Mount Eerie – ‘Clear Moon’: Round 44 – Rob’s choice

mount eerie - clear moonTowards the end of ‘Through The Trees pt. 2’, the opening track of ‘Clear Moon’, Phil Elverum sings, “I’ve held aloft some delusions/From now on, I will be perfectly clear”.  That, like so much else on this record, is just what I needed to hear.

I’ve spent a reasonable amount of time listening to Elverum sing and play music, both as Mount Eerie and under his revered former moniker of The Microphones. I’ve always found his records nagging, beguiling, frustrating and slippery. They are artful and obtuse enough to keep me coming back, but never so attainable as to win me over. ‘Clear Moon’ is different. It’s a beautiful record, but it’s a beautiful record with intent.

Elverum recorded two albums, ‘Clear Moon’ and ‘Ocean Roar’, over a 15 month period in his home of Anacortes, Washington. This record is his meditation on the landscape, images of which suffuse the lyrics and echoes of which scratch against windows and roar under feet throughout, and Elverum’s place within it. He meditates on life, death, impermanence, meaning and chaos all of which he sees embodied in his evolving relationship with his environment. It seems clear, listening from a distance, that through this meditation Elverum has reached some hard won and sometimes equally hard to bear conclusions and accommodations. One leaves ‘Clear Moon’ imagining that he has begun to find some answers and to understand his place in the world.

I’m in danger of gushing about this album, something which i’m keen to resist for all sorts of different reasons. It does however seem important to say that not since I was a mopey teenager can I recall a record connecting so directly and intensely with how I was feeling about life.

Sonically, ‘Clear Moon’ is breathtaking, finding ways to express feelings about the vastness of the landscape, shifting from strummed acoustic guitar to synthesised drones, pulsing krautrock and pastoral black metal fogs. Elverum’s voice, fragile yet permanent, glows like a distant lighthouse.

It seems telling that ‘Clear Moon’ has also inspired some of the most careful, devotional and insightful reviews I’ve read in recent years. I would draw your attention particularly to Jayson Greene for Pitchfork and Ed Comentale’s piece for Tiny Mix Tapes, where this prosaic yet perfect sentence sums up the problem of distilling the record into words:

“As a reviewer, you’re not wrestling with the question of whether or not the music is any good. Rather, you’re confronted with the problem of writing about music that seems to demand nothing less than silence. Speaking about the music of Mount Eerie feels like dumping your trash in the woods.”

I’ll leave it there.

Tom Listened: I was surprised by Clear Moon, as I often am by records that Rob plays us by artists that I have long given up on but that he has stuck loyally by. And I mean surprised in a good way. Clear Moon was an excellent listen and did conjure up images of wild Northwestern USA (or did Rob put them there in his introduction?). The way the sound was so big, yet Elverum’s vocals are so pathetic and weak and distant definitely amplified the feeling of an individual lost in nature’s vastness, overwhelmed by its magnitude.

I find it interesting tracking Rob’s path to this album and comparing it with my own. For both of us, our first experience of Elverum’s work was with The Microphones’ “classic”, The Glow Pt 2.  I think we both liked it but not unreservedly and I, for one, have never really ‘got it’. I haven’t bought any more Elverum albums (either Mt Eerie or Microphones) working on the assumption that if I don’t really like his ‘best’ work, surely anything else would be a case of diminishing returns. Rob, a far more astute individual than myself as it happens, did what he so often does and stuck with Elverum, obviously working on a hunch that there was enough potential in The Glow.. to suggest that Elverum would go on to produce work that he would fall for…and so it has turned out. I don’t think I’ll ever change my ways; I am far too stingy to risk spending loads of money on albums I don’t really want and I also love discovering new stuff, new artists, but I can see that Rob’s approach is leading him to some very interesting and in some cases (this case?) inspirational work.

Nick listened: I’m having to cast my mind way back for this, as it’s a long time since our last meeting (and, alas, we should have been meeting tonight, but snow has made traversing Devon treacherous). If I remember rightly, I was intrigued and impressed by Clear Moon, which is my first encounter with the work of Phil Elverum. It worked almost like ambient music at times, songs starting, changing, evolving into shapes unlike songs, evoking landscapes rather than emotions or narratives. I’d be very happy to hear this again and see where it takes me.

Graham listened: I really enjoyed this for a first time listen. I didn’t really feel overtaken by any National Geographic imagery, but I was was deeply intrigued by the style of sound/recording/production on this album. Could possibly feature in my 2013 purchases, but as it only January, and I only bought  2 new releases in 2012, its too early to commit!

Portishead – Dummy – Round 44 – Graham’s Choice

In absence of any theme I found portishead_dummy_LRG myself playing yet another choice which, had I been more inspired, I could have brought along to our debut album night.

