Liars – ‘They Were Wrong So We Drowned’: Round 18 – Rob’s Choice

Liars - They Were Wrong So We Drowned‘They Were Wrong, So We Drowned’ is perhaps best known as a couple of things that it really isn’t.

It was cast as a concept album (or a ‘story album’ according to Angus Andrew) about witch hunts, when in fact it simply uses related research material as it’s leaping off point. Whilst the album seeps and creeps with blood, folk horror, paranoia and devilry, this is no ‘Salem: The Musical’.

Secondly, and partly because of the focus on this first general misconception, in some circles it was regarded on it’s release as a piece of unlistenable trash. Notoriously both Rolling Stone, and Spin, admittedly not known for boosting experimental art rock, gave the album their lowest possible scores. Many more generally sympathetic followers saw ‘They Were Wrong…’ as a major misstep.

One can hear why they may have been confused. The record moves away radically from the aggressive punk funk of the New York band’s debut, creating instead a dark, dense, buzzing environment which threatens to swamp the listener. What’s hard to believe is that serious critics could have found the album unlistenable. It’s packed with ideas, and whilst some of them may seem like pat moves now, creating clattering, bass-free percussion from whatever they were able to hammer combined with subtle, disorienting electronic effects, Liars built a record which would have taught Animal Collective a thing or two back when it was released in 2004, preceding ‘Sung Tongs’ by a number of months.

If all this makes the record sound like so much formless sonic masturbation then forgive me and go listen to it. ‘They Were Wrong’ bristles with rhythm, tone, downtuned melody and inescapable atmosphere. The first time I heard it, and I was put off sufficiently by the reviews to make it the last of the five Liars albums I bought, I thought there wasn’t a bad track on it. Now I think it’s my favourite of theirs, and it works perfectly in the trajectory of a career which would take them next to ‘Drums Not Dead’, at  which point all the nay-sayers presumably swallowed something hard and jagged and realised that Liars are, and always have been several steps ahead of them and their hipster moves.

Tom Listened (a long time ago): I can just about remember being mightily impressed by this record. Sure, it’s a difficult listen (many of our recent offerings seem to have been) and it started off pretty impenetrably, but as the record wore on, its variations and diversity became apparent and there was just enough there to make it an intriguing and wholly captivating listen as opposed to a chore, a record where you sense that time invested would be paid back in spades.

I like Drum’s Not Dead, actually it would be truer to say I admire it more than like it, and I wonder whether this feeling would be replicated for all of Liar’s discography, but on listening to They Were Wrong… the other night I felt as though it would be a good place to start widening my investigation into this theory beyond its current sample size of one record!

Nick listened: I bought Drum’s Not Dead when it came out but, on first listen, was expecting something other than what came out of the speakers, and so decided Liars must be rubbish, and stuck it on a shelf where it sat, ignored and scorned. (The L section of our collection is also on the lowest shelf, by the floor – things down there seldom get picked, whilst lesser favourites at eye-level benefit from casual browsing.) But, primed by Rob’s introduction, I enjoyed this, and got more of a sense of who Liars are and what they’re for. I’ve listened to Drum’s Not Dead again subsequently, and wonder if I may have been a little harsh, and should try again. Recognising the final song (of Drum’s Not Dead) from the film 50/50, which Em and I had seen about a week before, seemed to help.


Telstar Ponies – In The Space of a Few Minutes: Round 18 – Tom’s Selection

In the absence of a theme due to a postponed ‘Wife’s Night’ (not as dodgy as it sounds), I was a little at a loss as to what to take to meeting number 18. I find themes really help me make my selection – my mind likes the process of sifting through the possibilities, rifling through its filing system looking for appropriate choices. With no particular direction offered by Nick, I returned to Telstar Ponies’ 1995 offering – In The Space of a Few Minutes – a record I had previously considered for Nick’s ‘Under Appreciated Records of the 90s’ theme.

