Teardrop Explodes – Kilimanjaro: Round 95 – Steve’s Selection


Why on earth haven’t we played this album yet? This could be a question asked by the arch Drude himself, so full of ego (or ergot) he is, was, that the man seeks attention. Perhaps it is the cocky swagger of this debut of Mr Cope that sets a precedent of many more pretenders to come. All leather trousered and snake hips, snapping the minds of the youth. Yet, few have sounded quite like this album. Few sounded like it at the time. A post-punk psychedelic revival? XTC would later develop their own psychedelia through the Dukes of the Stratosphear, but nobody else had the gall surely? Here was a man astride a white piano on Top of the Pops LSD’d up to the eyeballs, appearing on the front cover of Smash Hits and sharing a house with a pre-Nirvana Courtney Love. Please God this is rock and roll! But enough of the image and the what for the music?

The opener ‘Ha Ha I’m Drowning’ has a horn section on it, which immediately jarred with me when I first heard it against a backdrop of punk. This combined however with the ghostly mellotron (I think it is a mellotron) and the crashing guitars, incredibly tight rhythmic drumming sends you immediately into an off-kilter bonkers go crazy dance across the floor. The horns and repeating lyrics (“You can watch rafferty turn into a serial”….”I just wander around”….”It’s just like Sleeping Gas. Oh so ethereal”) on ‘Sleeping Gas’ also lead you into what seems to be describing a drug induced nightmare. Is it a bad trip? He’s babbling, but trying to make sense of it all at the same time. Cope’s dalliances with hallucinogenic substances are well documented, and yet it is documented here so vividly and yet in a jolly distinctly English style. Perhaps the analogies with Syd Barrett are fair here, although there’s a distinctly post-punk feeling to this. It’s not the psychedelia of the 60s, nor the 80s. Cope interprets his descent himself, wobbling out of control. ‘Treason’ was the first single I think. I knew Cope’s nephew at University in Leeds and he told me the whole family had to buy a copy of the 45 when it came out. They viewed young Julian with some despair apparently. Later on in the album, on my favourite track (‘Bouncing Babies’) he sees his poisoned status in the family unit

“I was a poisoned child
I was fighting for my life
Clinging to something
Fighting for anything”

On ‘Brave Boys Keep Their Promises’ he notes

“Fighting with your relatives
You’ve got your mother and your father and your brothers to Your aunts and your uncles are all against you”

‘Poppies in the Field’ is perhaps one of the weaker tracks on the first side, but there’s an accomplished range of instrumentation, with sounds that can only be fitted into a psyche of the late 70s/early 80s. The album’s production, by Bill Drummond (later of KLF of course, who we have covered and talked about a lot) and Dave Balfe future-proofs the sound like Martin Hannett did with Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures (what we haven’t covered that album either…with arguably the best opener of any post-punk album?). Cope growls on the first track on the second side (‘Went Crazy’), more overtly talking about his evolving and declining mental state (“Je suis suicide, je suis pain. Jabber indecision here we go again, I’m going (insane?)”). Perhaps this fame thing is too much for him? Drummond is alleged to have pushed him a little too far in his creative approach (there were legends about sliding acid tabs down a ruler into his mouth). He’s also alleged to have manipulated the Teardops and Echo and the Bunneymen to play simultaneous gigs in Rekjayvik and New Zealand along an ancient ley-line (you couldn’t make this up?). The chronicling of chronic depression and loss of mind through drug induced mania is no celebration of youthful abandon on this album. Far from it, more a warning to the intrepid journeyman. Cope exiled himself in Barrett-like seclusion in Tamworth (where he lived as a pre-Teardrop), an image he has tried to shake off. He re-emerged later with odd solo excursions (‘World Shut Your Mouth’ and ‘Fried’ being two examples) and we are of course indebted to him for chronicling Krautrock, Japrock and standing stones (‘Krautrocksampler’, ‘Japrocksampler’ and ‘The Modern Antiquarian’). Cope the scholar, or literary agent of the mind is brought to the fore on the last 3 tracks on this album, pointing to more eclectic musical styles, and less reliance on verse-chorus-verse structure that would sell singles at the time. ‘Thief of Baghdad’ is story-like, prosaic, with eastern influences milking through the patchwork of a wandering and fractured mind. The last track opens like early Depeche Mode (maybe they got their influence from here?) but quickly descends from the tight pop structure to the more open and surreal. And there it is. The end. For two glorious years Julian Cope was pinup number 1, on Top of the Pops and yet helter skeltering uncontrollably into a drug psychosis. Hardly what the established Radio 1 vanguards of the youth in the 1980s would call an example to teenage children, drowning drowning, and so the track fades and we hear no more like it then, or will hear it like it since……down the rabbit hole we go. Utterly brilliant.