Rather than any knowledge of trip-hop and the Bristol scene, it was my fondness for Harry Palmer that underpinned my instant connection with this album in 1994. For those that have never seen the Ipcress File (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i2Jw6_Xgszk and there can’t be too many), the whole feel of the film and the soundtrack seemed to run through the album the first time I heard it.

Needless to say I was sold first time. It wasn’t until  years later I discovered the 60’s Spy inspired short film (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G7mO__TIAzAn) made by the band, which led to their signing.

A stunning and award/poll winning debut album. Its equal commercial success probably led to it frequently being brought out as dinner party “muzak” and we discussed this on the night. Familiarity breeds a degree of contempt on my part and I had put this album to one side for far too long. Hearing it on a good audio set-up was a real treat and I was rediscovering whole chunks of the album. Having spun it a few times in the car the week before it sounded like a completely different album (but it could be I’ve got a crap cd/amp in the car!). Years may have passed but it is still so strong and the hooks so memorable.

If I was forced into picking stand out tracks  ‘Mysterons’, ‘Sour Times’ and ‘Glory Box’ would have to be up there, though the album just seems to hang together wonderfully. Must remind myself to run through their later work which has been gathering dust for too long.

Tom Listened: I think I bought Dummy the week it came out. I immediately fell for its mixture of cool, dark songs and slightly menacing, unsettling atmospheres….and then, as the album became more and more ubiquitous and appeared plonking away at a (frankly insultingly) low volume level in the background of more and more TV programmes and adverts, I kind of grew tired of it and it cruelly ceased to find its way onto my turntable. But having listened to it again now, after an embarrassingly long time apart, I have come to realise that none of this was the album’s fault. Dummy was so poorly treated and misunderstood by all those people who thought it sounded pleasant enough to stick on quietly in the background of..whatever…as a set of ten nice torch songs with sweet melodies and hip aesthetics. Because Dummy was meant to be played loud and to be listened to properly and absorbed and lived within and, if you do that, it is so obviously a very different beast, a dark, mysterious, discombobulating and totally unique listening experience that is much more out there than a cursory listen would suggest. Thank you Graham for re-aquainting us.

Rob listened: What a strange, unique record, an archetype for a set of one. ‘Dummy’ sounds fully realised now. We know it’s every dip and swerve. On reflection, it always did. It seemed to emerge complete, flawless, a marvel. However, i’m not sure it ever was absorbed into the culture. I’m not sure anything this perfectly formed, so other, ever could be. It’s easy to imagine that it was much imitated, but it wasn’t. Who could? Only Portishead themselves. Now, almost 20 years later, after a long time dormant and particularly cast in the contrasting light of ‘Third’, another stunning album, ‘Dummy’ sounds even more magnificent.

Nick Listened: There isn’t much to say that has not been said. I lent a copy of this to someone when I was at university and never got it back, so I bought another copy. I didn’t mind that much; it’s brilliant. I hadn’t listened to it in years though, and was very happy to revisit. Interestingly I bought their second album recently and thoroughly enjoyed that too; it seemed to rather float past people at the time.

Elvis Costello – Imperial Bedroom: Round 44 – Tom’s Selection

28940Picking an Elvis Costello album is not an easy task. From 1977 to 1982, Costello was on such a creative roll that he released seven studio albums! That in itself is amazing, especially when compared to the typical time taken to make a record in the present day.  The record review website, Allmusic gives all bar Almost Blue, one of (!) Costello’s albums from 1981,  (an album that consists mainly of cover versions) five stars! Prolific he most certainly was. Rob Pollard he most certainly was not! With Guided by Voices there is always a feeling that they stumbled across their classic albums as if by chance. You know, throw enough stuff out there and, by the law of averages, you’ll eventually produce a classic or two. So whilst Guided by Voices hit a rich vein of form from Bee Thousand through to Under the Bushes, one always senses this had more to do with luck than judgement. Certainly there’s much chaff amongst the wheat of their discography. In contrast, Costello’s biggest problem is an embarrassment of riches – he was producing classic albums at such a rate that it all seemed too easy and somewhat overwhelming. All six classics from his initial run have their own identity, all six are packed with great songs but none stand out as THE classic. I suppose received wisdom is that This Year’s Model is his absolute peak – it’s raw and angry and full of energy and vitality. But for me it’s no better than Armed Forces (the melodies on Armed Forces are sweeter, the hooks stronger) or the GBVish Get Happy, crammed with little jewels that seem tossed off but reveal themselves as perfect and perfectly concise pop songs over repeated listens, or possibly his most underrated album, Trust, in which the fires of ire still burned bright but the music and song-writing was starting to show signs of the sophistication that would come into full effect on Imperial Bedroom.

