Siouxsie and the Banshees – Juju – Round 16 – Graham’s Choice

File:Siouxsie & the Banshees-Juju.jpgNote to self: When suggesting theme in future, have just a little think about what options it leaves you.

Anyway, in the days after suggesting Triumphant 4th Albums, it looked like Talk Talk’s Spirit of Eden was the obvious choice from my meagre collection. Something was niggling me to look further,  when this album occurred to me.  Back in 1981 when this was released,  I chose to ignore Siouxsie and the Banshees as post-punk art school nonsense. I was far too busy trying to decide whether to commit myself to the worlds of Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and even Heavy Metal (15 year-olds deserve forgiveness for their musical sins). Probably around the same time in the mid-90s that I rediscovered Talk Talk, I began listening to some Siouxsie and the Banshees greatest hits and discovered most of the songs I really liked were on this album.

The imagery of the band in the early 80’s served as a deterrent to me, but listening to this album again reminds me of what I missed. If you want to dip in, just listen to Spellbound, Arabian Nights and Monitor (my favourite on the album).  Of course, I was unaware at the time of how celebrated John McGeoch’s guitar work on this album would become. The album has a grittier, harder and edgier nature than my image of the Banshees at the time, and the prominence and confidence of Budgie’s percussion and drums really comes through. The band’s reconstituted and more settled line up really shine through on this critically acclaimed fourth album (from wiki, so it must be true: In 1995, Melody Maker placed Juju as “one of the most influential British albums of all time”.  In 2006, Mojo honoured John McGeoch by rating him in their list of 100 Greatest Guitarists Of All Time for his work on “Spellbound“) .

It was postulated that while the imagery of the Banshees may have deterred some deserved attention at time of release, it was also possible that their back catalogue can unfortunately get sidelined with some of the less well regarded Goth rock that this album (possibly unfortunately)  may have inspired.  I’m not sure how much more I’ll investigate their back catalogue, but for me, this album seems like a peak (well with the exception of last track which doesn’t appear to fit with the rest of the sound!).

Tom Listened: Well, once again I had my preconceptions and prejudices challenged by a band that I had made my mind up on long ago.

1980 to 1983 was a lost period for me musically as I was living in the South Pacific at the time. Far from being a cultural vacuum, the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Cooperation played wonderful music every night…but not that much by Siouxsie and the Banshees! On returning to Blighty it seemed as though the majority of the more lauded bands of the time (Simple Minds, Spandau Ballet, Duran Duran, Adam and the Ants) were past their best, releasing records that to my ears made me doubt they were any good in the first place. The first I would have heard of The Banshees was their horrible cover of one of my favourite songs by my favourite band at the time – Dear Prudence, of course. My mind was quickly made up – there was no way back in for Siouxsie after that!

At least, until Graham played us Juju. I really liked many of the songs on this album and John McGeoch’s guitar work is, as always, outstanding (calling to mind his work on Magazine’s wonderful Real Life). During the listen, I almost found myself forgiving Siouxsie for her past indiscretions…but not quite. The one thing that got in the way of my fully enjoying Juju was not the quality of the songs, the songwriting or the musicianship. I just can’t get past Siouxsie’s seriousness, her sombre earnestness and lack of warmth and humour. I have no idea if she takes herself seriously as a person, but it certainly seems like it if Juju is anything to go by, and it is a shame as I could easily have seen myself liking this as much as Real Life if Siouxsie had shared Howard Devoto’s playful impishness and twinkle of the eye.

Nick listened: Siouxsie and her colleagues are a complete musical black hole to me; theirs are names I know well, but up until Graham pressed play I didn’t really have an idea of what they might sound like. The fact that I was only born on 1979 might have something to do with this – and while I’m sure I must have heard something by Siouxsie and the Banshees at some point, I’ve never listened to them. So this was a pleasant surprise; thoroughly engaging, driven, and impassioned post-punk, lashed with interesting guitar textures and underpinned by a tight (if a little over-direct) rhythm section.

