Harmonia – Deluxe – Round 11: Nick’s choice

Once again Tom set a fiendish theme; we weren’t allowed to pick a record originating from any country that had already been represented at Devon Record Club. Given that we’ve covered Canada, Sweden, Brazil, Australia, Scotland, Ireland, England, and the USA in previous sessions, this meant that a big chunk of the stuff we’d normally bring along was outlawed to us. And Australia. (I’m just joking, Australians. We know you produce loads of great music. Like Men At Work. And You Am I.)

Two countries that I have plenty of music from have been conspicuous by their absence though; Germany and Japan. Once again, I’d been pondering bringing some krautrock along ever since we began (Rob was pretty convinced I’d bring some Cluster to our first meeting, as I’d been tweeting about them a lot at the time), CAN get mentioned every week (yet seem to escape our list of proscribed artists that we are not to speak of ever again), and so it seemed obvious to pick Germany. Also, I knew Rob would pretty much be stuck with Japan, and didn’t want to be mean…

Harmonia are a krautrock supergroup of sorts, featuring the two members of Cluster plus Michael Rother of Neu!. You can read all about how they came together on their wiki page; I’ll just say that Deluxe is their second album, that Brian Eno described them as “the world’s most important rock band” (and then worked with them in 1976), and that, in many ways, Deluxe is the Holy Grail of the krautrock sound…

That’s a big claim: what makes it so good? Sonically, Deluxe manages to combine the kosmische musik electronic textures and synth experiments that make up one side of krautrock with the motorik rhythm and long-hair guitar abuse that makes up the other. No one else that I’ve heard quite managed to fuse these two approaches, but here it’s seamless. The debut album had been much closer to Cluster’s warm electronic ambience, but Deluxe saw Rother, and Guru Guru drummer Mani Neumeier, cut loose and rip it up a little over the textures produced by Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Möbius (Cluster), not least on Monza, which David Bowie didn’t so much rip-off as just use as a backing track for the song Red Sails from Lodger.

The first three tracks are long – between seven and eleven minutes each – while the last three are shorter – four to six minutes – but Deluxe isn’t a record with an experimental side and a pop side; the whole thing is more immediate and song-based than a lot of other kosmische krautrock, and there are even vocals on some tracks, albeit mysterious, non-musical group chants rather than sing-a-long lyrics, but it’s even, though undulating, in tone and pace. There’s a real sense of warmth and playfulness to the record too, qualities often overlooked when talking about and listening to German music, but which actually shoot through a lot it.

Rob listened: I confess I was wandering around a little while the first couple of track from ‘Deluxe’ played. I’m very sorry. I’m no krautrock  aficionado. It goes as far as Neu! and ‘Ege Bamyasi’ for me, even though so much of the music I love was so heavily influenced by the scene (The Fall, PiL, Animal Collective). So it was good to hear this, although I was surprised by how unstructured it sounded. That’s me thinking ‘I’m So Green’ and ‘Hallogallo’. Sorry. Tom and Nick have enjoyed jousting with their CAN views over recent months, a conversation i’m blissfully excluded from. Tonight I was happy just to sit back and listen to some synths so old and great sounding, you could almost feel the valves squeaking. Nice stuff, would have preferred more grooves, but I know nothing.

Tom Listened: Rob has this theory about the colour of album covers. I know what he means. Spiderland and Closer could never be anything other than black and white, whilst the music on Sgt Pepper’s, Bummed and Forever Changes could never warrant a monochrome cover. But what comes first, the colour of the music, or the artwork? Does the album cover make you see that colour in the music or merely reflect it? The power of suggestion. I can’t help thinking it’s the former…after all, why is it that I see the sounds of Blue Bell Knoll by the Cocteau Twins as grey blue, whilst Heaven and Las Vegas is most definitely vibrant pinks, reds and oranges? Surely the music (and Liz Fraser’s warblings) are not THAT different between the two consecutive releases!

Which brings me to Deluxe by Harmonia. I couldn’t disassociate the music from that mid 70s Some Mother’s Do ‘Ave ‘Em orangey brown no matter how hard I tried. The odd thing was that I found myself really enjoying the music one second and then placing it, in all its beigeness, within its historical context smack bang in the middle of an Open University programme on particle physics, the next. I’m not really sure if the album cover influenced this thought process but there’s no denying its browny orangey colour. I love Can (not unequivocally but on the whole), admire Faust, like Amon Duul, but have always found Neu’s rather inhuman motorik hard to get into and I guess Michael Rother’s contribution to this album, along with the colour of the music made it another album that I would need to spend time with to fully appreciate.

Graham Listened: I admitted early on that this was a style way out of my comfort zone. However I really enjoyed this. I was expecting mucho minimalist, but found this really engaging, to the point that I can imagine getting too carried away while listening on the motorway or on a long train journey. I would have to be in the mood and in the right enviroment to give this a full listen, but I’m sure it would be rewarding.


The Chills – Brave Words: Round 11 – Tom’s Selection

Music is a particularly emotive art form. One only has to have a quick glance at (pretty much) any internet music forum to witness the degeneration of perfectly reasonable, considered discussions into personal attacks, name calling and one-upmanship. For a fragile soul these forums can be intimidating places to inhabit – I tend to read (‘lurk’ I  believe it is somewhat pejoratively referred to) relatively frequently, write very occasionally and despair at some point or other in almost every thread I follow! And the one thing that annoys me most of all is the categorical nature of many of the responses; the apparent lack of awareness that one’s appreciation of music is COMPLETELY subjective in nature (hmmm…a categorical statement that!), that there are no bad or good records, just ones you either like or don’t like. Maybe pussy-footing around with opinion makes for boring reading, but the most objective and balanced I’ve found so far (thanks to Nick) – I Love Music – does a pretty good job of keeping the chat amicable and relevant and, for my money, it’s all the better for it.

The reason for the above rant – The Chills 1987 album Brave Words. I almost wrote ‘masterpiece’ instead of ‘album’, but, to be honest, it’s not a masterpiece, at least not in the conventional sense. The music on Brave Words is not particularly innovative, the singing, at times, is pretty ropey, Mayo Thompson’s (of Red Krayola (in)fame) production is murky at best and the quality of the songs is uneven. To make matters even worse, my vinyl copy of Brave Words is just about as warped as a playable record can be, having on one occasion (many years ago) been left in the roasting July sun on my brother’s bedroom windowsill! So objectively, Brave Words is a pretty poor offering for DRC (I think Nick may well be agreeing with this statement in his response). Yet I love it so. More than any of my other offerings thus far…way more in fact – we’re talking top ten in my collection love here. And it’s a love that deepens with each new chapter of our relationship (ironically, The Chills have a song called Familiarity Breeds Contempt on Brave Word’s successor, the also excellent Submarine Bells).

I can clearly recall listening to Brave Words for the first time and being distinctly unimpressed. I can’t quite remember the sequence of events but I believe it was around the time I first discovered the wonders of Antipodean indie through the delights of The Go-Betweens’ Liberty Belle… and 16 Lover’s Lane albums. I was looking for more of the same, but found Brave Words to be ham-fisted, amateurish and, in places, unmelodic in comparison (this was before the lo-fi scene of the early 90s came along and made that sort of thing commonplace, if not revered). But, by the law of the opposite of diminishing returns, I found myself enjoying each subsequent listen that little bit more; almost as if ticking off each freshly conquered song, to the extent that eventually (and it took a fair while) I came to see all the various facets of the album as essential components of a magnificent whole. And once this point had been reached, other attributes began to reveal themselves – the warmth of the sound, the sense of place (we talked about this at the meeting) that the record evokes, the ebb and flow of the songs as they meander from jangle pop (Push, the unimpeachable Rain, the deeply confessional Wet Blanket) , to spiky Buzzcockian (?) power punk (Look for the Good in Others and They’ll See the Good in You), to swaggering indie groove funk (16 Heart-throbs), to eerie and graceful (The Night of Chill Blue). Like so many bands on the Flying Nun label, The Chills main protagonist, Martin Phillips, spent some time playing with The Clean and whilst their myriad offspring have gone on to produce a wealth of first class music, it is Phillips’ vision and talent that, for me, are the zenith of New Zealand indie’s embarrassment of riches.

Rob listened: I clearly recall the brief period on the late 80s when the UK music press went NZ crazy. I remember reading about The Chills, and ‘Submarine Bells’ in particular, and thinking that when I heard it it would blow my mind into tiny pieces which I would find imposible to fit back together. I heard ‘Heavenly Pop Hit’. It didn’t. It was interesting to hear Tom’s description of his dive towards the antipodean at that time, just about the time I was swerving towards the USA. Like much of the music we’ve discussed this year, The Chills and, presumably, their compadres, don’t sound like much on first listen, but give up their riches the more you get to know them. I can’t help but wonder if those riches were deliberately buried, or whether Martin Phillips and co just happened to build their little pop shack on a spot that concealed a seam of diamonds? By which I mean this sounds great to me.

Nick listened: I hate to be predictable, but I didn’t get much from this, to be honest; certainly not Tom’s strong sense of location (although I’ve never been to New Zealand, which may be why). I could hear why Martin Phillips would be unhappy with the production, but from one listen I couldn’t hear past the production, particularly, nor did I much want to try again. To be fair, the second half of the album did open up into something darker and more interesting, intriguing, which was a relief because the opening couple of songs left me baffled as to why Tom was enthusing about it so much. The good thing, though, is that previously I knew nothing about the New Zealand scene at all – not even that it existed – and now I do have a slightly peaked curiosity to investigate at some stage. Possibly the only thing holding me back is the language barrier, or lack of – there’s not quite the frisson of “otherness” here as there is for me with Germany or Brazil.

Graham Listened: Although I knew of the Chills and some of the NZ bands of the time I would have struggled to name a track of theirs. However, this took me right back to the days of 80’s jangle pop/rock in the UK and I really enjoyed it. Can’t say I picked up on any clear NZ references, aside from the general style of music that was evolving there and in the UK at the time. They’ll stay a secret, but I was inspired to go back and find some guilty pleasures from the period (now where are those Aztec Camera cassettes?), D’oh !

The Fall – ‘Bend Sinister’ – Round 10: Rob’s choice

the fall - bend sinisterThere are two reasons why I think ‘Bend Sinister’, the Fall’s tenth album, is their best.

Firstly, it finds them at a rare, almost unique point of balance. By the time of its release in 1986 they had already reached more career peaks than most bands manage. The satanic Lovecraftian skiffle of ‘Dragnet’, the sheer clattering energy, confidence and scale of ‘Hex Enduction Hour’ and the bombed out garage rock of ‘This Nation’s Saving Grace’ took British post-punk to places where no-one could follow, carving out a place in the nation’s alternative canon that would forever be theirs, guarded by the snaggletooth attack dog himself.

On ‘Bend Sinister’ The Fall were exploring ways out of this territory. It’s a much more understated record than almost anything they recorded before or since, with a subtle sound where, for once, Mark E. Smith does not dominate proceedings. This is the first record with Simon Woolstencroft behind the drums, the infamous double-drummers Paul Hanley and Karl Burns having finally both departed. However its rare sense of balance between the five band members must surely be largely due to Brix Smith’s ongoing presence as a leavening agent for her husband’s bile and bombast. For me Brix is the person who teased The Fall out of what could have become a musical cul-de-sac in the early 80s and, arguably, showed them how to introduce the wider influences which ultimately they (or at least MES) would work into a career which has lasted 30 years.

