Tracks of 2016: Round 99 – Rob’s choice

I listened to lots of new music this year. As in the last few years, Spotify was the predominant medium, opening up a range and breadth that I never could have got close to in any other way. I noted end of year reports suggesting that labels and artists are now starting to see reasonable revenues from streaming services. I don’t know whether those claims hold water, but I hope they do. I’ve dredged music from all sorts of artists who I happily listened to via Spotify where in previous times I would never have bought a record. I hope they’re getting paid.

As is also becoming traditional, looking back at my end of year list I’m forced to reflect on my sources of new music, which are becoming narrower and narrower, in a way that I’m not entirely comfortable with. I lost touch with music websites this year and also with a couple of the podcasts I used to regularly take. Looking at the final list of 13 songs here, they are essentially either from artists who I already loved and whose records I would have bought, or from things I heard on the ‘All Songs Considered‘ podcast. Fair enough, many of them are artists I hadn’t come across before, and there’s some range here, but it still feels too monocultural. The end of year lists, including those of my fellow Record Clubbers, have already sent me scurrying to a number of other records I hadn’t really noticed. I guess in this day and age it doesn’t really matter when you find something so long as you find it, but still I can’t help feeling I’ve been more blinkered than usual this year. I’ll try to diversify in 2017.

So, what did 2016 leave me with?

The Spotify playlist above differs slightly from that presented to DRC just before Christmas. I’ve added back in tracks by Lambchop, Tim Hecker and BE that I had already played and which, taken together, would have eaten more than half my permitted running time. The list is also missing at least one important contribution. ‘Lemonade’ is not available, and ‘Hold Up’ is one of my very favourite tracks of the year.

There are other absentees to note. I only got the Solange record a few weeks before the end of the year, and so it hasn’t percolated yet. Similarly, Frank Ocean’s ‘Blonde’ has not yet been released in physical format,and only just made it onto Spotify, so I’ve only managed a couple of cursory listens. There’s also a longer, working version of this list, where I dumped all the songs I wanted to collect during the year, so in the unlikely event that you’re thinking, “this list is great, but I wish it were 3 times as long and had D.D Dumbo on it,” you are in luck.

What remains. It’s tempting to group these tracks and ascribe surely unintended meaning to those groups. So I will. There are lots of songs here that use guitars and drums and voices to communicate various feelings of unease, dissatisfaction, fear and mistrust. From Naps, building a nagging chorus from arguably aspirational longueur (“Three full days without sleeping, Three full days without going out”) to Shearwater’s ‘Filaments’, pulsating with paranoia in a world that just took one step too many towards the edge. EL VY’s contribution to the anti-Trump project ’30 Days, 30 Songs’ seems much less titillating now, but I can’t erase it from my mind or my playlist.

The feeling is not solely directed towards what’s been happening in the wider world. King Creosote, Lambchop and Car Seat Headrest bring it into the personal, with hypnotic/beautiful/rollocking takes on matters of the heart, the head and their most intimate connections.

Standing atop these three is Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. The legend around ‘Skeleton Key’ is becoming well-worn, and I’m happy that some of the more breathless early analyses are being brought back towards reality.The truth of the album is even more heartbreaking and remarkable. Cave and his family were struck by an unimaginable tragedy in the time between the writing of these songs and their recording. The result, captured with mesmerising beauty in Andrew Dominik’s film ‘One More Time With Feeling’ is Cave and his collaborators moving through their grief whilst recording the songs that make up the album. If you’ve ever wondered what people mean when they describe someone ‘interpreting’ a song, watch Cave, hollowed out and stupefied, sing the songs he wrote and pour into them feelings he could never have imagined when he did so.

The album is a masterpiece. I ceded ‘Magneto’ to Steve on the night, and chose ‘Distant Sky’ instead, a song that shows at least a glow of warmth on the dark horizon.

It’s left to Lizzo, BE and Laura Gibson to show us the way out. Gibson kicked off the year by enlisting us to ‘The Cause’ of love and driving us on with the ruthless logic of a Sergeant Major. BE, improvising live to the sound of a beehive (yes, I said ‘improvising live to the sound of a beehive’), reminded us that the world could indeed be beautiful if only everyone would shut the hell up and just listen.

Finally, ‘Good As Hell’ by Lizzo, is a barnstorming wonder, a vibrant reminder that sometimes just doing your hair and checking your nails is enough to make you feel on top once more. I listened to this song dozens of dozens of times and, especially in the last 6 weeks of the year, and superficial as this will surely seem, it never failed to leave me feeling that things could get better. And that’s some achievement.

