The Antlers – ‘Burst Apart’: Round 19 – Rob’s choice

This was albums of the year week. When I stacked up my 2011 records, I found I only had 15 to choose from and when I weighed them against each other, divining for the collection that had given me the most succour, the most pleasure, the most warmth, it came down to a choice of two, Bill Callahan’s ‘Apolcalypse’ and The Antlers’ ‘Burst Apart’. From a short field, they have been to two I’ve reached for consistently in all circumstances, and they’ve formed the backbone of the soundtrack to the second half of the year.

Bill had his moment back in Round 5, but I was able to sneak in ‘One Fine Morning’ as one of my tracks of the year under the guise of a pub quiz question (Q: What does Bill Callahan do on this track that no-one in rock history has ever, to my knowledge, done before? A: He sings the album’s catalogue track, rather  beautifully), so I played The Antlers record which neither Tom or Nick had heard before.

It’s a beguiling album. Without the immediate emotional punch of it’s predecessor, the devastating ‘Hospice’, ‘Burst Apart’ had a tendency to drift by during early listens, but the more time i’ve spent with it, the more it has revealed its treasure. It’s a gorgeous, warm and rich collection, interweaving meticulous playing and arrangements with Peter Silberman’s icy, aching voice, which drifts through the steam like a ghost. It dawned on me recently that in both its precision and its restraint, ‘Burst Apart’ is cousin to Wild Baasts’ ‘Smother’, another favourite of the past year, but where lyrically Wild Beasts sound academic, The Antlers are raw and direct.

The delectable tumble of ‘Rolled Together’, the angelic ‘Hounds’, the yearning, heartbreaking ‘Corsicana’ and the brutally simple, staccato stab to the heart of ‘Putting The Dog To Sleep’ have drifted and swooned and billowed around my head for the past 6 months. Irresistible, transcendental, unshakeable.

Nick listened: I loved this. Or, rather, I found this completely beguiling and to my tastes immediately, and so bought a copy forthwith, and have been listening to it intensely ever since, and love it now. I wish I’d heard it earlier in the year – it would easily have cemented a position in my top ten for 2011 (whatever that means). It’s an incredibly well balanced album, finding the sweet spot between melody and groove, obviousness and obfuscation, that presses all my buttons. Em had mentioned that she’d listened to Antlers via their website a couple of months ago and liked them – I wish she’d been more effusive, or else taken the plunge and bought it, because it took until Rob played it for me to sit up and take any notice. Probably my favourite record I’ve bought as a result of hearing at DRC.

Tom Listened: When introducing this to us, Rob suggested that at first this may leave us feeling underwhelmed. Not a bit of it. I thought that Burst Apart sounded great on first listen, packed as it is with ideas, pathos and sweet, sweet melodies. I liked the fact that, unlike its predecessor Hospice, Burst Apart had range and textural variety so that it didn’t seem anything like as unremittingly bleak. Whilst there are those who may suggest that this would lessen its impact, I found it much more palatable on first listen and I suspect that I would go on to prefer the latter album over time. And whilst The Antlers don’t really go far from the archetypal ‘sadsong’ indie template, Pete Silberman’s exquisite voice, full of vulnerability and experience, lifts the music out of the ordinary. Nice choice Rob….but Apocalypse is better!

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St. Vincent – Strange Mercy: Round 19 – Tom’s Selection

I found the concept of ‘Album of the Year’ night to be a difficult one to get my head around. What to take? My two favourite albums from the year – Bill Callahan’s Apocalypse and Smoke Ring For My Halo by Kurt Vile (an album whose brilliance has taken me by surprise as the year has progressed) were coincidentally both played at the same club night (round 5). What’s more, I have bought so little music from 2011, mainly because I have so enjoyed trawling my existing collection looking for potential offerings for the club, that I feel my meagre offerings on Tuesday night were somewhat paltry and predictable. In the end I took everything I have bought from this year (a massive eight or so LPs) yet I brought nothing that neither one of Rob or Nick hadn’t already heard and, in the end opted to play Strange Mercy more-or-less by default.

Whilst I like Strange Mercy a lot, I feel it is some way off the brilliance of Annie Clarke’s previous two offerings, especially Actor. Whereas Actor felt spontaneous and fresh, Strange Mercy seems to me much more mannered and manicured. On Actor the dissonance seemed integral to the songs, on its follow up it feels clunky at times (Northern Lights, Chloe in the Afternoon, Year of the Tiger), at others it comes across as embellishment, giving it a ‘tacked on’ feel. I can’t imagine Marrow (from Actor) without the guttural, bone shaking saxophones tearing it apart. Strange Mercy’s Champagne Year however (a nonetheless wonderful ballad) has some great sounds working their way into the last part of the song but I feel the song would work just as well without them.

I shouldn’t be too disparaging though, there is some fantastic stuff on Strange Mercy. Cruel is literally awesome, the title track is beautiful yet visceral, Neutered Fruit and Dilettante take St Vincent’s music into new and exciting territory and Annie Clarke needs to be applauded for developing her sound and music, taking risks and seeking to experiment. It’s just that with one of the best albums of the last decade in the bag, my expectations were, perhaps, unreasonably high for its successor.

Nick listened: This is one of my favourite records of the year, quite easily – I ranked it third in my top ten the other week, and live in Bristol in November (also attended by Tom) she was very good indeed. I’m not sure if I like Strange Mercy as much as Actor yet, but it’s a different beast; it feels a little more mannered, artful, and strange (not that Actor is lacking in those qualities). Glad Tom played it; I’d brought it along and had been debating choosing it myself.

Rob listened: Still smarting from having missed St Vincent’s recent show in Bristol thanks to a broken car (anyone want 2 tickets?), I came to the new album, which I had intended to pick up at the gig, expecting something deliriously challenging, based on my apparently erroneous reading of a handful of reviews on its release. Tom and Nick led me to believe that the first track, ‘Chloe In The Afternoon’ would ram my head through a musical mincer and that the rest of the record would afford me scant opportunity to reassemble my shattered sensibility. I thought the album was bold, bright, charming and really rather lovely. They seemed disappointed with this.

Nicolas Jaar – Space Is Only Noise – Round 19 – Nick’s selection

Another meeting arranged at short notice, and potentially our last of the year as busy familial festive schedules start to kick in. So it made sense to theme it around our albums of the year, even if we didn’t quite know how the logistics of that might work; would we vote and play our three consensus records? Pick our very favourite record each? Would we pronounce a Devon Record Club Album of the Year?

Typically, we were more pragmatic and prosaic than that, and each chose a record from 2011 that we liked a lot and which at least one of the other two hadn’t heard. I went last, debating between Patrick Wolf, Destroyer, and Nicolas Jaar; I picked Jaar’s debut after a comment by Rob that there had been a lot of really good “sounding” albums this year (i.e. albums with good sound, not albums that we’re hearsay suggests are qualifiedly “good”). Jaar’s is the album that I’ve perhaps enjoyed the most on a purely phenomenological level, and when I played an isolated track from it at an earlier meeting everyone seemed impressed and intrigued.

The album itself is a sensuous, aesthetic pleasure; not quite the minimal house odyssey some fans of his early singles had expected, but nevertheless immaculately constructed, captivating and unusual. It occupies a strange nowhere land between techno and jazz and minimal and Germany and South American and east and west; the cover picture depicts Jaar himself, as an infant, in the no-man’s land between east and west Berlin. Despite being a very obviously digital construct, it’s a warm, human record, full of pianos, strings, brass, and voices as well as thrumming basslines and thumping beats.

It starts incredibly abstractly, the opening trio of tracks weaving spoken words in numerous languages and found sound recordings of breaking waves through strange rhythmic patterns and irregularly intersecting waves of sound. The mid section of the record adds more focus and direct intention (while never quite becoming obvious), vocals used as hooks rather than ambience, and beats coalescing into patterns that could almost affect dancefloors, before the final three tracks disintegrate the patterns again, and bring the album neatly back to where it began.

Jaar’s dad apocryphally bought a Villalobos album as inspiration for his young son’s musical development on the recommendation of a record store clerk, after asking for the most cutting edge and accomplished music out there. I’m glad he did, and I can’t wait to hear where Jaar’s strange confluence of muses takes him next.

Tom Listened: This album started off really well for me but faded towards the end. I have been aware of Nicholas Jaar’s name cropping up in the occasional best of 2011 internet list and my interest was fueled when Nick played a song from the album at one of the earlier meetings. I enjoyed the album all the way through, but I did feel it lost impact as it went on and by the end it had become (very lovely) background music for me. I suspect that this would become less of an issue with repeated listens but I’m not sure we’ll ever become that well acquainted.

Rob listened: It’s always a pleasure to hear Nick roll out one of his stock phrases, mainly because they tend to be much more interesting than mine. In fact, my most repeated words at Record Club meetings are, “the interesting thing is…” usually followed by something quite plain. Nick, meanwhile, tends towards interesting compounds like  “phenomenologically beautiful” or, if cornered, “non-diagetic”. The interesting thing is that ‘Space Is Only Noise’ did indeed seem beautiful in cold, precisely defined terms. I could have listened to the tinkling piano accompanied by a gurgling child and what sounded like a German man attempting to master English vowel sounds for about 45 minutes, it all sounded so pretty. Like Tom, I found it palled slightly in the middle, the closer it approximated dance music, but all in all a lovely thing.