So, it’s a more restrained, more intriguing, cleaner, at times poppier record in which Mark’s vocals and lyrics form just a part of a beguiling sound. Plus, y’know, ‘Dktr Faustus’, ‘U.S. 80’s-90’s’, ‘Terry Waite Sez’, ‘Bournemouth Runner’… I could go on.

Anyway, the second good reason why ‘Bend Sinister’ is the best Fall album is that it’s the first I ever heard. I have a lad called Gareth Evans to thank for that. In a 4th year English lesson in 1986 he asked me if i’d heard “the Fall album” after i’d bored my classmates with tales of my first ever live concert, Public Image Limited at the Manchester Apollo. Unwilling to be unseated as the class hipster, a role I had only gained five minutes earlier and which I would would not hold on to for much longer, I said “yes” and told him how much I liked it. So then I had to go out and buy it. It sounded nothing like I expected, I had no idea what to make of it, it was mysterious and opaque. Within 12 months I had all their albums and they were ensconced as my favourite band. Despite our relationship cooling over the last decade or so, no-one has yet been able to usurp their place in my heart, and at the centre of that most special place, is the sound of ‘Bend Sinister’.

Tom Listened: Another revelation. So much easier than I was expecting and, despite having the indie disco standard ‘Mr Pharmacist’ getting in the way (as far as I’m concerned), the rest of the album sounded wonderful.

My experience of The Fall before this meeting was limited to the singles – none of which I have really liked – and Hex Enduction Hour, which I borrowed from a mate a long time ago and had a half-hearted attempt at getting to know. I dare say that if I had actually bought HEH, I would have put in the necessary hours and no doubt grown to love it…it’s illogical but owning the record (as opposed to borrowing it) really does make a difference to me. I do remember HEH being an awkward customer, perhaps too tangential and monotone for my young ears that were, at the time, immersed in the psychedelic sounds of the 60s, the poppy side of 70s alternative and the Madchester/US Indie scenes of the late 80s. I think Bend Sinister would have been a better record for a first date with ME Smith as I found it hook laden, bright and relatively conventional in terms of song structures. My guess would be that these days I would probably like the more challenging offerings from The Fall’s back catalogue just as much, if not more, but I would also be keen to spend considerably more time with Bend Sinister.

Nick listened: About seven years ago either my girlfriend (now wife) or I bought 50,000 Fall fans can’t be wrong – 39 Golden Greats, the double-CD, career-spanning Fall ‘best of’ that co-opted an Elvis Presley compilation’s title and cover artwork, and subverted it to the will of Mark E Smith. It remains the only Fall CD in our collection, which must contain somewhere in the region of 1,800 albums, not because neither of us liked it (we’ve liked it enough to not get rid of it in any of the periodic mini purges we make via eBay or Amazon Marketplace), but because, well, where the hell does one start with The Fall? And, f one does start with The Fall, where the hell does one stop? With over 30 albums and little or no consensus over which period is their best (although there does seem to be some consensus on which period is their worst – recent years – even if the last decade contains a number of albums seemingly received as the dreaded “returns to form” [as if that meant anything]), one needs a way in, and if one gets hooked it’s going to be an expensive catching-up session. I suspect this is part of the reason behind my reticence – I like what Mark E Smith makes his band do, the aesthetic, the sound, but I don’t want to have to spend £100 on (just) a third of their discography and be left missing out on the no doubt essential songs strewn across the other 2/3s.

So Bend Sinister is where the hell I started, when it was thrust upon one. It’s not one of the album titles I recognised (not that I recognise many) and Rob suggested it was sonically and aesthetically atypical; this may be so, but it’s the politics of small differences, I suspect – it sounded like The Fall, as I understand them to sound, to me. It didn’t sound like Beyonce or Dave Brubeck or The Orb, is what I mean. I enjoyed Bend Sinister, and I borrowed a copy on CD; Hex Enduction Hour (which is one of the album titles I do recognise) too. But I’ve not got round to listening to either of them yet (partly because I’ve been busy); it feels like, even diced up into chunks and spoon-fed to me, I still don’t know where to start with The Fall.

The Associates – Sulk – Round 10: Tom’s Selection

The late 80s and early 90s were a time of musical epiphany for me; not so much for the newly made music I was acquiring (although much of that was great) but more due to my realisation that, with an open mind and a bit of effort vast troves of undiscovered sonic treasure were lying in wait. I loved to pore over the music papers reading the band interviews intently, trying to determine the influences of my favourite new group, the albums they regarded as inspirational, and I soon realised that these albums tended to be much better than the record that was actually being plugged by the band in interview.

So, whilst I had a thing for Spacemen 3 at the time, the music they introduced me to through their interviews (Suicide, Television, Stooges, Can, Modern Lovers and many more)  has been played far more regularly in my household than, say, Recurring or Playing With Fire. The touchstones come in and out of fashion (I haven’t seen, for example, Starsailor or Astral Weeks referred to much in the last decade – two albums that were omnipresent in the British music press back at the turn of the 90s), but the weight of history is (almost) always a good judge of what constitutes a ‘classic’. However, the major music publications seem to have a frustrating tendency to gravitate to the canon – do we really need to be told that ‘Blonde on Blonde’ is a great album, yet again – so for the real gems, those wonderful records that have slipped into obscurity, I found the artists themselves to be a rich and surprisingly reliable source.

