Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith – A Kid: Round 105, Nick’s choice

akidkas“Phenomenologically beautiful” is a phrase I use with alarming frequency (probably more than anyone else who has ever lived, I imagine), particularly at record club, where I deservedly receive a ribbing for it every time. (In fact, if you google the phrase, most of the results are me being an idiot. I’ve probably upset some philosophers by mangling what they think it means.) Sometimes it’s really appropriate, though.

It’s really appropriate for this Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith record, her sixth in six years, because A Kid is beautiful: the direct moment of experiencing it, shorn of context or analysis or discussion or wider epistemological considerations, is physically beautiful, on a sensory level of consciousness.

It achieves a similar goal to the James Holden record I played last time we met, but from a different direction and by different means. They both head for sublimation, that experience of forgetting who you are, feeling your own insignificance in the face of the universe. They both kind of get there through sensory overload, but instead of the energy and edge-of-chaos, dancing-uncontrollably-in-a-forest hysteria of The Animal Spirits, A Kid gets there by being… nebulous, difficult to touch, extraordinarily pretty, calm.

Excuse my guff at the start, though, because Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith makes the kidn of music that inspires people to delve into breathless hyperbole; in fact there’s an entire, mealy-mouthed, patriarchal, joy-shaming thread on I Love Music dedicated to the things people wrote on the forum about her previous record.

And some of the phrases polled are pretty ridiculous, taken out of context, but they’re also brilliant, and my favourites are also the ones with the most votes:

“superoxygenated synth fantasias”

“we looked at each other and wondered aloud how we were going to put on another album after this one.”

“a cornucopia of wondrous sound, and i’m excited to have it accompany my life in these next few spring and summer months.”

“I’m going to have to download this and go and sit quietly in a forest with it for a while.”

Far from being shamed, the authors of these lines should be pleased that they’ve
inspired other people to go out and listen to this music, because they have.

Some bio in case you can’t be bothered to google for her wiki page: Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith is from Orcas Island, an isolated part of the Pacific North West, and studied composition and sound engineering at Berklee College of Music in Boston (not Berkley in California, as I’ve seen referenced in a couple of locations), before moving back to Orcas Island and discovering synthesizers, especially the Buchla, which she does most of her work on. From pictures on the internet, Orcas Island looks like the kind of place where a creative kid would grow up with an appreciation of the vastness of nature and the insignificance of the self.

Her last album, 2016’s Ears (the one that people were so unreasonably shamed for enjoying on that thread), was on my list last year of things to buy if I ever saw it anywhere, but I never saw it anywhere. So I’ve ordered it (and the preceding Euclid) from Norman now, and hopefully will soon be able to bask in its pleasures.

She recently did a Baker’s Dozen for The Quietus, and there were a couple of key quotes about other people’s records that I thought could be used to describe her own rather well:

“music that… confuses the listener in a way that they can just relax and listen…”

“I love music that I can just play like that, where it can continue going and my brain won’t hold onto it too much…”

So what does it sound actually like? Who or what might be the frames of reference or comparison points or “like that? Try these” pointers that will make you go “ahhhh” and want to listen to this wonderful record?
Well, imagine if Julia Holter’s Ekstasis had evaporated, or Panda Bear’s Person Pitch had dissolved. Make Anna Meredith’s Varmints really vague.

But really she sounds like someone with a phalanx of synths, a universe of ideas, and a belief that music can and (sometimes) ought to be exceptionally beautiful. Her music is.

Steve listened:
I found this quite beguiling and would like to listen a little more closely. It felt it could be good mood music. I would agree that it’s music that my brain didn’t hold on to much and so I would probably listen again and again having forgotten what it was that intrigued me. There was a rich texture to it and many layers that would allow you to explore more and more. I’ve not yet hit the “buy” button but I may keep it in reserve.

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James Holden & The Animal Spirits – The Animal Spirits: Round 104, Nick’s choice

 animalspiritsI’d only bought this record on the Friday before our Tuesday meeting, but the half-dozen (occasionally broken / distracted) listens I’d managed to accumulate in that short time revealed this to be about the most ‘Nick’ record I could bring to record club. Indeed, perhaps the most ‘Nick’ record I could even imagine at this point in time; it feels like the square route (or the sum, or something – ask one of the mathematicians in the group what I mean) of much of my favourite music for the last few years.

