13th Floor Elevators – Bull of the Woods: Round 73 – Tom’s Selection

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Whilst playing Bull of the Woods at record club I postulated that, in this day and age, it is unlikely I would ever have got my grubby mitts on 13th Floor Elevators’ third and final album…not because acquiring music is any more difficult now than it was back in the late 80s – it’s not, it’s easier – but because information is so easily accessible (and because I am such a sucker for it) that I would have read one too many lukewarm reviews and dismissed the album as not worth owning. I would have also have been pushed into buying one of The Elevators’ first two albums, seeing as popular opinion would seem to suggest that these are far superior. Just in case any of you reading this have those first two albums and don’t really like them…well…don’t give up on Texas’ finest purveyors of acid fried psychedelia just yet as, to my ears, Bull of the Woods is by far the best record of the three and I enjoy it as much as pretty much anything else from that era.

Note that I haven’t made any grand claims for Bull of the Woods’ greatness as yet. And I’m not going to. After all, the record has all sorts of flaws that, to many, get in the way but to me makes the thing even more intriguing and captivating. I love the fact that the album sounds like it was recorded in a swamp, I love the fact that the vocals come and go in and out of the mix as if the singer (mainly Stacy Sutherland I believe) was moving from one room to the next. And I absolutely love the fact that Tommy Hall has ditched his bloody electronic jug in the canal! Listening to the ‘classic’ first album and then to this, I was struck at just how different the two records are. Whereas The Psychedelic Sounds Of…is all spiky, jangly and wobbly, Bull of the Woods is a true blues groove swamp monster. Obviously Roky Erickson’s lack of involvement in Bull of the Woods makes a big difference and the two tracks he had a hand in writing – Never Another and May The Circle Remain Unbroken – are probably the albums two most distinctive songs, the former veers all over the place in much the same way as, say, Love’s The Daily Planet and the latter is a weird mantra type coda, shimmering away like the sun setting as if on the bands’ very own career (seeing as it is the last song on their last album).

But surrounding these two cuts are nine songs that show a side of the guitar driven sound of late 60s US rock’n’roll like little else I’ve heard. I remember listening to Bull of the Woods for the first time having bought it on impulse, being vaguely aware of the name of the band from a Melody Maker interview with Spacemen 3 or Loop, and being held spellbound for the entire sitting; from the first murky blues riff of Livin’ On slithering into view to the last heartrendingly fragile vocal of May the Circle slipping out of reach. And for a while, Bull of the Woods was my favourite album, supplanting the House of Love’s eponymous (sort of) debut album and Spacemen 3’s Playing With Fire.

On the night Nick asked me if I still loved this record. I took a while to answer because I really wanted to take the time to differentiate between the love of nostalgia and the love of something you truly cherish for what it is, unencumbered by the warm glow of memories of times long gone. Well, it will come as no surprise to my fellow record club chums that in light of Graham’s theme for our next evening together I have been listening to another album I held in high regard from that time in my past and, inevitably, I have compared the two records. Nostalgia pah! I can now say Nick, with utmost confidence, that my love for Bull of the Woods is as strong as it ever has been (the other record sounded dated and somewhat adolescent in comparison). I think it’s a great, great record warts and all and I wonder just how many other ‘disappointing’ third albums I’ve let slip through my grasp over the years!

Rob listened: This is a great call by Tom. He and I, in our own very different ways, are constantly having our musical choices curated by taste-makers or, more often in this age of democratic star-ratings, the masses.

Tom is a student of discographic lists. Name any artist and he will be able to tell you which album is supposed to be their apogee. He has an extensive mental list of records he is looking out for, and these are always winnowed down to one or two from any particular artist. How many potential connections has he missed out on this way?

I, meanwhile, am just gullible and act under the constant sense that others know what’s good for me much more than I do. A score below 7.0 is enough to strike a record from my ‘listen-to’ list, whilst a negative review of a record I have already become pleasantly acquainted with is all that’s required for me to question my own response. If that guy says it’s bad, it must be bad. What do I know? How much great stuff do I miss out on by allowing others to act as arbiters for my own taste?