In the end it came to a ‘coin toss’ between Trust and Imperial Bedroom and, whilst I imagine Rob would have preferred the angrier and more direct former choice, my daughter Tess informed me that Imperial Bedroom was the better album and there is no way I would ever argue with her. So that’s what I took.

When it was released in 1982, Imperial Bedroom was set up to fail. Rumour has it that Costello was somewhat piqued when Columbia marketed the album as his ‘Masterpiece?’ on first release. I’m not sure that it is a masterpiece. Then again, I’m not sure any of Costello’s albums are. For me Costello’s output has always been marred by its unevenness. The highs Costello hits are so, so high that they cast long shadows over the lesser tracks on all his albums. Here are a few examples:

My Aim Is True – compare Alison with Sneaky Feelings.

This Year’s Model – Lipstick Vogue vs Night Rally

Armed Forces – Party Girl vs Sunday’s Best

Get Happy – King Horse vs Black and White World

Trust – Watch Your Step vs Different Finger

Punch The Clock – Shipbuilding vs The Invisible Man

They’re all fine songs of course, but I would argue that the first songs suggested are all top of the Premiership the others are simply in another league (you can choose which one).

And in this respect, Imperial Bedroom is no exception. So, whilst it kicks off with what could well be his best song period in Beyond Belief (so amazing it is that I just had to add the hyperlink) and also has Costello top ten material in Man Out of Time and You Little Fool, some of the other (perfectly fine) songs on the album (..And In Every Home, Human Hands, Boy With a Problem) sag somewhat in comparison. But the great thing about Imperial Bedroom for me is that whilst it peaks and troughs it all sounds so good, is so beautifully arranged, played and sung (even though, as Nick pointed out, Costello has a ‘bloody weird voice’) that you can sit back, relax and let the album wash over you in a way that so few records in my collection, or indeed in Costello’s catalogue, do.

Nick listened: Tom’s back into the swing of things now – bringing records I bought years ago (when there were still record shops in places like Exeter) that I’d seen cheap and thought “yeah, I ought to have that”. About three early Costello records were bought together – this, Armed Forces, and Blood and Chocolate – after I’d picked up (and thoroughly enjoyed, as I recall) When I Was Cruel back when it came out in 2002. I’d had a Best of Elvis Costello and The Attractions compilation (I dunno where it is now but we’ve just reshelved the CDs and it’s not here anymore) so knew a handful of songs, but I just never managed to get around to listening to the three early albums proper. Who knows why? I should make a list of all the unplayed CDs on the shelves. Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are… pointless.

Anyway, I enjoyed this, and I played it again (my own copy!) over the weekend. I suspect, as with a lot of ‘songwriters’, that the songs will take many more listens to unfurl them properly (especially when there’s so many – 15 tracks on Imperial Bedroom). Christgau, who I’m not a fan of particularly, claims that the peaks of Imperial Bedroom are “as great as songwriting gets”, but also accuses Costello of being “precious”, “gnomic”, and “pretentious”. I’ve always got the feeling from Costello that he’s very much about craft, about artisanship, about deliberation, that he’s a scholarly songwriter, a wordsmith and a tunesmith. There’s nothing wrong with this at all – far from it – and I don’t imagine many songwriters just channel stuff from the ether, despite what the mythology of rock suggests, but with Costello this studiousness almost seems to count against him for some reason: like he can’t be perceived as ‘authentic’ (which is a massively loaded and problematic term I keep meaning to do battle with on my blog) because he’s too clever. Anyway, I was delighted Tom played this, and I look forward to getting to know it better.

Graham listened: I’m glad Tom brought this along as with the sole exception of ‘Blood and Chocolate’, I have never listened to an entire Elvis Costello album. I never appreciated his craftsmanship and talents in the early days and now I look at the size of his  back catalogue, its almost too daunting to know where to begin.  There were too many great songs to fully take on board in one sitting which led me to ponder why I would have ignored him as an artist at the time. Guess I and many of the record buying public just weren’t ready to appreciate such quality in 1982! Maybe, like bottles of good Burgundy, I should have bought more of his albums at the time, then laid them down for when I had a better educated (musical) palette.

Rob listened: I’m sorry to say that this passed me by, in the mid-eighties when I was aware of Costello but never really investigated beyond the chart hits, in the last few years when i’ve finally got around to buying and loving some of his early albums, and on the night when, for whatever reason, it just slipped around my ears and into the night. I got the sound of sophistication, perhaps Costello’s music catching up with his lyrical dexterity, but not much more. I’m sure this is an album that could become a favourite companion given time, as compared to ‘This Year’s Model’ which had me hooked half way through my first listen. Shallow, I know, but what can I do?

D’Angelo – Voodoo: Round 44, Nick’s choice

dangelo_voodooI decided to play this whilst we were listening to Frank Ocean at Rob’s house last week; despite my comments about that record, the one R&B full-length that has got me from start to finish (almost), is D’Angelo’s Voodoo from 2000.

