Metronomy – The English Riviera: Round 40 – Tom’s Selection

As someone who grew up a few miles away from PJ Harvey (in fact my old schoolmate Max Griffiths was in a band with her but chucked her out on account of her ‘not being good enough’ – Max, where are you now?) and, until last year, never having owned one of her records, I think it is safe to say that I find it hard to appreciate music that has been made on my doorstep. I suppose I have always felt that something made nearby is only known to me because it’s local, rather than good, and therefore I have tended to be suspicious of its worth. However, The English Riviera has bucked this trend and, seeing as it is a concept album about Torbay, its charming reverence towards my local area is now working to its advantage. I am incredibly proud of soggy old South Devon and feel privileged to live here…and listening to The English Riviera you get the impression that Joseph Mount (Metronomy in all but name) feels the same way.

I was intending on playing The English Riviera at Record Club at some point anyway – I knew that Nick and Rob both had pretty ‘meh’ (as I believe we say these days) reactions to it when they had given it a casual listen last year but was confident that the DRC treatment would help them appreciate its lush sound and nigh-on perfect pop melodies – so when Nick suggested the ‘Home’ theme it didn’t take much thought for me to decide on my choice. I can not think of any other album I own that has such a defined sense of place and when that place is your doorstep and your doorstep is somewhere you’re very fond of, it’s hard not to fall in love.

The English Riviera is, for me, quite a different sort of album from many of my recent offerings. This is not one of those records where the songs have to co-exist to make sense. Although there is an underlying theme on The English Riviera, these are pop gems that more than hold their own in isolation. The English Riviera is the album I hoped Peter Bjorn and John’s ‘Writer’s Block’ might have been. Having heard Young Folks before I bought it, I was hoping for an album crammed with similarly infectious hooks and sweet melodies. But, to be frank, Young Folks towers over the rest of the album, the other offerings occasionally veering perilously close to atrocious (Poor Cow, Amsterdam, Let’s Call It Off). Metronomy’s latest album, however, keeps the bar impressively high throughout and whilst the singles, The Look, The Bay and Everything Goes My Way (a bit like a cross between Don’t You Want Me and Young Folks with the whistling replaced with cooing) are probably the most immediate songs on the album, I enjoy all the tracks just as much now that I have got to know the album  – in fact I might even venture to say that these days I like the latter half of side two even more than the beginning of side one!

Although I am always a little wary of lauding a record that I haven’t possessed for long, I am pretty confident that long after the newness of The English Riviera has worn off, the warm glow I get from its affectionate take on Devonian seaside life will continue to burn.

Nick listened: I downloaded The English Riviera out of curiosity but hadn’t really given it more than a cursory listen before the other night – I quite liked the singles but hadn’t been struck by anything else, and to be honest I’m not sure I’d actually sat down and played it start to finish. Forced into doing that by DRC, I was pleasantly surprised – there was more subtlety and nuance, and less ‘ego song’, than I’d suspected / expected: often the songs seemed to get the tune out of the way relatively quickly, leaving space for a groove or instrumental, achieving a nice balance of tunes-to-music, much like the last Antlers record. Also like that record, none of the songs here screamed I-AM-A-SONG at the listener; rather the tunes and melodies unfurled themselves slowly, suggesting they’ll reward attention and repeated exposure. Very pleasantly surprised.

Rob listened: I gave ‘The English Riviera’ an extremely cursory listen via Spotify shortly after it had been released. I was at work at the time, didn’t concentrate and didn’t hear anything to make me want to listen again. I suspect I have a slight repulsion for very local music, the opposite to Tom’s attraction to this. It’s a stupid attitude, I know. Regardless, I find music from across the Atlantic endlessly exotic, even when it might be crass and dumb when understood in cultural context. The more you understand the musical idiom, the easier it is for a record to hit a grating note, for an artist to choose a clanging word. Records by English artists have to be near perfect for me to love them. That’s not fair and I’m sure I’m the loser in that equation.

Anyway… DRC exists for us to listen properly to records we haven’t given attention to before. This one, on second listen, was great. It reminded me of Wild Beasts ‘Smother’ (a near perfect English record) in its restraint and economy, which make it all the more delicate and delicious. Packed with understated tunes too. It’s a growing favourite in our house already.