Tom listened: Now, The Teardrop Explodes I knew of…Reward I had actually heard…but I’m not sure I had even heard of Kilimanjaro the album before Steve pulled it out of his bag on the evening.

More fool me because it’s a great record. A tad homogenous perhaps (most of the songs sounded like a bit of a rehash of the aforementioned single to be honest) but when the single is THAT good what does it matter. Loved this from start to finish…in another, better, world, perhaps this would have fitted the theme even more closely!


Laura Nyro AND LABELLE – Gonna Take A Miracle: Round 94, Nick’s choice

nyroI could, and should, have just gone for the safe choice, and picked something from this year that I knew no one else owned because we’d talked about it, like Anna Meredith or Thee Oh Sees. Or some semi-obscure electronica like Akufen or Superpitcher. Or some bloody modern British jazz, like I pick every other bloody round anyway. But no, I tried to be a bit clever, and pick something by someone that somebody might have heard of. Tom asked what year it was from. When I said 1971 he replied that he owned something by EVERYBODY from 1971. And he does, the bastard. So Laura Nyro AND LABELLE cost me a tenner. Unfairly, I might add, because this album of sumptuous, fangirl covers of the soul, R’n’B, doo-wop, girl-group, Brill Building and Motown that Laura adored growing up as a teenager in the Bronx is most definitely a collaboration, and Tom only actually owns a live album by Laura Nyro which features no LaBelle at all whatsoever, making this, I think, a record by a substantively different artist.

Anyway, quibbling aside, Gonna Take A Miracle is produced by Gamble & Huff, who are basically the architects of that sumptuous Philly soul sound, and it is lush (but not, note, overblown). Laura’s a good enough singer on her own, but backed up by Patti LaBelle, Nona Hendryx, and Sarah Dash, as well as the formidable musicianship of Gamble & Huff’s session band, she becomes part of something absolutely formidable, and not a little bit gorgeous. It’s a record made by great musicians as a tribute to the great music they grew up with, and as such it’s full of love.

There’s not a great deal else to say about Gonna Take A Miracle; it’s soul music, and it’s fabulous. I don’t have a back story with it particularly – I bought it years and years ago after reading about its status as a bit of a lost classic. I might argue that it contains the definitive versions of “Jimmy Mack” and “Nowhere To Run”, but arguing about this music seems churlish to say the least. Just enjoy it.

Mitski – Puberty 2: round 93, Nick’s choice

Erika_12JKT EPS_r3Frankly I’ve become rubbish at writing since I had a kid; my free time has been eroded, and I’d rather spend it on a bicycle or hanging out watching TV with my wife rather than hunched over a laptop typing. Hence the tardiness in writing this post, and the brevity of some of my recent responses. I am sure that you, faithful reader, are feeling pangs of yearning for more verbose times . (Today is a good day to post this, however, as Wikipedia tells me that tomorrow is Mitski’s birthday.)

So then, Mitski. I’d never heard of her before this earlier this year, when I noticed Puberty 2 sitting near the top of the Metacritic top albums list. The last time I noticed a solo artists I’d never heard of before on there was St Vincent in 2009, so I figured she was worth a punt. And she is!

Puberty 2 is, basically, an indie rock record; there are guitars, and bass, and drums (along with [synthetic, I assume] trumpets, and keyboards, and stuff), and a woman singing about identity and heartbreak and dreams belonging. There’s nothing here that hasn’t been done before, and many times, but Mitski does it very well: perhaps her half-Japanese, half-American heritage (“your mother wouldn’t approve / of how my mother raised me / but I do / I finally do”) offers a slightly different perspective; perhaps the fact that she studied music at university in New York state gives her a compositional edge. Perhaps we should ignore the ontology and just listen to the tunes?

There’s a definite 90s alt.rock aesthetic to a good chunk of Puberty 2: the crunchy guitars that aren’t afraid to reach a dynamic crescendo (get a load of the grinding, swooning climaxes in “Your Best American Girl”), and the distorted vocals that reveal emotional tension by masking it could be from 1996.

This is probably just cultural privilege and cliché, but Mitski‘s voice wasn’t what I expected either; it’s a much tougher, more strident vehicle, and reminds me of someone who I can’t quite place. (On the night Rob said, instantly, Angel Olsen, but at that point I’d never knowingly heard Angel Olsen, so it wasn’t her – though I’ve since bought her new record and there’s a definite similarity. Tom said St Vincent, but that didn’t scratch the itch either.)

Puberty 2 is incredibly hooky; this year it’s Mitski’s tunes that are buzzing around my head: from the gentle refrain of “I Bet On Losing Dogs” to the thrashy, discordant blasphemy of “My Body Is Made Of Crushed Little Stars” and the poppy rush of “Happy”. If I was 17 rather than 37 I think I’d be soaking this album in, playing it over and over again and using it as a scab and a balm and an exorcism. As it is I’m just appreciating it on some kind of artistic level, and faintly wishing I was 20 years younger.

I doubt the others can even remember it by now…

Moulettes – Preternatural: Round 94 – Steve’s Selection


I’m well aware that the DRC have issues with progressive rock, but musical allergic rashes aside I feel that this album offers a fresh take on the so-called genre. It would however also be wrong to merely categorise Moulettes as even folk-rock, let along progressive rock, since there is much more depth to this album. The sounds are complex, and yes although there is a theme running through of a celebration of the mysterious creatures that inhabit our earth (some mythical?) it is not, I promise you, a prog rock record. This is not Yes’ ‘Tales from Topographic Oceans’, although I am sure that there’s some influence in there somewhere (….). It is not Jethro Tull either, but again, there is probably some influence there too. The opening track ‘Behemoth’ is an aural cavalcade. Although not on horseback, the sound may be riding through the sea astride the mythical Behemoth itself. Gasping delightful vocal harmonies are interspersed with a riff that sounds like an electric guitar, but I believe is actually a cello (played by the talented Hannah Miller). As an opener it leaves no room for doubt, this is a rock record and it packs punch from start to finish. But as I say, not just rock though…

World music and the far-east simmer underneath under ‘Patterns’ and I hear Kate Bush in ‘Medusa’, breakbeats on ‘Parasite’ interspersed with power riffs that could be out of any folk-rock crossover of the 1970s, but given new life here on fully mature arrangements covering new ground for a modern audience of any persuasion. It’s that broader appeal that the Moulettes have managed to achieve on this album, perhaps more so than their other outings (this is their 4th studio album), without sacrificing their soon and deep folk/psychedleic/progressive rock roots.

Their craft and musicianship is undoubted here. Many have made reference to their live performances, but I have issue with bands that rely solely on the adage  ‘they sound much better live’. Performance has stand on its own two feet and maybe draw you to the live experience. The production and sound on Preternatural is outstanding, and stands alone without the need to rely on a live rendition – although I am sure they the live shows are very much something to behold. Given this though there is what I interpret to be a lament to the loss of talented singers (on ‘Bird of Paradise Pt 2’) – is this about the loss of craft through the X-factor generation (?) and the loss of wildlife through climate change (?). There’s plenty of depth lyrically to this album, within each of the songs, and credits would suggest some deep political motivations behind them.

The final track on the album (‘Silk’) is one of the standout tracks. Opening with ethereal vocals with drop liquid-like beats, and later samples of sci-fi films, and on the topic of the material itself. Being a scientist who works on natural fibres I can’t help but love the subject matter itself, but what I like most is the ending (on the vinyl version), with the run out groove endlessly repeating…..daring, and a nice touch.

So, if you don’t like prog (I do) don’t be put off. This album has more to give, and influences well beyond easy pigeonholing. Oh, and one day, I will see them live too….

