Low – Things We Lost In The Fire: Round 70 – Tom’s Selection

220px-Low_-_Things_We_Lost_in_the_FireRather like my ‘Guilty Displeasures’ theme way back in our 14th round, as far as I am concerned, the random choice idea didn’t really come off. In the former, we sat around listening to records that we didn’t really like …where’s the fun in that?…whereas the Random Round’s rationale – to unearth those forgoten records that get easily passed over when we come to make our choices but that turn out to be gems all along – was circumvented by the fact that the selection was truly random (despite my friends’ suspicions)  and, hence, threw up a series of surprisingly predictable Record-Club-like selections. The near misses – Ornette Coleman, Eleventh Dream Day – whilst being, perhaps, not as pleasurable/captivating/other (more applicable) adjective to listen to as what was actually brought, might have moved us further away from the standard Record Club fare we would normally offer up. Both Caribou and Elastica were fine listens (as is Things We Lost In The Fire in many respects) but that was not really the point! Nevermind…maybe we’ll have to try again some time.

Things We Lost In The Fire, Low’s fifth album, is the album that followed Secret Name (which Rob had brought to a previous meeting) and whilst it contains a few great songs, it has never quite held my attention as much as an album like it (full of well written and exquisitely performed songs, generally slowed to a funereal pace and sung in hushed tones and peerless harmonies) should. I have never quite figured out why this should be so as it ticks so many boxes for me…but I do know that I can’t ever get over the drop in quality when the perfect opener, Sunflowers, transitions into the tedious dirge of Whitetail. And I think its the juxtaposition between the very very good that punctuates the album at regular intervals, and the mundane or mediocre that crops up every so often, that limits my enjoyment of the record.

So, unlike The Wrens’ Meadowlands, where the sound of the record is the jarring factor for me (and there is no way back from this, to my mind), on TWLITF it’s frustrating just how close to having a bona-fide classic Low were. Why they had to release TWLITF as the three sided 55 minute long record when some judicious culling could have resulted in the double wammy of reducing chaff whilst making the album a more manageable listening experience, God only knows…all I know is that of all the records I have brought to record club, this one represents the choice I have been least excited about playing to the others. Bloody stupid theme if you ask me – whose idea was it again?

Nick listened: I guess if I’d thought about it, the ‘random’ function on an iPod often throws up seemingly unrandom selections and juxtapositions. I suppose this is because, as random as it is, it’s still picking from a collection curated by an individual, with, presumably, some kinds of consistent tastes or aesthetics running through their library in one way or another. So perhaps we shouldn’t be that surprised by what the supposedly ‘random’ selections brought up?

I own this – or, more accurately, Em brought this into our joint record collection when we moved in together. I don’t think I’ve ever listened to it. We own a couple of other albums by them, but the Christmas one is the only one that ever gets played. Generally around Christmas. I really appreciate what Low do, and I enjoyed listening to this, but I’ve never felt passionate about them in any way. I would gladly listen to it again; loved the Albini sound with their intrinsic slow delicacy.

Way, way better than The Wrens.

Rob listened: I guess I’m as close as DRC has to an official Low representative. I’m like one of those kids at a model United Nations, only sitting behind a table with another kid in black and a girl slowly hitting a snare drum. Very, very slowly.

I understand the way this them worked and the sort of responses it has generated. I know that’s the point. I’m struggling hard to let this one go. See, the comments above, all valid, are letting a stunningly beautiful record go slipping by as if it were nothing, a vaguely pleasant offering. ‘Things We Lost In The Fire’ is a thing of great wonder. If the world were forced to attentively listen to it once a day, the world would be a better place. I have spent parts of my life listening attentively to it and my life has become a better place as a result. I listened attentively to it this evening, when I could, and those bits were the best bits of the four hours we spent together.

I can’t really imagine what a bad Low record would sound like, and as such I have to be realistic about my partiality. However, any album which can finish with a run of three as strong as ‘Like A Forest’, ‘Closer’ and ‘In Metal’ deserves to be hoisted onto a pedestal and worshipped.