I don’t like the myth of the ‘romantic artist’, the idea of musicians or poets or painters being magical individuals blessed with talent; I could talk about why not for ages. But Michael Eugene Archer, AKA D’Angelo, born in Richmond, Virginia in 1974, started playing piano age 4, self-produced first solo album aged 20, masterminded Voodoo age 25, then (seemingly, allegedly) went crazy and disappeared because he objected to being objectified for his abs rather than revered for his music and who hasn’t released an album since and only just started playing live again last year, seems like he might be the real deal. He’s certainly not your everyday common or garden pop star.

Voodoo is a strange beast. I bought it almost as soon as it came out, intrigued by salivating hyperbole emanating from critics who talked about it as being an instant soul/jazz/funk/roots/R&B/whatever classic, who placed it in a lineage with Marvin Gaye and Isaac Hayes and Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder and Prince and Sly & The Family Stone and Funkadelic and Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix – no expectation or pressure there then.

The copious sleevenotes, and even more copious musicological analysis you can find online, explain exactly how much of an influence the likes of Sly, Prince, Jimi, Stevie, and Marvin etc were on D’Angelo during the record’s gestation, but for the most part Voodoo sounds like nothing so much as itself. For a start, it’s a record very much about vibe and groove rather than about tunes – I was expecting melodies like Stevie Wonder’s on first listen and was confused and disappointed when they didn’t emerge. D’Angelo absorbed the musical lessons of his idols, and used what he learnt to create something different. As a result, Voodoo is hard to categorise; I think of it and use it more like a jazz album than a collection of songs qua songs.

Recorded on vintage analogue gear at Hendrix’s Electric Lady studio, musically Voodoo is comprised of languid, behind-the-beat drum patterns (courtesy of ?uestlove) and languorous basslines, which are up front and centre like hip hop beats. Above and behind this there are taut, high-up-the-chest guitar lines and riffs, woozy horns, indolent piano and organs, plus scratching, studio FX and chatter. The instruments were apparently recorded almost entirely live in a room, with barely any overdubs.

There are plenty of overdubs on D’Angelo’s vocals, though, as his voice floats over the top of everything else, harmonising with himself almost impenetrably, lyrics hard to discern but mood pretty easy to ascertain. He sings about sex, faith, and love, admonishes the greedy, prays for this son, the vocal melodies less recognisable as songs than understandable as blissful incantations.

Voodoo is world away from the modern digital R&B it was contemporaneous to. Is it better? Not necessarily – the likes of Aaliyah produced some sublime, heart-stopping music – but it is different. As indulgent as an album can possibly be, it is incredibly long, focussed to the point of myopia, obsessed with intangible notions like authenticity and spirit and soul. I go through periods where I get obsessed with it, with unravelling its secrets (and it does feel like it contains secrets), and then I put it away again and forget about it for a year or three or five. Because how often can you find the time and space and mood to listen to a record like this?

“Untitled (How Does It Feel?)”, the penultimate song and big single (with the abs-featuring video that seemingly ruined D’Angelo’s psyche for a decade), is like the ghost of a Prince ballad, the tune so clearly beautiful but so hard to touch that even as you’re listening to it you feel like you’re remembering it rather than experiencing it. It’s the only song to build to a climax, to feature bona fide hooks and a chorus, but it just stops dead, cutting to silence apros of nothing before it ever reaches the ecstatic plateau it’s been teasing you with for seven minutes. For a long time, the fear was that D’Angelo’s career might have done the same.

Tom Listened: In the past two days I have sat through the whole of The Age of Adz and I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One – gargantuan double albums by Sufjan Stevens and Yo La Tengo respectively. And I have experienced almost exactly the same thing as I did when listening to Voodoo at Nick’s house. The albums begin wonderfully, plateau a little and then my own failings kick in and I just want to move on, listen to something else, change the mood in the room and in my head. Sufjan’s and Yo La Tengo’s albums I know well and I thoroughly enjoy both in smaller doses (in the case of the Age of Adz I know I’m probably not supposed to but, for me, it’s a much more enjoyable album than Illinois). But over the course of 70 minutes plus, I find it hard to sustain interest in an single (double) album.

Voodoo suffered a similar fate – right up to about the 50 minute mark I found this wonderful – vital, sharp and intriguing, I certainly see where Nick is coming from in his categorising Voodoo as jazz as it has that freedom and ability to surprise that the more rigid structures inherent in many forms of more traditional pop music discourage. But, to be honest, I could have lived without the last 15 minutes. Like almost all the double albums I know (and many that I love), to my ears, a bit of judicious trimming would probably have improved the work!

