John Coltrane – Coltranology Volume 2: Round 82 – Tom’s Selection

R-1141194-1254766188.jpegIn the end my decision to bring Coltranology Volume 2 to Record Club was sealed by my reflections on Rob’s offering at the previous round. I was so taken by Buddy Holly’s greatest hits that I more-or-less immediately acquired a copy of his second album; an album which is spectacular in its raw, unfettered simplicity. I have listened to it a lot since I bought it, becoming dangerously addicted in the process. But, as our themed night grew ever nearer, I had to go looking through my collection for an instrumental album (we had to find some way of stopping Mitchell singing along) and I thought the fact that John Coltrane was making music so complex and demanding at roughly the same point in time that Buddy Holly was releasing his music would make for a neat comparison. So I chose the second volume of Coltrane’s little known 1962 live album, Coltranology. Coincidentally, I also really like it!

In comparison to today, music must have seemed to offer so little choice back then – looking back it seems as though the options were rock’n’roll, easy listening or jazz. And whilst I can now appreciate the skill and innovation of Holly’s simple tunes, I am sure I would have gravitated towards jazz if I had been consuming music at the turn of the 60s, drawn to its outsider attitude and thrilling  unpredictability, whilst simultaneously sneering at the ridiculous sappy pap on offer elsewhere. But, funnily enough, my 2015 self and jazz have a far less easy relationship than I imagine I would have had had there been so little to choose from and I have numerous jazz albums in my collection that I have no desire to go near again, with or without barge pole.

I recall Graham writing, in his response to Fiona Apple’s The Idler Wheel…, that he either likes an artist to stick to the rules or completely break them, suggesting that Ms Apple did neither. I guess I’m the opposite, preferring those who tinker, bend and shape their music away from the familiar, whilst still providing a safety net of familiarity. That’s probably why I am drawn to this live album from 1962 rather than Coltrane’s slightly safer earlier output or the cacophony he whipped up on his later, perhaps more heralded, albums. The four tracks on Coltranology Volume 2 constantly teeter on the brink of collapse but, crucially for me, Coltrane reins in his instincts to go entirely stratospheric just enough to provide sufficient structure to give the listener something to hang on to, to look forwards to, to recognise! Maybe it’s not as groundbreaking as what was to come next, but I know what I would rather be listening to! Coltranology Volume 2 was the first John Coltrane album I acquired and, whilst I have gone on to add Meditations, Giant Steps and A Love Supreme to my collection, it is the runt of the litter that I find so hard to resist, offering, as it does, just enough light and shade to make it captivating, thrilling and, to my mind at least, accessible enough.

Rob listened: I know where Tom is coming from. Much as my own musical devotions have mostly been shaped by the lean, brutal simplicity of rock and roll, had I been around when the form was being hewn out then I would probably have been too much of a jazz snob to have given it any headspace whatsoever. Which would presumably have left me a jazz aficionado who missed out on ‘Sister Ray’ and ‘Trout Mask Replica’ and yes, even the Haxan Cloak. As it goes, I dabble a (very) little in Jazz, but with a gleeful lack of knowledge, which I value in this context.  Some of it I really like, some of it I would like to like, some of it I admire, some of it I can’t take seriously. I heard an edition of Sound Opinions recently that offered ‘A Rock Fan’s Guide To Jazz‘. Therein, John Corbett talked about his breakthrough with Jazz being the moment he realised there was nothing to ‘get’. From that point he just went with it, dived deeper into the stuff he liked and stayed away from the stuff he didn’t without trying to figure any of it out. I can dig that. At the same time I can totally buy Steve Albini’s famously dismissive views on the form. However i’m feeling on any given day, what never fails to amaze me is just how wild some of this stuff still sounds, 50 or 60 years after it was recorded.

The first side of this record was as crazed as the most wilfully abrasive black metal or disembodied electronica. The second side was a bit more beautiful. Put together, they made a fine listen.

Nick Listened: Writing this months after the fact – my own fault – makes remembering what I thought of this record pretty difficult. I remember it seemed pretty muddy in terms of sound quality (old live recording, vinyl), and that I thought this probably detracted from its impact a little. Bits, as Rob suggests, of the second side were really quite beautiful, bits of the first side had that jazz thing that I don’t always quite get, where it genuinely sounds like people are playing entirely different things from each other, and I’m not – despite owning and loving a lot of jazz – quite musical enough to get what they’re doing. Interestingly, Miles Davis (who I rarely suffer from that problem with) described Coltrane (in an interview in about 1982) as a ‘selfish’ musician, something which made sense to me. I’ve always preferred Miles to Coltrane; the latter seemed to quest further and further into himself, looking for new intensities, while the former seemed to be always moving outwards, looking for new canvases to paint his trumpet over.