Caspar Brötzmann Massaker – ‘Home’: Round 40 – Rob’s choice

Caspar Brotzmann Massaker - HomeThere’s a thread on I Love Music called ‘I Never Play My Caspar Brötzmann Records! And Yet, I’ll Probably Never Get Rid Of Them‘. In fact, it’s the only Caspar Brötzmann thread on I Love Music. On it are some familiar descriptions of records accrued and never really listened to, of artists pursued who never quite produce what the listener is chasing in hope of finding. It’s a familiar pattern and not, one imagines, confined to Caspar Brötzmann. I’m sure the sentiments expressed are pretty common amongst all those who pursue experimental/ambient/noise acts down the rabbit hole, buying record after record, each time hoping that the next one will see the sound coalescing into that thing they’ve always wanted to hear but which they can’t quite imagine for themselves. I have some sympathy.

I only have one Caspar Brötzmann record and it’s this one. I like it pretty well.

Brötzmann is the son of Peter, a German free jazz saxophonist who is prolific in a way that perhaps only free jazz saxophonists are able to be (“Sie wollen mich wie lange spielen? Kein problem”). I’ve never heard him, but he seems well renowned. I know no better than to take the direct route and surmise that his son Caspar followed his dad’s lead, wielding an electric guitar rather than a saxophone. We could pause to pick the wild assumptions out of that statement but let’s move on instead. Time is short.

Caspar Brötzmann Massaker are a trio of musicians who, in this guise, recorded 5 albums from 1987-95, of which ‘Home’ is the last. It’s a record ably summed up by its cover, a pseudo cave painting of a bison, also made by Bröztmann. The album’s five tracks come down as if carved from rock by willpower and weaponry. They’re long and harsh and doomy but not self-consciously complex. Most veer around heavy lurching grooves, the three players slipping into and out of gear with each other and giving the whole piece a momentum which sometimes stutters, sometimes roars. Too focussed and direct to be free jams but too wild and brutal to be careful compositions, the best sections begin to create a sort of stunned energy as the three players get stuck into their instruments and each other.

I have no idea where ‘Home’ sits in the Brötzmann family canon, but it’ll do for me. Perhaps I should start my own thread: ‘I Have One Caspar Brötzmann Record and I’m Happy With That Thank You Very Much’.

Tom Listened: For me, this was the musical equivalent of multi-variable calculus – bloody difficult. That’s not to say it was not good to hear it, I now can at least start a thread ‘I have no Caspar Brötzmann Records and I’m Happy With That Thank You Very Much’ and have a vague understanding of what I’m talking about. Besides that 50+ minutes of doom laden monolith rock – I think I just made up a genre (get me!) – certainly acted as a contrast between what came before and after it. And at least Rob stuck to the theme.

I guess by now, Rob can predict what I am going to like and dislike before he plays it to me so he probably won’t be all that surprised by my reaction. Thinking about it, I am probably at my most predictable when the adjective that can used to describe the music is ‘oppressive*’ – I’ll add Home to the records we’ve had by These New Puritans, Sun 0))) and Mark Hollis.

* I freely admit this is my adjective and that my fellow club members will probably be wondering what I’m talking about, thinking that all these bands make music that is in the same sonic ballpark as Katrina and the Waves.

Nick listened: Whereas I thought this fitted almost perfectly with the mood established by Arvo and evolved by Swans – sonically it felt like it inhabited the same universe as the latter, albeit coming from a different direction. There was a certain jazziness, probably genetic, in this, but it was subtle and foundational rather than overt or explicit. Tom’s on the money describing it as ‘oppressive’ though, and I have no qualms with him using that adjective – I just happened to rather like it where he didn’t seem to. The only thing I might say is that once Brötzmann had established his aesthetic there was little deviation from it – I wasn’t surprised or intrigued at any point by directions the music took, not that this is necessarily a problem. Having said that, Brötzmann was on during takeaway time, so I may have missed some nuances. Rob, when you read this, I’d be grateful for a lend of your one Caspar Brötzmann record, and that will probably be enough for me.

Arvo Pärt – Te Deum / Swans – Avatar (from The Seer): Round 40, Nick’s choices

I’d half-heartedly set the theme of “moving house, or home, or furniture, or newness” at the end of our last meeting, as round 40 was to be the first DRC at my new house, but without really thinking about what this might mean. I’ve already played the Fever Ray album, which could be a contender, didn’t want to pick (half of) Aerial by Kate Bush, and couldn’t think of any snappily-house-related-titled bands or albums.

So I ignored the theme, pretty much, and plumped for something I’ve been thinking about playing for a while. I explained it as being a completely new type of music for DRC to listen to at a completely new venue, but no one was biting.