I can’t recall when I first became aware of Sulk (I don’t think it was through the Spacemen 3) but I do remember finding it on many occasions in second-hand record shops and walking on by, perhaps thinking that the last thing I needed in my collection was a load of sub-Duran New Romantic twaddle. It was also one of those records that appeared so frequently that I always thought to myself, ‘I’ll get it next time’. And then eventually it stopped turning up. And so I really wanted it. And I couldn’t find it! By the time I eventually secured a copy of Sulk, my levels of anticipation had become dangerously high, beyond that point where the outcome could normally be anything other than disappointment…at least that would be the case with most ‘ordinary’ records. But Sulk is anything but ordinary. Yet another ‘one off’ (they seem to be cropping up every meeting, these ‘one-offs’), Sulk is surely the weirdest, most challenging music ever to be referred to as ‘pop’. To echo my comments about Nick’s Rita Lee record from the last meeting, it is almost inconceivable these days that a record like Sulk could shift sufficient copies to reach number 10 in the album chart and stick around for 20 weeks.

The album itself is curiously put together, book-ended as it is by two instrumental tracks (‘Arrogance Gave Him Up’ and ‘nothingsomethingparticular’) – ironic considering Billy Mackenzie’s unimpeachable singing voice! Time hasn’t been as kind to these tracks and their reedy synths and tinny drumming, whilst nodding back to Bowie’s ‘Low’ and ‘Isi’ by Neu, in no way reflect the gargantuan complexity and thrilling innovation abundant throughout the album’s core. But as soon as the opener, Arrogance… finishes, it is clear things are going to be strange. ‘No’ begins with 30 seconds of unsettling guttural noise before erupting into a doom laden world of minor chords and ominous vocals that manage to sound both stately and otherwordly yet not crap (ie as in Goth). From thereon Mackenzie  is unrelenting, battering his audience with yelps and howls before suddenly diving into the depths of his remarkable four-octave range. The music is skittery yet magisterial, at times disorientating and always fascinating. To appropriate the words of one of my fellow DRC members Sulk is ‘one of my favourite albums ever’. Sub-Duran New Romantic twaddle this most certainly is not!

Nick listened: That opening paragraph, if you pushed the dates back a decade, could be something I would write, almost spookily so.

Anyway, once again Tom has chosen an album that I have owned for years but never listened to properly; I bought Sulk alongside Fourth Drawer Down probably six years ago or more, both albums together for a fiver or something, purely based on vague internet renown for the former album and Billy Mackenzie’s voice. Rob and Tom were insistent that I’d recognise Party Fears Two; I didn’t.

Sulk itself is, as suggested, a bizarre record: the drums seem too quick, too chaotic, for the songs; the synths and keyboards are somewhere between Bowie’s Berlin years and the worst 80s Miami Vice cheese, triggering cognitive dissonance regarding one’s taste; Mackenzie’s voice, and what he’s singing, are so flamboyant and strange as to seem avant-garde, yet we’re told this is pop? I think it’s only pop because it isn’t something else; pop by default.

Did I enjoy it? I was confused by it, which is a good sign, but I’m not sure what I thought of it yet. Like Pere Ubu, I’ve got the CD out of my racks and put it in a little pile mentally marked “to listen to soon”. Sadly I think Tom’s, and often Rob’s, choices suffer to my ears because of my antipathy to vinyl; that vinyl warmth that so many people love is like a veil over my ears on first listening, and I don’t feel like I’ve been able to hear the record properly a lot, especially if it’s in any less than terrific condition. I’m going to get teased for being a fidelity snob again…

Rob listened: Weirder than Nick’s Brazilian? Quite possibly. Either way, this is becoming a theme of the Club: records which either sound, or get filed as, ‘pop’ and turn out on revisiting, or closer listening, to be madder than a beach ball full of speeding frogs. I knew the two singles from ‘Sulk’ and ‘Party Fears Two’ is a fave, but hadn’t heard the album. It’s surprising. Had it been released in the last five years the critics would have been falling over themselves to praise its polyrhythmic precocity and we would assume The Associates were both wildly creative musicians and bulging-brained boffins. I haven’t looked back at the reviews, but I suspect back then they were just considered noisy Dundonians.

Anyhow, by far the major theme of the Club thus far has been the examination and revelation of how we listen to and discover music. Tom’s post and Nick’s response made me realise one of the key differences between their approaches and mine. Although in many ways we have ended up in the same places, amidst the hurly burly of discussion over the last 6 months, I’ve found myself wondering whether the way they seek music differs in some fundamental way to the way I do. Now I understand. When I read interviews, reviews and lists, and register the names of the bands and albums that have shaped the bands and albums that I love, I rarely, if ever, go looking for them. I’m never intrigued by a band’s advocacy of some long-lost obscurity whilst I am always irritated and dismayed when artists and articles talk about new bands they have discovered and of whom i’ve never heard. I love to read lists as much as they do, but when I scan them I do so looking for affirmation of the records I already have, rather than rare unseen names waiting to be learned and investigated.

I’ve thought a lot about this over the last couple of days and I could go on at even greater and more tedious length, but that’s what our meetings are for.

The Necks – Drive By – Round 10: Nick’s choice

Wow, round 10 already; it seems like we only started doing this the other week, whilst paradoxically also feeling like Devon Record Club has been around forever. Intriguingly, my choice this week evokes a similar musical sense of eternal repetition and perpetual change and newness.

Drive By by The Necks, like the Rita Lee album I chose last time around, was a record that struck me as being perfect for DRC back when Rob first mooted the idea, even if it does contravene etiquette by being 17 seconds longer than the allotted 60-minute running time in our rule book. I first came across it, and them, in January 2004, when an article in The Guardian intrigued me.

The Necks are a 3-piece “improvisational trance jazz” group from Australia, who occupy a bizarre and, as far as I can discern, unique landscape somewhere between ambient music, jazz, minimalism, modern classical, and a whole host of other things. They’ve been together for more than 20 years, releasing over a dozen records. Almost all of those albums consist of a single, hour-long improvisation, some recorded entirely live, others with overdubs added later.

