Long Songs From Long Albums: Round 61 – Tom’s Selection

After 60 rounds I thought it was time for a change. The idea was to bring songs from albums that you had no intention of playing either because they were inconsistent in quality or too long. Many has been the time that I have reached for a long lost but cherished record in order to check it out for DRC purposes only to discover that what I thought was unparalleled magnificence actually amounts to a couple of killer tracks, a bunch of OK stuff and a clunker or two.

In the event I played 6 songs from albums that are way too long to come in under our 1 hour limit; three from albums I wouldn’t bring because they are only sporadically brilliant, two from albums I like all the way through but don’t think I’ll play at record club and one ‘joker’ for which I was allowed to bend the rules (thank you, oh gracious leader) from an album I have wanted to play ever since we started the club but seriously overuns. Let’s just say that I was well and truly Jelloed by this point and couldn’t bear to miss the opportunity.

Here they are:

220px-RHP-RollercoasterSong 1: Red House Painters – Katy Song (from Red House Painters (Rollercoaster))

The only Red House Painters’ album I own is a bit of a curiosity – two near faultless sides of vinyl (1 and 3) and two others that, to my mind, are each marred by harrowing and a tad indulgent 10 minute long dirges. So whilst the highs are very very high indeed, the lows stop Rollercoaster from being the classic it so nearly is. Although I love Grace Cathedral Park, Mistress (both versions), Dragonflies, Down Through and New Jersey it’s always been Katy Song that takes the breath away. Rarely has melancholia been rendered so sweet yet Mark Kozalek manages to maintain a heroic resolution throughout the song’s 8 minutes ensuring that it never strays into self-pitying singer songwriter nonsense. Exquisite.

Rob listened: Beautiful. I have even worse tunnel vision than Tom when it comes to this, one of the 3 Red House Painters albums I own and probably the one I know least well. Because I can never get past ‘Katy Song’. I barely know the rest of the album. There’s something utterly beguiling about Mark Kozelek’s approach and delivery which circumvents the easy jibes you could throw his way. His songs, like his voice, are trapped as if in thick honey, sitting in front of you almost stationary but progressing, forming something. ‘Katy Song’ is never less than intoxicating.

Nick listened: Never heard this before, but it was lovely, and I shall be seeking it out to listen to again.

Graham listened: As Tom’s choices all followed Jello, there was a fair degree of ‘light and shade’ going on each time Tom played a track. I recall relaxing and enjoying this track.

live1bSong 2: Tim Buckley – The Earth is Broken (from the Dream Letter compilation)

When I started collecting music more seriously during my time at university, it seemed as though Tim Buckley’s star shone brightly out of every corner of the music press. Each week interviews or album reviews mentioned Buckley’s music, especially (no doubt helped by This Mortal Coil’s go at Song to the Siren – more on this to come!) the album Starsailor. So when Dream Letter was released I immediately purchased it, excited by the prospect of what lay within.

Well…it was certainly good value for money housing, as it does, almost 2 hours of folk songs, polite applause and (very) plummy introductions. But the trouble is that Buckley, at times, seems to find it impossible to rein himself in and, curiously, when his amazing voice goes too big it loses its power to astonish and just becomes a bit of a chore. However, about 2/3 of the album is great and although Buzzin’ Fly is pretty much undeniable, the intimacy and the vocal gymnastics of The Earth is Broken is as astonishing as the title of the song is prescient.

Rob listened: We’ve discussed the pre-punk 70s before. As well you know, they did not exist for me until a time when Tim Buckley’s records were breathtakingly unavailable, a time after I’d been badly scarred by the death of his prodigiously talented son. So, apart from the odd snatch here and there, this is the first time i’ve sat down and listened to one of his songs. It was lovely. There’s something mesmerising about one person simultaneously exerting bewildering control over a guitar and a voice, and like John Martyn and Joni Mitchell, who I’d like to blithely assume were his great mates, Tim Buckley clearly has the magic.

Nick listened: I remember once bonding with some old guys in a pub who were deep in conversation about the album this is from. This ins’t one of the tunes I remember the most (I’ve not listened to it in a dozen years, probably), but it’s pretty gob-smacking as a performance document front-to-back, and this was lovely to hear again after so long.

Graham listened: Enjoyed listening to this and left DRC far more up to speed on Mr Buckley than when I arrived.

220px-Joanna_Newsom_-_Have_One_On_MeSong 3: Joanna Newsom – Good Intentions Paving Co (from Have One On Me)

Question: How can an album of 124 (!) minutes length be amazing from front to back?

Answer: It Can’t!

We talked a lot about this on the night (well for about the seven minutes that the song was playing) but, for me, Newsom could have had a stone cold classic on her hands if someone had been around to tell her to ditch about half the material from Have One On Me. There are some songs on this album that are tedious beyond belief. There is also music as incredible as anything I’ve ever heard. Good Intentions Paving Company falls squarely into the latter category, a complex beast that works perfectly as it segues through its many guises but, crucially, remains compelling and downright beautiful throughout its stay. An incredible song – please can we have more of this sort of thing on the new album Joanna?