I know next to nothing about classical music, and even less about modern classical music, despite the best efforts of our old neighbour (from before we moved). I recall being recommended, or intrigued by something written about, Te Deum by Estonian composer Arvo Pärt some years ago, and buying a copy as a result. I have, I believe, only listened to it once: classical is not my go-to music, and Pärt’s Te Deum is an intense, involved, enveloping listen; it’s not something you can just throw on the do the dishes to. I’ve been intrigued since we started DRC to see how we respond to something classical and unfamiliar, that we have little or no frame of reference for.

Some context, drawn shameless from the Wikipedia page because I know not what I talk about: Pärt is just one of many composers to set the verses of Te Deum, which dates from AD 387, to music. He composed his version in the 80s, and the recording I have, on the ECM label, is from 1993. It is scored for three choirs (women’s choir, men’s choir, and mixed choir), prepared piano, divisi strings, and wind harp. To my ears, it’s a predominantly choral piece which slowly swells from literally nothing into huge, almost overwhelming rolls of voices, strings, and surreptitious drones. I don’t understand it, but it does move me.

Pärt has said that the original text Te Deum contains “immutable truths,” reminding him of the “immeasurable serenity imparted by a mountain panorama”, and that it seeks to communicate a mood “that could be infinite in time—out of the flow of infinity. I had to draw this music gently out of silence and emptiness.” That pretty much sums it up.

This is a translation of the original verses of Te Deum:

We praise thee, O God :
we acknowledge thee to be the Lord.
All the earth doth worship thee :
the Father everlasting.
To thee all Angels cry aloud :
the Heavens, and all the Powers therein.
To thee Cherubim and Seraphim :
continually do cry,
Holy, Holy, Holy :
Lord God of Sabaoth;
Heaven and earth are full of the Majesty :
of thy glory.
The glorious company of the Apostles : praise thee.
The goodly fellowship of the Prophets : praise thee.
The noble army of Martyrs : praise thee.
The holy Church throughout all the world :
doth acknowledge thee;
The Father : of an infinite Majesty;
Thine honourable, true : and only Son;
Also the Holy Ghost : the Comforter.
Thou art the King of Glory : O Christ.
Thou art the everlasting Son : of the Father.
When thou tookest upon thee to deliver man :
thou didst not abhor the Virgin’s womb.
When thou hadst overcome the sharpness of death :
thou didst open the Kingdom of Heaven to all believers.
Thou sittest at the right hand of God : in the glory of the Father.
We believe that thou shalt come : to be our Judge.
We therefore pray thee, help thy servants :
whom thou hast redeemed with thy precious blood.
Make them to be numbered with thy Saints : in glory everlasting.

As a counterpart, and because Te Deum lasts for only 29 minutes, I played Avatar by Swans from their current album The Seer, which has a similarly intense, devout atmosphere, but creates this ethos in a very different way, with strikingly different tools, and heading in a very different direction.

Tom Listened: Although Nick is spot on when he said in his response to Rob’s offering from this meeting (Home by Casper Brötzmann Massaker) that Te Deum complemented it well, for some reason it did not elicit the same reaction from me despite sharing many atmospheric (if not sonic) similarities. I was already vaguely familiar with the work of Arvo Part as my parents own a few of his CDs and I have always found them pleasantly interesting whilst also being somewhat perplexed by them.  There are, for me, many paradoxes contained in his music…it’s modern yet sounds like it’s hundreds of years old, it drifts by without making much of a fuss yet it demands attention, it’s not unsettling yet it isn’t without its unsettling moments, it’s VERY quiet and then VERY loud…music for cars it most definitely is not! Unsurprisingly, I’m not really sure what I thought of it but I certainly wouldn’t be against another listen.

Rob listened: We have an Arvo Pärt record which i’m reasonably familiar with. My Mother-in-Law bought it for us. It’s the only record we both like, as far as I know, although I do recall her commenting favourably on hearing portions of Low’s ‘A Lifetime of Temporary Relief’. Our album is called, pretty definitively, ‘The Best of Arvo Pärt’ and this piece is not on it, therefore it must be one of his shitter numbers. I really enjoyed it though. What a glib sentence to write about music written with the single intention of stirring the soul and offering humble praise to a divine being. I did enjoy it though, really.

Swans have been one of my favourite bands since I reviewed ‘The Great Annihilator’ in 1995 and ‘The Seer’ does genuinely seem to be, as Michael Gira has claimed, “the culmination of every previous Swans album as well as any other music I’ve ever made, been involved in or imagined.” Coincidentally, as we met for DRC on a Wednesday evening, my ears were still ringing, not yet fully recovered from seeing this very band play in Manchester four days earlier in a pulverising, devastating, transcendental performance which, as it happened, achieved for me the pure holy intensity that Mrs Pärt’s lad was aiming for with ‘Te Deum’.

Madvillain – ‘Madvillainy’: Round 39 – Rob’s choice

Mavilliany by MadvillainGenuinely successful comebacks are pretty rare in music. Whilst Daniel Dumile may not have topped the charts first time around with his pals KMD, their debut on 3rd Bass’s legendary ‘The Gas Face’ counts as significant success in my book. The way the London-born rapper later vanished and reappeared next counts as remarkable.

In 1993 KMD’s second album ‘Black Bastards’ was rejected by Elektra and the outfit were dropped. All this mere days after Dumile’s brother Dingilizwe, aka fellow KMD member DJ Subroc, was hit and killed by a car in New York. Dumile spent the next few years in the wilderness living “damn near homeless” before making tentative steps back via open mic nights, hiding his identity behind rudimentary masks.

By the time he made it to 2004 he was the metal-masked MF DOOM, partnering producer MadLib on ‘Madvillainy’ and gatecrashing the top ten of Pitchfork’s end of year list, the same website later naming the album the 25th best of the decade. The record is as intriguing as the backstory.

Hailed by some as ‘indie rap’, and dismissed by others as ‘indie rap’, ‘Madvillainy’ is poorly served by the label no matter from which direction it’s being applied. It’s a complex, layered swirl of beats, samples, sweeping supervillain soundeffects and deadpan wordplay. It contains as much straight head-nodding hip-hop as it does smoke-filled flights of fancy. DOOM’s rhymes and Madlib’s beats seem to have been born for each other. The rhythm track and scratchy instrumental curlicues stagger and step slipping into and out of sync with DOOM’s flat and woozy flow creating between them a sound which manages simultaneously to be comforting and disorienting.

And the ideas keep on coming. With 22 tracks crammed into 46 minutes for me ‘Madvillainy’ is the hip-hop equivalent of ‘Bee Thousand’. The songs go on as long as they  merit and then they move on to something else. If that means laying down just a beat and a single verse, then so be it. The result is bewildering, impossible to pin down, sprinkled with transcendent moments and never ever dull.

And like the GBV masterpiece, the more you listen, the more you get back. I don’t listen to a huge amount of hip-hop. ‘Madvillainy’ makes me realise what I might be missing out on, but it’s also one of the reasons I don’t feel compelled to look much further.

Tom Listened: When Rob likened Madvillainy to Bee Thousand I mentally strapped myself in expecting a much bumpier ride than actually transpired. I can see where he’s coming from in drawing this likeness but where as Bee Thousand sounds spontaneous, tangential and extremely discombobulating at first, I found Madvillainy quite accessible, considered and straightforward in comparison. I don’t think I’ll ever feel compelled to buy it (but I remember saying the same thing about Captain Beefheart when I first heard him) but I enjoyed the listen and have come to the conclusion that ‘Indie Rap’ is where I’m currently at in my appreciation of Hip-Hop.

Graham Listened: After warming so to Death Grips, from Rob’s introduction I wondered if this might be a little “tame” for a “bad-ass” like myself. But no, there were plenty of accessible/commercial sounding hooks and beats to cling on to, broken up by clever “off piste” moments that stimulate, rather than irritate. Other than what I have learned at DRC, I know nothing about this type of genre, but I’m willing to find out more.

Nick listened: I’ve owned Madvillainy for years, pretty much since it came out, but never fully got to grips or fallen in love with it: it came out as my interest in hip hop was waning after a couple of years of being fascinated by the more commercial end of the genre (Missy Elliot, Jay-Z, Neptunes) with occasional divergences into more modernist, sci-fi, techno-influenced stuff (Cannibal Ox and other Def Jux stuff, essentially). I’ve been intending to delve into it again properly for some time, as it was a big favourite with a lot of people whose taste I respect. Listening now, it was strikingly turntable and sampler based, and the short songs, abstract lyrics, and absence of dancefloor-aimed beats mark it out as something very different to Timbaland and Missy: it’s a real head-nodder. I’m going to need to spend a lot more time with it before I can form a proper opinion.

Peter Gabriel – Peter Gabriel 4 (Security) – Round 39 – Graham’s Choice

Having recently re-discovered I owned a  copy this album, it would have been a much better choice for my 1982 album of the previous round. No theme this week meant I was free to bring it along anyway. Rhythmically I thought this might mark a departure from my normal fare and allow us to ponder on an artist who has covered such a wide range of bases in his career.

From proggy/eccentric/worldy/political/pop it is pretty hard to find a file to put Mr Gabriel under.

From distant memory, I acquired this album in 1982 after a series of swaps, which to the best of my recollection, included Men at Work and Genesis. I think I came out the winner. I have never sought out any Gabriel era Genesis, but I’m pretty confident it sounds nothing like this!

I took to it pretty quickly as basically it sounded weirder than much of what else I was listening to, and had a spooky cover. Certainly the video for ‘Shock the Monkey’ was disturbing enough to get my interest at the time. It was pretty easy to please a 16 year old in those days!

I pretty much left the album alone for many years until I finally saw Alan Parker’s film, Birdy. The soundtrack recycles some of the tracks on this album and immediately triggered renewed interest in the album.

While, like many, I enjoyed the videos like Sledgehammer from 1986’s ‘So’, it has always been the darker atmospherics of this album that have held my interests. Heavily indulging African and Latin rhythms, sounds and atmospherics throughout, it is not an easy listen and sometimes a little too melodramatic in places. Overall I guess that is why some of the tracks work so well on the movie soundtrack.

‘Rhythm of the Heat’ is a brutal opener with African percussion and along with ‘Lay your Hands on Me’, and my personal favourite ‘Wallflower’, they are my stand out tracks from the album. Some very ‘heavy’ subject matter lies behind many of these tracks but seeing as I have misunderstood most of it for 20+ years, it is not essential to enjoying the album as a whole.

Tom Listened: Although I have never been a huge fan of Peter Gabriel, I had a ‘phase’ around the time of Sledgehammer and my copy of So languishes somewhere in my record collection, unlistened to and unloved for many years now…I am sure it sounds as good today as it did back in the 80s though. Must give it a go. Whilst So is the only Gabriel album I still own, my brother and I definitely had some of his self-titled albums back in the day but their whereabouts are a mystery to me now. I don’t think we had 4 but perhaps we did and I just never got round to getting to know it properly. I certainly enjoyed those albums back then and listening to Graham’s offering the other evening brought back why – Gabriel’s music is an interesting mix of influences, thoughtful and thought provoking, perhaps a little too earnest at times but, to my mind, well worth a listen. As Graham has pointed out above, Peter Gabriel is a bit of an enigma – hard to pigeonhole, one senses he is elusive and private and operates way outside the mainstream whilst still being widely admired and respected. Must be doing something right!

Nick listened: Peter Gabriel is one of those artists who I’ve had on my mental checklist of people to investigate for what seems like forever – my first exposure was Sledgehammer, which I loved as a kid (didn’t everyone?), and whilst I know he as in Genesis, the Genesis he was in are, as far as I can ascertain, a very different beast to the one that did tha awful song about being crap at dancing. I really enjoyed Security, and nosed for it at the weekend when I was in a record shop – alas they didn’t have it, and I was left ruing all the times I thought about buying remasters of his albums for a fiver each and out it off because I thought they’d always be there.

Rob listened: You know how when you get older things that were dreadfully despised when you were young seem to become fashionable, only for you to reaIise that you just got old and started to like old-people things? No? I’m thinking primarily here of golf and Peter Gabriel. Anyway, I was really pleased to see this pop out of Graham’s special Record Club bag just a couple of days after I’d read this rather convincing case for ‘So’ on The Quietus, a record that seemed so unashamedly grown-up to me when it was first released and about which still somehow hung sufficient wafting wisps of perceived former prog-rock atrocities that I’d mentally filed it somewhere far, far away, equidistant between Marillion and Luther Vandross, if such a thing were possible. So, as I was saying, I was pleased to see and hear this, although it seemed to suffer the Curse of the Curry and its details now elude me. I like Peter Gabriel. He seems like a decent chap, clearly very committed to what he’s doing, unashamed to be creative, political and intellectual and, oh what’s the use? I still can’t remember what it sounded like.

Captain Beefheart – Clear Spot: Round 39 – Tom’s Selection

I’m going to go out on a limb here…Clear Spot is Captain Beefheart’s best album. There, I said it! Sure, it’s not as ‘out there’ as many of his other discs but, let’s be honest, we have all listened to it a helluva lot more times than Trout Mask Replica, Lick My Decals Off Baby or Doc at the Radar Station. Haven’t we?

I got lucky with Beefheart. I chanced upon Clear Spot whilst I was at university without realising that it is THE gateway drug as far as the good captain’s discography goes. Weird enough to be compelling, tight enough to be thrilling, concise enough to leave you wanting more…yet, crucially, not too difficult. It does sound like music after all! I imagine that if I had bought one of Beefheart’s more avant-garde offerings as my first Beefheart purchase I may have stopped there. If I had bought one of his mid-70s ‘pop’ albums I almost certainly would have given up on him there and then. No, if you fancy checking yourself out some Beefheart and are not too scared about the addictive qualities of his music, Clear Spot is definitely the place to start.

Now, I am a huge fan of Trout Mask Replica and (especially) its follow up, Lick My Decals Off Baby, but I can’t help feeling that in some ways they are less of an accomplishment than Clear Spot. Groundbreaking they most definitely are and both are easy to admire, but they are so hard to love and I don’t think I have ever experienced that chill down the spine listening to them that I did when playing Clear Spot at record club last night – that thing you get every so often with a record when you REALLY listen intently and you are just blown away by how good it sounds, how it twists and turns so unexpectedly yet maintains its groove, its structure, its accessibility. I guess it helped knowing there were two Clear Spot virgins present so maybe I was imagining what they were hearing, as the opener Low Yo-Yo Stuff writhed its way to its conclusion. To use a sadly devalued (in current times) term…just awesome!

As Rob pointed out on the night, Clear Spot somehow manages to fuse so many genres of music that it should be a complete mess. How can a great soul ballad such as Too Much Time, follow the boogie stomp of Nowadays a Woman Gotta Hit A Man and lead into the garagey delta-blues of Circumstances and pull off the trick of sounding so right? I guess there are three things that tie all the disparities together on Clear Spot – the lyrics, the voice and the grooves. The songs on Clear Spot (the only exception being the 90 second afterthought of Golden Birdies) hang together so brilliantly, always on the verge of cacophony and discordance, but pulling back in the nick of time, returning to the groove that so wonderfully underpins the entire album. There was an inordinate amount of head bobbing and foot tapping (about as animated as we get) whilst Clear Spot played and I imagine that is the last thing anyone who only knows Beefheart through TMR would have thought.

Unlike Neil Young (see Round 38), I went on to acquire many more Beefheart albums that I really fact I own eight Beefheart albums and I like every one! His is a fascinating catalogue; a singular artist deserving, to my mind, of every word of praise that has ever came his way but I have always felt it was a great shame that the alchemy he chanced upon on Clear Spot (the album he allegedly wrote partly as an apology to his band for putting them through the two previous albums) was never really repeated, his later albums veering much closer to TMR and LMDOB in style.

Nixk listened: I bought Trout Mask Replica whilst at university and, frankly, hated it. Listened about three times and thought it was unbearable discombobulation rather than music. So I decided that Captain Beefheart wasn’t for me. On the strength of Clear Spot, I may have been hasty and wrong – because it was awesome. I will be seeking it out at some point in the future.

Rob listened: My favourite Beefheart album and has been since I bought it almost 20 years ago. Like Nick and unlike Tom, I started with ‘Trout Mask Replica’ when it was reissued in 1990. Unlike Nick I found it baffling, laughable, fascinating, challenging and, for all those reasons, rather thrilling. I still can’t say it’s ever come fully into focus for me as some of the devout claim it will, but its existence and the fact it holds such cultural cache, is something we should all rejoice in.

‘Clear Spot’ is radically different in so many ways, but as Tom points out, it is illuminated yet further by the radioactive afterglow of TMR. I can’t add much to Tom’s assessment of the album other than to throw in a couple of extra adjectives: tight, gripping, moving, mesmerisingly sung and to mention that the only reason Jo and I didn’t get married to one of the songs from ‘Clear Spot’ is that we couldn’t choose between ‘Too Much Time’, ‘My Head Is My Only House…’ and ‘Her Eyes Are A Blue Million Miles’.

“I look at her, she looks at me, in her eyes I see the sea…”

Graham Listened: I have tried to appreciate/understand Beefheart in the past and failed miserably. I have sought out footage and recordings to help in the process but never really understood why he is regarded as a genius in many quarters. Maybe tonight I came close to getting it at last. I bobbed my head and tapped my foot appropriately to an overall sound I felt comfortable with. There were moments where I wondered “why has he done that” and “what is going on here”, but not enough to alienate me in the way exposure to Beefheart has in the past. My defenses have been weakened!

The Notwist – Neon Golden: Round 39, Nick’s choice

After three months of having my CD collection packed ready for moving, we’re now in the new house, and, though CDs are still in boxes right now, they are at least open boxes. Faced with a couple of thousand albums to pick from and no theme, I pretty much abdicated responsibility for my choice this week, and brought three records to Rob’s house. I revealed the years they were from (2002, 2007, and 2008) and asked my co-conspirators to pick. 2002, and The Notwist (pronounced not-wist rather than no-twist), won. (I shan’t reveal the other two, as I’ll probably play them soon enough.)

The Notwist started out as a grunge/metal influenced group near Munich in 1989, and have moved through various sonic identities since then. By their fifth album Shrink in 1998, Neon Golden’s predecessor, they were exploring strange territory between jazz and electronic music, far removed from their early beginnings. Neon Golden itself is a synthesis of low-key, understated indie-pop songwriting and carefully detailed and layered electronic production.

This Room, Pilot and, especially, One With The Freaks offer genuinely catchy pop thrills, whilst the title track, closer Consequence, and opener One Step Inside Doesn’t Mean You Understand are much more minimal and metronomically languid, understated to the point of almost feeling abstract. Singer Markus Acher’s voice is something of an acquired taste – he sings in a presumably deliberately flat manner, the remove of singing in a non-native language, which I often find fascinating, adding to an emotional distance which becomes strangely affecting, words as signifiers of emotion rather than delivery as signified.

It would be easy to see Neon Golden as a post-Kid A record, if it wasn’t for the fact that Shrink had mined electronic influences and textures even more fully two years before Radiohead’s giant curate’s egg. It would also be easy to see it as part of some kind of almost-scene of music that looked to bridge the gap between traditional indie rock and what one might call, in a moment of weakness, laptronica or IDM or electronica or whatever. I feel like Neon Golden, which I didn’t like initially back in 2002 but which has grown on me massively over the years, has more of a kinship with the electronic side of things than the indie side.

Because The Notwist weren’t just sprinkling electronic fairy dust over indie pop songs here, they seemed to be actively integrating different compositional techniques – looping, layering, repetition – that are common in electronic and other ‘experimental’ musics, rather than more traditional songwriting. Tellingly, predecessor Shrink is even less based around songs, with several long, predominantly instrumental tracks that owe a debt to jazz and krautrock. Neon Golden is also, to my untrained ears, mixed much more like an electronic record than a rock record; Kid A, for instance, feels much more like a rock record in terms of physical sonics and dynamics to me, whereas Neon Golden’s sound design feels much more genuinely akin to purebred electronic music.

In the wrong context I fear Neon Golden could sound very much of its time, the glitches and bleeps that make up much of the sound palette seeming like trendy affectations, but to me it’s the genuine article, a rich and rewarding record that grows in stature with every passing year.

Tom Listened: I’ve owned Neon Golden for about a year now and have listened to it a handful of times but can not claim to have got to know it well enough to make a definitive judgement on its quality. In a similar way to The Wrens, this is a noughties indie album that is mightily revered but which I came to late and have never really clicked with – maybe it’s the flat vocals that remove any sense of emotion from the songs, maybe it’s the seemingly adolescent sound of the album…That said, I enjoyed the listen at record club much more than on any previous occasion and I can well imagine that this could be one of those albums that years from now I’ll listen to and think ‘how could I have ever missed its genius at first?’.

Rob listened: Nick played a track from ‘Neon Golden’ at a previous meeting and I recall thinking it sounded great, with the sweet sparkle of indie pop lashed to the propulsive drive of Stereolab. Some months later, whilst digitizing my CDs I came across a 10 year old CDR with ‘Tony’s album’ scrawled across its back. I was delighted when my laptop IDed it as ‘Neon Golden’ then slightly disappointed when I played it. Flat electronoodles.

Happily this evening’s playback came over much better. I have no problem with deadpan vocals and in many other ways this is an album precision tooled to get under my skin. The tunes and the momentum started to assert themselves this time around, certainly enough for ‘Neon Golden’ to begin to glide back towards the top of my listen again list.

Graham Listened: Knowing nothing of their “journey” as it were, I could only go on what I heard on the night. Have to say it was great. Had that sound of a band not trying too hard and concentrating on just just getting it “right” on the record. Magnificent and understated at the same time, I may just buy it!

Simple Minds – New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84) – Round 38 – Graham’s Choice

My choices were more functional than inspired.  Drawing 1982 and 2007 was not helpful as in 1982 I was sixteen and had little ‘taste’, whereas in 2007 I only bought 2 records released that year (and didn’t think the team would put up with 24 tracks from Led Zep’s ‘Mothership’).

Had it been 83-84 (geddit?), the field would have opened up much more widely, but 82 was always going to be a different offering from an artist/s I had brought along before. However, in recent developments, a half-term clearout of our loft has led to the discovery of another box of LP’s which contained potential choices. In amongst others that can only be described as “corkers” I know Rob can’t wait to hear Marillion’s 1983 ‘Real to Reel’ live album!

After playing ‘Sons and Fascination’ in Round 29, I thought I would bring this along as it fills the slot between that album and where it all went wrong (at least in my opinion) in 1984 with ‘Sparkle in the Rain’. There are a few hints on this album as to where they are going, but mainly they seemed to be applying a more ‘poppy’ polish to the sound on their previous album. In fact some of the synth and baselines on this album had me thinking more ‘New Romantic’ than ‘New Wave’ and I’m sure Kajagoogoo must have had a listen.

If you turned the drums on the title track up to “11”, you are not that far away from the “de-dum, de-dum, de-crash bang wallop of ‘Waterfront’. My favourites remain ‘The King is White and in the Crowd’ along with the only instrumental, ‘Someone up there likes you’. Both tracks typical of a haunting and sophisticated sound, shortly to be totally dispensed with.

With the nights’ strongest linkage between artists and years, I threw in ‘Nothin’ from 2007’s Robert Plant and Alison Krauss collaboration on ‘Raising Sand’. The track is a cover of a Townes Van Zandtsong and apart from some of the “pickin’ and fiddlin’” sounds pretty alien to the rest of the album.

Tom Listened: Having set the ‘Year of Release Lucky Dip’ theme, I have to admit to a pang of guilt when Graham (having, by his own admission, struggled to find something to bring from 1982) suddenly exclaimed that he could have brought The Nightfly by Donald Fagan…an album that is currently languishing in the side door of my car! It would have certainly have given the evening a different feel – slick ‘yacht rock’, as opposed to the new wave transitioning into stadium rock of New Gold Dream.

I was really impressed with Sons and Fascination, less so with NGD, probably because it was easier to hear echoes of the Simple Minds we all know and hate. Still much more palatable to me than what was to come afterwards, Simple Minds on New Gold Dream sounded like a band that were in the process of cashing in their chips – they had decided on their game plan and had begun making music that was (probably) less innovative and creative and (definitely) more commercially attractive than what had come before. It was interesting to hear the progression but, for me, I suspect Sons and Fascination will be the last album in their chronology I would be interested in picking up.

Rob listened: Graham drew the short straw in more ways than one. Not only was he allocated what seemed to be one of his most heavily mined years, but he also got to play his eventual choice during takeaway hour. I’m not sure how much we all listened. I liked some of what I heard, recognised some of it, and the transitional phase represented by NGD is easy to discern.

I have a certain sympathy with Simple Minds. It’s easy to look back after decades of hearing their most famous songs pumped out of the radio like so much aural styrofoam and conclude that they cynically moved into making hollow stadium rock. I can’t imagine they did. Back in the early 80s, along with U2 and others I’ve blanked from my memory, the shift towards making a bigger sound, writing bigger songs to attempt to fill bigger spaces, physically and emotionally (and yes, financially) must have been at least as much an artistic endeavour as a business one. I’m not convinced they could have known where they were going, how it would be received or, years later, how hollow it would sound.

Nick listened: Rob’s right that this suffered by timing – whatever’s on when the food arrives tends to get short shrift, whether it deserves it or not. After exposure to Sons and Fascination, Real to Real Cacophany, and Empires and Dance this year – my first foray into Simple Minds beyond big radio hits – New Gold Dream (wtf are the numbers about?) definitely sounded like a transitional record. I didn’t recognise much, if anything, from it, and doubt I’ll investigate it, or them, any further beyond this point.

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