Poly Styrene – Translucence: Round 103 – Steve’s Selection

R-871344-1167646732.jpegSometimes albums surprise you in a way that you wouldn’t necessarily describe as good or bad, but make you want to know more about the artist. So it was with this selection of mine. I was drawn to it through a short interview in the Guardian by Neneh Cherry. She of course has some links to the post-punk scene of her own through her former group Rip, Rig and Panic. This band also featured one Andrea Oliver – the mother of Miquita Oliver, the former host of  Pop World…ok, too far down that branch of the family tree now. But, somehow Poly Styrene was intertwined with her life enough to make her also want to know more about her. A crowd-funded film is being produced about Poly, which is due out next year. But just how this strangely iconic woman burst onto the punk scene, and beyond into critically acclaimed obscurity via a Buddhist community is enough to intrigue. Neneh mentioned this album in her interview, which at the time confounded and confused the post-punk scene, preferring instead to draw more heavily on jazz- infused folk. It really is not what you would expect had you only listened to the shouty in your face X-ray Spex (whom I also love). What you have to understand though is before Poly Styrene emerged onto the punk scene, she spent some time floating around the mid-1970s hippy festival scene (from about the age of 15 till her 17th birthday I believe). This album takes her back there and it is as delightful and beguiling as the front cover – with only the eyes present behind the headdress.

The first track, ‘Dreaming’ is immediately softer than its predecessors, with reggae-style drum rolls, and a drifting flute floating across the chorus (“I’m dreaming, I’m dreaming of you’). Her voice is lighter, less in your face, and she manages to reach vocal levels not achieved on the punkier songs on Germ Free Adolescents (X-Ray Spex’s only album). Straight away, a surprise, and in a nice way…’Toytown’ is in a similar vein. Trading raging guitars and roaring sax for light keyboard and reggae beats. The similarities with early Blondie are there. Later tracks with jazzier tones pre-date Everything But The Girl. The change in tempo displayed on ‘Bicycle Song’ is subtle and sophisticated, and the overlaid sound effects have a touch of the playful Barrett-esque psychedelia. ‘Translucence’ has a beautiful flute backing that make you feel like your gliding through a 1970s hippy folk festival waiting to catch the end of Pentangle’s set.

Poly Styrene went into hiding after this album. Her next ‘Generation Indigo’ was released when she knew she was dying from cancer. I can’t wait to hear her again in the crowd funded documentary film out next year. I bought a very fine mug (polystyrene cup?) designed by her daughter to help fund the project to pay tribute to this fascinating, perhaps underrated and secretive figure in UK music.

Advertisements

King – We Are King: Round 102 – Tom’s Selection

At our ‘End Of Year Playlist Night’, Nick commented that my list of songs was miles off what he would have expected when we started meeting way back in early 2011. I had to concede that he was spot on in his assertion. Whilst my playlist had a couple of unsurprising selections in it (Okkervil River made it in – seeing them play Judy On A Street made it an undeniable choice; as did Kevin Morby, his Singing Saw album from last year whilst not really breaking any new musical ground has revealed itself as a work of richness and great staying power), the majority of the other tracks probably wouldn’t have entered my psyche, let alone my record collection, if it hadn’t been for DRC and its influence on my listening habits over the course of the past decade.

Of the less likely stuff on my list, Margaret Glasby, Katie Gately and Dele Sosimi would have probably missed out through obscurity – although I would have been well predisposed to these artists back then, I wouldn’t have found out about them without being nudged in the right direction by online recommendations. The rest – Solange, Dawn Richard, Petite Meller…and King, well I just wasn’t listening to this sort of stuff in 2011. I would have dismissed it as ‘not for me’; with a closed mind, I find it all too easy to convince myself that a sound is anathema to me, hit ‘reject’ and not bother to look beyond that initial impression.

More fool me!

Fortunately, though, my musical palette has widened considerably since then and hence I get to write about amazing albums like We Are King! However, being a relative newcomer to the delights of modern day R&B I feel somewhat wary in trying to pick out what it is about the King debut album that I like so much – I couldn’t begin to link it to influences and precursors and I have no idea whether what King are doing is particularly innovative or original. What I do know is that when I play the record it makes me feel great. And that’s good enough in my book! Even on the most horrible of days (today, for example) I can put We Are King onto the turntable and suddenly the skies clear, the sun shines, the birds tweet, flowers bloom…all is well with the world.

Remarkably synchronous with Devon Record Club, King started out in earnest in 2011, perhaps spurred on by the burgeoning record club scene in the south west of England; their debut was a long time in coming, and the attention to detail and perfectionism shines through on the album. This is not an album that would have been tarnished by any lack of spontaneity – Pink Flag it most definitely is not – so why not take the time and get it right? It does say something about the confidence that the band must have had in their music that they were prepared to toil away at it for such a long time though. I guess their hourly earnings over those five years wouldn’t have been all that impressive. But the cliche goes that you are meant to suffer for your art, right? And, in this case, it has surely paid off – twelve exquisite tracks, not a weak link amongst them has led to encouraging reviews across the board, the metaphorical thumbs up from Prince, and the Album Of The Year award on the ILX music forum. If success in the music business is all about momentum and earnings then I guess King’s second album could be the point where they go big. If success is measured by the works of art you have produced, I would assert that King are already as successful as most recording artists would ever reasonably expect to be – in We Are King they have already produce a soulful masterpiece for these unenlightened times.