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Donald Fagen – The Nightfly – Round 70 – Not Graham’s Choice but forced in to it by Tom’s selection system

Tom’s theme was an ingenious selection donaldfagen-thenightfly system,  making us bring something from a specific location on the shelves. However in my case that meant I could work L-R on some shelves, up/down on some piles and back to front on on some boxes. Anyway dispensing with the other options that had been played already at DRC, my L6 ticket left me with the above.

Well, what irony, as I can only elaborate slightly more than on this classic review of an album, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tWqKiqTfXuA  but not much more I’m afraid. In Round 68 I responded to Tom’s Steely Dan offering with the following in the comments section.

“No, no, no, I won’t submit to liking Steely Dan! I’ve been troubled enough by Donald Fagen’s ‘The Nightfly’ during the last year and I’m not putting myself through that again. In 1982 I was 16 and must have been a bit of a hipster because I thought ‘The Nightfly’ was brilliant, sophisticated, clever etc…. Anyway, ffwd to 2013, when I purchased a CD of the same and this caused me probably the biggest trauma of the year and that’s going some for 2013. Like Aja, it sounded too clean, too smug, too lift musak. There, I feel better now, guess tastes change.”

All I can add to that unconscious review a few weeks ago was that this was an early example of a fully digital recording. Maybe when I was 16 the clean sound impressed me, today it just sounds like all emotion and life has been sucked out of the tracks. I suppose “New Frontier” is a track that can be tolerated, but nothing more. Anyway, I no longer own aforesaid CD as I have donated it to someone who might be prepared to give it an ear, even if he has noticed yet. Plus I’ve turned a corner and now have a significant number of CD’s in almost alphabetical order in a cupboard. Truly, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4tcXblWojdM

Rob listened: But it sort of passed me by. So i’m listening to it again now on my laptop whilst also unavoidably hearing the news of the world collapsing around our ears as we plunge towards a new Cold War of the sort Donald Fagen may or may not have been papping on about herein.

Anyhow, I think the first song sounds like ‘Stuck With You’ by Huey Lewis and the News. Hey! Another news link! Coo this record really is packed with allusion and foreshadow.

Gotta be honest, that first song is still going on and i’m about done with the time I set aside to write about this. I note that it’s called ‘I.G.Y.’ which presumably stands for ‘I Got Your (Huey Lewis and the News right here (Fagen grabs crotch and looks angry))’ making it a rare early example of a song title with parenthesised parentheses.

Second song now firmly underway. Still can’t really hear it. Am drawn to reflect on the cover which, it pleases me to note, apparently depicts Mr Fagen attempting to sing the record directly onto a platter of vinyl. This, presumably, not an early first.

It’s kind of zazzing away now and I’m thinking the collapse of civilisation in the Northern Hemisphere might actually be more interesting to listen to. There’s a fine line betwen smooth and bland and yet another one between sophisticated and featureless. I think it’s fair to say that this record is one side of that line and another side of that other line. I reckon if I were to listen to it over and over and over again and then over and over and over again that it would really worm its way into my head and I would start to feel like it was the sound of the whole wide world squeezed into one sleek and silkily easy to swallow pill. I’m pretty sure that’s what would happen. Rest-assured, once i’ve reached the required number of spins, I’ll report back.

Hey, it’s still going on. Seems like it takes quite a while, this thing. How long is it again? [*checks wikipedia*] Thirty eight minutes? Okay. Wow. Thirty eight whole minutes eh? And I’m how far through it by now? Three songs? Okay.

Sigh.

Nick listened: I don’t remember finding this offensive at all, or all that bland or alienating etc etc. But at the same time, I don’t remember ANYTHING about it at all.

Tom listened: About a year ago, Graham enthusiastically thrust The Nightfly into my paw making all sorts of claims for its greatness. I eagerly stuck it on the car stereo and found it generally bland with more than a few moments of cringe inducing over production. I enthusiastically returned said item to Mr Pollock hoping to never hear it again.