Although ITSOAFM is not a record I turn to all that often, I always enjoy it when I do and view it as a little treat when it settles onto my turntable and unleashes it sound. ITSOAFM almost fits Rob’s possible future theme – ‘Albums Not Yet Reviewed on Allmusic’. There is no written review, but the site has gone to the trouble of awarding this album two stars! Pillocks! It makes me wonder whether they have ever heard it, especially when Mogwai’s constellations of stars in their discography is taken into account. I don’t own any Mogwai albums but I have heard enough by them over the years to realise that they do not sound THAT much better (if at all) than Telstar Ponies do here.

In another, possibly better, world Telstar Ponies would be more than a footnote in the history pages of 1990s UK indie. I find their sound pretty much impossible to pigeonhole  – first track ‘The Moon is Not a Puzzle’ reminded Rob of Sister-era Sonic Youth (see Round 16) but for me the influences are much less obvious and more distant. I hear traces of Slint and other early 90s post-rock bands and a little Neu here and there in the prepulsiveness of some of the tracks (second track, Lugengeschichte – try saying that when you’re drunk! – being a prime example). Occasionally David Keenan’s vocals sound reminiscent of Jim Reid or Bobby Gillespie, other times closer to, say, Mudhoney’s Mark Arm at his shoutiest. Rachel Devine adds a wonderful contrast on ITSOAFM with her breathy, warm and mostly spoken vocals and, to my mind, it all works a treat (unlike on the followup album, Music for a New Society, where she attempts to sing on a couple of tracks with decidedly mixed results).

I find it fascinating that an album that garnered enough attention at the time of its release for me to want it, find it and buy it, that manages to so successfully appropriate its influences and mould them into something original and fresh and that has gone on to apparently influence relatively major groups (such as Mogwai and Godspeed YBE) has not managed to gain the recognition it deserves. It’s time the balance was redressed and that In The Space of a Few Minutes was welcomed into the rock’n’roll Hall of Fame with open arms. It deserves better than a measly ** from Allmusic and a few half-baked blog entries.

Nick listened: Telstar Ponies are a name I’ve been subconsciously aware of for years. If you’d asked me before Tom put this on the turntable at DRC, I’d have probably said they were Scottish, and maybe had a vague connection between them and Teenage Fanclub in my head, but little else. I certainly don’t think I’d ever heard them though.

Predictably, given that they’re my points of reference, Telstar Ponies sounded like the midpoint between Teenage Fanclub’s early, crunchier Americophile pop (before they got all wistful and harmonic, when their guitars chugged rather than chimed), and Mogwai’s doomed repetition. The problem with that equation is twofold; firstly, I find Mogwai’s elongated approaches and dramatic pay-offs too long and, as a result, predominantly unrewarding most of the time, mostly because they’re rhythmically unsubtle – not repetitious enough to get into a proper kraut groove, and not free enough to inspire surprise. This was definitely something Telstar Ponies suffered from; there were hints of krautrock but they seemed watered down and unexciting.

Secondly, I felt like Telstar Ponies were neither fish nor fowl. The postrock-y workouts were musically nothing special when compared to Godspeed or Bark Psychosis or Tortoise, and the songwriting side of things, admittedly from only one listen, seemed to lack melodic sparkle, instead mining the same vein of intensity over and over again.

This isn’t to say that I disliked Telstar Ponies, I just found it to be a bit of a drag…

Rob listened: Had I heard this when it came out, I would have adored it intensely and by now it would be filed alongside AC Acoustics, Lotion, Come, Drive Like Jehu and yes, Mogwai under an invisible heading of ‘Records Which Seemed World-Changing But Got Left Behind’. I’d glance at it every now and then and feel slightly guilty passing it over to listen to something else. In short, I liked it but had I got to it in time, we would have been great together.

Acoustic Ladyland – Skinny Grin – Round 18; Nick’s choice

There was a little organisational chaos around this week’s DRC – we were meant to meet last week, at Tom’s with a complicated theme involving some serious (for us) logistical planning, but things fell through, so we rescheduled a regular, unthemed meeting for my house at short notice. So it seemed logical to go back to my mental checklist of albums I first thought of when DRC was conceived, and this excitable slice of “punk jazz” has now wormed its way to the top of that pile.