Graham listened: I must admit I settled down to listen to this thinking it would be a fairly testing experience. For around about the same time as Tom mentions, I was incredibly surprised to find myself toe tappin’, boppin’ and noddin’ (my best efforts at R&B slang) along. An effortless and restrained jazzy groove and vibe had me hooked. But after three quarters of an hour or so my attention began to fade. I not sure if I had heard enough, the style became closer to what I was expecting originally or the arrival of a Lebanese takeaway played its part? Still, in the right mood and with a little trimming in places, I would happily listen again.

Rob listened: I’m afraid I failed to sustain any interest in ‘Voodoo’, so Tom and Graham have done extremely well by comparison. I knew a little of the backstory, and have read some of the glowing reviews, and I love spending time with many of the record’s apparent reference points, Miles Davis, Stevie Wonder, Prince. After about ten minutes, I could feel the jazz influence coming in and thought the record was going to grow into something as twisting and beguiling as I was hoping for. Instead it seemed just to plod on, one long groove after another. Played beautifully, assembled lovingly, and clearly concealing genuine depths, i’m afraid ‘Voodoo’ left me with two predominant thoughts: ‘I fancy a snooze’ and ‘Where did I last see my copy of ‘Jazzmatazz Vol 1?’

The Jesus and Mary Chain – Psychocandy – Round 43 – Graham’s Choice

On New Year’s Day I was looking 51FJrgGgA5L._SL500_AA300_ (1) for something to play which would do two jobs. One, it would appropriately mark the end of the festive season and the return of hum-drum, secondly it would make me feel slightly younger while I dealt with the reality of another birthday clocking up. Having picked this out the pile I instantly felt it was deserving a spin at DRC.

In 1985 I was deeply cynical about the furore surrounding this band and the fawning of the music press just added to my caution. I was happy with my ‘jangle-pop’ world at the time and didn’t see the need to venture outside of it. It was possibly up to a year after release that I finally picked up this album. First listen on a fairly ropey hi-fi led me to wonder whether it was meant to sound like this or whether I had purchased a dodgy copy.

With time I learnt to turn it up to ‘11’ and just lose yourself in the sonic mayhem that thinly hides some great pop tunes underneath. At the time I had heard bands like the Cocteau’s using over-driven and distorted guitars with echoing percussion, but nothing compare to what I found on this album.

We talked on the night about albums that would worry you if you heard them being played in your child’s bedroom. Well unless you know it, I would venture that this is probably as disturbing a listen for bystanders as it was 27 years ago. I can’t help feeling that the psy-ops music assault on General Noriega would have been over in a lot less than 10 days if this had been on a constant loop (the full list of requests for the playlist remains an interesting combination http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/nsa/DOCUMENT/950206.htm).

Had I been more familiar with the Spector ‘wall of sound’ and the Velvet Underground in 1985 I might not have been quite so impressed but I’m still humming (or at least my ears are) to the sound of ‘Just like Honey’, ‘Never Understand’ and the ‘Hardest Walk’ all these years later.

I began my introduction by saying I was unsure as how important an album this was. I have read much to say it was, but I never really engaged with the legacy as I was hooked on the originators for at least 3 albums or so. I’ve seen Star Wars, but I’ve never listened to My Bloody Valentine properly!

Nick listened: Even though I must’ve bought Psychocandy fifteen years ago, I came to it after already being familiar with its influences (Spector, Velvets) and its legacy (Ride, My Bloody Valentine), which no-doubt coloured my opinion of it. Unsurprisingly (to Tom), I’m not overly endeared of it; perhaps it’s Bobby Gillespie’s inept drumming (rhythm is not a sophisticated component of this record, even if the “Be My Baby” beat is clearly key!) as much as the shrill, cacophonous racket of the guitars, pasted like nuclear fallout over the top of a selection of otherwise perfectly serviceable pop melodies. I adore “Just Like Honey”, and can recognise that the songs beneath the scree elsewhere would be great, too, if they weren’t presented amidst such an unlistenable racket. I like my noise to be beautiful…

Rob listened: ‘Psychocandy’ is absolutely one of the most formative albums of my music-loving life. It taught me that you sometimes had to stick around and dig a little to get to the real beauty in a song. It also taught me that said beauty might not necessarily be a sweet vocal melody or an epic guitar solo but may in fact be the sound of a guitar being made to imitate the slicing of sheet metal. ‘Never Understand’ and its predecessor single ‘Upside Down’ were always my favourite Mary Chain tracks and, looking back, they seem to be the ones which most perfectly blended driving pop songs with absolutely furious noise. It was great to hear the album again after many, many years and particularly to realise just how caustic those guitars still are. many have followed but I’m not sure any have ever delivered barbed wire kisses quite like the Reid brothers.