Rob listened: This seemed to be our designated talker-overer for the evening (there’s always one) but even so, there was plenty to dig into in this sprawling, careening affair. For a start, we struggled to decide what it was. That’s helpful for Moulettes, I guess. As Steve has noted, we struggle sometimes to divest ourselves of certain genre prejudices. This thing was like quicksilver, flowing through the gaps between styles. And whilst I’m allergic to the more knowing, self-indulgent end of prog, I can’t deny an affection for a certain type of pastoral psyche-tinged folk, and ‘Preternatural’ seemed to sail more on that bearing. Still, there were sounds chucked in there that hit like nails down an eighties synthesized blackboard. I can’t claim to have fallen completely for Moulettes, but ‘Preternatural’ certainly made me want to listen more, rather than less.

Steve’s further comment: Stop talking over my records…..

Tom listened: I almost really liked this….but a couple of things put me off. I liked the singer’s voice and most of the instrumentation but, as Rob has said in his response, every so often Moulettes would throw in a jarring prog rock trope (is there any other kind?) and my teeth would be set on edge, a cold sweat would break out and a little piece of me would die…mainly because it all felt so unnecessary; a perfectly good tune (Silk being a case in point) spoilt, as far as I was concerned, by the band seemingly feeling the need get the prog rock box ticked on their Allmusic profile. A shame as victory was so nearly theirs!

Oh, and then there’s the album cover!

Ought – ‘More Than Any Other Day’: Round 94 – Rob’s choice

oughtImitation is the sincerest form of flattery, they say. Or is that sarcasm? Anyway, flattery will also get you nowhere. No, hang on, that can’t be right, cos this record is gloriously imitative and it goes to all the right places, at least for those who grew up on spiky, exploratory underground guitar sounds coming out of US college towns in the late 80s early 90s. i.e. me.

Let’s start again. I can boil this down for you. This record sounds like lots of others, and that’s great.

Much like the Meilyr Jones album Tom brought to the last Record Club, the trick here, hang on, that’s not fair, it’s not a trick, a swizz, a rip-off… the secret here is that ‘More Than Any Other Day’ is a record that weaves its influences and its references through its DNA. Rather than hit them like a series of targets, it works with the raw material of the band’s favourite sounds and then allows these to bubble to the surface as and when they need to. It’s a group of four young men making music influenced by the sounds they love. Is that a crime? What? No it isn’t? Okay then. I’m glad we got that one sorted out.

Let’s be clear, this is no pop-post-hardcore party piece. The Montreal foursome run the gamut from Talking Heads and The Pop Group up through classic Dischord, think the searching geometric patterns of Lungfish, Shudder to Think, Circus Lupus. Somewhere in the background someone strikes a guitar and it goes ‘SKIIING’. The For Carnation, Seam and Bitch Magnet hove into and out of view. There’s a moment at the beginning of the title track that, viewed from a distance, is the moment at the beginning of ‘Breadcrumb Trail’ which is the moment at the beginning of ‘Spiderland’ by Slint and that is not something you want to be dabbling with unless you’re very sure of yourself.

And yet throughout this is not a set of knowing nudges, rather a long ticklish buzz to the musical memory. I’m getting old now. I’m 45, for heaven’s sake. As my performance at Record Club most weeks shows, I no longer have the encyclopedic grasp of (a very narrow slice of) the stuff that echoes around between whichever synapses fire when I feed them these sounds. I spend about 25% of my time at our gatherings declaring, of some minor detail of some record or other, ‘Oh yes, it sounds just like, oh wait, wait, I’ve got it… no. No I haven’t.” And so it is with Ought. The voice at the beginning of ‘The Weather Song’ is the absolute spit of… somebody else. It’s been driving me spare for about two years. But, that’s actually okay for me. In a weird and ultimately pleasurable way, what I get from an echo like that is a wobbly Proustian rush of all the music I used to know and love that used to, and I assume still does, sound like some of these sounds.