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Dawn Of Midi – Dysnomia: Round 82, Nick’s choice

dysnomiaThis record immediately jumped into my head on the term ‘instrumental’ being suggested as the theme for our next meeting, and no matter how much I’ve thought about it, or what else I’ve listened to, nothing else has come close to dislodging it. Apart, perhaps, from …Endtroducing by DJ Shadow, which is too long to play.

I first saw mention of Dysnomia in the comments underneath my review of Open by The Necks for The Quietus some 18 months ago, where someone name-checked it as another modern, minimalist jazz album worth checking out. In an uncharacteristic move, I listened to a chunk of it online straight away, and was impressed, so hunted down the CD and ordered it the same day. It’s been in semi-regular rotation ever since.

Dawn of Midi are based in Brooklyn (isn’t everyone these days?), but formed at Cal Arts, and are called Qasim Naqvi (drums), Aakaash Israni (upright bass), and Amino Belyamani (grand piano). The music they play is ostensibly instrumental jazz, but you could easily hear it as closer in tone to minimal electronic music; they produce incredibly taut, repetitive, and satisfying grooves that put you in mind of intricate clockwork machinery, simple shapes arranged in complex patterns that overlap, interlock, and affect each other in subtly developmental ways.

Dysnomia was recorded live and the nine tracks, which run to a total of 46 minutes, segue seamlessly into one another like a single improvised composition. I’m aware that those two words together are oxy-moronic, but for a long time I genuinely have no idea whether these three musicians played completely off the cuff or whether they micromanage what they do in advance; it could have been either and I’d still have been impressed. As it happens, this really interesting interview with them reveals that it is micro-composed and rehearsed to within an inch of its life; three rehearsals a week for two years, until they played “like three people from the same village playing folk music their whole life together”. The interview also gives fascinating insight into their backgrounds, methodologies, and influences.

In terms of layman comparisons, The Necks are an obvious one, as is Steve Reich, but so are Tortoise, Portico Quartet, Nicolas Jaar, La Dusseldorf, Four Tet, and plenty of other people. Basically anything repetitive and minimal, but they also remind me of Fugazi, somehow, if Fugazi were a minimal, repetitive jazz / pseudo-electronic outfit rather than ragingly progressive post-hardcore punks.

Dysnomia is an alluring, intriguing record. It reveals everything it has to offer within the first few seconds, pretty much, and yet I’ve found myself going back to it endlessly over the last 18 months, playing it over and over, even just thinking about it and feeling a desire to play it at moments when I couldn’t. It lures you into a trance, compels you to move, creates a structure within your mind that allows other thoughts to occur even as it seems to occupy your attention. It feels very pure to me; Platonic, I guess, like an essence of an idea.

Rob listened: This was lovely, an intricate, ever-shifting machine set up and set off just for our wonder and pleasure. The sounds themselves were solid, meaningful, shaped and balanced. The slowly extending and contracting patterns were utterly fascinating. The idea that these three guys rehearsed to the point where they could play this stuff live is incredible, and gives this precise, abstract and delicately balanced piece an underlying sense of joyful humanity.

Tom listened: Firstly I’d like to get the obvious out of the way. This was a beautiful, intimate, addictive listen, with just enough variation along the way to keep me hooked in and fend off those ’emperor’s new clothes’ demons that often come calling when things get a little too minimal.

Almost as fascinating for me as the music itself is the fact that this and John Coltrane could fall under the same genre title. If you were an alien and were told that both these records (that is, Dysnomia and Coltranology Volume 2) were this thing known as ‘Jazz’, you’d surely head off home thinking this species were crazy. But the odd thing is that, however faint, you can just about hear the links, and can appreciate how, over time, one may have led (albeit via a very circuitous route) to the other; something to do with the innovation, the precision, the realisation of a singular vision..and the fact that they are not obviously anything else!

The Haxan Cloak – ‘Excavation’: Round 82 – Rob’s choice

the haxan cloak - excavationThe Haxan Cloak is Bobby Krlic, a musician, composer and producer from West Yorkshire, by way of Brighton. His eponymous debut album was recorded in his parents shed, with Krlic playing every instrument, a remarkable feat considering the end result which is the sound of a strong quartet performing a sludge metal opera based on a Dennis Wheatley novel.