Tom Listened: Like Graham and Rob, my admiration for Psychocandy is nostalgic…but like Nick, I too find it hard to get through that wall of noise thing these days. Funnily enough I only became aware of the Phil Spector ‘wall of noise’ having first heard Psychocandy and so got a bit of a shock when Be My Baby didn’t turn out to have a screeching, trebbly wall of wailing guitars lacerating its sweet melody! Because, there’s no denying it, sonically Psychocandy is an open wound of an album, probably the rawest album ever made (?) and so it feels exciting and dangerous and cool despite, or perhaps because of, the pain. I still vividly remember hours spent trudging the streets of Sheffield accompanied by the Reid brothers’ cacophony thinking how cool I was to be listening to this on my tinny old Sony Walkman.

Hearing this at record club for the first time in a long while, it does sound terribly amateurish, perhaps one of the progenitors of the 90s lo-fi scene; the melodies are as sweet as ever but these days my ears are perhaps a little too old for the sonic assault that is Psychocandy. That said, I recall it taking a while to adjust to the onslaught first time around so maybe I’ll give it a few more listens to see whether it will re-reveal itself in all its former glory.

Ian Dury And The Blockheads – New Boots And Panties: Round 43 – Tom’s Selection

Ian_Dury_y_The_Blockheads-New_Boots_And_Panties-FrontalI know we’re supposed to write about the album but in the case of New Boots And Panties my acquisition of it is a tale in itself. If you’re sitting comfortable like…

I went to London just before Xmas and, with a couple of hours to kill following the planned meeting, I wandered into Soho to have a browse in some of the record shops on Berwick Street. I came across a copy of Ian Dury’s first album. After weighing up whether I could afford to part with the monumental sum of £4 the shop required, I decided ‘to hell with it’ and bought a record I had never consciously sought or even considered owning before. Upon returning to Devon, I promptly left it on the train.

And then, almost immediately, New Boots and Panties became the holy grail – the album I had to have. My greatest desire (after the wife…if you ever happen to read this, Karen)! I went straight onto Amazon when I got home that night to seek out a vinyl copy to replace my lost one and almost purchased it there and then but having spent an inordinate amount of money on records recently (well, not all THAT much…just in case you’re reading this, Karen) I resisted for the time being.

Then, a few days later we were having lunch with some friends and John was regaling us with tales of his time living in London…apparently he spent a disproportionate amount of time going to see Ian Dury in concert. On hearing this I told him my tale of woe at which point he scooted off to his living room and after 10 minutes or so returned clutching his cherished copy of NBAP…for me to have! What a man! So, if you’re reading this, John this one goes out to you!

Oh yes, the record…Well, if all you know are the hits – and they are fairly ubiquitous after all, there won’t be too many surprises here. But what you do get is a superb distillation of working class Laaandon – right from the album’s first line, ‘I come awake with a gift for womankind’, you know exactly where you stand – this is an album that couldn’t have come from anywhere else and I am not sure it could have come from any other point in time either. It seems to me, that Dury featured very prominently in Damon Albarn’s listening preferences around the time of Parklife but whereas Blur’s efforts are at best homage and at worst parody (and I am a fan), Dury is the real deal. Take Billericay Dickie for example, a song about a sex crazed bricklayer from…Billericay…It is hilarious but also rings so true, people like Dickie really do exist but not many, to my knowledge, have featured in songs. So as I guffaw along to lyrics such as ‘I had a love affair with Nina, In the back of my Cortina. A seasoned up hyena could not have been more obscener’ and ‘you should never hold a candle if you don’t know where it’s been, the jackpot is in the handle on a normal fruit machine’ I also revel in the great British art of innuendo and double entendre and the fact that I can play this song to my ever more knowing children and they still don’t have a clue what he’s singing about! So lyrically it’s where it’s at as far as I am concerned.

Musically…well NBAP is certainly varied and it travels on quite a journey from the almost disco opener of ‘Wake Up and Make Love To Me’ through the wistful ‘My Old Man’ and the vaudevillian ‘Billericay Dickie’ until, three songs from the end Dury goes all punk on us and we get the one, two, three blast that is ‘Blockheads’, ‘Plaistow Patricia’ (the spoken interlude just before this track is not for children’s ears and unfortunately if they heard this they would know what he was going on about!) and Blackmail Man. A thrilling end to a great piece of (very) British musical history.

Rob listened:Great to hear this. Like Tom, I’ve never sought out any of Ian Dury’s stuff, although I reviewed a couple of later blockheads collections once upon a time. It’s a great listen, not just for Dury’s peerless vaudeville geezer schtick but also for the abandon with which the blockheads blend and switch between punk, pub rock, funk, disco and knees up.

It’s sad to reflect that whilst we now have immediate access to all the music from everywhere in the world, and the opportunities for musicians and artists are arguably also more open, someone like Ian Dury wouldn’t get within a million miles of public recognition on anything like the scale he did in the late 70s. Not only did he bring us some wonderful music, his character said a lot about what it was to be British, to be different, to be creative and to be just a little wild. Please correct me if I’m just being an old fuddy daddy, but I don’t think that could happen in 2013.

