Brian Eno – Another Green World – Round 6: Nick’s choice

Knowing that Rob has never knowingly listened to Eno, and being more than a little interested in the pioneering producer (we share a birthday in addition to many attitudes regarding music, and as well as many of his records I also have a number of his iPhone generative music apps, and own a set of Oblique Strategy cards), I was always going to choose one of his records to play at Devon record Club, and it was pretty much always going to be this one (as it’s my favourite). The question was only ever when. Rob’s own house, given that he’s never heard Eno before, seemed to be the obvious choice. So there we are.

I first heard Another Green World while studying at university, and I’ve owned three copies over the years since; that original CD issue, plus the new remaster from about six years ago, and also a 12” LP copy, which I keep framed on a wall. Although me saying of a record “that’s one of my favourite records ever” has become something of a comedy catch-phrase at Devon Record Club, in the case of Another Green World it is absolutely true: I don’t know what the other 49 would be, specifically, but if I was forced to take 50 record with me to a desert island or suchlike, this one is coming with me.

Mythologically, Another Green World bridges the gap between Eno’s early glam rock solo records, like Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy), and his later ambient albums, like Music For Airports. In truth, though, Eno actually recorded his first fully ambient record, Discreet Music, before he recorded Another Green World (both came out in 1975, Another Green World in September and Discreet Music in November), meaning that actuality is, as usual, more complex and less linear than the stories we think of as being history. I’ve just read Geeta Dayal’s excellent 33 1/3 book on Another Green World, and she recounts the relationship between the two records, and 1977’s Before And After Science, which is often thought of as a precursor to Another Green World, expertly.

Literally, though, Another Green World does bridge the gap between rock and ambient, being made up of five vocal tracks and nine instrumental ones, the two types of song sequenced relatively evenly across the course of the album (unlike, say, Bowie’s Heroes or Low, which both group the ambient tracks together on side two).

It starts judderingly, with the quasi-funky motions (courtesy in part due to Phil Collins, who may be an odious twat, but who sure can play the drums) and elongated, timeless textures of Sky Saw, and the album slowly becomes more and more gentle from thereon in. The lyrics, when they’re present, mean nothing, and are sung with Eno’s typical flat intonation; Another Green World is almost entirely about the textures, the motions, the architectures: I find the slow, simple chord progressions of and layered sonic materials of The Big Ship almost unbearably moving.

Most of the time I can’t discern guitars from synthesizers from pianos from “electric elements” from “unnatural sounds” from “organ and tape” from “treated rhythm generator” (all of which and more are listed in the sleeve as being played), but the individual elements are not the point here; Another Green World’s genius is in how the components combine, interact, and alter each other through context. Tellingly I have never, as far as I can remember, listened to Another Green World on headphones; I always play it in full, in order, via speakers, whether I’m busy being occupied with other things or trying to concentrate on the album alone.

Interestingly I learnt from Geeta’s book that Another Green World was recorded in a rush, under pressure, with no songs (save I’ll Come Running) prepared in advance, and largely took shape in post-production, as it were, with Eno editing together disparate performances and ideas in a similar manner to Miles Davis’ In A Silent Way and Talk Talk’s Spirit Of Eden, another two of my favourite records ever.

Tom listened: I only own two Brian Eno records – Here Come the Warm Jets and Music For Airports – and they are so different that it is difficult to believe that they have been made by the same artist. Another Green World has been one of my ‘most wanted’ for a long time now but, as a vinyl junkie, my searching has always ended in disappointment. One of the aspects of this record that I found most fascinating (other than the fact that it is totally and utterly marvelous) is that it enables the listener to see the route from Eno’s initial ‘glam punk’ eclecticism to his late 70s minimalist ambient stuff. Rob and I were amazed by the production on this record; to think that this album was released at a time when Mud, The Sweet, The Nolan Sisters, The Bay City Rollers, Brotherhood of Man et al were producing such drivel and yet 35 years on, it sounds as though it could have been released yesterday. An essential record, methinks by one of rock music’s few geniuses.

Rob listened: PiL, The Smiths, Joy Division, The Fall. They got me aged 15 and told me, directly or otherwise, that if it was pre-1976 and it wasn’t the Velvet Underground or the Stooges, then I shouldn’t be listening to it. I obeyed, and even this far down the line I reckon the artists who have genuinely breached that particular line in the sand are countable on one hand (Beefheart, Dylan, Nick Drake, Stevie Wonder… erm… I own ‘Solid Air’ and ‘Astral Weeks’?). If I have to go back and get acquainted with Eno, who’s going to listen to that Archers of Loaf b-sides compilation?

