and a slightly glossy sheen doesn’t quite give it the same appeal as far as I’m concerned.

So I felt that with Transference’s somewhat patchy reviews and forum chatter, it was probably time Spoon and I parted company. Silly me. Transference sounded great and if, like me, you miss the Spoon of Kill the Moonlight, you’ll welcome the dynamics and edge of Transference’s grooves. I can see why some would find this a backwards step for Spoon but that’s where I wanted them to go and I will now be adding Transference to my shopping list.

I thought Waiting For The Kid To Come Out was a fantastic song, very easily identifiable as Spoon, rough around the edges (as I like it) and it has piqued my interest in the subsequent albums – Series Of Sneaks and Girls Can Tell….this could get expensive!

Rob listened: I like Spoon, and like Nick I started with ‘Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga’. It took a while for me to get past the big showstopping numbers like ‘Underdog’ and ‘Finer Feelings’ to develop a feel for what the band were trying to and now I like the weird, flat, snaky songs that fit between the bold pop tunes just as much. Next I was given their entire back catalogue all in one go, which hangs together like a big amorphous lump for me. I have no idea if ‘The Beast and Dragon Adored’ and ‘I Turn My Camera On’ are on the same record as ‘Monsieur Valentine’ and/or ‘Jonathon Fisk’. And so that’s where we sort of ground to a halt. like Tom, the reviews for ‘Transference’ were pretty much enough to stop me going out and buying it, and like Tom, I thought it sounded pretty great hearing it for the first time. I’ll go back for more and perhaps this will be the first new Spoon record i’m able to digest properly.


Pere Ubu – The Modern Dance (& Ice Cream Truck) – Round 8: Tom’s Selection

The premise: An album and a track by the same artist that has at least ten years between them. We spend a lot of time at DRC talking about artistic development over time. I thought it would be interesting to make this the focus of the meeting, to hear it rather than just talk about it.

For some reason I agonised over this selection more than any other since we’ve been meeting. I had narrowed my choice down to about four different artists and plumped for Pere Ubu in the end as their development through the late 70s and 80s is particularly interesting. However, the choice of album also led to much deliberation – should I opt for Dub Housing, the band’s mind-blowing but hugely difficult second album, or the (slightly) more immediate, straightforward pleasures (a word that can not really be used when considering Dub Housing) of the 1978 debut – The Modern Dance? Well, in the event, The Modern Dance prevailed – its hooks and more conventional sounds and structures are easier to digest in a single sitting yet it still sounds vital and innovative after nearly 35 years! How is that?

Well, I put much of it down to Beefheart. To me, a considerable proportion of the music that has dated badly over the decades has been very easy to pigeonhole, to place within a scene (think psychedelia, punk, prog-rock, glam, new romantics, shoe-gaze, Britpop, Madchester etc). Despite inevitably having a bright start, usually spearheaded by a groundbreaking album or two, as we all know it doesn’t take long for the chancers and talentless to hop aboard and before you know it much of the music that exists within a scene seems to lack soul (as in artistic integrity); the music is no longer coming from the heart but heading to the pocket. And all the detritus that the scene attracts starts to devalue the very stuff that made it so vibrant and exciting in the first place. The sounds of the scene become ubiquitous to the point of tedium so that when you go back to the source, to that cherished album that once sounded so fresh and unique, it no longer sounds like the record you once thought it was. It just sounds dated.

Anyway, getting back to Beefheart. Love him (Rob, me) or not (Nick, philistines), there is no denying that he was one of popular music’s great innovators, totally out there on his own, making music unlike any that had been made before (on the whole) and unlikely to ever be replicated. There are not, to my knowledge, many Captain Beefheart tribute bands around! Fascinatingly, not one of the scenes listed above could be said to have been remotely influenced by him and the music that he produced on the majority of his albums is pretty much impossible to categorize. It seems that those who have been influenced by Beefheart tend to inherit his ability to produce art that is timeless. It’s probably partly due to the fact that it will, by definition, be challenging music that is too difficult for your average jobbing musician out for a fast buck to appropriate. So these bands plunder a rich seam, only accessible to the talented and/or visionary.

The Modern Dance, by taking elements of Captain Beefheart’s sound and approach to making music (the yelped vocals, the unexpected twists and turns in song structure, the brevity yet complexity – we’re not talking Pink Flag era Wire here – of the songs themselves) sounds to me like it could have been made yesterday, 35 years ago…or any time in between. Because there isn’t really anything else like it. It’s an amazing record, one that gets better with each subsequent outing and one that sets a consistently high bar from the initial nails across the blackboard wake up screech of Non-Alignment Pact to the aggressive hands claps, warbly organ  and ‘It’s just a joke man’ refrain of Humor Me. I love it!

Which makes 1988’s Cloudland album so fascinating. I’ve given this record a good few chances over the years and each time I’ve gone back to it, I’ve expected to discover it wasn’t the album I thought it was. Yet, having dug it out again for DRC, it still sounds as awful as ever to my ears. The production on the album is turgid 80s rock at its worst, the songs are linear and predictable, the band sound forced and tired, the magic has gone. Although 10 years younger, Cloudland sounds dated in a way The Modern Dance (and Dub Housing for that matter) don’t and although we played Ice Cream Truck, it was a random choice (Nick selected it for us) and any one of the other tracks on the album could have been used to illustrate the fact just as effectively.

In researching the two records for the meeting, I discovered that Cloudland was the result of the record company’s desire for them to make a ‘pop’ record. It made me think of a similar situation that had occurred 14 years previously when the great visionary artist of his time tried to produce an album that was dictated by his pocket, not his heart. The album was Bluejeans and Moonbeams and the artist – Captain Beefheart!

Rob listened: As a teenager, discovering and falling for PiL, The Fall and Joy Division, Pere Ubu were always there in the background, mentioned obliquely in reviews of other bands, apparently occupying a space somewhere in the same orbit as a bunch of bands I loved. I never went there. I guess I didn’t know where to start and had no-one to tell me. Then last year when Nick guested on ‘Strangely Strange but Oddly Normal’ on Phonic FM host Mark Armitage played a Pere Ubu track on which my wife commented: “this is the sort of racket you’d like”. She was right. I liked this on it’s own merits, and also because despite its idiosyncrasies I could hear through-lines from Can and Beefheart via Talking Heads and Wire to The Fall and Sonic Youth. I suspect that ‘Dub Housing’, if it’s an unhinged as Tom suggests, might be even more up my alley.

Nick listened: This was the first week where I owned every record played at DRC, even if I’d never actually played either of the choices that Rob and Tom brought along. Pere Ubu I never played because… well, I don’t know. I picked up this, and Dub Housing, years ago on the strength of the name-check in Losing My Edge by LCD Soundsystem; I found them cheap and it seemed silly not to stockpile them for later listening. I thing I put on Dub Housing first. Maybe I was expecting King Tubby. It was enough to make me not put on The Modern Dance, even after Mark played it when I guested on his radio show. When Tom played me the whole thing, though… well, it’ll get played soon. Now’s the time.

Arab Strap – ‘The First Big Weekend’/’The Last Romance’ – Round 8: Rob’s choice

First, a mea culpa. I got my dates wrong, or at least I took my dates from allmusic.com. In fact these two records, Arab Strap’s first single and last album, were released 9 years apart rather than the 10 that tonight’s theme demanded. I can only apologise.

This embarrassing oversight notwithstanding, from ‘First’ to ‘Last’, Aidan Moffat and Malcolm Middleton’s career trajectory demonstrates beautiful, redemptive and complete progress, both musically and philosophically.

Their first album, ‘The Week Never Starts Round Here’ still sounds like focussed, pulsing post-rock topped by the after-party mumbles of a hammered scottish prose-poet. Listening back, it’s surprising just how musically similar it is to Chemikal-Underground-label-mates Mogwai’s ‘Come On Die Young’, an album it preceded by 3 years. ‘The First Big Weekend’ is markedly different from much of the rest of the record, lashing Moffat’s picaresque journey through 4 days of beer, birds, brawls and everything in between to the thudding headache-beat of one club night too many. Steve Lamacq memorably called the track “The best song of the decade”.