My musical journey never took me to the 13th Floor, and therefore I never got into the Elevators. I did come to feel great affection for Roky Erickson when I reviewed his 1995 album ‘All That May Do My Rhyme’, a sweet collection of naive universal folk boogie that was very hard to resist. In common with most bands I would have had no idea at all which of the 13th Floor Elevators records was supposed to be the best or worst, other than recognising the iconic cover of the first album. In general I guess this gives me slightly better odds of picking out the hidden gem in any particular band’s back-catalogue. I have a list of bands I fancy, but rarely specific records although this does sometimes lead to record-store paralysis (“Hey, I always meant to try The Byrds. I wonder if this record is one of the good ones or not? Perhaps i’ll just leave it…”).

On the night ‘Bull Of The Woods’ more or less passed me by, but listening back to it now on headphones, i’m loving it. Groovy, direct, sharper than i’d expected and packed with great tunes. It sounds more than a match for any of those other records by big names of the 60s that I have no idea I’m supposed to own. For this band at least, I now know which album i’m looking out for.

Graham Listened: Opening signs weren’t good for me and researching the construction of Electric Jugs (take care when googling) was a welcome distraction. After a while I began to get past the mess of production and recording and actually started to “hear” it! Although far more bluesy, I picked up on some notes of early Barrett era Floyd in its psychhier moments and by the end, quite enjoyed the groove.

Nick listened: I own the first two 13th Floor Elevators albums, but to be honest I’ve never got past the (really) tinny, uber-cheap late-60s garage production on them. Or the incessant wibble, which is, on first encounter, kind of like an awesome sampled loop that would be a great big irresistible insistent hook if it were in a piece of techno, or something. I do adore the original version of “Slip Inside This House”, though. This, shorn of so much wibble, and with slightly meatier sound, I thought probably was better. I’m not sold on the “Roky Eriksson is a genius” myth, though.

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Cornershop – ‘Handcream for a Generation’: Round 73 – Rob’s Choice

IMG_0105When the history of British music is written there’s a fair chance that Cornershop will be forgotten. That’s a shame, a crime perhaps. Many, many bands have made much bigger splashes but much smaller contributions.

Cornershop, like XTC before them, came out of a scene which they soon transcended, going on to make truly original music, blending influences in new ways, testing the limits of their talents and steadily finding sounds that others were missing. In doing so they made their way out into territory that they alone mapped and colonised. This left them seeming outliers when in fact, again like XTC, they are, at their heart, a deeply British band. In their records can be found a sound collage of the last 40 years of at least one, if not more, of Britain’s histories.

By the time they reached ‘Handcream For A Generation’, their fourth album, they were at their most confident. They were buoyed by the success of ‘When I Was Born For The Seventh Time’, a record that had perfected the loose-limbed groove they had been working out over the preceding two and, thanks to a Norman Cook remix, rode it all the way to number one. Four years later, with ‘Brimful of Asha’ still echoing through playlists up and down the nation, they returned with easily their most ambitious album. Whilst it may not have captured anything like the attention of its predecessor, for me it’s their definitive statement, or at least my favourite. It’s a record of pure and flawless pleasure and always the record of theirs I choose, always without hesitation and never to be disappointed. It’s never not a pleasure to hear.

Which is not to say that the pleasures herein are steady and consistent. The wild variety of ‘Handcream’ is confounding, but ultimately one of the reasons to love it. It swerves fearlessly from lazy funk to pulsing trance to pastiche 70s cock rock to playground singalongs to 15 minute Eastern bliss-outs with apparently no grand purpose or scheme. The whole collection wears a huge smile on its face and, like a stick of rock, this attitude is evident wherever and however you slice it. Each song does something different yet all retain a hazy upbeat vibe and none fail to get fingers, feet and heads moving happily.

Zoom in even further and the detail is a microscopic treasure trove. There’s the three different telephone tones used to propel ‘People Power’, the repetition of song titles across several tracks as if political slogans, the moment in ‘Motion the 11’ when the MC stops the session just to make sure the engineer is recording because “this might just be the one”. ‘The London Radar’ straps flight announcement samples together, Avalanches-style, and gets the whole thing airborne like a 70s British Airways advert. Then there’s the simple pleasure of the opening track ‘Heavy Soup’ which introduces the main players and trails several of the tracks they are about to perform, as if this were live at the Harlem Apollo. It’s playful, endearing and pulled off with just enough verve and attention to detail.

Those who waited five years for ‘Handcream for a Generation’ to land seemed to struggle to know what to do with it. The trick was simple, just enjoy it. For me, it’s much better than ‘When I Was Born…’. Here they combine not just happy grooves, but 70s rock, 90s electronica, millennial hip-hop, timeless dancehall and sunrise mantras and the whole melting pot thing has more spike, more juice, more joy, more thrills.

In the midst of all this there’s a subtle, oblique politics at work. Even post-millennium there seemed to be something of an open challenge in the seamless combinations, as opposed to clashes, of sounds, cultures, languages and styles in this record. Although the band make no direct claims herein, the album stands as a state of the sound of the nation address more freewheeling and convincing than any others I can recall from the period.

It’s the Cornershop album I always reach for and in the 12 years since I first heard it, I’ve reached for it a hell of a lot.

Tom listened: Before this evening my knowledge of Cornershop did not extend beyond Brimful of Asha. I liked that single well enough, kind of in the same way as, say, Wake Up Boo, it cheered me up to hear it on the radio, gave me hope that all was not lost with chart music (unlike nowadays, I have to say) but it didn’t occur to me to delve any deeper into Cornershop’s music – I always thought it would be a case of ‘more of the same but less so’.

I certainly never imagined that Cornershop would cover the breadth of musical landscapes in evidence on Handcream for a Generation. In scope it reminded me of In a Bar Under the Sea era Deus and the Beastie’s Check Your Head – high praise indeed. As Rob has suggested, it is charming and fun, like the kid in school that makes everyone else laugh just by showing up, it all seems effortless.

My only gripe was the 15 minute Noel Gallagher sullied jamathon. Some long songs seem vital (Marquee Moon, Halleluwah, Sister Ray), others outstay their welcome. This one could have ended after 5 minutes!

Graham listened: What a revelation this was. I just about knew that Norman Cook had reinvented Brimful of Asha in to a hit but suppose I just thought that might be the only interesting thing Cornershop were capable of. No need to study to hard on this, just sit back and enjoy a groovy, funny, cultural mash-up that ensues from the beginning.

A real, between the eyes reminder, of the value of DRC!

Nick listened: I actually really liked the 15-minute Noel G-powered ragga-drone-groove-thing. As an album this was all over the place and difficult to get hold of mentally, but thoroughly enjoyable. I vaguely recalled a couple of the singles from the time it came out, and recalled it being moderately well-received, but it had pretty much evaporated from my memory over the intervening years. I own When I Was Born… (and recall the shop assistant in Northampton Spinadisc being visibly pleased to sell it to me when I was at university) but have barely listened to it in 15 years, which makes for a weird kind of ‘what if’ sensation with the band when presented with later work which is just as good but not blessed with a seismic hit single (or three; “Sleep On The Left Side” and “Good Shit” were all over the radio way back when, too, if I recall).

Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest: Round 72 – Tom’s Selection

download (1)Lacking inspiration for the notoriously difficult Round 72 I turned to the painfully untrendy Pitchfork website for help. Specifically their top 100 albums of the last five years list (aka Look Everyone, We’ve Got a New List. You Will Not Be Able To Resist A Skim Through and That Will Make Our Site Stats Look Much Better).

I thought I would take the highest placed album on the list that I own. And this is it. To make matters even more enticing, it’s an album I have never really got to grips with, always finding it some way off the brilliance that so many claim it possesses. To make matters even more enticing than that(!), it’s an album (and a band) that I know Rob loves, so I was fully expecting something akin to born again conversion to occur. Surely, I thought, if both Rob and Pitchfork think so highly of this album (Pitchfork rated it the third best of the last five years – that’s third best out of a hell of a lot of records), a careful listen whilst someone points out to me just what it is that I have been missing all this time will be all it takes. Unfortunately, it turns out that Nick’s arguments as to why Halcyon Digest isn’t such a great piece of work were more convincing, aligning as they do far more closely with mine and, as a result, I am probably further away than ever to understanding just what it is that makes this album so special.

Now I don’t want to give the impression that Halcyon Digest is a poor piece of work. It’s not at all. But, to me, it is deeply flawed. There are wonderful songs on Halcyon Digest (Helicopter stands out), there are good songs with outstanding bits to them (Desire Lines, Fountain Stairs), there are other good songs that are simply good all the way through (Earthquake, Coronado) but, to my ears at least, there are just too many clunkers here (Don’t Cry, Revival, Basement Scene) for this to attain anything even approaching classic status.

Thinking about Deerhunter in general and Halcyon Digest in particular, my biggest problem comes down to Bradford Cox’s way (or, rather, lack of way) with melody. Sure, an album doesn’t have to be packed full of soaring melodies to be a classic, but an album of well defined, discrete, guitar based tunes, surely needs to do better than this – too often on Halcyon Digest the pace is leaden, the tunes are predictable and the songs mumble their way through to a wholly unsatisfactory conclusion.

But the most frustrating aspect of all is just how close Cox is to producing a truly outstanding record. The guitar work on Halcyon Digest is remarkable – Cox can obviously make his guitar sing in ways that are far more affecting than his vocal chords – and the lyrics are never less than interesting. The second half of the album (once the execrable Basement Scene has been negotiated) is very good indeed and Helicopter has to be up amongst the best songs of the last few years. When he is good (it was the same for me with Microcastle and Weird Era Cont), Cox is very very good but…rather like the little girl with the curl in the middle of the forehead…when he is bad, he is horrid. And, unfortunately, from now on I can’t see anyone, be they Pitchfork, Rob or Bradford Cox himself, convincing me otherwise.

Nick listened: I bought Halcyon Digest as my ‘Christmas album’ back in 2010, and I quite like it. But I can’t go any further than that, and I’m absolutely baffled by the fact that some people, presumably, think it’s masterpiece enough that it ended up third in Pitchfork’s ‘decade so far’ list. (But I hate their number 1 choice, so, y’know, horses for courses.)

(As an aside I recall a similar list by Select Magazine in 1995, wherein they anointed Screamadelica, which I bought pretty much because of that list, and fell in love with.)

I’m baffled because Halcyon Digest doesn’t feel like a statement, a discovery, a platonic essence, or a perfectly crafted artefact to me; it just feels like ‘quite a good indie rock record’. Which isn’t a bad thing, I just don’t generally think of quite good indie rock records as being worth the plaudits they often get lauded with – see The Suburbs by Arcade Fire as another album I just do not understand the praise for; a few nice songs, a couple of them very nice indeed, but caught up in so much generic plodding that I can’t get excited about it.

Maybe it’s the genre-snob in me; I could accept the power and pleasure of a really generic soul record or dance record or jazz record, perhaps, but ‘indie rock’ feels like such a brown genre to me (in that it sucks in so many colourful influences but often ends up becoming a smear of brown rather than the rainbow it clearly wants to be) that, as much as I can enjoy it, it usually fails to transcend unless it does something dramatically creative or unusual or with really staggering perfection. Halcyon Digest just feels so utterly ‘quite good’ to me that I can’t imagine anyone feeling that passionately about it. Whereas, much as I dislike it, I can kind of understand the admiration for My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, even though I think it’s wrong.

Rob listened: And so it falls to me to quite like this record. And that’s fine. Tom, I reject your request for a guided conversion. If Deerhunter don’t click with you then that’s fine by me, fine for you and, one presumes, fine by them too. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t adequately explain what I find so beguiling about this band and, probably, this record in particular. It’s a mercurial property, seen in glimpses, flashes of elemental purity. In fact, let’s call it alchemy. For what Deerhunter do so magically, is take the building blocks of outsider rock and roll, from Bill Haley to My Bloody Valentine by way of the Stooges, the Velvet Underground, Modern Lovers and the Jesus and Mary Chain, and stack them up to create something new, some delightful structure built from uncannily familiar parts.

It’s an instinctive conjuring trick, producing perfectly balanced creations, made with careful precision by savants trusting their guts. Part of its ticklishness is the opacity of the intent. Is this deliberate pastiche, or are they really channeling 50 years of heads down clamour? Is it knowing, or dumb? Ultimately, is it good? The answer, for me, is yes. Very. It brings together strands and sounds and stances and knits them into shapes old enough to fire sense memories and new enough to be untraceable. Deerhunter are the first breath of cold air you feel in your eyes and throat before you know that autumn is coming. Always familiar, always different.

There are, it has to be said, at least 16 records in the Pitchfork list that I would choose ahead of Halcyon Digest.

FKA Twigs – LP1: Round 72, Nick’s choice

FKA_twigs_LP1Recipient of much acclaim and even more discussion this year, FKA Twigs might be part of this supposedly modern mutant r’n’b thing that seems to be happening (possibly started by The Weeknd and pursued by How To Dress Well, in as much as these ‘things’ ever start anywhere identifiable), or she might be something else entirely. Let’s settle on something else entirely. If I’m reminded of other music (and I am, a little, although not that much) then it includes Julia Holter, Grimes, 4AD, and Radiohead’s post-electronic work rather than Whitney Houston or Beyonce or Maxwell. Which isn’t to say that one can’t detect similarities to those artists here; they’re just not the only, or even the main, reference points. Which is a clumsy and roundabout way of saying that FKA Twigs (from Gloucestershire, 26, former backing dancer for Ed Sheeran and Kylie Minogue) lives in that space between genres which so much post-broadband music inhabits.

FKA Twigs’ music also lives in another, more specific space; the space that surrounds sex between human adults. LP1 is… I’m hesitant to use the word ‘explicit’, but the eroticism and lust on display here are way beyond being implicit: “when I trust you we can do it with the lights on”; “I can fuck you better than her”; “my thighs are apart for when you’re ready to breathe in”. While not every song is quite this upfront and overtly sexual, there’s a strong tone and atmosphere that pervades the whole record. The fact that the final song is pretty explicitly about masturbation leaves little doubt that you’ve misinterpreted the mood.

This isn’t just titillation for the aural equivalent of the male gaze, though; although hearing female voices sing explicitly about sex and love from and for their own perspectives (rather than for a male audience) isn’t as rare as one might think (or as we’re lead to believe, possibly) (just this year we’ve heard St Vincent sing about masturbation, Karen O release an album called Crush Songs, and Tanya Tagaq release an extraordinarily sensual and political album dedicated to the missing and murdered aboriginal women of Canada), the sexuality on display here may well make men feel uncomfortable rather than aroused, and the emotions that accompany the actions described feel very much as if they’re coming from a female perspective rather than pandering to a male one. It’s intimate and private rather than exhibitionist, and every erotic action has an emotional fulcrum and fallout, even if not a motivation.

Likewise the musical content, although defiantly modern and sumptuous, is low-key and subtle, in terms of both melodies and beats; these are pop songs, but they’re not bangerz, and although there might be nods to multiple stripes of modern dance music there aren’t any crass drops in evidence, imbuing LP1 with both sophistication and intrigue.

Rob listened: I’ve been around the houses with LP1. I went through a phase of putting it on as  background music, and in that role I found it very easy to reach for. I like the palette and the restraint. It’s nice. A nice sound. I tried to listen to it more closely a couple of times but it slipped out of my grasp. I found it an easy record to walk away from. Listening to it with with Tom and Nick, both of whom have already spent a reasonable amount of time with it, I found it similarly evasive. I’d go so far as to say it seemed indistinct. After the meeting I decided I was fed up of it. We have enough woozy postmodern ambient dance scapes to last the rest of the decade don’t we. Isn’t LP1 just another to chuck on the pile?

Now, listening once more on headphones, it sounds utterly fabulous. Rich in detail, deeply resonant and cut through with dark undertows. Plus, and here’s the thing, the songs are first rate, each one hiding at least one moment that forces you to close your eyes and nod whilst an icicle is forced gently through your heart.

I’d planned to write about how I’d decided I can do without FKA Twigs in my life. I’ve changed my mind.

Tom listened: I have bought precious few records this year, mainly through lack of inspiration, so I was pleased when, a couple of weeks ago I picked up FKA Twigs and had something, at least, to play at our albums of the year meeting.

On first listen I thought I had discovered a massive flaw in my thinking…I hated the lyrical content of the first few tracks of LP1 to such an extent that even before the fourth track, Hours, had finished I was already wondering whether the record shop would allow me to return a record that had already been played. Great! I chance my arm on a record after months of abstainance and it turns out to be a dud. So much for album of the year!

But, but , but…a few more plays and it really does begin to sound like album of the year material. Sure, the lyrical content is still about a cringeworthily (I know that’s not a word) explicit as I can bear – that’s not going to change with exposure, is it! – but I barely notice it now, because the songs are just so damn good. The record is so crisp, the songwriting so innovative, the album so hard to pin down in terms of genre. Best of all, for me, is its unpredictability. Crescendos are missed, vocals drop out, songs slow down, speed up. It should be a mess but it works brilliantly. So the apparent flaws I felt were insurmountable at first have been well and truly neutered and I had been gearing up to producing LP1 at our last meeting of the year, looking forwards to announcing to all and sundry that my album of the year was yet another solo female singer-songwriter…when Nick goes and ruins it all prematurely. I guess now I’ll have to go out and buy something else. Here’s to hoping lightning really does strike twice!

Against Me! – ‘Transgender Dysphoria Blues’: Round 72 – Rob’s choice

Transgender Dysphoria BluesThere’s been some discussion here recently about hipsters, vampires, locusts and dilettantes. Accusations have been flung, recriminations have been slung. Mostly at me. Mostly by me.

Some of my favourite parts of the stories we uncover during our Record Club ramblings are to do with the routes we take to find particular artists and records. Some we hear first, one way or another. Some we read about and pursue, some flicker of interest having been ignited. Some come recommended. Some we lunge towards for unspecified, perhaps unknown reasons. When we get there, some of us trouble ourselves about how and why we arrived. Conditioning tells us to value those records and artists found through some pseudo-organic process, following connections, ignoring external influence – as if that were possible – and somehow tracing a path of truth to the music that beats within our souls.

When we are led to stuff we sometimes feel like we cheated, which is stupid, or like we’re acting the hipster, arriving late at someone else’s party and trying to act like you we were there from the start, despite clearly not knowing any of the rules. I’m a hipster for Against Me! who, despite having been around for 17 years, have only just registered with me. I’m not sure it’s possible to be a hipster arriviste when referencing an album that reached number 23 on the Billboard Chart. However, this is Against Me!’s sixth album, and I’d basically never heard of them before. And here’s the thing…

The reasons I wanted to listen to this record were the positive reviews and because I read about singer Laura Jane Grace transitioning to become a woman. One of the reasons I kept remembering that I meant to get around to listening to the record was the striking illustration of a disembodied breast on the cover. Sticks in the mind, the more you see it.

Those all seem like things I should apologise for.

[Here we go, more sclerotic inner conflict from Rob the self-flaggelating dilettante – just shut up and get on with it you hang-dog wazzock.]

Bear with me.

It does seem a little, shall-we-say, crass, callous, rubbernecked, to investigate a record partly because you read that the singer used to be a man and is now a woman and neither were Genesis P Orridge. Maybe, maybe not. All I can say is that this element of the Against Me! story stuck in my mind, and yes, seems to have generated a profile boost – or is that just me as well? – and ultimately, I check the album out.

Throughout ’Transgender Dysphoria Blues’ Laura Jane Grace takes our curiosity and forces it much deeper down our throats than we thought it might go. You may arrive in part wondering what a transgender woman looks and sounds like when fronting a punk band, but you’ll soon be confronting what a transgender woman feels like when trying to live her life. The record is, as might be expected, specifically concerned with Grace’s experience as a transexual.

Musically it’s direct, rattling rock and roll, played straight and with gusto. There are few artful touches, no flavour of the avant-garde. Against Me! are frequently described as ‘punk’ but in sound they’re nowhere near very much music I would stick that label to. This is tub-thumping, stage-strutting rock music bristling with air-punch hooks and holler-along melodies, and it does that thing with fizzing energy and thrilling gusto. Every so often a rock record will come along and remind you just how amped good, sharp rock records can make you feel.

Meanwhile, if punk is an attitude, and if that attitude is about outsider-ship, being yourself and expressing that directly and unapologetically, then Laura Jane Grace is about as punk as they come. This is the band’s sixth long-player and since the fifth she’s been transitioning to become a woman. The best, most bracing, most air-punching thing about the whole album is that rather than make a downbeat record about how tough that absolutely certainly must be, she’s written a bunch of songs that, despite their often bluntly dark and despairing lyrics, are delivered with such attack, such righteous defiance, that they leave you thinking about nothing other than how fucking amazing she sounds and acts. And why the hell not?

It’s bracing, direct and straight-talking. It’s perhaps a shame to reflect on how remarkable that is, but before we bemoan any lack of directness in other songwriters, remember just how difficult it is to be this concise, this expressive, this communicative. There are lots of lines strewn across the record’s 29 minutes which come over as unpolished and raw. Why not? If you have something to say, a feeling which you know how to communicate, laying a gauze of poetic artistry over it is obscurantism.

More than anything, ‘Transgender Dysphoria Blues’ feels like a full, unadulterated dose of someone else’s reality, one which you really couldn’t imagine clearly for yourself. And in this age of communication overload, communication this direct still feels like quite an achievement.

Nick listened: Very glad Rob brought this along because, like him, I’d read quite a bit about it earlier in the year, having not really heard of Against Me! except in the most vague way before, and was intrigued to hear it.

Strip away the nature of Laura Jane Grace’s story and the extraordinary directness of the way she tells it and expresses the emotions she’s been through via these songs, and I’d have no interest in Against Me! at all; there are, I suspect, a thousand punkrock bands across the UK and the US doing not dissimilar stuff in terms of riffs and rhythms and shouty choruses (I’ve know of plenty just in and around Exeter over the years), and I have pretty much zero interest in any of it aesthetically. So yes, there’s a sense of voyeurism or tokenism involved in paying attention to and appreciating this record, which borders on being uncomfortable. Furthermore, as someone unfamiliar with how the mechanics of this genre work on an intimate level, I have no idea whatsoever if these particular riffs, rhythms, and shouty choruses are amongst the best that punkrock has to offer, or if they’re entirely mediocre.

But concerns like that are pretty much irrelevant, because the subject matter renders this album, for one listen and concurrent read-through of the lyric sheet at least, a fascinating, moving, and enlightening experience. I don’t know that I’d want to listen to Transgender Dysphoria Blues again for purely ‘musical reasons’ (whatever that means), but musical reasons are seldom the only reasons for listening to music anyway.

Tom listened: I feel a little bit guilty about what I am going to write here because, if I’m totally honest, all I can recall about TDB is the way I felt about it when it was playing rather than what it actually sounded like. But I remember thinking, in much the same way as Nick, that without the lyrics, this record is pretty unremarkable (hope I am not misinterpreting you here Nick – if so, I humbly apologise). The energy is admirable, the riffs are tight, the songs have hooks and melodies sure, but they seemed too predictable to draw the listener in and, in direct contrast to LP1, there seemed to be very few twists and turns…moments where I thought, ‘Christ, didn’t see that one coming’. That, in itself, is not necessarily a pre-requisite of a good record but I couldn’t help feeling that Against Me seemed to have spent a disproportionate amount on the lyrics, leaving the music to work itself out as something of an afterthought.

I didn’t really notice the lyrics…!