Nils Frahm – ‘Solo’: Round 98 – Rob’s choice

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Nils Frahm is an enviable talent, but also a reachable one. His facility with the piano is, from the perspective of someone who does not really know how one goes about the business of playing a piano, marvelous rather than virtuosic. That is to say that what is so hypnotic, so engaging about the music Frahm makes at the piano, is not some display of unfathomable technical proficiency (he may be amazingly proficient, I don’t know), but instead it’s the warmth and the openness of the relationship he has with the instrument. He seems to sit down and talk with it, recording and lovingly curating the conversations that ensue.

‘Solo’ is the perfect example. It is warm, enveloping, comforting, friendly, delightful, simple, giving, still, spacious and gorgeous, as so much of Frahm’s music is. This is one of the most reachable records of recent years, or any year come to think of it. ‘Solo’ has accompanied more of my thinking and doing time in 2015 and 2016 than any other sound. We’ve been over this ground before, worrying about the utility of music instead of just getting on and utilising it. This is a beautiful record full stop and that cannot be lessened by the use I have made of it. In fact, far from being mere tools for filling backgrounds, this is a record that gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling of gratitude when I think about it.

There were whole stretches of the last two years when I couldn’t write without ‘Solo’ playing in the background. I’d be lying if I didn’t put its utility down to its smooth surfaces and the absence of hooks to lodge in the mind. But also, perhaps subconsciously, there is something about this record that speaks directly to notions of creativity and the image of a human at work. Nils Frahm created these pieces during a mammoth improvisation session on a handmade, 12-foot tall upright piano. As in some of his earlier work you can hear and feel the join between man and mechanism as keys are depressed, hammers lifted and wires struck. There’s a sense of a blank page, of someone sitting down to figure out what can possibly be done and then how to go about doing it.

Tom listened: Nils and his amazing 12 foot deep piano was the topic of hot debate at record club. You see, the fact he’s sitting atop the instrument makes much more sense to me, commanding the sound that emanates rather than being cowed by it; I had imagined a little man under a huge organ type affair, the machine as master and manipulator, the, no doubt minimal, music (you can tell from the album art these days) being far too repetitive and simplistic for my tastes. I was gearing up to write my ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ response again.

But no!

On Solo, Frahm has that stately elegance and dignity that can only remind one of Eno (and his much smaller organ) on Music for Airports. That’s a huge compliment, seeing as Music for Airports is a magnificent piece of work. The resonance of the notes as they hang in the air like the floating embers from a fire being replenished just in time, just as they fade out and die is a wondrous thing and kept me captivated throughout. Good choice Rob and full marks on the anti-prog meter.

Nick listened: This was lovely. I’d like to own it. And the piano is tall, not deep.

Steve listened: Beautiful record and now in my collection.

Godspeed You Black Emperor! – ‘F# A# ∞’: Round 97 – Rob’s choice

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First things first. I drew 1998 from Tom’s lucky bag of wonder and, after more deliberation that I normally afford these choices, landed happily on Godspeed’s first widely distributed record, my only hesitation over which had been to do with possible dispute over the release date (I am a stickler for them rules). The Montreal ensemble released ‘F# A# ∞’ twice. The first incarnation, in 1997, ran to only 500 handmade copies and featured just two long tracks, although the tracks are built around the same sounds and templates as the more widely known version, released the following year. I own both versions and whilst the 1997 release contains my favourite ever album insert – an envelope containing a penny that has been run over by a train – it’s safe to say that the 1998 version is the one that everyone knows.

So, that’s 1998 sorted. How about 2016?

It just so happened that we were meeting on Tuesday 8 November, as the USA went to the polls. In this context, it was amusing to stare into the middle distance and imagine that the opening stanza of ‘Dead Flag Blues’ was a description of a world destroyed by a fascist megalomaniac President. We knew that by the next day, that possibility would have faded away, leaving a trace memory, like a game we had shared and then walked away from.

It didn’t turn out that way.

It doesn’t seem so amusing now.

Yet, for all that it seems ripe for self-parody, the none-more-black first movement of the first of the three extended pieces on this album is still one of the most spine-tingling things you’ll ever hear. If you don’t know it, switch off the lights, crank up the volume, and listen to it now.

What follows is no less remarkable, no less powerful. To some, Godspeed have seemed a near parody of themselves at times over the last twenty years, but that’s highly uncharitable. With ‘F# A# ∞’ they created a crushing breakthrough, a breach between styles, that no-one else was able to follow to any significant extent, leaving them exposed, alone, doing that Godspeed thing.

Nevertheless, the record has lost none of its impact over the years. Slipping between bleak poetry, blood-drenched chamber music, field recordings, chugging slab rock and delicate folk-whimsy, it never loses its grip. I’m shying away from trying to describe it here, not because I think I might be dissecting a frog, this music is irreducible, but because it just sounds so improbable. Sticking with ‘Dead Flag Blues’, you get dying orchestras, an extended passage of train noises, slide guitars, a post-rock shuffle then a twinkly music box waltz to close the whole thing down, before street preachers and bagpipes kick off the next track. It makes no sense, but it makes perfect sense.

I had a bunch of things to say about it, one of which was to try to describe how this stately yet wild music by this steadfastly exploratory ensemble, still seems amongst the best soundtracks for our spiraling times. Unfortunately, since I played it for record club, things have got a little worse, the record sounds a little more prescient, and I just don’t want to go into it.

“We woke up one morning and fell a little further down…”

Tom listened: Rob lent me a Godspeed album once, it might have been this one…I’m not sure I played it, I certainly couldn’t say for sure that I did. Whatever, I recall not feeling overly inclined to play it as I imagined it would require too much patience, the shifts in movements would come around too slowly (a la Ladradford) or it would be a bit dull (Tortoise) or the structures would be too predictable (Do Say Make Think). And there’s always been something inhuman and mechanistic about post-rock that puts me off, repels me even.

However, on the basis of this album at least, it seems as though Godspeed manage to walk the post-rock tightrope expertly, the tracks evolving more naturally than I was expecting and tended to not have the quiet, quieter, LOUD thing mapped out from the off in the way lesser similar bands in this genre tend to. That said, I still found this a cold listen – impressive certainly, but still a bit too impenetrable for my liking.

Nick listened: Moody. Not good for having sex to.

Andy Stott – ‘Luxury Problems’: Round 96 – Rob’s choice

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We don’t have enough techno.

We have just enough techno.

I don’t know whether this is techno.

We don’t have enough.

I bought this Andy Stott album because I couldn’t hear it anywhere else. I bought this Andy Stott album because I saw the cover art from ‘Passed Me By’, the EP that preceded it, and somehow thought it was related to the first Death Grips album. I didn’t buy either of those, but I did buy this one because I couldn’t hear it anywhere and that really got under my skin.

I waited and waited until I found it on vinyl and I bought it and I didn’t know what it sounded like. Reading techno reviews is really hard if you don’t know a lot about techno and how techno reviews are written. I don’t know if this is techno but I know that the reviews seemed to suggest that I should buy and so did the cover and so I did.

I didn’t know he was from Manchester. I didn’t really know he was a label mate of Demdike Stare. I don’t know what Demdike Stare sound like, and I can’t hear them anywhere either, but I once heard their name pronounced in a surprising way on the Guardian Music podcast, and I came to associate them with dark, subterranean musics that I was able to listen to like Haxan Cloak and Emptyset.

Maybe one day I’ll buy some of their records too, just to hear them. The very thought.

This record is genuinely terrific. It starts with hazy loops and a voice, Andy Stott’s piano teacher apparently, intoning, “Touch… Touch…” and from there it grows. All organic adjectives are appropriate. This is rhythmic music beaten out on skin and deep muscle. It has heft and density and life. It is simple and yet it moves, articulated. It is at once delicate and tough enough to withstand whatever you might throw at it. It’s dancing, to its own bruised logic, whether you are asking or not.

The record it reminds me of more than any other is ‘Maxinquaye’ because at the time, that masterpiece seemed to me to have been thumped out on sheets of leather. This is human music made to affect the calculations of a machine. It pulsates and flutters and writhes and goes on in ways that no machine could. It is resolutely grey and full of touches of breathtaking colour.

I recognise that having to buy records just to hear them is a luxury problem.

Tom listened: My memory may be failing me…but I think this is probably the first time since we’ve been meeting that I have felt compelled to listen to an album again prior to writing my response.

Lately, I have become a little frustrated with my writing in that by the time I come to responding to an album, all I can recall is the feeling the music gave me, rather than the music itself. So that has been what I have tended to write about. Which is no good at all.