Released just before Christmas in 2006, I reviewed Skinny Grin at the time, and made bold claims for its genius and potential as a marketable crossover from the vibrant London jazz scene that’s produced seemingly scores of tokenistic-jazz-choice Mercury nominations – Polar Bear, Basquiat Strings, Portico Quartet, even avant-rock choices like The Invisible. I was convinced that Skinny Grin would garner universal acclaim and massive success.

Sadly, although it definitely got the acclaim, its bizarre choice of release date saw it fall into the cracks between Sufjan Stevens Yuletide boxsets and Celine Dion best-ofs, and nobody outside the crowd of usual suspects seemed to become enthused by it; it was too late to make any 2006 end-of-year lists, and by the time the 2007 ones rolled around, it had been forgotten in favour of Battles, who did a similar thing but seemingly from a different direction.

Acoustic Ladyland started their career with an album of, unsurprisingly, acoustic jazz reinterpretations of Hendrix tunes, and then spectacularly found their own sound at the edge of jazz, punk, the avant-garde, and metal with their second album, Last Chance Saloon, which came out around the same time as Polar Bear’s acclaimed, Mercury-nominated quasi-crossover, Held On The Tips Of Fingers; the two

Skinny Grin itself is frenetic, groovy, teetering-on-the-edge-of-chaos stuff. One track is mixed by none other than DRC-fave Scott Walker, who adds what sounds like a muzzle of angry electronic bees to the jerking, multi-directional instrumentation. Guest vocalists, and bandleader Pete Wareham, trading saxophone for microphone, add a punky, poppy dimension to some tracks, but it’s the (predominantly) instrumental tracks that hit the hardest, packing a progressive punch that transgresses genre boundaries like little else I’ve heard before or since. It’s not just jazz fusion; it’s far more exciting than that.

Tom Listened: I am amazed at how consistently Nick manages to choose records that I don’t know, most of which it’s turns out, I really like! This was another one, captivating from start to end, hard to pin down (was it jazz? rock?, fusion? – horrible word that), yet so effective in doing what it was setting out to achieve. I liked the vocal tracks just as much as the instrumental ones and would look forward to exploring Skinny Grin further, despite the fact the band have such an awful, and totally misleading, name. Well done Nick – another goodie!

Rob listened: I loved the first track which seemed cast as a face-off between a cocktail jazz quartet and a herd of straining mid-90s metal apologists. Which is all good in my book. As the record progressed, it started to lose focus, a sense of purpose, for me at least. I liked the compressed thrash jazz workouts wherein Acoustic Ladyland genuinely seemed to be onto something, combining the free associative joy of both genres without, apparently, doing either a disservice, but the more the record went on, the more I found my attention drifting.

Roger Waters – The Pros and Cons of Hitch-hiking – Round 17 – Graham’s Choice

As this was a one night only opportunity to spin something a little off our normal choices, I took the opportunity to slip this one in.

Unfortunately being sandwiched in between Sunn O))) and Scott Walker was always going to be a challenge too far, even for a country rock concept album based around a real time nightmare between 4.30 and 5.11am. Even the themes of mid-life crisis, older men lusting after younger women, retreating to eco-living and the final collapse of all relationships seemed relatively jolly in comparison.

This album came out in 1984 at the end of my love affair with Pink Floyd and after the harrowing nature of the Final Cut one might have expected Roger to have lightened up a bit? Not!

The lyrics and imagery that accompany this album are so bizarre and pompous I’ve always imagined that irony was heavy at work here. After another listen I’m not quite so sure. What still attracts me to this album is some of the almost comedic transitions between songs (cue the German beer festival and the puppy sandwich). Strange thing about this album is a lot of people have probably heard good chunks of the instrumental pieces without realising. Someone at BBC drama/documentary is obviously a fan as scenes that require desolate/deserted sound imagery are often accompanied by extracts from this album. I’m no great fan of Eric Clapton but I do like what he did on this album. Supposedly this was his first sober/clean recording for 10-15 years and his country/slide playing very different from anything else that I have heard him do (not that I have heard much).

Still, the battle was lost in between my two fellow members choices!