Twelve months on, post Aja epiphany and, hey presto, The Nightfly is selected in the great DRC random music generator theme night. A year on, Graham now hates it. I have begun to fall under the spell of Becker and Fagen having recently also purchased Steely Dan’s first two albums and I find myself voting to listen to The Nightfly as opposed to Graham’s alternative choices (!?) which he is practically begging us to choose instead. All a bit arse about tit!

So we listened to it, and I didn’t really like it….

Then I found The Nightfly languishing on my CD shelf the day after. Silly old Graham, he is getting forgetful! But during my extended loan, I have listened to The Nightfly a few more times and its all beginning to make a little more sense. It’s much harder work than  Aja, Can’t Buy a Thrill or Countdown to Ecstasy, it seems less consistent in terms of quality, but I can now see why so much fuss is made of it even if I am still undecided as to whether its reputation is justified or not.

Oh, and don’t worry Graham…it will be winging its way back to you soon!

Graham responded: Sorry no room on CD shelf. As Ed missed out, maybe he should be next recipient? We’ll find someone who likes it eventually!

Caribou – The Milk Of Human Kindness: Round 70, Nick’s choice

caribouC26. I was convinced that Tom was trying to pull a fast one on me when my ‘random’ selection of letter and number lead me to Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica, a record he adores and I cannot stand. His stated goal was “to make us bring something we’d never ordinarily choose” to record club. Surely this was too much of a coincidence? And his methodology for picking my letter and number was a little weird…

But if he was involved in a confidence trick, he was hoist by his own petard; among Trout Mask Replica’s many sins are its extraordinary length, and at 79 minutes it’s too long to play at record club. (Were it 35 minutes long I might have more patience with it.) So, as per Tom’s rules, I moved along to the next eligible record. Which was Caribou’s The Milk Of Human Kindness.

(If it seems crazy that I’m still on ‘Ca’ at 26 discs into the letter C, than Cadence Weapon, Cake, Calexico, Califone, Bill Callahan, Isobel Campbell and, significantly, Can, are the reason.)

Sadly for Tom’s intentions, though, Caribou is exactly the kind of artist I would normally play at record club, although, to be honest, I’d never really considered bringing this record along, even though it’s something that got spun seemingly all the time when Emma and I first moved in together in 2007. Less frenetic than Up In Flames, less song-based than Andorra, …Milk… is still clearly the product of a laptop, an imagination, and a deep love of musical history, but it’s far happier to float in its own grooves and enjoy its own prettiness than most of Dan Snaith’s other work. I love it the way I’d love a chair or a coffee table; not with a deep emotional passion, but with a warm sense of comfort and aesthetic pleasure. It sits in the room engagingly but without being demanding, although you can easily immerse yourself in the complexities of what it’s doing if you so wish. I think of it as the record that made our first flat together start to feel like our home, and I associate it with our first cat, Bob, who sadly and suddenly died last week, because he was another key presence in gluing our domestic life together.

Musically, there’s some of the woozy, distracted, pseudo-60s psychedelic pop that had antecedents on Up In Flames and would come to fruition on Andorra, but there’s also a hefty slice of krautrock-ish repetition, and almost minimalism at points (well, in comparison to the maximalism of Up In Flames. I don’t know where Snaith gets his drum samples (if they are samples), but he uses the same kind of tumbling, rattling, jazzy fills here that he has throughout his career. I don’t know how much of his music is assembled from samples and how much is played live – certainly when he performs live Caribou is a band, and things are reproduced by musicians onstage – but whatever the mix is, he has a unifying gestalt running through all the work he’s released under this name.

A great record? I don’t know; a record I really like and have played an awful lot over the last nine years, that’s for sure.

Interestingly, the evening before we met it occurred to me that I own a legitimate second C26, too; I keep digipaks and other unusually-packaged CDs in a separate run of discs, and the C26 from that part of the collection was Ornette Coleman’s The Shape Of Jazz To Come. I intended to bring this with me and give everyone an option of which to play, vaguely hoping that we’d plump for Ornette’s notoriously difficult free jazz opus. Sadly, though, I managed to pick up John Coltrane’s still jazz but much less free Giant Steps, which sits next to it and has almost identical packaging. So we played Caribou.

Rob listened: Liked this a lot, which left me wondering about the problem I have with Caribou. Every time I hear them/him I enjoy it, but I’m never drawn back. I listened to ‘Swim’ a couple of times when it came out, before Nick brought ‘Andorra’ to a previous meet. I liked it well enough but found it an easy record to walk away from, as in literally to leave the room during. I never really got a grip of it. Then Tom and I found ourselves walking across a darkening field at the End of the Road festival and hearing Snaith’s touring incarnation of Caribou strike up ‘Sun’ on the stage we were passing. It sounded great, but we carried on to the bar and never headed back. I thought ‘Andorra’ was strikingly inventive when Nick played it for us. I’ve never gone back and listened to it again. ‘The Milk of Human Kindness’ struck me as even better, crammed with life and detail and touch and verve. I hope I will go back and spend some more time with it but on past performance I can’t promise. I’ll save you the long essay speculating on why we leave lying some records that we find really appealing. I don’t know the answer.

Tom listened: I thought this was absolutely tremendous – better than I remember Andorra being on a first listen and much more realised and cohesive than my sole Dan Snaith record – Manitoba’s Up in Flames. Whilst I totally get what Rob is driving at (and that is precisely what has put me off exploring Caribou’s output more fully) I feel that The Milk Of Human Kindness would probably be the best place for me see whether Caribou is very exquisite, beautifully constructed and arranged window dressing or something deeper and more substantial.

Elastica – ‘Elastica’: Round 70 – Rob’s ‘choice’

Elastica - ElasticaNothing helps a record gain a little extra frisson, perhaps some extra purchase in the long run, more than the sense that there’s some deep-seated reason that you should dislike it, but you just can’t help yourself.

As I recall, I was heavily prepared to find against Elastica. The press at the time did a pretty good job of painting Justine Frischmann as a hanger-on with pretensions. When they weren’t doing that, in what in retrospect was a shocking display of route-one sexism, they were focusing on the band’s magpie tendencies. Where had they nicked this riff from, and whither this drum part? They were classic talentless bandwagon jumpers, surely?

By about the third time I heard ‘Stutter’, none of that mattered. Freewheeling spiky punk pop, wantonly brief and sharp enough to slip between your ribs and cut deep where it hurts. Also, and this may help some, sometimes assumed to be about the drunken impotence of one of the great totems of the scene we were all supposed to be looking up to. It’s a giddy, cocky rush of pure joyful adrenaline described memorably by Spin magazine as “deliver[ing] four brilliant pop songs”. After this, they could be forgiven almost anything. That they followed with the insistent insouciance of ‘Line Up’ and the bopping swagger of ‘Connection’ seemed almost miraculous.

All of which generated enough excitement that even a straight-laced kiddo like me could giddily look past things that would have turned me off alchemists of lesser stripe. An album full of singles, B-sides and stuff we’ve heard before? No problem, I’m happy to have it all in one place. Band being sued by Wire and The Stranglers? Ah well. Who cares when the songs are this damned good?

This point is worth dwelling on before dismissing.

Firstly, fair enough. If you were, or indeed are, Colin Newman or Jean Jacques Burnel and you heard a new band blatantly lifting ‘Three Girl Rhumba’ or ‘No More Heroes’ then you might well dash off a stiff rejoinder of a legal nature. And you would be well within your rights.

Otherwise, forget it. Lifting, appropriating and adapting other works is the essence of pop art and pop music, and Elastica did it with such élan that all we could do was fight to surpress our grins.

QED: ‘Vaseline’, an 80 second track which pares Blondie’s ‘Sunday Girl’ down to its essence and then smacks you in the face with it, twice. It’s a fabulous piece of work. 6 years later Soulwax and Richard X chums were making merry with mash-ups and nowadays it’s impossible to imagine pop without the joyful liberating of old songs in the service of the new. Elastica led the way.

Also, and here I’ll rest, those reference points are exquisite, especially at a time when were were otherwise being encouraged to revere Lennon at his most bloated or anything with a Union Jack slapped unironically across its rickenbacker. If a hundred people went back to discover ‘Pink Flag’ as a result of ‘Connection’ then good job Elastica, say I. If I had to choose between bands reappropriating Wire and bands trying to be Status Quo, I know which way I’d be heading. In fact, I did have to, and I did.

Listening back now, what comes through with full force is the bristling life and energy of this debut album. By contemporary standards it’s nowhere near as arch and contrived, as knowing and detached, as you might expect or remember. It’s a killer, front to back, armed to the teeth with glinting choruses, razor-sharp guitar angles and enough attitude and disregard for safety to make you fear for what it might do next.

Here’s another way it stands in marked contrast both to its contemporaries of the time and to those who have followed. Elastica understood the power of brevity. Their songs do what they have it in them to do, with bags of energy, and then they STOP. Take ‘Annie’, a belter packed with pogo power and head-banging brio. It zings along for 1min 14seconds and then, its business done, it just ends. Where most other bands would be searching for a bridge to take them back to a point where they could run through the whole thing again. Elastica pull the plug and leave an electric aftertaste crackling around the room.

On its release in 1995 ‘Elastica’ became the fastest selling debut album since ‘Definitely Maybe’ and kept that rather niche honour for a further ten years, a demonstration of just how connected the worlds of pop, art and spectacle were with what people were actually anticipating and buying. Almost twenty years later it still stands up tall.

To my mind there were two truly great britpop records, and this is one of them. And tough luck, Albarn and Anderson. Your ‘hanger on’ made the list comfortably ahead of either of you.

Nick listened: Em brought this into our record collection when we moved in together, too. Great songs, great attitude, great production. Yes, it’s ‘derivative’, but I can’t name much music which isn’t. I can, however, name a lot which isn’t as good as this.

Tom listened: I have never considered Elastica as contenders and, as a result, I was pleasantly surprised by their debut which was punchy and sharp. But whilst I can see why Rob would suggest this to be one of the top two Britpop albums (I’m guessing Different Class would be the other one), for me, the best albums by Blur, Supergrass and (if they are can be ‘genrefied’ as Britpop) Super Furry Animals all seemed to have a certain something (playfulness perhaps, identity maybe) that Elastica seemed – on a first listen – to lack. Enjoyable enough though!

Eleventh Dream Day – ‘Live To Tell’: Round 70 – Rob’s choice that never was

eddlttTom’s rules were simple. Pick a letter, pick a number. I ended up with E8 and so began at the beginning of the E’s, counted records until I reached the eighth and then pulled out the first album I came to.

I spend time thinking about my choices for Devon Record Club. There are rules to follow, often themes to be adhered to and I have my own internal standards and checklists that need to be respected. I think carefully about whether my records will surprise, delight or horrify the other attendees. I prepare and curate my choices and one of the unintended effects is that the one person who rarely gets a surprise from them is me. One of the reasons I like the occasional ‘Year of Release’ theme is that it restricts choice and sends me to records I might otherwise overlook.

Before I pulled out my randomly selected album, this felt like the ultimate extension of that. A choice over which we have no choice. Exciting! Well, maybe. One of the things it’s made me think about is what makes a good record to listen to and talk about. That’s because as I counted along the Es, I passed Earth, Echo and the Bunnymen, Eggs, 808 State (misfiled perhaps?) and landed in the middle of Elastica. Their debut album was the seventh record I counted, and thus had ticked by. A shame I thought. It’s a perfect record for generating debate and disagreement and one of the fuels of our meetings is the power of pontification. It’s also a really terrific listen. But I missed it by one, thanks purely to the accident of me filing it before the EPs I own by the same band.

And next up was this, the only record I own by Eleventh Dream Day. One the one hand: perfect. A record I’ve had for 20 years and probably listened to less than 20 times. A new discovery for me as well as the group. Except, I’ve passed it over when scanning the Es over the years for a reason. It’s a decent record, but one surrounded by more immediately interesting, rewarding, ear, eye and finger grabbing choices. It could be a wallflower, hanging in the back waiting for a chance to shine, or it could be just an average record.

Eleventh Dream Day, from Chicago, are, as they say, stalwarts. They formed in 1983 and have been releasing records ever since. ‘Live to Tell’ is their fifth from a list that, to date, numbers twelve. They’ve had generally positive reviews, but after a couple of records on Atlantic, of which this was the second, their shot at breaking through had passed. Clearly they weren’t in it for fame and fortune and have carried on making music together ever since. Inevitably I have to note that perhaps they are most notable as the other project of Doug McCombs, bass player of Tortoise.

‘Live To Tell’ is a pretty good album, full of rousing, alternative rock tunes which bustle through at a fair clip. They’re scuzzy, straightforward and have a little cowpunk stomp about them which is both endearing and energizing. Critics seems to share the view that they are influenced by Neil Young. I don’t get that from the songwriting or the playing, but almost every song has a pause whilst the band step back to make space for a slashing guitar solo. And that’s about that. I like it well enough and I’ve enjoyed listening to it ahead of the meeting. I just can’t imagine it’s going to turn any heads this evening, in much the same way I can’t quite imagine meeting someone who declared “Eleventh Dream Day” when asked to name their favourite band. That’s not an insult, by the way, although I fully accept that it sounds exactly like one.

So, it goes back onto the shelves alongside (spiritually, but not physically) other records, by Razorcuts and Surgery and Rein Sanction and That Dog and Tsunami and Scrawl, that I’ve picked up for unknown reasons and which have languished ever since. Maybe those ones will sound revelatory if they pop out of Tom’s random record generator. We’ll have to wait and see.

Update: I miscounted and the evening before the meeting, with this piece already in the can, I realised that the 12″ of ‘Bring On The Dancing Horses’ had been lurking next to ‘Crocodiles’ all the time. Which meant my REAL E8 was something different after all.

Nick didn’t listen:

Tom listened to one track: And thought it sounded pretty good. But hasn’t explored any further…

Everything Everything – Man Alive: Round 69 – Ed’s selection

everything everything - man aliveThis record’s rather tenuous link to the holiday theme was that my good friend Stef introduced me to Everything Everything last summer whilst on holiday in France. I know, I know, but in truth, I have been wanting to play this album at Record Club ever since joining. It is unlike anything I have ever heard before and whilst I cannot truly say that I love it, it fascinates me. And I was really curious to discover the others’ opinions.

The first 3 tracks are an assault. The high-velocity staccato falsetto vocals, the ever-shifting bass line, the sudden key changes, texture changes; its like the band sat down and decided exactly how far they could push the listener. That might make the sound come across as calculated, which is certainly how I thought of it the first few listens, but on repetition the musicianship and craft shine through.

Man Alive is not just about seeing how many notes Jonathan Higgs can spurt out per second though as in the rest of the album the pace slows, the music is more expansive. However they keep hold of the complexity and sudden texture changes. I like the music better when you’re not straining to catch the lyrics, which is probably not a good way to listen to it anyway, but some of my favourite tracks are the slower tempo ones. The creepy ‘Leave the Engine Room’, ‘Final Form’, the barnstorming/barbershop ‘Suffragette Suffragette’ and the lovely, simple ‘Tin (The Manhole)’ which washes over you like some kind of post-modern classical church piece.

I like this album because it sounds like 4 talented musicians got together and decided to push themselves to create a sound that was not bound by any particular style, structure or vocal range. The songs are complex and high-octane but well-written, varied and interesting. From a performance point of view I am also deeply impressed by the falsetto sung by Jonathan Higgs. This is a really difficult skill to pull off, especially when crossing at speed to and from the normal vocal range, and he makes it sound easy.

This is not an album to settle down to if you’re looking for some nice tuneful background music. It’s demanding, complicated and rapid (it has almost certainly failed Tom’s ‘music with too many notes’ test!). And if you are after a big slab of passion and heart, look elsewhere. However if you want something experimental, grown-up, technically exciting whilst also pushing the boundaries of what the players themselves can perform, this is your album.

Rob listened: I really, really liked the fox on the cover of this record. Great picture of a fox there guys. Good work. Well done.

Otherwise, this seemed not so much an exercise in how far Everything Everything could push the listener, more in how far they could push the listener away. Nick is our man when it comes to production and compression, but the sound of this record seemed almost deliberately structured to deflect penetration. Ed’s right that there’s a lot going on here, but it all seemed to be going on at a cold and steely surface, all at the same level, and details were almost impossible to focus on without getting a headache. It was repulsive, in the true sense of the word.

And that was enough for me to switch off, i’m afraid. Which is a shame, as I got that complexity that Ed describes and I got the sense that they were pushing themselves into unusual places. I just couldn’t listen to them doing it.

Nick listened: I feel a bit bad that Ed wasn’t present to explain (or defend, perhaps!) his choice as we listened; a running commentary and enthused advocacy while listening can often blast open records that you’d otherwise shy away from by giving you an understanding of why someone else likes something, even if you don’t. No Ed meant no defense, and thus Everything Everything got an unfair, by our usual standards, hearing.

The name is a clue; they try to do too much, which I suspected shortly after I first heard of them. Initial descriptions – eclectic, gifted, complex – actually intrigued me, but then a few warning signs (signed to a label I don’t trust; Mercury nomination for an ‘indie’ band, etc etc) set off the sirens in my head, and I steered clear. Why? Because I assumed EE would be the kind of too-ambitious, everything-including-the-kitchen-sink act that I’ve been burnt by on numerous occasions over the last decade. And when it came to the empirical test, they were, sadly.

I have a strong suspicion that digital recording technologies are to blame; when you have literally no limitations to how many audio tracks you can record and how much manipulation you can wield via a software package, the creativity and quality control often imposed as a side-effect of technological limitations is no longer an issue, and the result is often, to my ears, inferior as a result. It’s that idea if having infinite choice options, and no wisdom to make the right choice. So you have the live drum kit (to a click-track) AND a drum machine AND some synth AND multiple guitar tracks AND samples AND four ambient room mics AND multi-tracked vocals AND and and and and and… and the result is too much information, jammed too close together. You end up with human music which sounds synthetic, rather than synthetic music which sounds human; people recording on perfect software rather than with imperfect machines. The sound of an algorithm.

The last National album suffered a related fate to my ears; while they didn’t overstuff synthetic layers, they did seem to use every idea they had; violins, several guitars, brass, multiple pianos, etc etc. If you’re skillful you can pull it off, but it’s very very easy to overdo it, and to my ears EE overdid it.

Graham listened: Ed’s last paragraph simply sums this one up for me as at the time it went on, I was still firmly wrapped up in the emotional blanket of Carol King. I wasn’t in mood for anything taxing and my listening skills suffered. Need to borrow this off Ed to give a it a fair chance as I think I would have found just about anything fairly irritating compared to the warm glow I was still experiencing after listening to Carol. I recall warming to second half of this album as my defences weakened.

Tom listened: This is a tricky one. I think this is only the second time we’ve had a record that the selector was absent for (the first one was Bad by Michael Jackson, played by Nick on Rob’s British Number 1 albums themed night – in that instance he didn’t provide a write up so we didn’t get to respond). It certainly felt weird not having Ed there to enthuse us with his insights and, like Nick, I felt that would have made a difference.

I have been aware of Everything Everything for some time now as they have been championed by various DJs on 6 Music for a while now and they have always stood out a little from the standard 6 Music daytime indie fodder mainly by dint of the fact that their singer has a ‘different’ voice. I think it works quite well in catching the listener’s attention – there’s no mistaking it once you’ve heard it a few times – but, for me, it worked far less well over the course of an album than it does when you hear it as a one-off on the radio. The homogeny of the songs on the first half of the record and the lack of any discernible (on first listen, mind) melody meant that, eventually (around the midway point I’m guessing) I had more or less switched off.

The funny thing was that almost as soon as that had happened the album seemed to take a turn for the better; I vaguely recall a song that was a bit slower, had a bit more contrast and was much more compelling that what had proceeded it. And from there on, I kind of enjoyed Man Alive (certainly much more than I had up until that point).

However (and I guess this is down to the compression used in the production of the record), the album sounds like a Steve Lamacq album and, for me, that’s too much of a hurdle to surmount.