Still, ‘Another Green World’ was full of very pleasant surprises. I expected floating ambience, but instead got sharp, crisp, clever electronic rock music that sounded both timeless and clearly directly influential on much of the stuff we’ve been listening to since its release. I’d buy it, but there’s a Death By Milkfloat double live album out next week.

Bill Callahan – Apocalypse! – Round 5: Nick’s choice

I bought this especially for DRC while I was in London the day before the meeting at which it was to be played. Finding a record shop in Covent Garden proved more problematic than it used to, as they’ve seemingly all been replaced with Fred Perry vendors. I was wearing a Fred Perry at the time and felt this was a bitter irony directed personally at me. Apocalypse! was still shrink-wrapped when I arrived at Tom’s house, as per instructions to bring something unplayed. I’d not heard a note, though I had read a couple of things which pointed out longer songs and looser structures than Callahan had used before.

I only started listening to Callahan once he started using his own name; I’ve heard, to my knowledge, no Smog records at all. I quite like Woke On A Whaleheart, but I adored Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle, so I was looking forward to Apocalypse.

Tom has asked that we only write these pieces after six listens; I’m on two plays (DRC and one other), but frankly if I wait for six it’ll never get done, and anyway, Zaireeka really strafed everything else played or discussed last Thursday into tiny little bits. And what’s DRC without some rule-breaking?

So, Apocalypse! is looser, and the songs are longer, Callahan’s voice is still deep and rich and dry and wry and, to my ears and brain, more than a little sardonic. I had an interesting twitter chat the other day with someone from The Quietus and someone from NME about whether the song America (and specifically its lyrics) is good or bad, or funny, or ironic, or heartfelt. We concluded that it is good, and funny, and ironic, and heartfelt, all at the same time.

I am struck for some reason, and I’m not sure why, having played them both back-to-back at the weekend, that Apocalypse! is “about” guitar, both texture and melody, in the same way that …Eagle is “about” drums, both dynamics and rhythms. I’ve enjoyed it thoroughly both times I’ve played it, and I look forward to playing it more – it feels very much like a grower, although the textures, instrumental variations, and words are appreciable from the off. But I need to write this now, because it’s hanging over me like a piece of homework and I need to blitz it out so I can get onto my next thing I want to write.

Sorry Tom!

Tom Listened: This was brilliant and I am going to buy it. On vinyl. So there.

More later…..

(Footnote: Both the Kurt Vile album and this had at least one song that had a ‘Van Morrison when he was good’ vibe going on. Strange as he has drifted out of fashion in recent times – when I started getting interested in alternative music, back in the late eighties, most issues of Melody Maker would mention Astral Weeks at some point or other. Thought it was worth mentioning – possibly another DRC weird coincidence?).

These New Puritans – ‘Hidden’ – Round 4: Nick’s choice

I wasn’t entirely sure which record I was going to pick from a field of about three which were all clamouring for attention, until Rob’s choice started playing (this is a benefit of hosting; with your whole record collection to hand, you can change your mind). Hidden seemed like such a stark contrast to what went on first that I had to go with it (not that the other things I was thinking about selecting were any closer to Rob’s choice!).

Hidden is a strange record. Coming barely 24 months after These New Puritans’ debut album, it’s a very different beast, and it seems like the band not only spent an awful lot of the time since their debut fastidiously arranging and recording Hidden, but that they also did a lot of learning and changing in that time. I can’t think of many other bands who have leapt so far from their debut to their second album.

Because where Beat Pyramid was a decent collection of brief post-punk, post-dance slithers of guitar and occasional moments of dark ambience, Hidden steps out into bizarre territory, opening with an elegiac, Elgar-esque swell of mournful horns, and then moving through multi-part gothic-prog-pop compositions driven by massive, darkly reverberant Japanese Taiko drums, pumping hip-hop and dance beats, and barrages of synths and samples. There’s barely any guitar, vocals are muttered or chanted rather than sung, and the whole thing is recorded, mixed, and mastered to eliminate distortion and maximise dynamic impact, making it sound disorienting, otherworldly, and out-of-time compared to the usual pumped-up, distorted mess of modern mainstream pop, dance, and rock (and quite a big chunk of alternative music, too).

I was delighted to see NME name Hidden their album of the year for 2010; after a decade of safe, trendy, post-Strokes choices, it seems like the bravest pick since Spiritualized in 1997. And in fact I think Hidden, skipping from M.I.A. to Talk Talk to Prodigy to colliery bands to Squeeze (singer and composer Jack Barnett sounds a little like Chris Difford), is just as much a masterpiece as Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space.

Partly this is down to the overall atmosphere of the album, conveyed in part by Barnett’s mysterious, conspiracy-theory-laden vocals (which you could almost sum-up as “I get up when I want, except on Wednesdays, when I get rudely awakened by the Taliban” in terms of delivery), but mostly it’s due to the music. Percussion dominates the album, those massive, ominous Taiko drums, massed rimshots, pumping dance beats, and a cornucopia of other things being hit with sticks; it’s exhilarating, but also disconcerting, especially when a M.I.A.-inspired, chanting, digitalist modern pop song like Fire-Power is slowly subsumed by plaintive brass. I think Hidden is an awesome record.

Rob listened: I bought ‘Hidden’ after NME gave it the top slot last year, and I like it a lot. In recent years I’ve fallen into a lazy sense that British alternative music is indie-landfill, despite loving stuff from Art Brut through Mogwai to Wild Beasts. It’s great to have that up-ended and to hear a band I had assumed would sound like Fields of the Nephilim (bad type-face guys) sounding so much like ‘Flowers of Romance’-era Public Image Limited. Both Tom and Nick said they found ‘Hidden’ oppressive. I don’t get that at all. I find it enveloping, groovy and fun, to be honest, but perhaps that’s precisely because I bracket it somehow with PiL’s third album which it can’t match in terms of intensity. Anyway, a winner.

Tom Listened: I have recently been listening to Lou Reed’s Berlin and John Martyn’s Grace and Danger. These are two of my favourite albums. On first listening I literally hated the sound of both! The songs were fine but Berlin’s theatrical production and Grace and Danger’s 80s synth cheese took considerable effort to see past. I say this because I had a similar experience listening to Hidden at DRC. Whereas I loved the sound of Bee Thousand, but I knew I would need to spend time with the songs (and am confident that I would quickly grow to see them as indispensable), Hidden’s dark and ominous (for me, if not Rob) sound made me feel disorientated and unsettled. It could very well be that, with time, I would grow to accept, then embrace, then love this album (just as I have Berlin and Grace and Danger) and I was impressed by its originality and the fact that it could induce such a strong response in me. However, I think, of the two, I’ll be purchasing Bee Thousand first.

Patrick Wolf – ‘Wind In The Wires’ – Round 3: Nick’s Choice

Patrick Wolf – Wind In The Wires

Patrick Wolf’s second album was a very last-minute choice for this week’s DRC; I have a list of potential future choices saved on my computer’s desktop, but nothing there was really speaking to me as I pondered what to choose. Then, all of a sudden as I got home and prepared to hit the road for Sidmouth, this struck me as being an obvious choice. Subliminally perhaps I felt a thread or theme running through from my other choices; Tom pointed out during the evening that I had chosen three solo artists, and all English, for our first three meetings.

And three English solo artists who all make music very much influenced by and about England itself, too; from Bark Psychosis’ evocation of crepuscular urban landscapes and the people within them to Polly Jean’s exploration of the emotions of war and how conflict has shaped and scarred our nation, and now to Patrick Wolf’s meandering, wounded troubadour escape from London to Penzance, taking in Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s coastal railway line through Devon, howling atop Cornish cliffs, and the emotional peril of self-discovery.

I was interested in Patrick Wolf from his debut album, 2003’s spitting Lycnathropy, which tied up violin-folk with glitchy beats and Freudian wailing, but the reserve of Wind In The Wires, his second album from 2005, was what made me a fan. Seeing Patrick perform these songs live, stripped to voice, one instrument (violin, ukulele, or piano), and a barefooted drummer, at Exeter’s Phoenix made me fall absolutely in love with this record, though. There’s a musicality, a compositional ease, about the way he moves through a tune and from tune to tune that manifests here which few of his contemporaries can get close to.

Patrick himself is a divisive figure, though; I know some music fans and writers who cannot stand to listen to his records for the ostentation and diva-ish-ness they perceive as being his character. I interviewed him (over the phone) once, and found him to be compelling and compassionate, if a little controlling (he is a complete perfectionist regarding his music). His hair has regularly been coloured shocking red or stark blonde, his face glittered, his wardrobe veering into sparkly silver shoes or ostentatious feathered capes; in short, he is, and can be, and will be in the future, a glam figure, stomping and strutting. But here, on this record, he is stripped back (even if the arrangements aren’t, necessarily). It’s the only album cover (of four so far) where his hair in the cover photo is (close to) its natural colour.

So the record begins with a song about being tired of the scene in London, leeched dry by libertines and lasciviousness, and winds its way to space and fresh air in Cornwall, depicting the journey, epiphanies along the way, a period of realisation, and finally, to close, the return leg back home, enervated and positive and with a finished record to press. It could be taken as a concept album if one wanted. I adore it. But what would Devon Record Club think?