From here Arab Strap’s records became steadily more confident and exponentially more sombre. Moffat’s bleakly honest and terribly funny lyrics catalogued descending sexual desperation and humiliation, the blasted blur of the boozehound from first pint to hair of the dog, and ultimately traced the outline of the existential abyss at the centre of modern workaday hedonism. Beneath this Middleton’s music chilled and slowed almost to match the stunned depths of one of Moffat’s protagonist’s hangovers.

Whilst never less than beautiful, the albums seemed to be chasing themselves down into the depths where nothing moves and no-one survives. After stirrings on ‘The Red Thread’, 2003’s ‘Monday At The Hug And Pint’ brought relief, re-introducing some of the joy into the duo’s music, principally as Middleton’s arrangements became more expansive, bringing pace and dynamism back and beginning to create a bleak pop entirely of their own forging.

‘The Last Romance’ saw this through wonderfully. Finally Moffat’s words, as woundingly sharp and painfully wry as ever, met their match in songs that pulsate and drive forwards, the first Arab Strap songs you could dance to since, well, since ‘The First Big Weekend’. Musically it’s their finest record, the songs standing proudly on their own two big, presumably slightly swaying, feet. It’s catchy, for god’s sake. And just when you’ve come to terms with Arab Strap being hook-laden, you realise another even more profound transformation has taken place. Although the album starts with a couplet as cracklingly ribald as the infamous opener to ‘Philophobia’, by the time the last five songs roll around, Aidan Moffat is leaving behind the past ten years of drinking and shagging all his chances away and moving, shuffling, towards, settling into romantic love. And when this finally comes, after nine years of following his every godforsaken mis-step and misanthropic side-swipe, it’s as beautiful a feeling as finally marrying off that best friend who you never thought would find the right girl.

The closing track ‘There Is No Ending’ is unashamedly positive and uplifting to the extent that my wife and I came pretty close to having it play as we got married which, for Arab Strap, is one hell of a transformation. It’s the last song they ever released and a perfect way to end the perfect, if slightly wobbly, story arc and a near faultless career.

Tom Listened: I wonder what it would be like to be Aiden Moffat’s girlfriend. To know that every last detail of your relationship, especially the stuff that happens upstairs, will eventually find its way into an unremittingly bleak portrait of Scottish life. I wonder whether Aiden Moffat gets to have a girlfriend now that he has released so many records!

I have stalled in writing my response to The Last Romance because I wanted to get to know it a bit better beforehand. I had liked what I had heard at DRC but I knew that with Arab Strap, the words are too central to overlook and I didn’t really get to grips with them on the night. So today I listened intently whilst driving around the South Devon countryside on another glorious Spring day and the sounds coming out of my car stereo were somewhat incongruous to that rural idyll. As Rob suggests, some of the songs on The Last Romance bounce along splendidly with a momentum that has often been lacking on previous Arab Strap releases and, at times today, I would find myself completely lost in the music…and the music is wonderful. So is Aiden Moffat’s singing. I love his voice. I admire the Scottishness of it, the honesty in the way he slurs his words making no attempt to pander to his audience’s possible preconceptions of what signing should be like.

It’s the words themselves I have a problem with on The Last Romance. I own Philophobia and think it’s a great record. I went back to it tonight to re-assess whether it’s Arab Strap’s or my own development that has made the difference. Whilst I was listening to the lyrics (and there really is no escaping the lyrics on an Arab Strap album), it struck me that Philophobia’s words possess two qualities that The Last Romance seems to be missing – tenderness and scope. Whilst Philophobia’s music is probably the darker of the two, the lyrics talk of love, of kissing, of flirting and of the route to the bedroom rather than (exclusively) what happens once you’re there. Rob attests that there is light at the end of Arab Strap’s tunnel (so to speak) from five songs off but lyrics like ‘And when I wake up stiff, please just feel free to use me/Then go to work and let me wonder what it was that made you choose me’ (from track 8 – Dream Sequence) suggest that optimism is a subjective quality. So whilst we get there in the end, with There Is No Ending the journey to that point is a long and, for me, harrowing affair.