Nick listened: You know what? This might have been the most unsettling record of the night, for me at least. And for many reasons. Partly because of my complete antipathy towards Pink Floyd, who I revisit once ever couple of years in an attempt to “get” Meddle or Wish You Were Here, but who I just find to be the cheesy, predictable, platonic-essence of “serious rock” every time. Partly because of the weird, linear-yet-dreamlike structure, which eschews refrains and repetition in favour of perpetual, yet still, somehow, predictable development – the whiff of prog, if not the instrumentation. Partly because it’s scary that there was ever a time when it was OK for a major rock star to release a concept solo album based on a dream about picking up young girls by the side of the road. Partly because of the lyrics writ throughout said record, which attempt to express said concept from multiple, fractious, dream perspectives, using only one actual voice (and thus adding to the confusion). But mostly, probably, for the sound, which just has that rich, opulent, 1970s into 1980s expensive studio rock record sheen, something perfectionist and dehumanising; real instruments that sound as if they’re played by ghosts or invisible machines or computer programs rather than by real fingers and real hands and real people. There’s something very antiseptic and unsettling about it; the polar opposite to Scott Walker or Sunn o))), and with a different effect – it doesn’t explicitly oppress you, or lull you in and physically shock you, but it does, slowly, cumulatively, insidiously, make you feel just a little bit wrong.

Tom Listened: They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but they should have added that the rule doesn’t apply to Roger Water’s albums. I agree with all Nick has written about The Pros and Cons of Hitch-hiking. I have always had a deep, possibly disproportionate, dislike of Pink Floyd and as I could hear them throughout this album I was always going to struggle with it.

I liked the fact that it wasn’t Sun O)))!

Rob listened: Genuinely terrifying.

Sunn O))) – ‘Black One’ – Round 17: Rob’s choice

I’ve been waiting for an excuse to set this before the Club for some time, and also to have a stab at writing about it. I’m intermittently fascinated by Sunn O))) and some of their ilk but the more I listen the farther I get from understanding anything about them.

It’s a pretty simple equation. There are two of them, Greg Anderson and Stephen O’Malley, and they chug away at weirdly down-tuned guitars at ferocious volume and glacial pace creating a noise which pretty much suits the drone/doom pigeonhole they’ve materialised in. They have progenitors, particularly Dylan Carson’s Earth, who they credit as major influences and partly in tribute to whom they are named. On this their fifth album, they are joined by guest vocalists Wrest and Malefic from US Black Metal one-man-bands Leviathan and Xasthur, representing the overlap with another genre I find hopelessly fascinating and almost completely ludicrous.

The result is, perhaps in all senses of the words, diabolical and dreadful. The guitars seem to collapse in on themselves, giving fleeting visions of sub-sonic caverns that threaten to swallow the listener like some Lovecraftian behemoth. It really is quite something, demonstrating directly the almost physical effect that noise can inflict.

Or are they just mucking about? I know they aren’t, but I also know i’d be incapable of persuading the average passer-by that they weren’t. There’s a dark thrill in letting Sunn O)))s black waves suck away at your soul and, for me, it’s given an extra frisson by the clear sense that this is, in any reasonable assessment, a bit ridiculous. Like the best schlock horror flicks, it only works if one suspends disbelief.

Then there’s the vocals and lyrics. My feelings about US Black Metal (USBM) and its Scandinavian older cousin are for another post, or better, for a comic novel, but i’ll encapsulate a couple of them here.

What makes the whole genre so delicious is the contrast between how seriously the young men churning the music out are about it and how completely laughable it is in almost all its detail. The music can be bracing, face-melting at times, and I’m compelled by the vocal technique (again the end result is silly, but impressive). I’m enough of a horror fan to find the blighted lands that USBM tries to conjure up attractive, but jeez, was there ever a scene more up itself, more convinced of its own righteousness (or should that be wrongeousness)?

Yeah, yeah, yeah, we’ve all read ‘The Call Of Cthulhu’ and imagined we could destroy the world and bring forth a frosty new dimension of pain and general unpleasantness. Now go and ring your Mum and tell her what time you’ll be home for tea.

Don’t misunderstand me. This territory is great for a brief escape, but the idea that a chap could live there permanently seems childish. Put another way, I think it’s pretty cool that they apparently locked the claustrophobic Malefic in a coffin to record his vocals for ‘Black One’s closing track ‘Báthory Erzsébet’, but how can anyone read a wikipedia entry for the same vocalist that goes like this without chuckling: “musically and lyrically Xasthur’s focus is usually not on paganism, Satanism or anti-Christian blasphemy – as is common in the genre – but rather on astral projection, darkness, despair, suicide, hate, and death”.

That’s enough for now. I intend to chip away at Sunn O))) for years to come. I have no idea whether when I finally break through i’ll find a blackened, blasted wasteland presided over by a blind gibbering god, or two dorkish schoolboys who never learned which way round to hold their guitars.

Tom Listened:  I’m beginning to go off Rob. First he makes me cycle from one end of the country to the other. Then he makes me listen to this! I very rarely have trouble getting to sleep, but this album (plus The Drift, plus Frankie Teardrop) ensured that I had my worst night’s sleep in decades!

This was uncomfortable, oppressive, terrifying, exhausting, scary, bleak, unpleasant, horrific….and strangely captivating. Put it this way, I didn’t feel compelled to play Guided by Voices or The Unicorns to my tutor group the next day after they were brought to DRC! So, I have to begrudgingly concede that Sunn o))) must be pretty damn good at what they do, it’s just that what they do and myself are incompatible. A bit like Pan’s Labyrinth (images from which Black One continuously summoned up during the interminable 56 minutes playing time) this was an experience that I am kind of glad I have had, but never want to repeat.

Nick listened: Sunn o))) are a group I’ve heard of plenty over the years, but never listened to. I’m aware of their critical acclaim, but not so much of their specific niche – I didn’t know they were quite so related to modern metal in terms of collaborations, for instance, though I had them filed away in my brain as unholy guitar abusers.

Strip away the comedy death metal grunting (which adds a layer of artifice to proceedings that seriously hampers my ability to suspend disbelief and invest fully), and what Sunn o))) produce isn’t a million miles away from Fennesz, just going down a different, almost illbient, road. I find quite a lot to… perhaps not ‘enjoy’, but certainly appreciate, in Sunn o))), especially when you factor the candles, graveyard view, and cowled host into proceedings. They create a genuinely oppressive atmosphere (especially sans grunting comedy metal vocalists) which could easily, if one weren’t in good company, make your skin crawl and your mind play tricks on you. I don’t know if I’d ever want to listen to them on any other night of the year, but I’d gladly revisit them next all hallows eve. I certainly didn’t have Tom’s unsettled night’s sleep; but then again, I’ve watched Pan’s Labyrinth half a dozen times or more, and consider it beautiful, rather than scary…

Graham Listened: Rob’s black cape and the view over the graveyard was the icing on the cake when it came to this offering. Glad I listened, glad I now understand the subtle differences between death/black metal etc. Genuinely disturbing listening for mature adults. I must be getting old as I started to worry about the impact of listening to this sort of stuff in your teens. Would probably never listen to this again but would be tempted to go to a live show, just to see what sort of people turned up (I’m sure they would be reserved parking for all those bringing sacraficial goats).

Kate Bush – The Dreaming: Round 17 – Tom’s Selection

As I left Rob’s house on Monday night after a frankly exhausting evening of terrifying listening, I felt that I had really let the side down. And Kate! I wished I had saved The Dreaming for a different evening; next to The Drift and Sunn o)))’s Black One, The Dreaming sounded like Steps at their breeziest.

To be honest, I really struggled to find a ‘Halloween’ record. I just don’t like things that sound like that, just as I don’t really like watching horror movies. The scary songs I do own tend to be one offs. Frankie Teardrop, for example, is a damn scary song (so much so that Graham’s steering definitely twitched on the way home when the first scream erupted out of the car stereo), but the rest of Suicide’s debut is relatively stress free listening. So I opted for The Dreaming, primarily for its final song, Get Out Of My House (which was inspired by The Shining) and the blood curdling screeching of the song’s title. But in reality it’s the singer who is terrified; the listener is simply incredulous – yet another vocal twist to add to the already  bewildering array of voices on this album. And they’re all by the same singer! It’s a remarkable record, possibly (probably) my favourite ever and it deserved to be played alongside….something else!  I will be very interested to see what Nick, Graham and Rob made of it, whether they felt the impact had been lessened because of the sonic company The Dreaming kept on the evening.

I listened to The Dreaming quite a few times prior to the meeting wondering whether it still sounded as good as ever. I shouldn’t have worried. This album just gets better and better with each subsequent play. I must be well over my 100th listen and I’m still finding numerous new sounds, new inflections, new atmospheres. The songs are so complex, yet compelling, detailed, yet instinctive. They’re relatively accessible yet reward repeated listens. It’s an amazing trick to pull off, one that hasn’t happened that often in the history of recorded music to my mind. It’s the sound of an artist in complete control (this was the first of Bush’s self-produced albums), fearless and brim full of confidence, at the top of her game. It’s all the more remarkable to think that Bush was only in her early twenties when she made The Dreaming as it deals with such a breadth of subject matter (the acquisition of knowledge, The war in Vietnam, rape, bank heists, the plight of the Aborigines). And the music is breathtaking. Each song writhing in and out of sections that fit like a glove. So much of the genius of this record lies in the way Kate Bush experiments with her voice. Nick raised Tim Buckley’s Starsailor as THE critics’ voice album of choice but vocally The Dreaming offers so much more than Buckley’s honeyed wailing. Take fourth track Suspended in Gaffa for example. That one song veers through at least six different voices as it wends it way to its conclusion. Playful in the verse which is cut through with rasping yelps, then smooth voiced and intimate in the chorus until she heads off to the very top of her register for the briefest of forays. But my favourite moment of all is when she plummets from her most unhinged wailing to a beautiful, intimate, whispered ‘I don’t know why I am crying’ – all the more startling because it’s gone in a flash not to appear again on the song, or for that matter the entire album. It’s all light years away from Wuthering Heights.

And each song is amazing. There are no favourites, no weaknesses. The best song is the one you’re listening to! But the horns on Sat in Your Lap! And the helicopters and car effects on Pull Out The Pin. The sound of the car hitting the kanga on The Dreaming. The fiddles on Night of The Swallow. The whole of Get Out Of My House. Just incredible.

The muted critical reception the album received in 1982 must have been devastating for Bush. She had made the album she had always wanted to and suddenly she was out of favour with the music press and record buying public alike. Of the singles, Sat in Your Lap sold relatively poorly, The Dreaming didn’t make the top 40 (not all that surprising when you listen to it) and There Goes a Tenner didn’t even chart at all. Of course Bush would take stock, lick her wounds and come back with what was to be (wrongly) her most critically lauded album three years later. The Hounds of Love is a good record with moments of greatness but, in all honesty, it can’t hold a candle to The Dreaming, an album so good that even Alan Partridge didn’t dare to touch it in his Kate Bush medley!

Rob listened: I’m the least Bushed of the DRC regulars. I was 7 when ‘Wuthering Heights’ was all over the radio and TV and, seriously, how could any 7-year old be anything other than freaked out by this:

Subsequently I ignored Kate Bush whilst harbouring a growing, but distant, respect for her integrity as I realised just how carefully and with what determination she had been pursuing her own creative path.

So, this is the first Kate Bush album i’ve ever sat through, and I really liked it. Not scary, but good.

Nick listened: I’d call myself a Kate Bush fan without hesitation, but this was the first time I’ve heard The Dreaming, and essentially I only really know The Hounds Of Love and Aerial, plus a handful of singles. I own, and have dabbled with, The Sensual World and The Kick Inside, often with great gusto and appreciation, but neither of them has really struck. But The Red Shoes and The Dreaming have somehow evaded my time and attention, despite numerous people whose taste I respect dearly rating The Dreaming as Kate’s best, most rewarding, most idiosyncratic record.

One listen, especially on Halloween and in the company of Sunn o))) and The Drift (and our other, as yet unrevealed on this blog, record of the evening), was clearly not enough to unpack the dense, involved tapestry of this record, lashed with a million different voices all emanating from the same larynx, but it was more than enough to reveal that it’s a record worth unpacking. I intend to investigate further in the future.

Scott Walker – The Drift – Round 17 – Nick’s choice

Scott Walker is one of those artists who gets mentioned a lot at DRC – so much so that talking about him is almost forbidden now. Scott is also one of only a handful of artists who has created music which has scared me, so when Rob concocted his “frightening music” theme for All Hallow’s Eve, my choice was very simple. I considered Portishead’s ominous, 21st-century-paranoia-riddled 3, Nick Cave’s blood-drenched Murder Ballads, Godspeed’s doom-laden debut, Young God’s intense Only Heaven, and Suicide’s excruciating Frankie Teardrop, but none of them creep me out quite as much as the man who once sang Make It Easy On Yourself.

I bought Scott’s legendary, infamous Tilt years ago, and listened to it first time out on headphones, alone, in a darkened room. The Cockfighter’s scratching, microcosmic opening lulled me into inter-cranial paranoia before unleashing industrial-percussion terror, the dynamic leap an act of extreme terrorism upon the listener that petrified and fascinated me in equal measure. I saw Tilt as the evil flipside of Talk Talk’s Spirit Of Eden… So eleven years later when The Drift was released, and initial reports described it as more inscrutable, more extreme, more intense, and more unsettling than even Tilt, I knew it was going to be a challenge. Five years on from its release, I’ve listened to The Drift only about three times; at 70 minutes, its intensity demands you find a big chunk of time as well as concentration and emotional fortitude. It is not an easy listen.

Beyond the extremity of the performances and arrangements, The Drift is recorded entirely without compression, pop music’s secret weapon, which makes it sound even more surreal, avant-garde, and bizarre than it already is. Swarms of unidentified insects materialize from the speakers and envelop you; cacophonous avalanches of drums pummel you into submission; unidentifiable drones worm their way into our psyche; ominous guitar chords float in your peripheral vision; and moments of complete calm and quiet draw your attention close, bisecting the terror, and making the eruptions all the more terrifying. Scott himself sings impenetrably of psoriasis, stillborn twins, ancient cultures, and who knows what else, his barren, reaching voice instilled with drama and sorrow and hopelessness. He punches a side of pork, lets loose a blood-curdling Daffy Duck impersonation, and sits at the centre of this entire theatre of bleakness. The Drift is fascinating and harrowing in equal measure.

Tom Listened: Well, what can you say! A remarkable, literally extraordinary listen.

I always find it odd when critics laud the likes of Dylan, Young, Springsteen for remaining ‘vital’ after all these years. They’re not ‘vital’! They’re hanging in there. Scott Walker is ‘vital’. Scott Walker is making records (admittedly at a snail’s pace) that not only sound unlike anything he’s made before, they’re unlike anything that has ever been released in recorded music. You know as you listen that he couldn’t care less if anyone is paying attention to his output. Maybe he’s happy that they are, but it wouldn’t bother him if they weren’t. The Drift is the sound of emancipation from the pressures of expectation, the sound of a driven individual supremely confident that he can replicate his vision in recorded form, the sound of genius.

Having said that, I probably won’t be buying The Drift. I have (and love) Tilt, I have (and am getting to know, after owning it for 10 years) Climate of Hunter and I am not sure I need another of Scott Walker’s ‘recent’ releases, especially one that will probably (although not in the same way as Sunn O)))) give me nightmares! Great to hear it though…next time can we leave the lights on?

Rob listened: I own the Drift and admire it hugely. It’s an incredible achievement which, as Tom and Nick have outlined, but most other artists’ piddling efforts into some considerable shade. I don’t have much to add other than that I first listened to it alone in a car hurtling up the M5 in the dark and at ear-pummelling volume. I was lucky to stay on the road and to this day during my quiet moments, somewhere in the distance I can still hear Scott Walker intoning, “bam… bam…bam…bam…”.

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