So what is it? Well, four and a bit years ago (pre-kids), James Holden’s last record was one of my favourites of the year; massive, semi-improvised synthesiser explorations, with nods to jazz, trance, krautrock, and evocations of enormous natural British landscapes.

A particular standout track was “The Caterpillar’s Intervention”, which felt like a weird, acid-soaked, pagan, forest-dwelling jazz recreation of “Atlas” by Battles. Percussion, synthesisers, slightly deranged brass; these are a few of my favourite things. The Animal Spirits feels like it takes that track as a direct jumping-off point, and runs enthusiastically down the (heavily wooded, less-travelled) path it pointed towards. Which is basically exactly what I wanted Holden to do after The Inheritors.

For this new record – only his third album in well over a decade of making music – James Holden has put together a band with whom he’s recorded a number of live (no overdubs, I gather), semi-improvised synth + drums + brass + percussion (+ occasional wordless, chanting vocals) jams. This makes his 2006 debut (The Idiots Are Winning, a title which gets more and more prophetic / bathetic with every disquieting event in global politics), a one-man-in-his-bedroom techno album which took the beatific, widescreen trance of his early singles and remixes and edited it until it teetered on the edge of collapse, an outlier in his discography. To go from control-freakish, micro-edited techno experiments to what’s essentially live, improvised kraut-jazz-prog-rock, is quite a move in only three albums. When you consider that his first single was released in 1999, when he was just 20, it’s not actually that rapid an evolution, but still.

At times The Animal Spirits is a very heavy record; it could almost be hard rock or even full-on metal at times, but played with a very different set of instruments. At 9 tracks over 45-ish minutes, it’s considerably easier to consume than The Inheritors, which has 15 tracks and lasts about half an hour longer. The Animal Spirits feels focussed, lean, and precise, even as the music on it is raging, exploratory, and verging on hysteria. In many ways it fits very neatly as a wilder, less manicured partner to Floating Points’ material released this year: the progrock synth explorations of Reflections: Mojave Desert, and the strung-out, meticulous, almost-back-to-the-dancefloor pseudo-dance of “Ratio”.

It sounds fabulous; the synths are the main attraction, and the mix gives you full access to their warmth, buzz, groove, and melody. I’ve seen a couple of people suggest that the drums are too low in the mix, and compared to the kind of pumping, side-chained beats of Holden’s origins in dance music they certainly sound very different, but they’ve got the ragged crispness of a live kit performance, and all the excitement that goes along with that. If you want them louder, just turn it up; the mix and performances reward, even demand, that volume. The brass – cornet and saxophone – works both melodiously and chaotically depending on the track. On more than one occasion there’s a flute or a recorder, and a massive whiff of Canterbury hippy, which could put you off if the whole thing wasn’t so damn compelling. It draws from Morroccan gnawa music, ancient African Islamic spiritual religious songs and rhythms, and you can feel that it’s striving for something limbic, something sublime, not quite secular but… agnostic, and yearning.

In many ways it fulfils the promise I first heard in Caribou’s Up In Flames album way back in 2003, fusing electronic experiments with jazz, rock, dance, and more in order to find the head-spinning psychedelic space that they can all inhabit when they cut loose. There are a lot of people working in this milieu now, a karass (to again use Kurt Vonnegut’s neologism for a group of people with shared interests who are somehow spiritually bound together) including Floating Points, Four Tet, Caribou, Nicolas Jaar, the Polar Bear / Melt Yourself Down / Sons of Kemet British jazz cohort, Nathan Fake and Luke Abbott (obviously, as people signed to his label Border Community), The Invisible, and probably (hopefully?) some others I’ve yet to discover, too. It might just be the best record that any of them have released thus far; ask me again in a few months.

Anna Meredith – Varmints: Round 98, Nick’s choice

Anna Meredith came to my attention when she won the SAY – Scottish Album of the Year – for 2016 in the summer, beating the likes of Young Fathers, Steve Mason, Emma Pollock, and FFS. I didn’t know her name, but I did recognise the artwork for Varmints, and the description – classical composer makes debut pop/electronic album – made it sound right up my street.

It starts with “Nautilus”, an enormous, instrumental, Steve-Reich-like horn loop that never fails to get Nora dancing (she’s been known to point at the hi-fi and say “music”, and then get huffy if anything but this album gets put on). It’s not pop music, per se, and not quite dance or electronic either, but it is catchy, and it does make you move. As someone on ILM described it, it is “focused and amazing-sounding”. And it really is; the resonances of the horns and reverberations of the drums are monolithic and cavernous and loaded with detail.

Every single second of Varmints has something interesting going on sonically and/or compositionally; there’s a real feeling of musical depth and richness without it feeling complicated for the sake of complication. It’s been said that one of the joys of [pop?] music is how your brain tries to predict what’s going to happen next (and the satisfaction when you either get it right, or something beautifully unexpected happens), and Meredith surfs that line between comfortable, reassuring predictability and interesting, confounding unpredictability with expert poise.

At first Varmints almost felt too… positive? Too major-key? As if there was no real edge or dissonance to it. But a; that’s not actually true, as there are numerous frenetic / angry / charged / sad moments, and b; even if it was, I’m not sure that’s necessarily a bad thing. “Taken”, the second track and a single that’s found loads of airplay on 6music, definitely felt a touch too… something… in its male-female harmony vocals the first few times I played it (“Taken sounds like Nirvana’s Lithium as performed by an am-dram society” read another ILM comment), but the slashing guitars, tightly-wound synth loops, and odd rhythmic changes, as well as those hard-to-ignore vocals, have seeped into my cerebellum over the months to the point where I now thoroughly enjoy it.

About half the tracks are instrumental, and the album mixes up synthetic elements with cello, drums, clarinet, guitars, and many more different live instruments. The tone shifts massively from track to track; “Something Helpful” is delicate and yearning, but “R-Type” is almost violently repetitive and machine-like, and “Dowager” is tinged with sadness through both the arrangement and the lyrics, while “Blackfriers” is essentially beautiful, plaintive ambient music.

Meredith herself was born in London but moved to Scotland aged two, and has various compositional awards, a Masters from the Royal College of Music, and composer-in-residences on her CV. She’s also released a pair of EPs, Black Prince Fury and Jet Black Rider from 2012 and 2013 respectively, from which “Nautilus”, originally from Black Prince Fury, is the only track to feature on Varmints. Each EP has a rather surprising and surreptitious cover version hidden on it, by the way…

PJ Harvey – Is This Desire?: Round 97, Nick’s choice

“I do think Is This Desire? is the best record I ever made – maybe ever will make – and I feel that that was probably the highlight of my career. I gave 100 per cent of myself to that record. Maybe that was detrimental to my health at the same time.”

PJ Harvey’s fourth album came three and a half years after her previous record, the performative, modernist blues cabaret of To Bring You My Love, which had been a moderate crossover success and acclaimed in the music press. In the meantime she made Dance Hall At Louse Point with John Parrish, and collaborated with Tricky and Nick Cave (and had a relationship with the latter which inspired, allegedly, much of The Boatman’s Call).

James Oldham in NME gave Is This Desire? a 6/10 score, and lambasted it for being “wilfully uncommercial”. “It is an album tormented by visions of endless women doomed by their own circumstances. In the space of just 40 minutes, we’re presented with Angelene, Joy, Leah, Elise, two Catherines and countless other unnamed characters, all united by a sense of their own (almost comical) misfortune.” It’s worth noting that lead single “A Perfect Day Elise” is still PJ’s highest-charting – it reached number 25. It’s also worth noting that James Oldham is a man writing for an ‘indie’ magazine nearly 20 years ago, and Is This Desire? is a record about female desire that is pretty defiantly not ‘indie’, in that 4-boys-with-guitars-and-hair way that Britpop was the apex of. A final thing worth noting is that Is This Desire? was nominated for a Grammy for Best Alternative Music Performance of 1998. So what does James Oldham know?

Is This Desire? covers a huge amount of musical ground; it lives in that twilight space after Britpop and triphop when the British music press didn’t really know what to call anything. There are chunky, oppressive loops based around keyboards, electronics, and bass, and moments of delicate piano minimalism. Parts of it are intensely, wildly aggressive, as aggressive as anything PJ Harvey has recorded, and yet the overall feel of the album is hushed, subtle, almost withdrawn.

18 years on it feels like my favourite PJ Harvey album, alongside Let England Shake. The two records are similar in many ways, from their monochrome sleeves to their forward-thinking, backwards-referencing approach to a hidden side of history; history taken on painfully individual levels, rather than broad brush-strokes across cultures and societies. Only instead of war and atrocity, the characters here are victims of emotional violence, often, seemingly, of their own causing. Even the lyrically celebratory moments – like “The Sky Lit Up” – are rendered with a disconcerting edge (which would be almost completely shorn from the far more accessible and positively-received Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea two years later) that makes the album feel emotionally harrowing even as it describes things which seem positive when written down and divorced from their musical contexts.

This being a PJ Harvey album at record club, there was, as ever, a lot of talk about authenticity and performativity and autobiography. It seems, following The Hope 6 Demolition Project earlier this year, to me that Polly Jean Harvey has always been a historian in many ways, exploring primary, secondary, and tertiary sources in her music, both musically and especially lyrically. I know very little about her as a person, which seems to be how she likes it.

Let’s finish with another quote from Polly herself, from an interview around the time Is This Desire? was released: “the tortured artist myth is rampant. People paint me as some kind of black witchcraft-practising devil from hell, that I have to be twisted and dark to do what I am doing. It’s a load of rubbish.”

Jeff Buckley – Grace: Round 96, Nick’s choice

jeff_buckley_graceHow do you write about Jeff Buckley in 2016? When so much water has gone under so many bridges, when so many imitators have drained his legacy, assuming that a sensitive falsetto is the key part of it? How do you even listen to Jeff Buckley in 2016, given all this? It’s nearly 20 years since he dove into the Mississippi and never climbed out.

Jeff Buckley was the first name mentioned at our “I can’t believe we haven’t played this already” meeting a couple of weeks ago, by Tom, but still no one played Grace. I’d thought about Buckley, and ummed and ahhed a bit, but decided not to bring him along to that meeting (everyone would much rather listen to U2, I thought). It then felt kind of obvious to bring him along to the next one, for which there was no set theme. So I did.

I bought Grace on CD in Newton Abbott Our Price (remember Our Price?) shortly after he died in 1997. I’d have been 18, just. It’s one of the few records that I can remember impacting me on first listen. Stupidly, at that age, I wasn’t into solo artists because I had a bizarre notion in my head that they’d all just sing unaccompanied by anything other than an acoustic guitar (for at least the majority of their songs), and therefore be insanely boring. Because otherwise why not just be in a band and have a cool band name? (It’s fair to say that I was quite fixed in many of my ideas about music – and other stuff – when I was younger.) But it was obvious from the first few seconds of “Mojo Pin” – that low hum, the twining guitar, the sashaying drums – that this wasn’t some bozo with an acoustic guitar and nothing else.

Like many people back then I became a little obsessed with Jeff Buckley; I hammered Grace until I’d internalised every vocal and instrumental nuance and climax, bought up old live EPs and CD singles, and waited impatiently for the unreleased songs that would emerge, almost exactly a year after his death, as Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk. (But not, it must be said, the ragtag gaggle of hodgepodge compilations that have followed over the years.)

I haven’t really listened to Jeff Buckley much in the last 15 years or so; like many artists I gorged on in days gone by I haven’t felt the need to because of over-familiarity. Also, with Buckley in particular, but with several other late-adolescent favourites, there’s a vague sense of guilt at the emotional indulgence of listening: Grace is a very, very dramatic record, full of heightened emotional states, whooping climaxes, and histrionic expressions that are coupled with very few direct referents and very little clear sense. Which is to say that I have pretty much no idea what most of the songs here are about, but good grief they don’t half make you feel.

A lot of modern ‘crescendo rock’ (read Elbow, The National, Radiohead, Coldplay, Snow Patrol) turns its tricks by repeating and repeating with added elements and intensity. This can be penetratingly affecting, but it can also be deeply dull if the purveyor isn’t incredibly skilful. One of Buckley’s masterstrokes on Grace is his ability to build to enormous, overbearing, wailing crescendos without repeating himself much if at all; “Last Goodbye”, the obvious big single, for instance, manages to get to its destination without really having a proper chorus or phrase that’s repeated more than once, even though it feels like it must do.

A lot of modern ‘crescendo rock’ also utilises lyrics that are opaque to the point of being meaningless, and that’s no different here, for the most part. Buckley was a massive Smiths fan, but there’s none of the multi-layered humour and self-analysis that Morrissey was so great at. Sure, some of the couplets (when paired with that voice and these arrangements) are strikingly memorable (the “please kiss me” line from “Last Goodbye”), but they’re counterbalanced by a stream of adolescent clunkers (“she is the tear that hangs inside my soul forever” from “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over”). But these wracked, intense demonstrations of emotion are forgivable, ignorable even, because (again) of that voice, and how fulsomely and convincingly Buckley throws himself into the songs.

Also, a lot of the time I simply don’t have a clue what lyrics Buckley’s singing, such is the fervour with which he bends vowels and consonants and syllables out of recognisable patterns. (In 2016, of course, you could just look-up the lyrics on the internet, but in 1997 that wasn’t so easy.) (Are they in the sleeve? I can’t even remember.) (They’re ultimately not that important.) (And music writing that leans on literary analysis of lyrics just plain sucks, anyway.)

Like an intense, body-shaking adolescent sobbing fit (or a big teenage wank), Grace gives catharsis but can leave you feeling spent and a touch guilty for letting yourself go to the indulgence of release. Revisiting it has been fascinating; I’ve no idea what I’d make of a record like Grace if I were to encounter it new today, but I’m very glad I got to it when I was 18.

Tom listened: Funnily enough I dug Grace out of my collection and gave it a spin a month ago for the first time in probably more than a decade having heard Lover, You Should Have Come Over on the radio.

It sounded as fresh and accomplished (I can think of no better word to describe Grace) as it ever did; the singing, playing and songwriting being top drawer throughout. It also, crucially for me, transcends all those copyists Nick has already relatively comprehensively listed that came along in the slipstream  – to put it bluntly, when it came to making this sort of music (to my mind ‘this sort of music’ sounds like The Bends rather than Amnesiac), Buckley was simply the best. Sure, there are a few cuts I would cull from Grace, but the vast majority of the record still sounds as revelatory as it did twenty years ago when it first exploded onto the scene.

U2 – Achtung Baby: Round 95, Nick’s choice

600I reckon U2 are more influential than The Velvet Underground, in terms of how many records the artists influenced by either have sold. And how many artists they’ve influenced. Turn on the radio at any point in the mid-00s and you’d hear a massive Sincerity Rock Band with echoes of U2; take “Sweet Disposition” by The Temper Trap as an example. Or Coldplay or Snow Patrol’s entire careers. (OK, maybe not the first two albums by the latter.) When I first heard Arcade Fire I baulked because everyone was going crazy for them but they were using the U2 bassline all over Funeral, which I basically see as both emotionally manipulative and creatively bankrupt. Arcade Fire then, of course, went “full Achtung Baby” on Reflektor. More about what “full Achtung Baby” means in a bit, possibly. Even in the 90s the likes of Oasis and Radiohead made nods towards the Irish megaband even if they didn’t quite sound like them.

I once told a staunch U2 fan and sensible atheist (and holder of a PhD about vaginal imagery in the Alien films), many years ago, that every U2 song is about god, one way or another, and they said I was talking crap. “Go away and think about it” I replied, and a few days later they came back and said I’d ruined U2 for them, because it is, indeed, true, that every single one of their songs is about god. One way or another.

Every time I use the phrase “you too” near my elder brother, such as when he says “have a nice weekend” and I respond “you too”, he says “what’s Bono got to do with anything?”, which is intensely annoying. I have started doing this as well, which is probably also intensely annoying.

U2 are almost inconceivably massive; they’ve sold more than 170 million albums, won 22 Grammys (more than any other band), and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005, the first year they were eligible. (Though we established on the night at Record Club that Rihanna and Taylor Swift have each sold more records in a considerably shorter timeframe than U2.) (Other artists who’ve sold more records that U2: The Beatles, Elvis, Jacko, Madonna, Elton, Led Zep, Pink Floyd, Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, AC/DC, Whitney, Queen, The Rolling Stones, ABBA, Garth Brookes, Eminem, and The Eagles.) What this means is that they are ‘the establishment’.

I feel like U2 have hovered over Record Club like a tiny grey cloud, often imperceptible but occasionally remarked upon, recognised as bringing something potentially necessary to the table (the rain that makes crops grow, to extend the metaphor), sometimes beautiful, productive and useful in their own right, but mostly fucking annoying.

I once a read an interview where Bono said that he harboured vague ambitions to write a novel, but had decided that he never would in case it wasn’t “one of the great novels”, as what would be the point in branching out and producing something merely average, or even quite good, in another field, when he’d already made some of “the great records”. More than anything else, that sentiment made me think he was a cunt. Bono’s clearly a massive smugface bellend, but he’s more wealthy than most countries, so probably doesn’t give a damn what I think.

Achtung Baby is U2 trying to think outside of their box, trying not to be a massive Sincerity Rock Band anymore, trying to embrace groove, art, pop, Berlin, Bowie, hip-hop, that shuffle-y indie-dance beat that people think The Stone Roses introduced (they didn’t; it was The Mock Turtles), postmodernism, the 90s, and probably some other stuff. Including nudity, judging by the cover. When a band “goes full Achtung Baby” it’s arguably the equivalent of a middle-aged man buying a sports car. A (futile?) attempt to rebrand oneself as one feels youth and relevance slipping away, perhaps.

Achtung Baby is, of course, co-produced by Eno, and it sounds like he does a lot more here than just add widdly ambient intros to massive Sincerity Rock Band anthems. Except that, actually, Daniel Lanois is arguably more important. And maybe U2 themselves deserve a little credit. And actually let’s not give U2 anty credit for anything, the massive bellends. I pretty much hate U2, but this album is really, really good. Except the last three tracks, when being a massive Sincerity Rock Band kicks in like biological memory, and they can’t help themselves. (Notably this is only the second record we’ve ever chosen not to listen to the entirety of at Record Club.) Many of the songs on Achtung Baby are actually fun! And groovey! (“Even Better Than The Real Thing”, “The Fly”, “Mysterious Ways”, “Zoo Station”.) The drums and bass consistently sound really weird and thuddy and odd, like someone really misunderstanding dance music and krautrock and making something kind of interesting by accident instead. The Edge (Dave to his mum) does some interesting stuff with his guitar that doesn’t involve playing three notes over and over with massive delay.

In the press around the album Bono ranted about corporate sponsorship and the stupidity of rock mythology and rock’s “fat bastards” and sticking up for indie bands (in 1991, when ‘indie band’ actually meant being independent and alternative), which is kind of sad, because U2, as established by the buckets of Grammy Awards and 170 million album sales and undeniable influence on all sorts of other bands who really ought to be a whole lot better, are the most establishment band that there has ever been. Way more than The Beatles ever could be. They’re corporate rock 40-year careerists. They literally foisted an album on millions of unsuspecting, innocent people by signing a massive horrorshow deal with Apple that basically abused everyone’s iPhones. They’re pretty much disgusting. I quite like bits of Pop though, and those first three songs from The Joshua Tree are pretty undeniable.

Achtung Baby being really good might actually, probably, be down to Flood. it’s all about how it’s mixed. Just get the minimalist start to “So Cruel”. Pretty much everything U2 have done post Pop has been an exercise in sounding as much like people think U2 sound as possible. What they’ve forgotten is that, actually, U2 also sound like this, as well as The Joshua Tree.

Steve listened: I came out in a bad U2 rash after this outing of Bono Vox – for that is his full alter-ego pretentious name adopted much in the same vein as Sting. The thing that U2 have done is to have provided a simplistic template of how to herd the masses in terms of musical taste – adopted then by the likes of Coldplay, Snow Patrol etc. They masquerade as the underground, playing with those influences, much in the same way that a certain main-chain shops take on qualities of the independents. They also make themselves sound more important than they actually are, and this comes through no more clearly than via the mouth of Bono. Vague statements about “coming together”, “peace”, “touching god” make for an insipid attempt to probe the human psyche, but don’t really require much thought to get there. Easy listening for the masses and that is why I hate them.

Tom listened: Ever since I was a teenager I have lived in fear that eventually U2 would release a record that was so undeniably great that I would have to admit (to myself, if no one else) that it is really rather good.

And…I actually quite liked One when it was released as a single!

So I was a little fearful when Nick pulled out Achtung Baby that that moment might have come, the moment when I could no longer comprehensively and wholeheartedly ‘hate’ U2 with a clear conscience.

I needn’t have worried – although reasonably palatable musically, Achtung Baby is still risible. After all, at its helm are the conceited warblings of the biggest egomaniac in rock music! Horrible.

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.