As with many artists, my first exposure to The Necks remains my favourite; I own another 5 albums by them in addition to Drive By, all slightly different, all very similar, all very, very good indeed, but Drive By is the one I go back to most often; and I go back to it a lot. If I could scrobble my CD players, I’m pretty confident that I’d have played this record more than any other single album in the last 7 years. When I worked in the film & music department in the library, and we played music for our patrons, this was the record that garnered the most comments – from students to shelvers, it seemed to intrigue and beguile everyone who heard it.

Which is fascinating, because the very nature of what The Necks do makes their music incredibly hard to discover; you won’t hear them on the radio, or find them on YouTube, and any 30-second snippet of their music you might preview on iTunes would make no sense, because what they do needs to be consumed whole, whether you’re paying full attention to it or just embracing its utility as background noise. The Necks perfectly fit Eno’s description of ambient music as being like a painting; it can be in the room with you and you can ignore it, face away from it, but it still shapes the colour and mood of the room around you; or else you can stand before it and become absorbed. At the same time as being ambient, Drive By, and much of their other work, is also intensely physical, groove-based, rhythmic.

A quote from Lloyd Swanton, the bass player, describes some of the band’s own aims: “We’re not at all offended if someone falls asleep [at one of our gigs]. We are trying to conjure that trance-like state just before you do nod off. I believe it’s known as the ‘alpha state’, where the normal barricades between the different parts of your brain start getting broken down, and so you make all sorts of connections that wouldn’t be made if you were alert. That’s actually a very rewarding and rich state to be in, so if people can hover there, that’s fantastic.”

Rob listened: Despite the flagrant rule-break, I loved this. It’s also the only time my wife has walked into one of our meetings to tell us how much she likes something she’s hearing through the door. It generated an interesting but ultimately possibly futile discussion about how we ‘use’ music, which Nick has outlined above. Futile, I reckon, as the fact is that we all just enjoyed the piece, both in its entirely and in the detail of the playing and the pleasure of its minute-by-minute unfolding.

Tom Listened: I too thought this was a great listen, even exclaiming at one point (around the seven hour mark, or something) ‘this is brilliant!’. It must be to sustain interest with such subtle shifts between phases; very little changes from one minute to the next and then, all of a sudden, you realise that what you are listening to is completely different to what you were listening to five minutes beforehand. It’s a kind of uberwatchingthepaintdry alchemy that should be as boring as…my maths lessons…but somehow is a riveting, yet relaxing, listen.

There is a problem though. I enthusiastically borrowed Nick’s CD after the meeting fully intending to listen to it lots. I have yet to find the right circumstances to put it on. With a hectic family life, lots of cycling/climbing/gardening, work, half hour long journey to work, ferrying the kids around etc etc, I literally haven’t yet found an hour (and 7 seconds) when I can sit down down and give this album a full spin. I don’t want to listen to half of it, so I do wonder whether it would get played much given my current life circumstances. In ten years time, when the kids are full time loiterers up the park and my body has fallen apart, I’ll probably own every album The Necks have ever made and listen to them regularly.

Echo and the Bunnymen – ‘Ocean Rain’ and ‘The Idolness of Gods’ – Round 8: Graham’s choice

Will keep it brief as it is so late as a result of a little technical difficulty and a lot of laziness!

Initiation ceremony over, I humbly unveiled my first offerings to veteran members. Having been drawn to the Bunnymen by the successful singles from their 3rd album, “Porcupine”, I invested in “Ocean Rain”.

At the time it received many plays, though I’m not sure it was truly appreciated until many years later. Compared to the offerings from similar bands on the verge of “big time”, this was not what I was expecting.

As for the band’s own claims at the time that it was the “greatest album ever”, this probably did more to lead to the album not being given the full credit it deserved. However, aside from a few “Doorsish” departures on “Thorn of Crowns” and “Yo-Yo Man”, it still sounds fresh, interesting and highly original to me. A combination of “pop”, drama and lush playing and lyrics fills the majority of the album. “My ship’s a sail, can you hear its tender frame, screaming from beneath the waves?”, being a personal favourite from “Seven Seas”.

The album is again being toured in its entirety some 27 years later, so maybe it is finally receiving a more rounded level of appreciation as Ian McCulloch’s witticisms mellow (very slowly) with age. On that note, my follow up track, some 26 years later, was “the idolness of Gods”, from 2011’s “The Fountain”.

This album was remarkably bright, breezy and “poppy” for a band in their early fifties, much to do with the production from John McLaughlin (see Busted, 911, Five etc!). Nestling at the end of the album was this track which harks back to earlier days. But with the title of the track you could imagine that “Mac the Mouth”, is sending a message out to young pretenders to his crown!

Enjoyed both Spoon and Arab Strap, and inclined to listen again to more of their output. Apologies to Tom, however Pere Ubu still leaves me a little cold. I tried hard to like them when the NME was telling me to back in the 80’s, but I’m yet to get on board.

Tom Listened:  Back in the day I railed against most of the music my peers were listening to often, admittedly, without giving the music a chance. At the time I was determined to dislike The Smiths, Bruce Springsteen, Prince and The Dead Kennedys simply on the grounds that they were commonly played on the 6th form Common Room stereo by OTHER people (Half-Man Half-Biscuit were the exception…EVERYONE liked them!). Sometimes disliking these bands took real effort as, despite myself, I found myself enjoying some of their songs (although, obviously, never admitting it to anyone else). However, I was always relieved that my dislike of U2 and Echo and the Bunnymen was never seriously tested. Even if they had produced the most amazing music I’d ever heard (‘the greatest album ever made’!?!), Bono and McCulloch’s huge egos and seemingly bottomless reserves of self-importance ensured that my resolve was never remotely tested. They were just so easy to dislike.