As Tom suggests, though, there’s a certain earnestness and seriousness to Siouxsie herself, at least on first contact, and whilst I have a sneaking suspicion that this would dissolve into the ether on repeated exposure, there’s just enough to keep me feeling stand-offish about her. The other album we’ve been played at DRC featuring drummer Budgie (Cut by The Slits) had an airiness and sense of fun that attracted me far more than this. Saying that, I was kept interested pretty much the whole way through, and heard a lot to admire here. Including the last track, which seemed to catch everyone else off-guard; was it not just common-or-garden final-song psychedelic wig-out territory?

Rob listened: Siouxsie and the Banshees leave a fairly well-defined hole in my collection. I went big for many of not all of bands immediately adjoining them: The Cure, PiL, Echo and the Bunnymen and was not at all averse to taking myself way too seriously in the early-mid 80s. Nonetheless, I think like Tom, I was always slightly repelled by Siouxsie’s voice which seemed to carry such artifice as to make the emotional core of their music all but impenetrable for me and I steered well clear of them. I liked the sound of the record, particularly the razor-wire guitars, and the voice seemed less of an issue. Glad finally to get the chance to become properly acquainted.


Sonic Youth – ‘Sister’ – Round 16: Rob’s choice

sonic youth - sisterFeel free to argue that ‘Sister’ is not Sonic Youth’s real triumph preceding, as it does, their accepted masterpiece ‘Daydream Nation’. Whilst we’re at it, feel free to contend that it’s not even their real fourth album. The band themselves argue that their eponymous debut EP, which was later collected with some live bits and bobs, was their first full length, which would make ‘Sister’ their fifth. What do they know?

‘Sister’ is an unabashed triumph, even set alongside its big brother. In fact, to extend and possibly pervert the sibling analogy beyond decency, ‘Sister’ contains in its DNA almost everything that would make ‘Daydream Nation’ such a wonder, but in half the time.

Here is Thurston Moore slouching about the place sounding effortlessly, shamblingly cool, the gawky kid in class who knew all the coolest bands, on ‘Schizophrenia’ and ‘Catholic Block’. Here is Lee Ranaldo buzzing into ‘Pipeline/Killtime’, his voice skipping across the surface of his guitar as well as it ever would on ‘Eric’s Trip’, here is Kim Gordon, hooting blankly and lovably away through the hilariously unhinged ‘Pacific Coast Highway’. Here is Steve Shelley, his clattering sticks almost as distinctive as the rest of the squall around him.

Throughout the record’s 40 minutes, here is a group coalescing a sound by training their free-noise roots through lattices of discipline and control. No-one else ever made guitars, drums, voices, music sound like this and no-one has since. ‘Sister’ is Sonic Youth at their peak.

Tom Listened: I would argue, except I think I agree with you Rob. I have never owned a real copy of Daydream Nation but I did listen to it a lot whilst at university and have had periods of playing it pretty intensely since then until my car no longer had the capacity to play TDK C90s. I liked about a half of it a lot….Teenage Riot (obviously), Silver Rocket (possibly even better), Eric’s Trip, Rain King and a couple of others. But so much of DN is indulgent guitar noodling to my ears that it lessens the impact of the best songs. Sister sounded (on second listen for me, the first being about 15 years ago!) much more succinct and direct and all the better for it. It is unmistakably Sonic Youth (as Rob states their sound is totally their own) and it seemed to me to be Sonic Youth at their best.

Nick listened: Yet another record I own but have never listened to… I bought this, Daydream Nation, and Goo for a fiver each about three or four years ago and added them to my Retirement Stockpile (i.e. all the books I’ll read, DVDs I’ll watch, and records I’ll listen to when I’ve got all the time in the world). I really like Sonic Youth’s 00s material with Jim O’Rourke, plus Dirty which I remember from adolescence, but I’ve never been in love with them, and Daydream Nation (which I did listen to when I bought it) struck me, too, as being a little bloated. This was thoroughly enjoyable; it sounded like Sonic Youth, which is a sound I like!

Of course, just as we did with REM, we’ve destroyed them by choosing them for DRC. Feel free to recommend any other 80s/90s alt.rock icons you’d like to see split up or get divorced, and we’ll play them next time.

Graham Listened: Repeat after me, “I should like Sonic Youth”, “I should like Sonic Youth”,”I should like Sonic Youth”,”I should like Sonic Youth”,”I should like Sonic Youth”…..

…..but I’ve never really got it. Given the range of other things I was listening to when they emerged, they should have been right up my street. I thought another listen might help, but the problem remains. I don’t know why, I don’t find them annoying, I still don’t get anything much from them. Clearly my problem!

Aphex Twin – Richard D James Album – Round 16: Nick’s choice

Much as I enjoy Devon Record Club (and I do, I love it), I have a vague paranoia that this whole record club thing is just a load of middle-aged, middle-class white men sitting around drinking tea, eating takeaway food, and reinforcing their own canon of (slightly) alternative rock. There have been several weeks where we’ve all brought broadly similar sounding records – crunchy guitar stuff, basically – and there’s a danger that we’ll sit around genuflecting the exact same things as everyone else, i.e. the records we loved when we were 16.

Which is to say that I’ve been busting to break out something really “other” for a while now, and it struck me that there’d be no better choice than a record I loved when I was 17. I’ve often considered 17-year-old boys to be the most belligerent, know-it-all sods on the planet and not worth bothering with, but looking back at my own 17-year-old incarnation I’m proud that I was so determined to squeegee clean my musical palette and discover new territory, radical sounds, stuff not made by gangs of men with guitars.

15 years ago, Richard D James Album was, despite epiphanies over the previous months with Orbital, Björk, and Screamadelica, the most radical thing and “other” thing I had ever heard. The beats were crazed, frightening, the textures alien and unidentifiable or else out of context – drum machines and cellos, electronic squarks and delicately plucked violin strings – the melodies catchy, childlike, beguiling, and at complete odds with those aforementioned beats and textures. I didn’t know what it was for, how to consume it, when or where to listen to it. It seemed like it might be dance music, but you surely couldn’t dance to it without electroshock therapy. It surely wasn’t to be listened to while sitting and pondering, though, because it was insane, distracting. If you put it on your Walkman and wandered around outside with it on you’d be constantly ducking, weaving, and veering away from the strange stereoscopic assault. It baffled me and intrigued me.

I think that’s what it wanted to do – hence fulfilling the “triumphant” caveat of this week’s theme. Plus, simply, it’s a musical triumph, a joy, an endlessly fascinating creation that is both beautiful and savage, both composed and programmed magnificently. I remember a quote from Elvis Costello, of all people, who said it was unlike most other electronic music he had heard because, although there is (almost) no singing, the tracks presented are songs, compositions, with melodies which move and breath and develop. And beats like a jackhammer having a seizure.

Tom Listened: Nick’s opening paragraph has me puzzled. Not because I don’t agree with it…it’s completely true that we do drink tea, all of us bar Nick ‘babyface’ Southall are middle-aged and we certainly do eat takeaways!?! No, what puzzles me is Nick’s suggestion that The Richard D James Album offered some sort of radical musical departure for us. I’d suggest that in comparison to Rita Lee, The Necks, Gravediggaz, The Associates, Skip Spence, Zaireeka, These New Puritans etc etc, this was a pretty tame listen. Sure, it’s a genre we haven’t heard much from as yet and I heard some skittery beats but also some lovely melody lines. I liked it lots. Lots more than I expected I would. But then I expected it to be much more challenging than it turned out to be, like Coltrane at his most atonal or Beefheart at his most tangential, Cale at his most harrowing or Faust at their most bizarre, or Dirty Projectors on Rise Above. The sorts of records where it takes twenty listens to even start to recognise it as ‘music’. I was surprised and relieved by how accessible this was and whilst I don’t think I’ll ever fully embrace keyboard driven instrumental music, it was great to listen to someone else’s copy!

Rob listened: I own and love this but rarely listen to it now. It’s definitely one of the records that shocked me out of some sort of comfort zone when I heard it and it took a long time, perhaps until tonight, for me to find it easy to listen to. I was intrigued at how unweird it sounded as I recall it being one of the hardest records to grasp that i’d ever heard, one of those I mentally filed under ‘don’t play to family members unless you want to be sectioned’. So, in conclusion, great album, technical triumph but not as weird as Trout Mask Replica.

Graham Listened: Now the concept of age-ranking has been introduced to the group, as the “Daddy” (or should that be “Grandaddy”) of the group, Nick continues to challenge my previous minor flirtations with more commercial “big beat” type music. Perhaps I enjoyed Long Finn Killie more because of the use of more traditional instrumentation, but I struggled a little to get more from this. I could happily listen to this, but it would always be in the background, as the intricacy and the complex composition (all undoubtably there), seem to just wash over me. But I’m not giving up yet on trying to get on board!

John Cale – Paris 1919: Round 16 – Tom’s Selection

Graham set us the task of bringing a ‘triumphant fourth album’ to the latest meeting and seeing as Paris 1919 had been on ‘the list’ since we started (as has Music for a New Society, but I haven’t felt mean enough to inflict that on my fellow members yet!), I thought it an excellent opportunity to treat them to what is, perhaps, John Cale’s most surprising, in some ways most disorientating and definitely most accessible offering.

As Mr Cale himself states in his autobiography, What’s Welsh for Zen, ‘Paris 1919 was an example of the nicest ways of saying something really ugly’. It’s the lushness of the sound, the sweetness of the songs, the warmth of the recording that is so unsettling not, perhaps, so much in itself but when placed within the context of John Cale’s career. After all, Cale was the man who gave the Velvets their visceral cutting edge: the screeching voila on The Black Angel’s Death Song, Sister Ray’s thrillingly exhausting battle for supremacy between Reed’s guitar and Cale’s organ, I Heard Her Call My Name’s cacophony. Cale’s post Paris 1919 output is, in many ways, just as challenging, never more so than on the aforementioned (totally harrowing) Music for a New Society. So it is a little unnerving to find this concise, perfectly formed treasure trove of sweet sounding songs nestling in the heart of Cale’s discography. It was interesting to see the surprise on the faces of my fellow club members as Child’s Christmas in Wales (a ‘jaunty’ little number) led into the beautiful, yet jarring, Hanky Panky Nohow. I guess they were expecting something much more obviously challenging and discordant. Yet not far beneath the surface, dark forces are at play and whilst I have no idea what any of the songs mean, I can’t help sensing they are much more macabre than they initially appear.

Cale’s lyrics are so oblique and cryptic on Paris 1919 – it is immediately obvious that these are not the random warblings of some 1960s acid casualty but skillfully constructed pieces that are packed with meaning but only decipherable by those with the intelligence, patience and motivation to do so. I’ve never bothered (or don’t have the capability!), but I am intrigued by lyrics such as ‘elephants that sing to feed the cows that agriculture won’t allow’, from Hanky Panky Nohow (why ‘Nohow’ not ‘Knowhow’?). And why is he welcoming the subject in ‘Graham Greene’ back to ‘Chipping and Sodbury’? It’s a rare occurrence for me that I pay much attention at all to lyrics; normally words in songs are there to carry melody and emotion for me, not meaning, but I find everything about Paris 1919 beguiling and the more I listen to it the more I realise that it offers so much more than what appears, on the surface, to be nine lovely, if somewhat odd, little pop songs.

Rob listened: I’ve heard parts of this before, although Tom doesn’t remember playing it. He was drunk at the time and had just recovered from a fit of the vapours having accidentally flashed the inner sleeve of ‘Bummed’ to a room full of sensitive Totnesians. I liked it then and liked it more this time. It seemed to have an exquisite balance between the restraint and delicacy of pastoral folk and the underlying sense that its subject matter was curdling away and turning things bad. Lovely stuff and definitely one i’ll look to get. Also amusing to note that the first artists we all thought it reminded us of turned out, without intent, to be Welsh (Gorky’s, SFA…). Something in the water or an enduring Cale influence in those parts?