Nick listened: Well, when I say I “own” everything that was played this (last) week, that’s not quite true. The Arab Strap CDs in our collection belong to my wife, and I have never listened to them. I have no idea why: the only thing I’ve heard connected to them is the Belle & Sebastian track that one of them guests on, which I really enjoyed, so there’s no excuse for not delving further. I loved The First Big Weekend, the way it took an ostensibly dance beat and strung it out from being a rave into being an icky hangover. I need to own it. I also enjoyed The Last Romance, although not quite as much; though it varies texture and approach over the whole record, the first two or three songs seemed a little too billowy and direct for me when thrown into relief with The First Big Weekend. By the time There Is No Ending swung around, though… well, Rob summed up the sense of redemption nicely. Gorgeous melody, gorgeous arrangement, totally different feel to everything else on the record and across their career. A fine way to bow out.

The Beatles – Revolver – Round 7: Nick’s choice

I’ve been wondering how we would deal with something thoroughly “of the canon”, especially something from the 60s, for some time now given how much new music we’ve tended to consume at Devon Record Club, and as much as I love Another Green World, it’s not quite canon enough and there’s something about its sound that makes it seem a little “out of time”, so it didn’t quite give us that sense. So I thought I’d go for the daddy, possibly the most acclaimed album of all time.

I first got into The Beatles in 1993 when I was 14; it was a fallow time for them at that point, pre-Oasis, pre-Anthology, and my friends were pretty much all in thrall to Nirvana and their coat-tailers, so being into The Beatles was a slightly odd thing. They didn’t seem as culturally pervasive as they would shortly afterwards. Although maybe that was just my house…

Revolver is a fascinating record; it seems incredible that it was The Beatles’ seventh studio album in four years, when you consider that Beastie Boys have only just released their seventh full vocal studio album after the best part of 30 years. It runs to just 35 minutes, yet there are 14 songs, none of them less than catchy or, at one’s most critical, formally interesting given the state of pop music at the time, and in those 35 minutes there are so many styles, so many ideas, so many melodies, that it can easily overwhelm and leave one befuddled as to what Revolver actually is in and of itself, what it stands for, what it did, what it still does.

At 14 I think I only recognised Eleanor Rigby and Yellow Submarine, and so Revolver was a Pandora’s box to some extent; She Said She Said, Taxman, I’m Only Sleeping, And Your Bird Can Sing, and, of course, Tomorrow Never Knows, were bizarre revelations, pointing towards a different band again from the ones that produced She Loves You et al circa 1963 and then Strawberry Fields et al circa 1967 (the period from 65 through 67, from Day Tripper through Rubber Soul and Rain to Revolver is my favourite stretch of The Beatles’ career). The lurch from Yellow Submarine into She Said She Said is extraordinary, schizophrenic, psychotic, confusing. It makes no sense and yet it works.

The Beatles can very easily seem obvious and passé, and I know that while Tom is a fan, Rob feels little or no need to listen to them because the songs are everywhere, ingrained in our society, but I still gain so much pleasure from going back every so often, from McCartney’s egotistic bassplaying on Taxman, from the melange of sounds on Tomorrow Never Knows, from the surging melodic thrill of And Your Bird Can Sing, from the exquisite melancholy of For No One, that I don’t think I’ll ever be tired of The Beatles, and Revolver in particular.

Track: Orbital – The Girl With The Sun In Her Head

To accompany Revolver, I chose this 10-minute piece of cinematic techno, the first song I ever heard by Orbital, the first piece of full-on techno I ever listened to, and probably the single piece of music that has changed the way I think about, react to, and listen to music the mist in my entire life.

Urged on by salivating reviews comparing the parent album of this track to classical composers rather than thudding luddite dance-bods, and by an older brother who told me to “do [myself] a favour and just buy it”, I picked up In Sides on the day of release from Woolworths in Teignmouth, skipped my afternoon sixth form class, took it home, and had my brain realigned. I’d never listened to anything like it before, and I was rapt from the start. I remember a friend who had a penchant for figuring out how to play Stone Roses songs on guitar saying “anyone could make techno”, and I challenged him to really listen to this song, and figure out how to play it on guitar. At that point he acquiesced that yes, maybe it did take a certain melodic skill and compositional talent…

I’d listened to Screamadelica and Massive Attack and Björk a lot through 1995, moving slowly further and further away from boys with guitars, but Orbital was a final leap into the beyond; once over the wall there lied Prodigy, Underworld, Aphex Twin, and then, in the future, Four Tet, Caribou, Stars Of The Lid, and so much other music that I love so much and wouldn’t ever want to be without. I’m grateful to Orbital, and to this song in particularly for giving me the tools to enjoy it.