Perhaps this was my loss. New Year 2011. I put together a music quiz to bore/terrorise my friends with and whilst looking for suitable fodder from the Pitchfork 500 collection, I’ll be damned, The Killing Moon sounded incredible. Sharp and clear on modern, expensive equipment, melodic and timeless, it revealed itself to me at last for what it really was – a fine example of 80s pop, all the better, perhaps, for being freed from its context and distanced from its creator’s bleatings. So I was keen to hear Ocean Rain by the time Graham announced his choice to us.

The album, to me, hasn’t fared as well as The Killing Moon. I sensed that it was a grower and that it would take more than one listen to be able to judge it properly, but some of the tracks seemed on first listen to be a little dated and, unsurprisingly, pretentious. That said, I would certainly welcome the chance to get to know it better and see whether my middle aged self is able to see past what my teenage self couldn’t!

Nick listened: I know Ocean Rain well and like it a lot; I’ve been down in the Cornish cave where the sleeve photo was taken, holding a piece of string tethered to a rickety dinghy in that subterranean pool, the guitarist of a band perched, petrified, in the dinghy, camera pointed at him and being asked questions. Daft. So is the record; c-c-c-cumber, c-c-c-cauliflower, etc etc. It’s the daftness, allied with the grace and delicacy, that makes McCulloch’s rampant twatness stomach-able on this record, but not really on any others. Because whilst I like little bits and bobs of other Bunnymen records, the occasional song or two, none of them approach this; at times magisterial, grand, and ornery, but also aware of its own silliness.

The more modern single I didn’t like one bit, though, I’m afraid; it seemed the type of stodgy, staid, unimaginative post-Coldplay dadrock that I feared the Bunnymen would be making in 2009, with none of the sparkle, space, or strangeness of Ocean Rain.

The Afghan Whigs – ‘Uptown Avondale’ – Round 9: Rob’s EP choice

Afghan Whigs - Uptown AvondalePerhaps this would have been better chosen for the ‘decade of progression’ round, as it captures a band at precisely the moment when they dropped what they were doing and grasped their destiny. By the time they called it a day the Afghan Whigs had established themselves as fine alchemists of 90s guitar rock and bleeding 60s/70s soul. The route to their ‘Black Love’ and ‘1965’ albums begins in ‘Uptown Avondale’, the 1992 EP comprising four cover versions of Motown-era classics – ‘Band of Gold’, ‘True Love Travels on a Gravel Road’, ‘Come See About Me’ and ‘Beware’.

Listening back, and knowing where they went next with ‘Gentlemen’, you can almost hear the band cutting loose and declaring ‘THIS is who we are and THIS is what we want to do’ They forge new ways to meld the blank stare of grunge and the subtextual bleakness of soul, nowhere better than on a desolate version of ‘Band of Gold’. Hear the wheelspin as they power off towards the future they’d been waiting for.

Nomeansno – ‘Wrong’ – Round 9: Rob’s album choice

Nomeansno - WrongNomeansno are a group of contradictions. The brothers Wright grew up in British Columbia apparently listening to jazz and prog rock, but by the time they came to form the band punk had detonated like a dayglo nuke up and down the West coast of America. Starting out with just bass, drums and vocals they developed a style that was as progressive and arresting as it was influential. By the time they recorded ‘Wrong’, their fourth album, they had it absolutely nailed.

It’s a killer. By turns fiendishly complex and frenziedly heads-down it’s nonetheless never less than a gripping, white-knuckle ride. By this point the band were a three piece, with guitarist and co-singer Andy Kerr, credited here as ‘None of your fucking business’, helping to hone the slashing edge of their chainsaw punk. The playing, through the twists and turns and switching signatures, is exhilaratingly tight.

Their success is in resolving so many polar opposites within their music and lyrics to such an irresistible synthesis. Their sound is bass-driven and spiky yet shackles both jazz-crazed changes in tempo and operatic high drama within its blistering body blows. Conceptually Nomeansno are both too smart for their own metaphysical good and as dumb as a bag of hammers (or a bunch of teenage hockey hooligans – see their alter egos The Hanson Brothers). They simultaneously lay bare the human condition in all its bleakness whilst driving home a clear conviction that the only way to deal with the inevitability of our own annihilation is to blow a raspberry in its face and laugh. The gleeful wordplay and controlled goofiness that would characterise them from this point on begins to come to the fore on ‘Wrong’, but it is never overplayed, taking a back seat to the sheer, joyful rush of the band’s giddy, whirling, jabbering, slam-dancing noise.

Tom Listened: I was surprised by how much I liked this. When I first met Rob, back in the late 80s, he was very much the hardcore king (musically at least…not sure about his other interests) and I must admit that I had assumed Nomeansno were just another one of Rob’s ‘bleak shouty bands’ that were prevalent at that time. The reality was much more melodic, humourous and interesting than I was expecting suggesting that either Nomeansno are not one of Rob’s ‘bleak shouty bands’ or that Rob’s ‘bleak shouty bands’ are not actually all that bleak or shouty. The vocals very much reminded me of D Boon from The Minutemen (ie not shouty at all), and whilst the guitars do sound driving there are enough variations in texture and tone to make them a riveting listen, at times reminding me of X at their most exuberant, elsewhere reminiscent of the Stooges at their Dirtiest. I’m not sure whether it is down to the fact that Wrong reminded me of the Minutemen or not but I expected the songs to be much shorter than they were, and maybe I would have preferred it if some of them had been a little punchier, but that small criticism aside, this earned a sizeable (and unexpected) ‘thumbs up’ from me.

Nick listened: I was surprised too, especially as Rob seemed to think, mischievously, that I’d hate it! In fact I liked it so much that I bought it online before we’d even got quite to the end of it. I heard pre-echoes of Kyuss, of Dismemberment Plan, and post-echoes of some of Miles Davis’ more rampantly aggressive 70s electric material (bits of Dark Magus, Live:Evil). I’ve listened to it once since it arrived, in the car, and enjoyed it again.

My Bloody Valentine – Isn’t Anything / You Made Me Realise EP – Round 9: Tom’s Selection

My Bloody Valentine. Well, it had to happen sooner or later! Seeing as I haven’t acquired an EP for a considerable time, Nick’s request for our 9th meeting seemed like an ideal opportunity to go back to one of my late 80s obsessions – MBV – and a time when I would readily snaffle up anything that the Melody Maker suggested was great, irrespective of format. As a result, my My Bloody Valentine collection currently has EPs outnumbering LPs and, I would guess, this situation is likely to remain as it is for a fair while yet!

Of the the three MBV EPs I own (You Made Me Realise, Glider and Tremelo)  the former is by far my favourite but then, let’s face it, it was made by a band at its peak. A controversial statement perhaps, but listen to the records!

Having played You Made Me Realise followed immediately by Isn’t Anything at DRC, I was surprised at how different they sound to each other. I bought the two records at the same time (in early 1990!) and always lumped them together as two sides of the same coin, perhaps viewing the You Made Me Realise EP as the leftovers of the Isn’t Anything sessions. Listening to the two records the other night however (for the first time together for well over a decade), it sounded obvious that the EP was MBV flexing their new found muscle, bending sound and experimenting with distortion over what are (with the exception of the still flabbergasting title track) essentially C86 jangle pop tunes of the type typical of their early EPs and the Ecstasy and Wine LP.

Isn’t Anything isn’t anything like anything else. The echoes of MBV’s past are much more distant and the band are fearless and excited, perhaps knowing that what they were producing was unique and essential. It all sounds totally instinctive and jaw-droppingly good and, whilst I can accept the argument that MBV would go on to make music just as beautiful in the future, they would never again sound so confident and natural.

It’s almost impossible these days to not make comparisons between Loveless and Isn’t Anything and maybe it was easier to appreciate Isn’t Anything for what it is at the time of its release, uncluttered by the substantial reputation of its successor. I remember being dumbfounded on first hearing Isn’t Anything. I remember being slightly bored on first hearing Loveless. I can appreciate that Loveless was a remarkable achievement, a coherent aesthetic statement that opened up new avenues of exploration for popular music but, to me, it sounded so considered, so polished. I missed Isn’t Anything’s visceral quality and its sense of ‘let’s get this moment nailed down before it’s lost forever’. My theory is that Kevin Shields was terrified of having to outdo Isn’t Anything and the direction he eventually went in with Loveless was of the head – Isn’t Anything sounds to me like a record that came from the heart.  And played loud with your undivided attention it still sounds incredible.

Rob asked who we thought their influences were at the time Isn’t Anything was recorded. We struggled to come up with anything at all. Isn’t Anything really does sound like a record that came out of nowhere, had its moment in the sun, and then skulked off to the shadow cast by its attention seeking younger sibling. One senses that this generally under-appreciated slab of avant-rock (?) will go on to have the last laugh yet!

Nick listened: Unsurprisingly I know both Isn’t Anything and (the title track of) You Made Me Realise very well indeed; having never found the EP on a reasonably-priced physical copy, though, I’ve only ever heard a couple of the other tracks, which were all I could find on P2P networks at decent bitrates, way back when I used to still use P2P networks (I stopped in 2005). You Made Me Realise still feels epochal, and hearing it via vinyl and big speakers for the first time was awesome; it’s always struck me as a shame, though, that the “holocaust” section isn’t strung-out longer on record like it reputedly is live (I’ve never seen MBV). The rest of the tracks, especially Slow, which I already knew, didn’t disappoint, but they did strike me as feeling slightly immature and unformed, like MBV were taking steps towards an aesthetic they had yet to fully master. This has struck me about some of the other EP tracks I’ve heard from this era, too; many of them don’t seem as finished as the tracks that ended up the two legendary LPs.

It was the first time I’d heard Isn’t Anything in full for probably several years, and it’s still an awesome, bizarre record; it feels like it’s built out of Lego, constituent parts stuck together; like the bass runs and feedback squalls of Soft As Snow (But Warm Inside), which feel disjointed, like different parts of different songs, but which somehow work together. There’s a physicality, a bass, a drive, to Isn’t Anything which I think, on some days, makes me feel it’s a better record than Loveless, which can feel one dimensional and rhythmically staid at times. Isn’t Anything is no less rhythmically staid, but that physical dimension adds an enticing brutality.

Rob listened: My Bloody Valentine are one of those bands I like/admire/listen to without ever having obsessed over. ‘You Made Me Realise’ was a highlight of Students’ Union indie nights when I was at my shambling dancefloor peak and I bought ‘Isn’t Anything’ on the strength of that one still staggering song. It’s hard to think of any other track which smashes together the propulsive drive of rock music with the bliss and freedom of sheer noise, harnessing the best of both breeds and producing something completely new. Still amazing.

The album I never really immersed myself in. So I was pleasantly surprised to find that I remembered the details of most of the tracks, even if I would have struggled to name them if pressed. Like Nick, I think this is the first time i’ve listened to the record on a proper set-up. When I bought it I had a turntable with built in speaker which, one assumes, is not what Kevin Shields had in mind for the first of his two master statements. It sounded terrific. Like the others, i’ve never really connected with ‘Loveless’. Too hard to lurch about flopping your fringe to, and that’s where MBV and I really hit it off.

Rita Lee & Os Mutantes – Hoje É o Primeiro Dia do Resto da Sua Vida / Disco Inferno – The Last Dance EP – Round 9: Nick’s selection

Ever since Rob sent the first email about forming Devon Record Club, it has been my instinct to play this (almost) lost 1972 psychedelic rock… masterpiece? Classic? Slice of lunacy?

