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.

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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.