Tom Listened: I recall obtaining a version of Revolver in 1981 from a pirated cassette stall in Hong Kong, along with (their words not mine) Ob La Di Ob La Da (Vol 2) – ie the second disc of the White Album – and one of the early ones, A Hard Day’s Night I think. I had never heard of Revolver and although I fell in love with all three albums, Revolver hit hardest. I think it’s interesting that both Nick and I discovered The Beatles for ourselves when we were both quite young and during a period of time when the Beatles were relatively rarely mentioned. Classic albums are much less satisfying if you’ve already heard two thirds of the songs beforehand!

Whilst Tomorrow Never Knows was playing (surely one of the most, if not THE most, significant single step forwards in the history of ‘pop’ music) I had a rant about young people and their conservative tastes and how, a few years ago, I played this and 9 other Beatles tracks to one of my classes and this was very poorly received. So I got my tutor group of mainly 18 year olds to review it. Of the 13 students who produced a review, 5 were pretty much wholly positive, one was wholly negative and the other 7 in general liked the song but found the music confusing and cluttered and complained that it was hard to hear the lyrics. It appears I underestimated them!

A selection of their comments:

‘Sounds a bit like Massive Attack.’

‘Good to mong out to and very good recording quality for its time.’

‘Sounds really modern (Friendly Fires?) – interesting production techniques.’

‘Overall, enjoyable and interesting to listen to.’

‘It sounds like a palatable squeaky gate, which is quite nice(!). It sounds like something I’d listen to when cooking.’

‘A load of crap – sorry not my thing.’

‘Interesting…but a bit jumbled and I found it hard to understand any of the lyrics.’

‘Was Okay but left confused.’

Rob listened: It’s easy and largely pointless to say that The Beatles created pop music. Listening back to their records and tracing the genetic codes of the music we’re listening to 40 years later is fun, but largely an empty exercise. They invented nothing, they just got to empty territory before anyone else, colonised it almost completely, plucking the riffs from the trees, building houses across the genre flatlands and bathing in the rivers of production techniques and studio possibilities. Their offspring have been the dominant strain in pop and rock ever since.

The Beatles were hard working, talented, charismatic, creative, curious, but not geniuses. Circumstances gave them the opportunity to expand way farther, way more quickly than any other band had before and they had the talent and drive to do so. Someone had to. In doing so they set the templates for both pop music and pop stardom. If we set them as a cultural measuring stick, then of course they will be regarded as the best, the most infllutential the most original.

I’m just not interested in them. I don’t listen to them, i don’t care about them. They never got to me at an early age, like they did Tom and Nick, other than via the radio and that’s always been enough for me. I’ve never felt sufficiently interested to listen any deeper, which is not the reaction I had when I heard Dylan, the Velvets, Beefheart etc. You are welcome to argue than none of the music I love would exist without The Beatles, but agin, that’s irrelevant.

Anyway, that’s got that off my chest. I enjoyed listening to ‘Revolver’ and i’m glad Nick chose it. I knew all but four of the songs (again, why bother listening back when you can absorb the back catalogue just by keeping your ears open), and the whole thing passed very pleasantly, with the possible exception of ‘Taxman’, a classic riff-and-strut pop song blighted by a lyric railing against progressive taxation sung from the heart by a suffering Harrison. Poor George must have been down to his last ten million and was understandably upset. It’s a shame he never got around to writing that extra verse in which the taxman takes his money and builds schools and hospitals for poor people.

I’ll stop now.

tUnE-yArDs – Whokill – Round 7:Tom’s Choice

For our 7th (!) time around, I chose Whokill by the band with the most annoying name to type in the history of rock music. I chose it because it is a remarkable record.

I suppose that if a relationship with a record is a bit like a relationship with a person, Whokill and me are in our first flush of love, where we can not wait to re-acquaint ourselves, to spend a little ‘quality’ time together. Most of my other choices for DRC are much longer in the tooth, resembling a couple approaching their ruby anniversary – we respect each other, we have our many good days and the occasional bad day, we know when to give each other space but we’re there for each other in our time of need. Will Whokill ever get beyond first base?….Only time will tell, but at the moment things are looking good (and writing this inane drivel has made me realise that owning a record collection is a bit like being a Mormon. Maybe I should move to Salt Lake City and be done with it). I literally can not wait to slap it on the turntable and lose myself in its myriad sounds and ideas. And it needs to be played loud – as in LOUD. This is no shrinking violet!

The last time I felt this way about a record was when I first put the needle to Actor – St Vincent’s amazing 2009 offering. Although sounding nothing alike, the two albums share much common ground. Both are supremely confident records, both unpredictable and surprising and both attempt (and succeed?) to be something that is unlike anything else that has ever been recorded. Which is easy if you’re happy to hit a badger over the head with a croquet mallet whilst stamping in a vat of blancmange, but is more of a challenge if the aim is to make a coherent, listenable and enjoyable album. In my opinion, both of these artists pull this off magnificently.

But whereas Annie Clark’s album has sweet tunes sung by a sweet voice in abundance – admittedly most have been skewered at some point or other – Whokill is possibly harder to pin down. Funky baselines accompany clatter and clutter and a holler that is unlike anything you’ve heard before. In the course of one song, Merrill Garbus’ voice can veer from an (only slightly) female version of Shaggy (the reggae star not the slacker cartoon character – now, that WOULD be something), to a guttural, unnerving roar, to a voice of almost Ella Fitzgeraldlike purity. It really is remarkable.

Whokill is an unusual album as it starts with three of its most awkward, challenging songs – My Country, Es So and Gangsta. Get through these exhilarating offerings and you’re rewarded with one of the albums warmest and most accessible cuts – Powa (described by Nick as ‘almost like a torch song’). Side two of the vinyl is simply stunning – the single, Bizness, is a highlight but, for me, the following two tracks (Doorstep and You Yes You) reach even higher peaks. The album takes an unexpected change of pace and texture on the lullaby Wooly Wolly Gong and then signs off with the typically choatic Killa.

Rob will no doubt want to expand on this (as it was his observation) but Whokill is a bit like an inverse of Bitte Orca by Dirty Projectors. The albums have similarities in terms of their sound but Bitte Orca’s pop sensibilities tend to be hidden deep within its tangential song structures and crazily altering time signatures. It takes a bit of work. Whokill comprises of what are, essentially, ten pop songs which have been smashed to pieces, liquidized, but are still pop songs at heart. It is a truly remarkable record, one that it would be very hard not to have an opinion about, and that has to be a good thing.

Nick listened: I’m undecided regarding what I thought of tUnE-yArDs, beyond the fact that I will only ever copy&paste their name and never faff around typing it ‘properly’ myself. It veered wildly from crazy, multi-directional, non-linear collage-esque sonics (with vocals just as erratic), to much more straightforward blues & soul style songs (sung in a straightforward blues & soul style way – I asked if Merrill was black, although i didn’t expect her to be), seemingly front-loading the oddest three numbers and then (almost) evening out into more placid territory afterwards. I’m aware it’s garnering rave reviews, but I suspect it’s the type of record that needs to be picked-apart to a degree and absorbed rather than fallen in love with straight away. But who knows? People are different.

It reminded me of lots of different things: the Micachu album from 2009; Beck circa Odelay; various blues singers and songs. It didn’t particularly, and thankfully, remind me of Dirty Projectors (I’m really not keen on Bitte Orca). It didn’t really remind me of Actor by St Vincent either though, which is a shame, because I love that record to bits. I felt like it would take me multiple exposures to get to grips with Who Kill, and I wasn’t sure the payoff would be worth the effort.

Rob listened: This was the second time I’d heard the album. I really enjoyed it. Particularly intrigued by her voice which seemed belt out the tunes whilst being weirdly difficult to get a handle on.

Albums which need work to get to know tend have to take their chances with me. Whereas Tom listens 6 times to anything before he’s happy to pass judgement, i’m perfectly happy to be wooed first time around. As Tom has mentioned, ‘Whokill’ seemed to me great avant-garde pop with strange undercurrents, rather than an initially difficult record which slowly reveals pure pop beneath the surface, like ‘Bitte Orca’. I have a feeling, from the way it’s being written about, that this will be top three in lots of end of year lists

Puressence – ‘Puressence’ – Round 7: Rob’s choice

Puressence are one of my great lost bands. I’m personalising that statement because being a lost is nothing special, almost all bands are, and the ‘great’ here refers to their lost-ness rather than making a direct claim to greatness. I do think their first two albums were pretty damned great, but clearly few others agreed, hence the lostness. Is that clear?