2013’s ‘Excavation’ is a thematic continuation of that first record. Krlic has talked about them as a pair of concept albums over the course of which a central character moves from life through death and into something beyond. If death is the final frontier, then judging by ‘Excavation’ its territory is utterly unrecognisable. Where the debut record could have been a dark and foreboding piece of contemporary chamber music, this sequel is an entirely different experience.

It’s black as pitch, a chasm with a floor that can only be detected by the echo of bass depth charges as they ripple up from below. The palette is electronic, and throughout are scattered semi-familiar sounds that serve partly to lull the listener by presenting something familiar, before casting it into the void. There are beats, emerging and enveloping, but rather than convey motion or structure they drift in like the sound of a slowly extibguishing heartbeat, or the skitter and scratch of twitching neurons.

It’s difficult to describe ‘Excavation’ as a listening experience. The sense of both space and detail that Krlic creates is overwhelming. Listening to it on a system with significant bass output, as we did this evening, the record seems to surge out into the room and construct an entire world around you. There are sub-structures being built just below the range of normal hearing, entire sections of the music that play out in the bones and the skin and the walls and the floor.

The intention may be dark, but it’s beautiful too. If you buy the concept, then there is comfort to be drawn from staring into the abyss. If you don’t, then this is still a compelling and overwhelming achievement.

Tom listened: Well, I’m not sure the word ‘enjoy’ can really be used in the context of Excavation, but I came to within a whisker of it, especially as the album progressed (in some of the later ditties, the sounds of the record began to mix with something akin to a tune…in the loosest sense, admittedly).

In my response to Nick’s record from this round, Dawn of Midi, I compared it to John Coltrane…and I thought I may as well extend the comparison to this. Because it struck me on the night that both The Haxan Cloak and Coltrane are/were primarily interested in challenging their audience, and themselves, by pushing the boundaries of what we previously have perceived music to be. But whereas Coltrane looked to stretch the music beyond what had come before, Krlic is using sound and texture and a kind of lack of musicality to much the same effect. So whilst Coltrane played loads of notes – too many for some perhaps (according to Nick, Miles Davis struggled with Coltrane’s later output), The Haxan Cloak play next to none and, whilst this would normally be a bit of a turn off for me (and, to be honest, it was at times), Excavation reminded me of music just enough to keep me interested.

That said, if it had those horrible throaty death metal vocals over the top, I would have run a mile!

Green Day – Dookie: Round 81, Nick’s choice

Green_Day_-_Dookie_coverI interpreted the theme as “wtf is this doing here?”, and decided that the pick had to be something both stylistically incongruous and without clear reason for existence in the collection. This ruled out lots of potentials: I know exactly why Sugababes albums are in the collection, for instance, and they’re not incongruous because I won several. Even the solitary and very incongruous Will Young album is there because of a fantabulous single that I just had to own (“Switch It On”). There are, of course, lots of records that I can’t remember why I bought them, but very few of them also seem incongruous stylistically (“let’s buy some more minimal faux-jazz/techno/whatever”).

Which left this, the third record by Green Day, which came out just before my 15th birthday and was gifted to me, by my older brother, shortly after that birthday, and which seems completely incongruous sitting in between Al Green and Grizzly Bear. 14 songs, 39 minutes, lyrical concerns as diverse and deep as masturbating and smoking pot. I listened to it intensely for a few months, and then put it away and got into other stuff that sounded nothing like this, and I haven’t listened to this in the intervening 20+ years.

I remember my friend Adam being very impressed by the drummer when I was a teenager, and not really understanding why: I recall being told many moons ago that playing music, like driving, was much easier to do quickly, and much harder to do slowly, so as fast as Tré Cool’s drumrolls were, they never really impressed. (Not playing an instrument, I dunno if that car analogy is true; it’s certainly more awkward to creep along on the clutch than it is to cruise at 55mph, though.)

Why this was in the collection I wasn’t sure; although I can remember its origin, I was sure I’d purged the copy my brother gave me aeons ago, but maybe the fact that it was a gift compelled me to hang on to it. I certainly never intended or expected to listen to it again.

Was it worth listening to again? Not really; I stopped identifying with it and finding it amusing within a few months when I was a teenager, and the intervening decades have done nothing to redress that chasm which opened up between who I thought I was and who this record seemed to be about and for. In my 30s Dookie sounds even more puerile and one-dimensional than it used to, even if that dimension is one of snottily good fun. My hobbies – bikes and boardgames and football and CDs – may still be adolescent to the core, but this wasn’t going to appeal even to a guilty-pleasure-centre in my brain. There are some nice melodies, but it is very, very samey, and tied strictly to an aesthetic that I never really liked anyway.

Green Day, it should be noted, have sold 75 million albums over the last 21 years. That’s seventy-five million. 75,000,000. More than the population of the United Kingdom. Wtf?

Rob listened: Nice to hear this on the same evening as Bob Mould. I liked ‘Basket Case’ when it came out but the rest of it seemed cookie-cutter and just uninteresting on some way. The music, the attitude, the performance all seem to have taken just half a step back from the point of being different, dangerous, enticing. Whereas Mould and Husker Du worked an arguably similar furrow (much earlier) they had edges and hooks and burrs and despair and fights and joy all of which allowed their songs to grow into my heart. Green Day seemed instead like something pre-packaged to pluck from a shelf I don’t need to visit any more.

Tom listened: Having never knowingly listened to Green Day before (unless they were the ones who did that Teenage Dirtbag song?) and having never felt the urge to, I came into Dookie with low expectations and a sinking heart. The dreadful album cover doesn’t help either!

It was alright I suppose.

But, as a result of losing my Green Day virginity, I am more confused than ever about music and my relationship with it, as in:

What were Green Day doing so right that they could sell millions and millions of records whilst countless other bands who sound similar (as in guitar based American indie) but better (Huskers, Replacements, Pixies, Buffalo Tom, Fugazi, Girls vs Boys) could only attract a fraction of their audience?

And what exactly were those other bands doing differently in terms of songwriting, musicianship and production that means they appeal to me so much whilst Green Day really don’t?

These are rhetorical questions!

Bob Mould – Bob Mould – Round 81 – Graham’s Choice

“How the hell did that get MI0001886192 into my record collection”, was always going to be a tricky one for me as I’d come upon the idea by bringing the Ozric’s to the last round. I had a lot of options which I’d like to pretend that I had no idea how they got there, but sadly I knew (or at least thought I did) what I was doing each time I purchased or swapped them with someone. I do in fact recall once swapping a ‘Men at Work’ album, for a Genesis LP. There were no winners in that transaction.

So other than pretend I had no idea how my choice came to be in my possession, I had to go with one I picked up in a impulse purchase in a charity shop last year. Along with ‘Everything but the Girl’, ‘Glasvegas’ and ‘Athelete’, ‘Bob’ came in to my possession for a mere £1.

But what’s peculiar about ‘Bob’ is he has been around me for many years, but taken till now for me to buy in to some ‘product’, even though it was just a £1. I saw Husker Du a couple of times in the mid 80’s, had their albums on C90’s. Always like the sound of Sugar (and will be seeking to reacquaint myself with those again), but never added them to my collection. So a chance meeting in a charity shop in Buckingham, finally got us together.

His third solo album and first post Sugar. Although he plays everything on the album and does the whole thing single-handedly, it doesn’t sound at all overly introspective. The songs are fresh and immediate. Riffs and hooks pulling you in from the beginning, while darker and bitter lyrics keep your attention as to what he is trying to say.

There was never going to be a great story to this choice, just a cracking little album I came upon by chance.

Rob listened: Ah, Bob. How do we love thee? Let us count the ways… Actually, let’s not as they probably amount to ‘amazing, distinctive melodies played on amazing, buzzsaw guitars by an amazing, distinctive vocalist’. Let’s instead reflect on the irony that Husker Du are one of the long-running sub-plots of DRC. There’s barely a meeting goes by without Tom and I retiring to a metaphorical ante-chamber to discuss which of their albums we would bring if we could only stop playing ‘After you Claude!’ and pussyfooting around who’s musical birthright it is to introduce them to the club. And yet Mould makes his album-length entrance heralded by the words ‘WTF? I got this in a charity shop!’

‘Bob Mould’ is a solid, occasionally great post Sugar record, as in it’s a step back to what most people think Mould does best (see earlier). I love ‘Workbook’ and ‘Black Sheets of Rain’ but they are outliers of their own in the context of his body of work. It’s no accident that this is the record he put his name to and since it came out he’s been building once again on the foundation, towards the recent ‘Silver Age’ and ‘Beauty and Ruin’, two late-period belters.

So, should it be ‘Candy Apple Grey’ or ‘Flip Your Wig’?