Rob listened: I think both Tom and I were expecting something a little more theatrical from Patrick Wolf. From my perspective, having formed a rounded judgement largely by flicking past his album covers in the racks, I thought we’d get the bastard offspring of Elton John and Julian Cope. Instead this seems the very essence of pastoral Elgartronica. I confess I wasn’t convinced at first. Something about that voice, and its background, sounded too forced, to keen to be something, to say something. Pretentious, in the true sense. Nick’s defence was well-marshalled, and by the time the closing tracks came around, I started to get a feel for why Wolf might inspire such devotion.

Really glad to hear it.

Tom listened: I was very pleasantly surprised by this album – it was nothing like I was expecting and, once I had gone through the excruciating process of trying to recall who his voice reminded me of (Josh T Pearson from Lift to Experience to save you the bother), I realised that I had been completely drawn in by the album and was really enjoying what I was hearing. The experience of having my expectations confounded by this record really got me thinking about how detrimental image, perceived personality and prejudice is when listening to music and how, despite finding the record fascinating, I still am finding it a little difficult to see beyond the overblown theatrics I had witnessed on Later…with Jools Holland. More fool me!

PJ Harvey – ‘Let England Shake’ – Round 2: Nick’s Choice

PJ Harvey – ‘Let England Shake’

In a flagrant disregard for both the rules and spirit of Devon Record Club, a certain member of the Club, who could possibly be my direct line manager at work, expressed a preference over my choice for our second meeting. Not wanting to be bullied at work anymore than I already am, I acquiesced…

I’m joking of course, although Rob did say he was interested in hearing Let England Shake. It’s also, being very new (out on Monday) and receiving of gushing press coverage, a very zeitgeisty record right now, and seemed ripe for consumption and discussion.

I’ve written about it already on my blog to an extent, so I’ll try not to repeat myself here, and instead add a couple of comments that I mentioned as I introduced it last night.

Firstly, there’s a lot of talk about this being a “political” record (yesterday I was in Loughborough giving a talk at a conference, and in conversation with one of the other speakers this record was mentioned, and his first comment was “it’s meant to be political, isn’t it?”), but I think talk of its politics is a misnomer. Let England Shake is only political in the absolute broadest possible sense of politics being about people. There is a deliberate narrative distance afforded by the arrangements and (in particular) the vocal performances that, to me, says Polly Jean Harvey isn’t judging the things she is describing them except in, again, the broadest possible sense; these situations are horrific, they destroy people individually and collectively in a literal sense. She offers no solutions, offers no alternatives, doesn’t ask the listener to decline, just leaves a big gap which the listener can fill with… whatever they choose. Which may be a political reading, or a humanist reading, or an ignoring of the lyrics altogether.

Secondly, the arrangements here are terrific, and very sophisticated to my ears. The musical appropriations, whether compositional or sample-based, are interwoven in a way that reminds me of Public Enemy: the grooves (whether guitar or drum or autoharp driven) and melodies are appealing, invite the listener in, express an aesthetic (a kind of modern, post-shoegaze folk) that is familiar and comfortable, but the samples and appropriations are so incongruous, so off-kilter, so dissonant in some cases (musicologically or culturally) that they work against that comfort zone, repel the listener, and create a truly compelling and truly weird dichotomy, in much the same ideological way that the sirens and so on in those early PE records seemed like noise but worked like hooks. Melodic references to Surfin’ Bird and Summertime Blues in a “folk” song? Strange.

Lastly, I think this record, after a week, is a masterpiece. I find it incredibly moving emotionally, which is why I don’t think of it as a political record. It doesn’t encourage me to postulate or hypothesise; it forces me to empathise, to feel horror, in the juxtaposition of the Summerisle melody and double-thwack round-the-maypole lilt of The Colour Of The Earth with its horrific lyrics of war and loss and the delivery, so removed, so remote, so deadpan, like children 100 years after the fact singing about the black death without knowing what it means and their parents recoiling in horror when the punctum strikes home.

Rob listened: This prompted great discussion about the Polly Jean’s place in the pantheon, and in our culture in general. Had she been to the wilderness and back? Had she in fact been making great records all along? If so, why does now feel like a return to the fold, the anointing of a national treasure? Most importantly it sounded like a fine, rewarding album, rich in detail that I’ll look forward to exploring.

Tom Listened: I have never bought a PJ Harvey album! There, I said it! I think this is about to change. What a brilliant sounding record. Whereas in the past her power came from being powerful, she seems to have learnt that power can come from restraint too and her voice on this album sounds to me like honey rather than the swarm of bees of old. Nice one Rob Nick. Great choice.

Electrelane – ‘I Want To Be The President’

Given that PJ’s new album is only 40 minutes long, I was able to pick an individual track to play too. Given Electrelane’s announcement this week that they’ve reformed and arranged a handful of live performances (no mention of an album yet, but I live in hope) it seemed timely to pick this tune by Brighton’s finest all-girl krautpoppers. A bridging single between their debut and sophomore records, it marks the first time Electrelane used vocals in a song, and as such is something of an epiphany moment for them. It also, being produced by Echoboy (ex of The Hybirds), adds an electro-pulse to proceedings which is atypical of their later, Steve Albini-recorded sound, but still very much identifiable as Electrelane. One of my favourite bands of the 00s.

Aphex Twin – ‘Flim’

In yet more flagrant disregard for the rules, I forced a second song selection on the DRC, and played this beatific b-side to the ravenously extreme Come To Daddy single. It does, indeed, move me in ways that nothing else moves me, both emotionally and physically – head-nodding has been known.

Aphex Twin is known for his technical nous regarding beats and constructions, but for me his real genius is melodic; the Richard D James album achieves the same kind of push-me-pull-you dichotomy as discussed regarding the samples on the PJ Harvey album, juxtaposing sweet, childlike melodies with jackhammer beats. The beats here are less frenetic, but still offer a stark contrast to the beguiling melodic manoeuvres. Flim manages to be both uplifting and mournful and kinetic and blissful all at the same time. It’s a trick that’s fascinated and enchanted me for nigh-on 14 years.

Bark Psychosis – ‘///Codename:Dustsucker’ – Round 1: Nick’s Choice

Bark Psychosis – ‘///Codename:Dustsucker’

My choice for the first Devon Record Club was an obvious one; so obvious I thought about resisting it and picking something else instead. But sometimes your first instinct is also your best instinct, so I’ve decided to stick with it.

///Codename:Dustsucker by Bark Psychosis was released in 2004; despite being only the band’s second album, it came out a full decade after their debut, Hex. In the space of that decade, the band had disintegrated from being a four-piece to a one-piece, becoming essentially the solo project of frontman and studio-mastermind Graham Sutton.

Music journalist Simon Reynolds infamously coined the term “postrock” in his review of BP’s debut for Mojo, positing it as being the next evolutionary step for rock, encompassing influences from dance, jazz, the avant-garde, and modern digital recording techniques. ///Codename:Dustsucker continues that evolution, drawing from Sutton’s time spent making drum n bass records under the Boymerang name and his burgeoning career as a producer of other people’s music.

Sutton spent five years making //Codename:Dustsucker, micro-editing it, re-recording sections, playing with the sound until he was happy with it. I interviewed him around its release and he said the making of music was far more important to him than what happens afterwards, and compared himself to Mark E Smith; except instead of always working and perpetually releasing something new every year, Sutton was just always working on the same thing.

Just over a year ago I reunited a load of the writers from Stylus Magazine, where I used to write, so we could put together our top albums of the last decade. //Codename:Dustsucker was the record I put at number one on my own ballot paper. It’s not something I listen to with great frequency; there’s an intensity and density to it that doesn’t require regular revisiting. But it’s a record I listen to in depth when I do play it, and a record that rewards that depth of attention.

So what does it sound like, what does it do? //Codename:Dustsucker is a very urban record, a very isolated record, a very dour record, but also a very beautiful and a very exciting record. It takes in the pseudo-freeform structures we recognise as postrock, but applies a far broader palette of aesthetics: you’ll hear touches of jazz, acid house, dub, and sheets of noise, plus oblique references to Chris Morris, lyrics in German, studio accidents preserved in aspic, the drummer from Talk Talk, a sample of a b-side by Bark Psychosis’ earlier incarnation, huge, squelching 303s, guitar, piano, bass, drums, “found trumpet”, and “indicators”. The usual.

Spotify link: Bark Psychosis – Codename: Dustsucker

Rob listened: I know what a touchstone this is for Nick so it was good to sit down and listen properly. It certainly sounds impressive, although when you’ve spent a year tinkering with a drum fill, I suspect it’s time you, or your records, got out more. I can hear the through-line from Talk Talk to Four Tet taking in the sounds of some of my favourite bands of the last 20 years. It’s to ///Codename: Dustsucker’s credit that it’s almost impossible to discern where it is the antecedent and where the descendant. Perhaps, as Nick might have us believe, it’s actually the motherlode. And hey! I’ve got that Boymerang record!

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