So, i’m not claiming objective greatness for them, but it does rankle with me that this Failsworth band sank leaving few ripples when far inferior outfits are cruising the stadium circuit trading on songs without half the shine, scale and punch of this set. The alternative universe in which these guys are rocking Glastonbury and The Killers are kicking around their parents houses wondering where it all went wrong is tantalisingly close and its proximity raises interesting questions about which bands make it and why.

Puressence, the story goes, met on the coach to Spike Island and decided to form a band straight after the gig. Which is pretty cool. As this, their 1996 debut album, amply demonstrates, they had two things going for them. Firstly, they wrote songs with detail and edge and contour but which, pretty unfailingly, all harboured jet-powered hooks which still hit like rockets when they go off. Secondly, they had James Mudriczki, he had the voice of an angel and he knew how to use it and how to counterpoint it against surging rock music. It’s a great album and the follow-up, ‘Only Forever’, was even more direct and catchy.

I’m not sure how this is going to go down at DRC, especially on a night when I suspect Nick might be bringing ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ or similar. My guess is that Tom will be out, but Nick might be in, at least to the extent that he wants to talk about Embrace in relation to this. However, I wanted to bring this at some point, perhaps as an example of the sort of record that won’t make any lists and that no-one else will really remember of care about but that in another world could, perhaps should, have been the biggest selling album on the planet. And we all have one of two of those on our shelves, don’t we?

Track choice: Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy – ‘You Want That Picture’

Just a wonderful song. It’s only 3m30s and two extended verses long but it manages to be both intimate and profound, bridging between a lovers’ argument and our place in the Universe effortlessly whilst transforming appropriately from a downhome country shuffle to an epic hymn and back again.

Nick listened: I used to listen to, and love, a lot of music like this when I was 16, 17, 18. I knew of Puressence, but for some reason I never investigated them. I knew the singer had an angelic voice, I knew they were serious, surging young men, probably not averse t the word epic, but they passed me by. A few months after this album was released, Embrace came along, and they were the last band of this type that I had any interest in.

Despite having never heard it, I felt like I knew the contours of this record from the get-go, the way the album started, the way it ended, the guitar sound, the moments when things stepped up into overdrive…

It may just be that I don’t listen to music like this anymore, that I feel I have no need for it, but I get the idea that no one makes music like this these days; things seem spikier, shorter, as a rule. Even the likes of Coldplay, and maybe Elbow, seem to be doing something quanitifiably different, more kitchen-sink and less standing on a mountain in the rain.

I honestly don’t know whether I enjoyed this or not.

Tom Listened: I’ve got to hand it Rob…he keeps you on your toes! I’ve known the fella for getting on a quarter of a century now and yet I had no idea he had rousing stadium rock  anthems lurking in the ‘non-loft’ section of his collection. Looking back through his 7 selections so far, it makes Deus seem like a one-trick pony in comparison….amazingly eclectic and challenging. Next week…Mariah Carey sings Big Black?

So, whilst I didn’t get Puressence (although the lead singer’s voice was mightily impressive and would have fitted a band like, say, Wild Beasts a treat….oh, hang on…), I have that nagging ‘Rob likes this so it probably is really good if you’re prepared to give in to it’ thing going on. Because, it pains me to say, he is usually right!

However, 1996 suddenly seems a long time away and records that I have recently turned
to from that era also sound pretty dated these days especially, it seems, those made by the English. As both Nick and Rob have hinted, Puressence’s sound is not easily recognisible in this age of freak-folk, Americana, African rhythms and blurred boundaries. Whilst I don’t think I’ve listened to an album of music like this before (although I did once own Queen’s It’s a Kind of Magic), Puressence didn’t manage to convince me that I had been missing out.

PS The BPB track, however, made me suspect that I have been somewhat lacking in judgement in terminating our relationship in 2003.

%d bloggers like this: