Bill Callahan – Apocalypse: Round 71 – Tom’s Selection

downloadAlthough, rather like Rob and unlike Nick and (to a lesser extent) Graham, I haven’t ended up going out and buying all that many records that have been played at record club, there have been many ‘double ups’ that I could have brought to the ‘Recycled Record’ theme evening. On reflection, I think one of the main reasons I haven’t bought that much that has been played by the others is because my focus has been in acquiring music that I could take to record club. Until Nick set this theme, any purchases of pre-played material would have been a wasted choice in my mind so, for example, the last time I bought a record I had XTC’s wonderful Black Sea in my hand but it went back on the rack when I came across Sparks’ Kimono My House…simply because I thought the latter album might be something to take along to a future meeting…and it has always been a record I had been intrigued to hear. So, assuming I used Rob’s criteria of only playing something I had bought since it had been played at record club, I had a similar paltry choice.

No matter, I have no problem playing Apocalypse at all. For me, Apocalypse is the best Bill Callahan (ie of the records he has released under his own name) album and one of the very best albums I have in my collection. But then, I am like a moth to a flame when it comes to Bill’s catalogue, whether it’s Bill in his early lo-fi, sardonic and disturbing Smog mode, or the paired back folk and country late period Smog stuff or, indeed, the lush, evocative and exquisitely weary records he has released as Bill Callahan.

When Nick played Apocalypse to us at the ‘bring something you haven’t played before’ evening (coincidentally, immediately prior to Zaireeka) I immediately fell in love with its laid back linearity and conversational style. And, curiously, I see it very much as a companion piece to Joni’s Hejira. Neither album gets anywhere near a chorus, they both wend their way across a lush American musical landscape, drawing you on in a deceptively simplistic way, the songs on both sounding like short stories set to music, the music on both enabling the listener to live within the songs, to experience the landscapes they describe so effectively. And, of course, both albums are lyrical perfection…my favourite line on Apocalypse is on the opener, Drover, where Bill concedes, ‘I consoled myself with rudimentary thoughts’; in fact it could be my favourite Callahan line, no damn it, it could well be my favourite line in all recorded music.

So despite Apolcalypse being something that three quarters of us know well and despite it being such an obvious Tom choice, I make no apologies for bringing it at all as, for my money, it’s one of the very best of the 250 or so albums we have shared with each other thus far…

…and it gives Rob a chance to get up to date with his homework!

Rob listened, both times: favourite line in all recorded music? But what of “I suppose a rock’s out of the question?”?

As this record closed, ‘One Fine Morning’ became the first track to have been played 3 times at DRC, and, even more remarkably, it’s been brought by three different people. This was my favourite track of 2011 and ‘Apocalypse’ was close to my favourite album. As Tom has helpfully pointed out, I didn’t write about it first time around. I’m not sure why, but I can recall finding it a difficult record to get a grip of first time around. As I recall our first impressions were of unconventional instrumentations and odd syncopations. The album finally came into focus later that year during and right across a happy holiday which turned into a sad one. I hesitate to place it in the Callahan canon. I love the economy and poetry of ‘Sometimes I Wish…’ which this doesn’t reach. I love the heartbreaking void at the heart of ‘Kicking A Couple Around’, which this record has, but hides. I love the modern myth-making of ‘Rock Bottom Riser’ and the dark hilarity of ‘Dongs of Sevotion’ and hell, almost everything else he’s ever done. To be able to find so much variety in a catalogue so superficially samey is a wonderful, resonant pleasure, one Callahan has delivered more than anyone with the excpetion of his mucker Will Oldham.

Advertisements

The Flaming Lips – Zaireeka: Round 71, Nick’s choice

Zaireeka_coverI didn’t have anything specifically in mind when I announced this theme, just a vague thought that it would be interesting to revisit some of the things we’ve experienced together over the last three and a half years and see what we thought. My initial instinct was to assemble a list of all the albums I’ve bought because Tom, Rob, or Graham have played them at me, and play one of them – I made a list and there were several (certainly more than Rob!), but none of them screamed “play me! play me!”; they were nice-to-haves rather than game-changers. I suspect, in my mid-30s, with a couple of thousand albums on my shelves, that coming across genuine game-changers is something I’m pretty much past.

But then Rob emailed around the list of everything we’d ever played to each other, and one particular album jumped out at me instantly. Tom said as much the next time I saw him; he thought I’d chosen this theme as an excuse to play it again, which would have been entirely justified, it just wasn’t the case.

Rob initially played Zaireeka to us at Tom’s house back in round five, blindsiding me as I’d mentioned it to him in the car journey there (and failed to notice the three stereos in the back seat that he was bringing to facilitate the experience). Amazingly that makes it one of the first records we played together, but it feels like a very recently memory. This is probably because the experience of listening to Zaireeka is so strange, so vivid, so phantasmagorical, that it sticks in the memory.

The drum experiments, the ululating vocals, the dogs barking, the crazy narratives about pilots and pets and spies and psychedelic commutes, and, of course, the whole, exacting, interactive method of consumption: I think I’m OK in saying that Zaireeka is the most bona fide experimental, avant-garde, out there record I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to. It is bizarre and wonderful, and I was delighted that I’d inadvertently given us the chance to revisit it again.

Tom experienced Zaireeka again: Expectations are a funny thing. I remember Zaireeka having such a profound effect on me the one and only time I had heard it before that, to some extent, I couldn’t wait to hear it again. I recall it totally eclipsing the efforts of Kurt Vile and Bill Callahan (our other offerings on that evening), feeling that nothing would ever be the same again as Rob unplugged the multitudinous stereos required to listen to the thing.

Of course, over time I have re-calibrated and no longer hear the apparent post-Zaireeka thinness of the sound that a conventional stereo system offers. So I was looking forwards to hearing Zaireeka (it was obvious from some way off that this would be Nick’s record for the evening)  but a little worried that it would be back to square one. However, for me, the effect of Zaireeka second time around was greatly reduced, due mainly, I suppose, to the fact that I knew what was coming. So I listened to the songs this time around, as opposed to the sounds. And, whereas last time around I didn’t really even notice them, this time I was reminded just how little Wayne Coyne’s songwriting does for me. I have six Flaming Lips albums (but have only bought one of them) and, of the six, the only one that has ever clicked at all was In A Priest Driven Ambulance…which is a long way away from their late 90s output in terms of aesthetic. So… Zaireeka is still an amazing thing to experience but, as an album of songs, falls some way short of the brilliance of the concept.

Rob listened: It’s still like nothing else. Like Tom, I also found myself listening past the disorienting sound space and the sheer technical achievement and starting to get to the songs. Unlike Tom, I found them more beguiling and pleasurable this time around, particularly ‘Thirty-Five Thousand Feet of Despair’. Nothing can replicate that first experience, but for me, this added a little more, rather than took away. I’d be happy to have it as an annual ritual.

Joni Mitchell – ‘Hejira’: Round 71 – Rob’s choice

Joni Mitchell - HejiraWe’ve played somewhere North of 200 records since 2 February 2011 when Tom, Nick and I sat down to listen to Bark Psychosis, McCarthy and Skip Spence. Nick’s challenge for this evening’s meeting was to bring back to the group something which one of the other players had already presented. It could be something you wanted to hear again, something you thought we might have more to say about, something you wanted to reexamine from a different angle or, more likely, something you thought we had unjustly talked all over the first time around.

I like to be thorough, so I made a list.

Much as I have genuinely loved hearing old favourites again, or making proper acquaintance with records that had passed me by first time, the biggest effect DRC has had on me has been to introduce me to a huge amount of music I had either avoided to simply not heard before. I’ve been intrigued and pleased to hear absolutely everything everyone has brought, no matter what my preconceptions, except for Marillion who are fucking shit.

So, as I scrolled down the list, I marked out the records I might choose.

I could have chosen something I might have presented to the Club had I not been beaten to it by one of the others, like ‘Hidden’ or ‘Venus Luxure No 1 Baby’ or ‘She Hangs Brightly’ or ‘The Drift’ or ‘Strange Free World’ or ‘Post’ or ‘Silent Shout’ or ‘…Well?’ or ‘Clear Spot’ or ‘Psychocandy’ or ‘Spiderland’ or ‘The Smiths’ or ‘Icky Mettle’ or ‘Knock Knock’ or ‘Third’ or ‘Life’s Rich Pageant’.

I could have brought along something I already had that I thought deserved a second listen and re-examination, for good or for bad, like ‘Let England Shake’ or ‘Richard D James’ or ‘Strange Mercy’ or ‘Spirit of Eden’.

I could have used this as a spur to go out and buy something I really, really liked on first hearing and wanted to get to know a lot better, like ‘Double Nickels On The Dime’ or ‘Oar’ or ‘Another Green World’ or ‘The Modern Dance’ or ‘Drive By’ or ‘New Boots and Panties’ or ‘Super Roots 7’ or ‘Dusty in Memphis’ or ‘New History of Warfare

I could have bought something I have subsequently hammered on Spotify and given back more substantially to the artist who made it, like ‘Grace and Danger’ (except he’s dead) or ‘Young Man in America’ or ‘The Idler Wheel’ or ‘John Wizards’.

Instead, I decided to choose one of the records I’d first heard at a meeting and then subsequently made the effort to go out and buy.

I went through the master list.

I made a sub-list.

There was one record on it.

This one.

I’m not really sure how this came to be. I’ve loved, admired, been intrigued by and wanted more of dozens and dozens of the records I’ve first heard at DRC. How come I only ever went out and bought one? I guess Spotify explains that to a very large extent, but not completely.

Perhaps what’s happening is an extension of the way we used to listen to and share records with our friends? Given the chance I would always buy something the others didn’t already have covered. They would do the same and, in doing so, we would increase the total span of records available to the community. Why double up on Spacemen 3 when one of us could be taking care of Husker Du? If that long-dormant instinct has been kicked into life by DRC, then that’s pretty cool. Certainly DRC is by far the closest I’ve come to sharing my record owning, buying and listening life with a bunch of others since I left University.

Even this record I picked up almost by chance. Every couple of months or so I have what’s left of my hair chopped back by a local barber who has an MBE but not, tellingly, for his hairdressing. This usually happens early on a Saturday morning and by the time I hit the market town streets there are weekend stalls setting up, one of which has two boxes of vinyl for sale, curated, I’ve always assumed, from house clearances and the like. They’re worth a browse nowadays although pre-DRC I would have scoffed at them, more than likely. As it is, I’m now more than willing to take a cheap punt on something I would have dismissed as 70s AOR or leftfield 80s pop before Tom, Nick and Graham opened my ears. Last Summer I spent £12 on 11 records almost all of which I would have previously overlooked and at least half of which are brilliant. See here: (http://instagram.com/p/Wop2QBSfOh/?modal=true).

I picked up ‘Hejira’ on one of these mornings. I’ve listened to it a whole lot since then and going back to it again this last week has been a great pleasure. I don’t have anything of weight to add to Tom’s beautifully judged write-up from Round 47 other than to say that I’m working through most of the reactions he describes and have been ever since I got this sleek, elliptical and wonderful record, across the street from the barber shop.

It’s not the DRC choice I’d take to a desert island. It’s not the biggest revelation. It’s probably not even in my top 20 of previous choices, but I like it a great deal and it’s absolutely as good a representation as any of the way DRC has had a really big impact on my life.

Tom listened again: Funnily enough this Summer has been one where I have listened to Joni Mitchell and pretty much nothing else. Occasionally dipping back to Blue (which still leaves me cold – a little too reedy and willowy for my tastes) but immersing myself completely in the complex, deep waters of Court and Spark and The Hissing of Summer Lawns, it’s ironic that Hejira is the only Joni album I don’t think I’ve revisited at all. Not because it isn’t magnificent but because I already know it well, whereas C&S and HoSL have languished in my collection collecting dust for nigh on 20 years waiting for the dullard in me to listen hard enough to see the genius they so blatantly are.

Hejira is a VERY different beast to both those records but is just as good and I left the evening feeling a little guilty that I had neglected it so during this Summer’s Jonifest.