Five years ago the superlative Soul Jazz Records put out the wonderful Tropicalia compilation. Tropicalia was a late 60s Brazilian movement which Os Mutantes (The Mutants) were forerunners of alongside the likes of Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, and Gal Costa. The artists fused British Invasion style pop a la The Beatles, Byrds, Monkees, etcetera, with more traditional Brazilian sounds like Bossa Nova and Samba. The results were fantastic, and after playing the compilation endlessly I bought reams of albums by the leading artists.

Rita Lee was a member of Os Mutantes, and released a debut solo album in 1970. Hoje É o Primeiro Dia do Resto da Sua Vida (The First Day Of The Rest Of Your Life) was actually written and recorded as an Os Mutantes album, but record company disputes meant it was released as Rita Lee’s second solo LP (the original lineup of Os Mutantes would splinter soon after).

I wrote about the album here for Stylus back in the day at quite some length, so I wont go into too much more contextual detail or musical exegesis here. But suffice to say that Os Mutantes had an early reputation for blowing speakers with their overdriven guitars and throwing everything and anything they fancied into their extravagant mixes (bassist Arnaldo Baptista was the group’s producer, and like McCartney not shy in emphasizing his own contributions!). Hoje É o Primeiro Dia do Resto da Sua Vida, far from being a swansong, is arguably the band’s most exultantly bonkers record, swinging from straightforward songs in the Música Popular Brasileira style, like opening number Vamos Tratar Da Saúde, and the wondrous penultimate track, De Novo Aqui Meu Bom José, to crazy excursions like Tiroleite and Tapupukitipa, which are almost brain-meltingly strange, even in the experimental border regions of late the 60s and early 70s.

I love this record pretty unreservedly, but it’s nuts. Completely barmy. I have a feeling that neither Tom nor Rob will have heard anything quite like it before…

Disco Inferno – The Last Dance EP
I tasked everyone with bringing an EP alongside their album this week instead of an individual track. The EP, as a three or four (or five, or maybe more) song unit, is something I have great affection for, and that I vaguely hope these disconcerting digital times may bring back into fashion.

Anyway, possibly the most quietly renowned EP band is Disco Inferno, late 80s postpunk revivers turned early 90s postrock visionaries. Buying a sequencer and hooking it up to their guitars revolutionized their sound and opened up reams of possibilities, which the band enthusiastically explored across the course of five EPs and two albums from 1991 to 1996. The Last Dance EP features the title track twice in slightly remixed forms; an understated indie pop tune, it’s adorned with delicately creative production (making subtle, clever use of their sampler-love) and a joyous, sky-kissed guitar solo. More importantly, it contains the explosive and misleadingly titled DI Go Pop, which essentially recreates the apocalyptic squall of My Bloody Valentine’s You Made Me Realise entirely using sampled sounds and digital noise. Finally, Scattered Showers ties up this four-song, 23-minute collection in a beatific, yet morose, shimmering haze of sound. It’s possibly my favourite of their five legendary EPs, which Rough Trade are promising to compile onto one handy CD at some stage this year.

Tom Listened: We’ve listened to a considerable amount of weird stuff already at DRC and I have regularly been hurled out of my musical comfort zone by my fellow members. But of all the records we’ve listened to, Hoje É o Primeiro Dia do Resto da Sua Vida by Rita Lee takes the biscuit. Bonkers…completely and utterly bonkers. And really difficult to get a handle on. And yet, apparently, huge in Brazil (and pretty popular across the globe) at the time. Which says a lot about the times we live in now!

This makes me think about the Beatles. I have often wondered how they would have fared if they had started thirty years later and had followed the same musical trajectory. I would have thought that Rubber Soul, the point where they really started to get interesting/challenging, would have been the point where their popularity began to wane. But, of course, that’s not how it happened in the 60s. People went with them, bought into each new twist or turn on their journey and maybe this opened their minds to such bizarre music as that on offer on this record. There is no way Rita Lee’s album would be massive nowadays; it’s far too difficult for current times and demands far too much from a modern consumer of music…hell, even a minor player (in terms of global popularity)  such as tUnE-yArDs sounds predictable and linear when judged against the chaos of Hoje É o Primeiro Dia do Resto da Sua Vida. There has obviously been a marked shift in society between then and now – and perhaps we owe the previous generation (and their mind altering substances) a debt of gratitude for enabling albums such as this, The White Album, Piper at the Gates of Dawn, VU and Nico, Trout Mask Replica, Ziggy Stardust etc etc etc to burn so brightly and light the way for the innovators of future, less enlightened times to plunder.

Rob listened: So, yeah, this was pretty mental. I don’t really know anything about Tropicalia beyond what i’ve heard on Radio 4 documentaries about the scene, and particularly it’s politics, so it was good to finally listen to one of it’s artefacts properly. We had fun trying top prise apart the various influences and sounds that comprised this melange of musics from around the world and we did aural double-takes as weird and wonderful noises and instruments popped and parped in just when we thought things couldn’t get more unusual. It’s interesting to hear this and marvel at how freely Os Mutantes apparently blended influences and then reflect on how relatively closed western pop and rock then became during the following decades.

I hadn’t heard the DI EPs before. I love ‘It’s a Kids World’ from ‘Technicolour’ but I haven’t given that album enough time yet and I believe that it’s relatively frowned upon by aficionados of the band, which seems a shame to me.  ‘The Last Dance’ struggled to reveal its subtleties amidst the distortion and feedback of a Devon Record Club evening, but if I could afford to buy it, i’d give it some more attention. All I can remember is that one of the songs really did sound like My Bloody Valentine, which seemed distinctive enough until Tom revealed his choices.

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