Rob listened: Tom may be technically correct, but the way he phrased this question on the night was ‘Can a triple album ever be amazing front to back?’ The answer to this slightly different question is of course ‘Yes’ as we refer you to ‘The Seer’ by Swans. I’d argue that last year’s Knife album had a pretty good go too although ‘Shaking the Habitual’ was much more deliberately eclectic and challenging, less apt from listening right through from soup to nuts. Neither were 124 minutes though. so that’s one to you, for the time being. I love Joanna Newsom, and whilst I love ‘Have One On Me’ pretty hard – just the fact of its existence brings a rare smile to my face – I have to confess that I often leap straight to ‘Good Intentions Paving Co.’ It’s a wonderful song, one which at one point i’d convinced myself was a Pynchonesque romp through 200 years of American history, before I lost my grip on it once more, never to be regained. My view is that without the wild, ungraspable variety, Newsom’s moment of pure sweetness would not be so effecting, so I have no problem with the rest of the record, but I was delighted to sit and listen to GIPC all the same.

Nick listened: Love the idea of Joanna Newsom, but seldom listen to her, because, y’know, 17-minute songs about *insert token mention of ‘spelunking monkeys’*. Very glad she exists, etcetera, etcetera.

Graham listened: Bit like Nick, I know she is well regarded etc., but just not for me really.

220px-Sufjanstevensageofadz

Song 4: Sufjan Stevens – I Want To Be Well (from The Age Of Adz)

Although (unfairly) maligned by some, Sufjan pulled out all of the stops in 2010 and released an album that, unless I am missing something, is his masterpiece. Gone is the whimsy and meanderings of some of the weaker moments of Michigan and Illinoise, much more ambitious and far-reaching than Seven Swans and not really fey at all, The Age Of Adz is an album to wallow in – as Bobby Gillespie espoused: don’t fight it, feel it! I like all of The Age Of Adz, I don’t really hear any of the flaws that some commentators have suggested are present and I would have liked to have played the album at record club…but it’s 74 minutes long. Luckily, I Want To Be Well distills what the album is about into 6 and a half minutes of sonic exploration, electronic assault, sweet vocals…and invective! Don’t believe the naysayers, this is brilliant music.

Rob listened: I clearly parted company with Sufjan Stevens just at the point where he was off to do more interesting things. I liked ‘Illinoise’ and ‘Michigan’ well enough, although not as much as I was told to, but equally there were things in each that really got my hackles up. This sounded much more opaque and that’s a good thing by my reckoning.

Nick listened: Don’t quite get Sufjan, bar some of his Christmas songs. I own this album and it’s… busy, and opaque. Perhaps more time is needed.

Graham listened: Another unknown for me but really enjoyed this one.

220px-Underworld.dubnobasswithmyheadmanSong 5: Underworld – Dirty Epic (from Dubnobasswithmyheadman)

20+ years on, this album just shouldn’t work. And for a long, long time I assumed it didn’t. But in the last couple years Dubno has been a fairly regular feature on  my turntable, its breezy grooves and indie dance crossover (crucially, always a little bit more dance than indie) landscapes wearing much better than many of Underworld’s contemporaries from this time. Unlike some of the other albums I chose on the night, Dubno holds up pretty well throughout its 74 minutes playing time, the peaks (Hmmm Skyscaper I Love You, Cowgirl, Spoonman, M.E and Dirty Epic) being just that little bit better than the rest. In the end my choice came down to a toss of a coin (actually, I got my nine year old son to choose) between the gargantuan Hmmm Skyscraper and the slightly more colourful and engorged Dirty Epic. But in actuality I could have selected any of the above 5 songs and been equally happy and excited with my choice.

Rob listened: I had a friend at the time who lurched from being a 4AD collecting purist into a rabid Aphex/Warp collector. ‘Dubnobassiwithmyheadman’ was his gateway drug and I thought he’s lost his mind. Even after I’d come around I never quite got with Underworld. There’s something disconnected about them. Neither weird enough to be intriguing or forceful enough to be transportational. Still, this was good to hear after many years and by the time it wound its way to the final couple of minutes it had built up a head of steam behind a sly little melody line.

Nick listened: This album should work, and it does work, and it’s brilliant, and techno full-lengths from the mid-90s are one of my favourite things in the world (and all, pretty much, too long to play at record club). This is brilliant and I love it, etcetera, etcetera.

Graham listened: Underworld are the only band of that genre and era that I have any connection with. This is because ‘born slippy’ mentions Romford, nearby where I was dragged up. Because of the depth of this connection, I feel disqualified from venturing any opinions on this.

220px-DoublenickelsSong 6: The Minute Men – It’s Expected I’m Gone (from Double Nickels On The Dime)

I didn’t intend to play this at the start of the evening but a combination of Jello Biafra’s D Boon-like vocals and having a sliver of time left from my 40 minute allocation led me into the murky world of rule breaking . You see, I fully intend to play DNOTD at the club at some point as it’s amazing. But it’s also very very long, hard to grasp on any one of your first 100 listens, exhausting, bewildering, funny and many other adjectives. In a way I wish I had been patient as, in isolation, It’s Expected I’m Gone makes as much sense as a smoked kipper on a ski lift.

Rob listened: I’ve spent time looking for this and never found it and so have avoided catching up with in on Spotify, preferring to be deferring. It was great, everything I would have looked for in a record 20 years ago, punky, shouty, jazzy, wrong and right. Let’s face it, some tastes never change. A winner.

Nick listened: Never heard this before; it wasn’t quite what I expected. Can’t quite remember what it was like though; should have written this up earlier… Think I enjoyed it…

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