Furthermore, how many times does a record make sense the first time around? Having bought Swoon by Prefab Sprout yesterday, I must have played it about three times over already and it’s only just starting to reveal itself, as my mind, or ears (or whatever else it is that sorts this out) has begun to understand the structures and patterns that, at first, seem to be almost random or haphazard in nature. A cursory half-listen over a curry with chatter seldom does the job, as far as I am concerned.

So I have turned to Youtube for help. And it’s a revelation, the album eliciting the same feeling I got on the night yet sounding nothing like how I remember it. For a start, the vocals feature much more prominently than I had previously thought. The album feels much, much more human than my memory would have me believe, much warmer than Haxan Cloak and Emptyset (a fact I did recall correctly…unsurprisingly). It’s minimal but there’s just enough  going on to be entrancing; there are moments of great beauty, moments of ominousness (but never threateningly so), and Luxury Problems actually grooves, in a nod-your-head rather than fill-a-dance-floor kind of a way, through the course of its 50ish minutes. So, to sum up, I had thought this was a great record and it turns out I was right. Hurrah! It is just a different great record to the one I had previously thought it was!

The Velvet Underground – ‘The Velvet Underground and Nico’: Round 95 – Rob’s choice

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I ran through my vinyl, pulling out albums that seemed to me we should surely have reached within our first 350 choices. I found a dozen or so and then I stopped. It’s a testament to how wide and deep we have dug over the past few years that so many of the absolute staples haven’t registered yet. From this shortlist, the Velvet Underground stood head and shoulders above the rest. Tom’s comments are accurate: we really haven’t invoked the Velvets anywhere near as much as we might have been expected to. Off the top of my head, our top ten most mentioned are along the lines of CAN, The Beatles, Danny Baker, Coldplay, Rick Wakeman, Pink Floyd, Husker Du, Tim Buckley, Mark Lanegan and Steve Albini. I’d say there were a couple of names in there, three at a push, that could claim to be as influential as the Velvet Underground, especially when looking specifically at the music our past 94 rounds have demonstrated that we love the most.

So, one way or another, it does seem surprising that we’ve never had then before.

After my initial sift, my thought was to bring ‘White Light/White Heat’ which I considered the tabula rasa of alternative rock music, the point at which the Velvets cut loose from all restraint and flew into the stratosphere, breaking the mould and setting rock and roll free for generations of wild-eyed punks to capitalise. Then I listened to it, and enjoyed it as ever, but wondered whether it was something that bore re-presentation. As part of my deliberation I checked back in with ‘The Velvet Underground and Nico’, my theory being that this was essentially a record that could have come from any number of the emerging pop rock acts of the mid 60s. I also feel a lingering antipathy to it because, frankly, Nico’s voice has always left me cold. I understand that it leavens the sound here in a really useful way but, well, I just don’t like it.

Within a few minutes I was reminded just how disconnected I had become from the album, and just what a masterpiece of sweet and sour, concision and experimentation it was. And also, just how much wild, breakthrough sound it contains.

About half the record could quite easily have been recorded by Dylan, or the Doors, or Brian Wilson, or some other boundary-pushing iconoclast. Then there’s the half that just… couldn’t. ‘Venus in Furs’, as thrilling as ever even aged 50. The guitar that slices through the second half of ‘Run Run Run’ like a chainsaw, like nothing else anyone had ever heard before. The drone and majesty of ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’. And ‘Heroin’, a shockingly beautiful masterclass of expressionist music-making, structure, form and intent all working in perfect, chaotic harmony.

In short, having left it on the shelf for 10 years or so, I was knocked sideways by just how brilliant a record it is, from start to howling finish.

I can’t believe we haven’t had it already.

Steve listened: I can’t believe you haven’t had it already, having come in late in the story of DRC. It is a classic but feels so out of place for 1967, the year of its release, given the subjects of some of the songs. It feels more like the realism and come-down of 1970s after the optimism of the hippy revolution had died down. Far grittier and sharper edges, less fluffy and more dirty spoon and from the bad end of town. New York and not San Francisco. Listening to it again was a great experience and reminded me of how I came to hear it for the first time. A wonderful record.

Tom listened: Of course Rob is spot on when he says that much of The Velvet Underground and Nico sounds like nothing else that had come before. And thinking about it, nothing else since has really embraced that buzzsaw guitar playing to quite the same effect. It is surprising that we hadn’t already had this album, yet I have never come close to selecting it as I don’t…whisper it…like it very much. With the exception of the majestic All Tomorrow’s Parties (I actually quite like Nico’s glacial tones) I just can’t click with it, and truth be told, never have…even though I spent a few years in my twenties trying to kid myself that the opposite was the case. I did love White Light/White Heat though, although that fire has dimmed over the years, and the third album has its moments and a great atmosphere…but throughout their career Lou Reed’s ego, lack of self-regulation (some of their songs go on way too long) and inability to write a deft melody line has ensured that, as far as I am concerned, The Velvet Underground have stayed a band that has been easy to admire but hard to love.

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!

Tim Hecker – ‘Love Streams’: Round 93 – Rob’s choice

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It’s tempting to hear and see ‘Love Streams’, the eighth album from Canadian electronic artist Tim Hecker, as his warm and fuzzy record. It certainly has a more organic, perhaps even welcoming sound than his previous couple. Also, it has a nice pink-infused cover, so, y’know, it could be ‘Chill Out with Tim’ couldn’t it? Well no, not quite.

Hecker, as far as I can see, has always used the building blocks of ambient electronic and contemporary classical music as his canvas and then employed distortion and degradation as his primary operating methods. He takes sounds as roots and nicks and chips and twists and bends and burns and intertwines them into shapes and forms that seem simultaneously to have burst from within and withered dreadfully away from their original forms.

Previously he’s been heavily into pipe organs, pianos, guitars, software, the ‘virginal’ (an early percussive harpsichord) and anything else he can get his hands on. He treats these instruments seriously, with reverence and technical curiosity, never as playthings or sound fodder to be thrown willy-nilly. Instead he uses them as serious thematic elements, to enhance, divert, combine and amalgamate, as colours to use to build shapes and as shapes to use as foundations for colours.

I don’t go all the way back with Hecker, not yet at least, only to his last three full lengths. ‘Ravedeath 1972’ took as its intent the destruction of music, and was suitably scabrous. ‘Virgins’ used live ensemble sessions as the basis for its explorations. It seemed to me to say something about the degradation of the human spirit, signified by the juxtaposition between the virginal instrument itself and song titles and cover imagery both of which invoked some of the darkest places in our recent history. It was a remarkable piece of work. I can’t explain why, but that’s always part of the wonder.

Now, with ‘Love Streams’, the human voice is given primacy, featuring for the first time in any of Hecker’s original work. He recorded raw material with the Icelandic Choir Ensemble, reportedly having them sing nonsensical words and abstract sounds, all to give him a source of sound to electronically manipulate, the way he has previously done with acoustic instruments.

The result is simultaneously warm and accessible – the human voice draws us in to any soundscape, almost no matter what else lurks therein – and endlessly fascinating. Following the routes of the interplay and entwined, slow-motion combat of voices and synths and percussion is both challenging and intriguing. the sounds confound, deflect, obfuscate and delight. Still, this is no twinkly piece of ambient electronica. It’s an floating, abstract miasma, an imagination of the way another species might invoke music. Whereas long-time Hecker buddy Daniel Lopatin seems to delight in deconstructing and then reconstructing music, twisting, perverting and destroying its body but retaining superficial traces to allow us to identify the corpse, Hecker is in another realm from start to finish, a place where music evolved under different influences into a different life-form.

There are breathtaking moments on ‘Love Streams’ and a thousand moments that will slip by un-noticed until the hundredth time. There are combinations of colour and flavour and texture that you will not have heard before. It will make little sense to you on many levels and perfect sense on others. Ultimately this is a beautiful work of sound, and perhaps my favourite thing to listen to this year so far.

Tom listened: It’s confession time…I can recall very little about this album, although I do recall liking it! And I think that’s the problem I have with music that is predominantly electronic – generally I enjoy the experience of listening to it, but don’t find myself seeking it out for repeated spins (Fourtet’s Rounds has sat on my shelf for years and year, gathering dust. Music Has the Right…by Boards of Canada has been doing a similar trick in my car, Dubnobasswithmyheadman I’ve pulled out on a few occasions more recently, loved it, but it’s drifted back into the lesser visited recesses of my collection over the last couple of years). So, it makes me even more pleased that Rob and Nick bring this stuff to Record Club – surely exposing you to music that you wouldn’t naturally encounter is what it’s all about!

Apart from those bees.

nick listened: can’t remember a bloody thing about this but wrote it on my list of things to buy, so assume I liked it. Have two other Heckers and feel as if they’re more like homework than hobby, but this seemed to bridge that gap.