Nick listened: I’ll just echo exactly what Rob said – this was a great listen, and I feel like we’re past the point in our cultural history where a record like this by a character like this could become popular.

Graham listened: Growing up in the East End/ Essex borders I’ll admit to being pretty confused about  Ian Dury during the late 70’s/early 80’s.  While posters for his gigs were plastered all over my “manor”, as it were, I couldn’t get a grip on the reasons for his popularity. He seemed too old to be a pop star and played a brand of “rockney”, not too dissimilar to Chas ‘n’ Dave. With time I began to appreciate just how naive and ignorant I was as a spotty teenager!  Great to hear this and it wasn’t too long ago I watched the recent biopic of his life. A complex character in the extreme.

Frank Ocean – ‘Channel Orange’: Round 43 – Rob’s choice

Channel Orange - Frank OceanFrank Ocean’s debut album proper was the most critically lauded of 2012. It shifted a few copies too reaching number 2 in both the UK and US album charts and, crucially, hitting the top spot in Norway. Not, perhaps, the most obvious choice for DRC but it seemed important to play it for two reasons. Firstly, we had a great ‘End Of Year’ before Christmas meeting where this thing never even came up, other than for my fellow members to confirm that they hadn’t heard it. It seemed unfair or at least remiss for us to let the year close without paying proper attention to its most talked about record. Secondly, I love it. At least as much as any record this year, it has glued itself to the inside of my head and proved unshiftable. If Jo has to hear me woozily declaring “Got on my buttercream/silk shirt and it’s Versace” just once more, I fear for my safety. And yet I can’t help myself, even though i’m actually wearing a green wooly jumper.

So what’s left to say? How about we assume you’ve heard everything and move on. Now i’ll tell you what I think. It’s a great album. Sweet songs, produced and delivered exquisitely, combining an almost brazen restraint, so poised and almost infuriatingly fabulous as to be illegal, with unadorned, unshowy and, largely because of this, beautiful vocal melodies. That’ll do for starters, in fact it’s sufficient to make this a classic album, but there’s more. It’s also a seriously impressive artistic statement.

There has been some discussion and debate, at best unresolvable hairshirted posturing, at worst bullheaded stupidity, about whether Frank Ocean and some contemporaries are ‘hipster/indie R&B’. I have no idea. I don’t know enough about R&B. Which is precisely the sort of fly-by-night attitude that has apparently caused offence to those who think great music is best left unappreciated by as many people as possible. I do know that when I’ve attempted to engage with artists like Usher and R Kelly i’ve quickly grown tired of what seem to me to be their paper thin concerns: having money, having girls, er… that’s it. Lyrically, Frank Ocean takes a rapier to the vacant rich. ‘Channel Orange’ is as keen a dissection of entitlement and the spiritual bankruptcy which it precipitates as i’ve heard. Both ‘Sweet Life’ and ‘Super Rich Kids’ could have been lifted wholesale from late-period JG Ballard if he’d used Hollywood as his milieu rather than the French Riviera.

Like many, I started to really pay attention to Frank Ocean when I read his now famous open letter which dealt with a prior relationship with a man. It goes without saying (which is partly the problem) that it’s a disgrace that this should be such a transgressive act in R&B, hip-hop, music, culture, life. Whatever, the letter is beautifully written and bravely published.  I have no interest in how many women/girls R Kelly has slept with and how cataclysmically happy they were with the whole experience and, no matter how technically astonishing, how texturally breathtaking his music is, i’m really never going to be interested. But Frank Ocean seems like different sort of artist, an enquiring, dissatisfied artist and, to boot, a sensitive, astute and real human being. Those seem like good things to me. This might make me a lily-livered hipster (the former: maybe, the latter: I wish) and indeed, 90% of contemporary R&B might consist of fascinating political and philosophical enquiry set to astonishing machine-tooled beats, in which case i’m missing out.

But that’s okay for now, because ‘Channel Orange’ is pretty damned good.

Tom Listened: For me, this meeting more or less created its own theme – confounding expectations. Both Radiohead and modern day R&B have managed to convince me in the past that I have no interest in them. 90s Radiohead I really tried to like but they were too whiny and maudlin and they seemed to take themselves VERY seriously. R&B was a turn off for all the reasons Rob has stated, plus…I just didn’t like the songs – let’s face it, I Believe I Can Fly is not a million miles away from some of The Lighthouse Family’s worst atrocities (and there are plenty of those to choose from).

Curiously for me, however, many of Rob’s stated misgivings with regard to R&B I find are echoed by much of the Hip-Hop I have heard. Misogyny? Check. Avarice? Check. Hell, you often get a dose of gangland aggression and intimidation thrown in for good measure! That’s why, when we were listening to Niggamortis way back in Round 6, Nick and Rob’s reactions to my own (no doubt poorly articulated) misgivings left me somewhat confused. Maybe I have misunderstood what the bulk of Hip Hop is trying to do. Maybe Rob is prepared to overlook the subject matter because he likes the music. Maybe Nick doesn’t have a problem with the subject matter at all; he is quite ganglandy after all!

One of the points I made in April 2011 (!) was to do with the uniformity of the artwork and packaging of Hip-Hop and how this implies a homogeneity of ethos and values. This is much the same in R&B. I have never understood why a recording artist wouldn’t want to stand outside the crowd, to let their work speak for itself without having to buy into the genre, to be in the club. It is fascinating that Frank Ocean (and Death Grips and (to a lesser extent) Madvilliany) have all been selected by Rob for record club, all are trying to push the boundaries or alter expectations and, tellingly, you would never know by looking at the album covers (or from the names of the artists themselves for that matter) that these works fit into their assigned genres (although all, it seems to me, are not THAT easy to pigeonhole in the first place). Personally, I feel this is a very healthy thing, it suggests to me that the artists are confident enough to exist without the safety net of the club/gang and, in the process, bend the rules and produce something interesting, fresh and ground-breaking. After all, the truly influential records are usually the ones that have only been able to be categorized by the genre they have spawned precisely because there hasn’t been one for them to inhabit when the record was released.

So, I loved Channel Orange, I was thrilled by lack of cliche, the songs sounded great and I am very glad it exists. About bloody time I say. Why did it take so long?

Nick listened: I’ve dipped my toe into contemporary R&B on several occasions, via Kelis, Maxwell, D’Angelo, Aaliya, plus R&B-leaning popstars like Justin Timberlake and hip-hoppers like Missy Elliot. I’ve been particularly obsessed by Timbaland and The Neptunes, ravenously hoovering up individual tracks they’d produced for other people (from Björk to Bubba Sparxxx to Britney Spears).

But I’ve never really fallen for R&B’s charms when it comes to album-length expositions of the genre, which is part of the reason why I’d avoided Channel Orange until the other night when Rob stuck it in the CD player. The “indie R&B” talk wafting around the internet hasn’t helped either; if you’re going to engage with a genre it ought to be on its own terms, not because it’s suddenly perceived as pandering to you as an audience (especially when the “indie” audience is essentially middle-class white boys, who don’t really need pandering to. Do they?). (R&B also needs approximately zero help being ‘experimental’, either – Timbaland routinely churned out the most radical-sounding music I heard at the start of the naughties.)

Channel Orange still suffered from several of the symptoms that have blighted enjoyment of other R&B albums for me – it’s longer than I’d like, doesn’t vary pace much, injects short skits into the running order, etcetera. None of the tunes jumped out at me on first listen like the best Stevie Wonder or Curtis Mayfield songs do, either. (Granted, expecting this is like expecting indie bands to churn out “We Can Work It Out” every other song.)

But it was, as Rob and Tom pointed out, refreshingly sensitive and lacking in braggadocio, without swan-diving into the kind of mystical sex bullshit Maxwell made his own, either. There’s not the thrill of weird spirituality and musicianship that underpins D’Angelo’s Voodoo, but the lyrical and musical palettes on show both reach beyond slow jams and avarice, which, even though I’m obviously as gangland as heck, yo, I do find off-putting.

The raging sceptic in me suspects that some of the acclaim hoisted upon Channel Orange by critics is due to the sudden rush of affirmation experienced when the thing previously fetishised as ‘other’ suddenly makes tokenistic nods towards the aesthetic of your critical comfort zone. But that’s insanely cynical of me. And, you know, the listener in me did enjoy Channel Orange enough, on first listen, to want to hear it again.

Rob responded: Just wanted to add that ‘Channel Orange’ isn’t packed with hooks. Its restraint is one of it’s most delicious features, something I tried but failed to express after too much coffee the day I wrote my piece. It’s definitely a grower and worth sticking with. Secondly, let’s separate what happened to the album when it got into the wild from what it actually contains. I don’t hear any leanings towards ‘indie’ in it at all. It’s a straight urban record. If the hipster crowd decided it was leaning towards their territory (as they clearly did) then that’s about what happened between their ears and their brains and how that got filtered by whichever tumblr they were getting their direction from that week.

Graham listened but is so not able to offer anything further to the debate above: R&B is not my thing at all. Rob caught my attention with his introduction and I’m glad I listened to the whole thing. Without DRC as a conduit I would normally turn over the radio if something like this came on. It sounded like straightforward R&B to me but the back story kept me interested for once. I quite liked the few hooky bits and skits throughout. That’s it really.