Nick listened: (Whisper it) I’m not a massive Velvets fan. The eponymous album with I’m Set Free on it is very nice, and bits of the banana one are quite good, and I’m sure at the time they were pretty radical / cool / shocking / etc etc. I own White Light / White Heat but I can’t remember a damn thing about it. So I’ve never investigated post-Velvets solo work by the members, except for Transformer, which my brother bought me, and which, two famous songs besides, I think is complete bobbins. This, though, makes me interested to hear more of Cale’s solo work; it’s tuneful, beautifully arranged, intelligent, inscrutable, and enjoyable to listen to. I’d only ever vaguely recognised that Cale was Welsh, but it definitely makes sense hearing this and knowing that Gork’s and SFA are fans. A good choice.

Graham Listened: Now, way back, I probably liked the Velvets and Lou Reed a bit too much, and took it all a bit too seriously. I never really followed John Cale’s solo work, but I had a perception it would all be a bit too strange for me. Well, then Tom plays this! Nick has really said it all about the impression it made on me and it really drew me in. I found “jaunty” as an apt description on the night.

Mazzy Star – She Hangs Brightly – Round 15 – Graham’s Choice

Can’t remember what led me to this debut album in 1990, but it was certainly nothing like anything else I was listening to at the time. In fact when I look back at what I was mainly listening to then, I really needed to broaden my horizons!

Anyway, I came to this album with no knowledge of the Paisley Underground scene in California and the band’s beginnings in the form of Opal. I thought this record was astonishing and although it seems to have been reasonably warmly received at the time, I always felt it deserved greater credit. The wonderfully dreamy and
haunting sound of both vocals and playing made a big impact on me. From my own
collection I could identify the Velvet Underground and Doors references, along
with a sound I could only describe as a sort of Jesus and Mary Chain ‘lite’.
Researching the band now led me to discover Hope Sandoval’s later musical and
personal involvement with the Reid brothers.

The addition of folky/alternative country influences made
this a distinctive overall sound for its time. There are some Doorish
‘noodling’ moments on the album (particularly on the title track) but that
aside I wonder if this has been released within the last 10 years the impact
might have been different? Maybe the world would have been more interested and
accepting of such a crossover sound and less reliant on some of the boundaries
of the categories that applied at the time.

I never followed the band further with their other 2 albums
in 1993 and 1996, but have now caught up with them. The sound doesn’t move on
very much at all, but they still deserve a listen. Bizarrely, “Into Dust” from
the 2nd album, now features on the current tv adverts for “Gears of
War 3” (whatever that is!).

Nick listened: I’m very vaguely aware of Mazzy Star, familiar with their reputation and aesthetic if not their songs, particularly. Emma owns So Tonight That I Might See, and I’ve heard it a number of times but never really chosen to put it on myself. I’m also familiar with Hope Sandoval’s vocals from appearances of other people’s records, primarily Massive Attack’s (last?) album. This was lovely; more purely country than I would have thought, but also sparse, dreamy, and exploratory at points, too – the tracks that remind Graham of The Doors remind me of really early Verve b-sides. Different frames of reference! TI really enjoyed this, and it’s on the longlist of records to buy.

Tom Listened: I own She Hangs Brightly and knew it well at the time of its release. I probably haven’t listened to it in the last 15 years though! Upon re-acquaintance I was struck at how simplistic much of the record sounded, how these days a record such as this would no doubt be embellished to the hilt, adorned with strings and keyboards and choirs and the like. But, then, if you have a voice as pure and astonishing as Hope Sandoval’s (sounding like an ‘even more heavenly than Dolly Parton’ Dolly Parton on this record) in your armour, is there any need for additional extras? Well, I was left undecided, feeling that about half of the album was nigh on perfect, the other half sounded slightly under-developed…almost as though a  few strummed chords and a half-decent melody was felt to be enough when sung by Ms Sandoval. I’m not sure it was.

Rob listened: Not under-appreciated by me! This record was a turning point in my musical development. Tom’s brother gave it to me on a tape with ‘The Velvet Underground’ on the other side. It took a while, but I fell in love with the hazy perfection of ‘Halah’ and that led me down dreamy roads to Low, Lambchop, Bonnie Prince Billy etc etc. I may have found my way there without Hope and Dave, but it would have taken years longer. I still have the photos Ben took of the band when we saw them play in a tiny venue (Manchester Met, I think) c1994. We stood staring at Hope Sandoval, enraptured by her voice and, well, her. I’d probably do the same today.

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