There are always records that sound like the records you like the sound of. No-one is doing this in complete isolation, producing sounds that relate to nothing. Even those bees sound a bit like Stars of the Lid or ‘Chill Out’. You can never keep hold of all the pieces of a subculture, never wrap your arms around a genre or, worse, keep it pinned down. And as of now, more than any other day, the connections go in all directions, backwards, forwards, sideways, upwards, downwards (like I said, all directions) in time and in space, as well as in politics, sensibilities, meanings. I get a real kick from this album. That’s perhaps partly explained, but certainly not diminished, by the connections I’m making and the reactions those connections are enabling.

Have I over-explained stuff you already knew enough for you now? Can’t we just get on and talk about the songs?

‘Pleasant Heart’ kicks off with energisingly bitey guitars and vocals, spiky, urgent, anxious. Good things. But the heart of the record comes in the next run of tracks. ‘Today More Than Any Other Day’ begins in Spiderland and then, over 5 minutes, accelerates and veers to somewhere completely different, building a rush of giddy existential joy, both liberated and liberating. Then comes ‘Habit’, one of my favourite songs of 2014. Imagine, if you will, that you are hunkered in a cell, contemplating your last night on earth when, just before your promised last meal arrives, a priest comes in to offer you some final absolution. You wave him away, but the priest is Christopher Walken, who precedes to crouch with you in the corner of the room, grasp both your hands in his, and tell you what’s on his mind, a surging sermon about absolution and addiction. ‘Habit’ is a bit like that.

All three songs feature guitars and drums of the sort I have previously alluded to. But they also feature Tim Darcy, a wonderfully lithe and animated vocalist who performs, rather than sings, his meanings. His voice shifts and pivots, sometimes mid-sentence. His yelps and gasps and barks are electrifying punctuations. He is the embodiment of the skinny, bespectacled college student jazzed to high hell on the possibilities of being in a powerful rock band. I have no idea of he wears spectacles. I guess he may have gone to college. I think I heard somewhere that they met at college.

He is Albini, David Byrne, Ian Svenonius, David Yow’s younger, calmer brother. He’s like the smart singer of that smart band you used to like but can’t quite remember but is actually a summation of all of the smart singers in all of the smart bands.

And that’s Ought. And the rest of the record is pretty much just as good. Good sounds, good band. Good.

Steve listened: Sounds like Talking Heads, like Pavement, oh there’s the Fall (as always) but I like Rob am cosseted with the familiar sounds of the music of my past. I liked this album and it was easy on my ear, but then it didn’t blow me away and awaken me to a new sound that I hadn’t heard before. I’d listen again though, quite happily. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but only if you mean it, and you do it well, and Ought seemed to have at least carried this off with aplomb. I’d be interested in hearing how they developed their own style later on and how they sounded after this “get it out of our system” album had passed through…

Tom listened: Rob emitted a little sigh as I put Robbie Basho to bed (not literally, I hasten to add) and then went on to mutter, in an uncharacteristically doubt-ridden manner, that he wasn’t sure his album would work well coming after Visions of the Country. Well…he needn’t have worried! By the end of More Than Any Other Day, Basho’s acoustic warblings had been all but wiped from my memory and if it hadn’t been past my own bedtime, I would have been reaching for my old Feelies/Shudder To Think/Jawbox albums.

Although, as Rob and Steve have both suggested, they are not really doing anything that hasn’t been heard before, in stark contrast to Parquet Courts (for whom I have really struggled to see what all the fuss is about), Ought are doing it really, really, really well! The playing is sharp yet loose, the singing is surprising and welcoming, the rhythms are infectious and, crucially, the band seem excited to be playing their music…they sound like a team having fun! I liked the album more and more as it went on and, by the end, I had fallen pretty much hook, line and sinker!

Robbie Basho – Visions Of The Country: Round 94 – Tom’s Selection

visions_PINAlthough I have had a healthy interest in music since I first discovered the records of the Beatles when I was about ten years of age, my obsessiveness developed into encyclopedic around the time I started university; a time which happened to coincide with my purchasing of the weekly music mags (partly as a way of avoiding my studies?) coupled with listening avidly to John Peel’s nightly radio show.

Of course, despite my voracious thirst for musical knowledge, there were many genres of music for which my research came up short, but when it comes to white American men strumming or plucking or plonking acoustic instruments, until recently I have felt as though, even though I may not have heard the music itself, I would know of the key players, the movers and the shakers…that new names would not crop up or, if they did, it would be because they weren’t particularly good! Robbie Basho’s Visions Of The Country has been a revelation and makes me wonder how many other gems are out there, flying under the radar.

Until about two months ago I hadn’t heard of Robbie Basho. Flicking through the ILX forum one day, lost for inspiration, I noticed his name as a thread title and had the thought, ‘why not actually click on the thread’ rather than do what I would normally do and dismiss it as someone not worth bothering with…simply because I had never heard of him!

There was the usual level of internet devotion on the thread, but as respondents are a self-selecting group, that’s hardly surprising…I could click on a Whitney Houston thread and find a similar level of enthusiastic devotion but she would still sound like a bunch of cats being tortured no matter how many times someone tells you she is the greatest female singer of all time! However, there was also a link to a youtube clip of Blue Crystal Fire and this had me spellbound from the off. A simple strummed acoustic guitar which wouldn’t have sounded out of place on The Palace Brother’s wonderful debut ‘There is No-One what Will Take Care Of You’, or Smog’s masterpiece ‘A River Ain’t Too Much To Love’ and that voice, kind of like Bill Callahan doing his best Anohni impression. The song was ponderous/funereal in terms of pace, repetitive, overtly earnest…and, for me, absolutely captivating. Usually a youtube clip, even of a song I like, will keep me interested for a minute, maybe two, before I see a suggested link and click on that. Well Blue Crystal Fire got about four full plays…and then I bought the album, avoiding playing anything else from it lest it diminished the impact of the first run through when the record arrived.

It turns out that Blue Crystal Fire is a bit of an anomaly, at least as far as Visions Of The Country is concerned – most of the other songs on the album involve lengthy passages of semi-improvised(?) finger picking interspersed with relatively brief blasts of Basho’s deep baritone. On many of the tracks there is no discernible repetition, no conventional song structure, it should be a formless mess, almost impossible to access and intimidating to listen to. But…it’s not. At least as far as I’m concerned!

As Nick suggested on the night, possibly that’s down to the images and atmospheres the songs evoke (the image on the album sleeve is almost exactly the image Basho’s music conjures up). The record transports the listener – perhaps to another (better?) place, almost certainly to a simpler time, perhaps a time we all yearn for where we are closer to our natural environment; where we would be more likely to take notice of the beauty of a flower or a waterfall or a deer; where there is time and space and, ironically, silence. Whilst this may sound like hippy dippy shit, Visions Of The Country avoids all those trappings by mining the source and in the process it sounds like it has always been there, just like the mountains, lakes and streams it so exquisitely evokes.

Rob listened: Blimey.

One of the beautiful things about record club, some of the most memorable, tangible moments, come when some record or other, and it’s almost impossible to predict which ones, just end up captivating us. We’re extremely capable of talking over almost anything, quiet or loud, long or short, insistent or passive, but every so often an album just captivates us. So it was with ‘Visions of the Country’. It could have passed us by. We could have been non-plussed and untouched, as we seemed to be by Tim Hecker in the previous round, as Robbie Basho also tinkled out a load of abstract, unstructured sound. But we were completely drawn in.

And yes, I was reminded of some of Will Oldham’s instrumental outings, and also some of the Derek Bailey improvised guitar stuff I’ve heard. It also reminded me of some of the abstract twinklings I like to listen to, and I also got Tom’s suggestion that it captured the same desert spirit as some of the good Captain Beefheart’s music.

But it was also wonderfully idiosyncratic and helplessly absorbing.  I’ve got a feeling I had heard of Robbie Basho before, only in that I can faintly imagine someone American saying his name in an interview. Now you can mark me down as someone actively seeking out his records. Thanks Tom, an absolute winner.

Steve listened: Blimey indeed

This was the album I talked, effused and waxed lyrical about when I got to talk about the night’s proceedings with my wife. I was most struck by the level of musicianship, and how he managed to take a 12 string guitar and play it like a sitar. This approach completely contrasts other western musicians who have embedded eastern music into a western style, almost as an add on. Here the subject and sounds seemed to blend seemlessly. Yes, thanks Tom, I will seek too.

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