Danny Brown – ‘Atrocity Exhibition’: Round 102 – Rob’s choice

WRP276LP_1024x1024I don’t follow hip-hop closely. In fact, so intermittent is our relationship that I’m pausing now to check whether I’m sure hip-hop is still the preferred tag. I love it, but we just don’t see each other very often. (Come to think of it, I don’t follow any music closely, do I?).

One of the plus points of this infrequent contact arrangement is that when we do see each other, maybe once or twice a year, the music has almost always changed, mutated and spun off in some unpredictable direction. Add to this that when you’re dipping in, then you tend to go first for the most acclaimed artists and records, hopefully a short-cut to the cream of the crop, and it all adds up to me having my socks blown off most times I actually sit down with hip-hop albums.

This, and a fulsome appreciation, grown steadily over the 30 years since I first heard ‘Rebel Without A Pause’, for hip-hop’s sense of sonic adventure, the detail, the ambition and the sheer amount of work and that goes into producing a record as dense and packed as most of these albums puts almost all other musicians to shame.

In 2015, having been wowed by both ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ and Vince Staples’ exceptional ‘Summertime ’06’ I considered making 2016 a hip-hop only year. I didn’t last too long but in the midst of exposure to Future and Young Thug, the glorious return of A Tribe Called Quest and a joyful mixtape from Chance The Rapper, the record that stood out, that pounced from the pack and got its steel hooks into me, was Danny Brown’s thrilling, disorienting ‘Atrocity Exhibition’.

From the opening ‘Downward Spiral’ this is a different proposition from any album you’ve heard before. A warping guitar chord is crudely overridden by Brown’s unhinged Wile E Coyote psycho-babble. “I’m sweating like I’m in a rave/ Been in this room for three days/ Think I’m hearing voices/ Paranoid and think I’m seeing ghost-es/ Oh shit”. The guitars bend and bow around him, the voice grating like an ice cold fever. The tone is set for a descent down one man’s personal brain drain.

The second track, ”Tell Me What I Don’t Know’ is more straightforward but no less stretching, the verite tale of kids dropping out of school to sell drugs, and the death and destruction that follow. This counterpoint to the opener, and the space that opens up between them, offers a potent expression of the function of contemporary hip hop. Here is an artist seeing a nightmarish real world as a trap from which the only viable escape is into psychedelic hyper-reality, via drugs and sex and into an imagination rotten with wormholes.

As if the paranoia, dislocation, drained cold possibilities aren’t explicit enough, then Brown also begins to makes good on the album title by drawing out clinical descriptions of debauchery that would have JG Ballard nodding in admiration whilst referencing Joy Division, who had their own ‘Atrocity Exhibition’ in more than one place. “This is the way N****, step inside” he snaps and shoves on ‘Golddust’, whilst ‘Rolling Stone’ rocks and shivers to a bassline that could have been lifted straight from a Martin Hannett production.

The soundscapes elsewhere are just as stunned and stunning, from the contrapuntal hammering of ‘Pneumonia’ to the pounding of ‘Aint It Funny’, hitting you like stepping through a street door into a club, and immediately realising you’ve made a big mistake.

The album, although not long, is way too dense and detailed to take in on one pass. It’s smothering, stunning, dislocating and intoxicating in all the right ways, and takes you to places that you are unlikely to have been before.


Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda – ‘World Spirituality Classics 1: The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda’: Round 106 – Rob’s choice

download (2)The album of the 2018 in our house, in that it is the record we’ve played the most, by some considerable distance, and, by dint of this, it’s been a subtle soundtrack to our year.

I’m not sure what prompted me to check out the reviews for the album when it was released in May. The cover art helps – it’s gorgeous, bursting with colour and with Coltrane Turiyasangitananda beaming at its centre. I also heard NPR’s interview with Ravi Coltrane (https://www.npr.org/sections/allsongs/2017/05/15/527975501/all-songs-1-alice-coltranes-astonishing-ecstatic-music), which was so warm and engaging, and which included a performance of ‘Triloka’, a duet between his mother Alice, and the bassist Charlie Haden. It caught me at just the right moment and I found it extraordinary. I can still remember where I was when I heard it, and if loading bags of bricks into the back of a van is not the perfect context for a revelation about ecstatic religious music, then I don’t know what is.

Spotify did the rest, and the record just never left us once we’d let it in to our lives. It became the music we played to help children get to sleep, to fill the background while we ate dinner, and to act as the soundtrack to almost anything we needed to get done. Eventually I bought the vinyl to recognise the impact that the music has had on our family, and to throw something back to Luaka Bop and the people who managed to bring this collection together.

Having said all that, I realise now that I come to write about it, that I have absorbed a few half-heard details, but essentially I know nothing about it.

The story as I have chosen to remember it is that Alice Coltrane became the leader of an ashram at some point in the 1980s and, as one might expect, found herself at various moments surrounded by worshippers with more musical tendencies than the average congregation. In my version of events, these serendipitous jazz super bands got up to perform music as part of the daily rituals, and these joyful jams were recorded, started to circulate on cassette amongst Coltrane aficionados  and 30 years later finally got an official release.

The record comes with copious liner notes including, I kid you not, the equivalent of the Ashram’s parish magazine. I haven’t read any of them. I’m curious about the origins of the music, honestly I am. I just haven’t got to the stage of wanting to dig yet. After 8 months. Thinking about it, as I do now for almost the first time, perhaps the music has a now-ness to it that deters me from wanting to break through the surface. Perhaps in keeping with its religious inspirations it encourages a meditative experience, listening in the moment, not allowing oneself to become distracted by narratives and viewpoints.,

[Now, give me a second… wikipedia is calling…]

Actually, no, still can’t be bothered. I’ll just listen to the record instead. There I’ll find what I imagine to be space age trance jazz interpretations of sacred music, swimming with massed chants, handclaps, swirling 90s synths, twinkling harp and countless other intoxicating, mesmerising sounds I’m unable to decode. Woven through much I’ll also hear the album’s major revelation: Coltrane sings,in a strong, warm voice, confident, powerful and assured. When she does, it lifts an intriguing and captivating record into a beautiful and moving one. Meditative, boundless music, worth retreating for.

Tom listened: Good to have you back Rob. Your moratorium on writing had been for far too long!

Well, what an awesome record this is. Nothing like I would have expected (prior to this meeting knowing only that Alice had been the wife of John I thought it would be, at the very least, awkward, if not downright challenging), this record with the ridiculously convoluted title was, in fact, accessible, enveloping and immersive; sounding great from the off, the tracks, though long, never outstaying their welcome. To sum up then, a wonderful surprise and one of the reasons DRC is such a great thing to do (after the curry and the Exeter Uni based chat that is!).


Meat Puppets – ‘Meat Puppets II’: Round 105 – Rob’s choice

c6eb4e4b3fc37f53c006dcc62e542dd6We have instant access to all of recorded music, more or less. As a result, genres are collapsing and fragmenting, subcultures are mutating and combining at a rate beyond the capacity of any reasonable follower to keep up. Dizzying music is being made, but with pandora’s box now irreversibly open, I wonder whether a band like Meat Puppets would be possible in the 21st century.

I don’t know too much about the context in which brothers Cris and Curt Kirkwood grew up but if, as is reasonable to expect, the music they made is infused with their influences, then as a listener to that music, I think I’m allowed a little license to colour in the gaps.

I see two brothers, kicking their heels in a distant corner of the continental United States (Phoenix, Arizona), baking in the heat, wondering how to occupy their gently frying teenage minds. From the air, from passing trucks, from a hundred radios and whispering TV sets they are picking up sounds from distant broadcasts, drifting in across the mesa and finding ways to put hooks into them as, in turn, the brothers begin to hold on to them like lifelines.

Actually, that’s where my romantic notion veers from the tracks. I’m sure it’s all wrong, but the idea that the boys who would be Meat Puppets grabbed onto music as a lifeline just doesn’t ring true. For here, plainly, is music made without any expectations whatsoever, with no care for who might hear it and what they may subsequently do with it. No-one could have created this stuff thinking it was going to offer them a way out or open up an escape route. The songs are so internal,. so personal, so unique.

When Meat Puppets formed in 1980, the brothers were in their early 20s. It’s entirely possible that by this age all they had heard was country music and, recently, hardcore punk. Taking these two forms, they set out to make some music that would make them happy. That lack of exposure, that insularity, is almost impossible to imagine these days. And yet in these hands and mouths and minds is turned into wonderful, charming, surprising organic shapes, combining the naivety of school children with the assured playing of alien virtuosos. The thrashing stumble stomp of ‘Split Myself in Two’ staggers into the whirling reel ‘Lost’ and then on into rich and wild meadows. ‘Plateau’ discovers undiscovered lands. lyrically and musically, and its playing is deft and intoxicating, as is the ‘Aurora Borealis’ that blooms after it. Everywhere you listen there are new forms of life growing from familiar places.

And here, I think, is where things are different now. I wonder whether it is still possible to make music that feels as unexposed to and unconcerned about the world as this. Truly this was a strange and wonderful nirvana, where unique and fleeting conditions existed.

Burial – ‘Rival Dealer’: Round 104 – Rob’s choice

a2179941635_16Adam Curtis is a film-maker who has made his name by assembling disparate, incongruous, often dissonant, images, sounds and stories into palettes and pieces that lay claim to hidden realities and subterranean narratives that may or may not lie beneath the post-war, neo-liberal consensus. When his films are at their best, they bring together wildly divergent elements to illustrate the completely unexpected, in ways which may not otherwise have been directly approachable.

The use of music – surprising, cinematic, evocative, contrapuntal – has always been central to his work. He uses it to open up emotions, to manipulate mood and, in combination with often dizzying, disorienting film footage, to suggest what seem to be entirely new ways of seeing, hearing and interpreting the world.

And so, when he speaks haltingly, gushingly of an artist like Burial, as he did (see below) to Adam Buxton last year, it’s clear that he feels he has found a common spirit.

“I think Burial is the genius of our time… The most important Burial song to listen to, which will tell you everything about him, is Come Down to Us… Why it’s so incredible, because what Burial does is he takes what is essentially industrial noise – and songs – but fuses them together to create something that is epic and romantic, and sort of gives you a clue of the sort of thing that might be coming, culturally – which is a higher system, I think. And I think he’s there ahead of everyone. It’s so emotional; yet, at the same time, just noise. And, I don’t know, it’s just, I can’t – sorry, this is me being inarticulate – it’s just… wonderful… It takes you into another world.”

‘Come Down To Us’ is the third and final track of the ‘Rival Dealer’ EP. By the point of its release, Burial’s approach had shifted radically from his beginnings in rainswept garage and two-step, but which retained throughout a constant, imposing sense of the cinematic possibilities of urban existence, For Curtis to describe the music as ‘just noise’ is misleading. The EP’s 28 minutes bristles and sways with ambient atmospherics, underscored by vinyl crackles, metallic weapon clicks and the sub-sonic alien buzz of concrete. But the two counterpoints of the set, the 10 minute title track and the 13-minute ‘Come Down To Us’ are compelling pieces of music, first and foremost, not noise. ‘Rival Dealer’ bustles and sprints, stumbles and surges, a flurrying beat pulling the track through what feels like a hurried escape. ‘Come Down To Us’ is entirely different, a mesmeric, devotional head-nod, underscored by a heartbreakingly delicate melody and skated over by a yearning vocal. It’s intoxicating and incredibly affecting. The entire EP is spun through with spoken snatches dealing with identity and the closing sampled speech from transgender filmmaker Lana Wachowski throws everything that has preceded it into a breathtaking new light.

“It’s just… wonderful… It takes you to another world.” And put together with the EPs that have followed in the 4 years since Rival Dealer, it really does seem as if Burial may have found a new way forward, and got there ahead of everyone.


Fuck Buttons – ‘Slow Focus’: Round 100 – Rob’s choice

220px-Fuck_Buttons_-_Slow_FocusOn only one occasion as a young man did I sit down with my friends and try to make music. Only one of us could play, and he the guitar, but the rest of us had a go. I found myself noodling around on a keyboard finding simple melody lines to decorate a steady snare beat and repetitive, wannabe hypnotic, chords. It was no good, but we had an enjoyable afternoon. That’s probably the story of 95% of all bands, those that come together in the minds and back bedrooms of their so-briefly aligned members. The other 5% go on, and turn what rough clay they find in their hands into something more permanent. Probably 4% of those are awful too, but at least they’re trying, which really, genuinely is something.

Fuck Buttons are not like our band. They are, to my mind, a perfect creation, using complex palimpsests of sound to create music that is unnaturally direct and powerful. My mayflower-like musical efforts categorically were not perfect. However they come back to mind now for a couple of reasons. Firstly, because I think that had we had the spirit, talent, energy or time to go on, then this is the kind of music we may have felt we were trying to make, had we the imaginative capacity, which we almost certainly didn’t. Nonetheless, our approach had the basic germ. We started with one thing, a chord sequence, and then added to it gradually, a rhythm, a synthesizer, some words. Over the course of 20 minutes we built towards something.

Secondly, and crucially, I think about that afternoon because when I listen to Fuck Buttons, which I often do, I am always struck by how simple the proposition sounds – just start with one thing and then add more on top until you have something bigger, and bigger, and bigger – and just how startlingly difficult it must actually be to pull that trick off.

All three Fuck Buttons records have taken a similar approach, each using different sets of building blocks and achieving different ultimate outcomes. ‘Street Horrrsing’, still one of the more physically unbalancing records I own, built out from twinkling keyboards, human screams and the sound of an exterminating alien spacecraft to produce a soundscape for a post-human planet. ‘Tarot Sport’ dragged the sound through the doors of a warehouse party, creating hypnotic and crushing beats. ‘Slow Focus’ seems to me the richest, most satisfying record of the three. Each track starts with a simple element, a pounding piece of percussion or a choppy synth line, and adds more, steadily getting bigger and bigger and bigger. Each time a new element joins the picture it sounds to have become impossibly huge, and only after a few minutes more have passed do you realise just how much more massive the whole machine has grown since then.

Let’s pause to acknowledge the name and cover art of this record, both helpful encapsulations of what the band do so exquisitely. ‘Slow Focus’, a sense of pulling out from, or in towards, an object, steadily to reveal an encapsulating super-structure, or zooming to uncover layers beneath layers beneath layers. And that adorning piece of jewellery that stares out from the sleeve: It starts with an apparently huge stone at its centre, which should have been enough by any measure, but its creator then added a setting, and then some decoration and then crenellations and some filigree until ultimately the whole piece is five times the size and weight it ever needed to be. And yet, somehow, where it should be gaudy and overloaded, it feels rich.

Throughout this album, Fuck Buttons consistently create a sense of ecstatic intensity, which is as beguiling as it is overwhelming, never repetitive, always physically consuming. It’s quite a trick.

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


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


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


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


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.

%d bloggers like this: