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

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

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

More fool me!

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

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

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Sugar – Copper Blue: Round 103 – Tom’s Selection

In a moment of gay abandon I thought I would actually write up my choice from our last meeting. It appears that life has got ahead of us and, whilst we still meet up (occasionally), our blog has seemed to have stagnated to the point of ossification. But, seeing as I am gearing up to going back to work next week and, as a result, I am going to be spending an inordinate amount of time tapping away on a keyboard – when I started out, I thought teaching would be about…teaching (how naive I was!) – I thought it would be a good idea to get a bit of keyboard tapping practise in. So, here goes…

I took Sugar’s Copper Blue to the last meeting. I took it because it’s brilliant.

In fact, and I feel a bit disloyal writing this, I am increasingly of the opinion it’s the best thing Bob Mould has ever done. This is not something I would have ever admitted at the time, but over the years Copper Blue has become the undeniable choice from the ‘catalogue of Mould’ as far as I am concerned. In fact it’s also, for my money, one of the best rock albums of the 90s by anyone, its writhing, swirling melodic lines built for longevity and exploration..in stark contrast to some of the more heralded yet straightforward LPs that were covering similar landscapes at that point in time.

In comparison to Mould’s previous work in Husker Du, Copper Blue pounds its way through its 45 minutes, the tinny, trebbly production of New Day Rising and Flip Your Wig transformed into an irresistible melange of thundering drums and relentless bass, overlaid (most of the time) with Mould’s trademark guitar squalls and reverse solos. As a result the album exudes a warmth that was only hinted at on The Husker’s last two records and wasn’t really evident at all on their output prior to their move to Warner Brothers. And, in my opinion, Mould’s song writing is at its zenith on Copper Blue, ten tracks of peerless quality, from the ominous minor key riffage that opens The Act We Act, to the gloriously uplifting exit of Man On The Moon and pretty much everything in between. In fact, as a thought experiment, try supplanting any of Mould’s Husker Du tracks for a song on Copper Blue and it would only serve to weaken the album…that’s how good it is!

Pointing out highlights seems superfluous but I’m going to have a go…

‘A Good Idea’ is a Pixies’ song in all but name but, as if he’s pointing an accusatory finger their way, Mould seems to be saying, ‘Look, I invented this stuff and I can do it really easily and really well and…here’s a song that’s just as good as Debaser or Gouge Away or Where Is My Mind and it’s not even the best song on the record!’ ‘Helpless’ recalls Mould’s previous power pop triumphs when in his former combo (Makes No Sense At All, Could You Be The One), but with generous lashings of extra pop. ‘If I Can’t Change Your Mind’ harks back to The Byrds circa I Fell A Whole Lot Better and ‘Slick’ kicks up a maelstrom of noise all snarled vocals and reverb and anger.

However, my two favourite cuts on the album, and as a result, my two favourite moments in Mould’s entire canon are the aforementioned The Act We Act and side one’s epic closer Hoover Dam. The two seem to me to be two sides of the same coin, both tracks weaving an intricate path through light and dark; minor and major keys being used to accentuate the release and keep the listener guessing, even after riding the beast for the 100th time. They are astonishing songs on an astonishing album in an astonishing career and if Bob Mould ever goes on to better Copper Blue, he will have produced a work of such unimpeachable quality that ‘rock’ as a form of popular music may as well consider itself truly dead and buried.

Or maybe that’s what Copper Blue did all along, it was just that none of us realised it at the time!

Steve Listened: It was great to revisit this album. I had forgotten how truly great it was. It also helped me unlock his latest solo album (‘Patch the Sky’) which I played at “full tilt” all the way home that night. I’ve also been re-playing Copper Blue a lot so thanks Tom – made me feel 20 again!

 

The Besnard Lakes – Are The Black Horse: Round 98 – Tom’s Selection

homepage_large-48cd8e8b‘Inspired’ by Steve’s attempts to ‘proggify’ us at the previous meeting…and neatly tying in with Rob’s Godspeed offering as well I decided, at the eleventh hour, to take Are The Black Horse along as my choice for Nick’s supremely poorly disguised ‘bring anything as long as it’s not prog’ themed night. He couched this, in the literal sense, as ‘bring something recent’, but we all knew what he was getting at. I thought, however, that it might be fun to poke the bear and seeing as The Besnard Lakes have occasionally had the ‘P’ word used to describe their work, I couldn’t wait to see Nick’s reaction when subjected to what may be the proggiest record in my collection.

However…it turns out that Are The Dark Horse is actually not very proggy at all. In fact, I would say it leans closer to shoegaze, post-rock or psychedelia than prog, only evoking those hoary old behemoths of excessive tempo and key signature alteration during the occasional guitar solo, or in the airbrushed cover art and the ridiculously pretentious album name.

To be honest, I have never quite clicked with the music of The Besnard Lakes. Whilst they are one of those bands that I have always felt might play a blinder at some stage of their career, the two albums of theirs I do own (this and the one with the even sillier name about UFOs) are just a little too po-faced and monochrome to really draw me in. That said, there is much to admire – the swooping melodies for a start, often aching with melancholia, are beautifully realised, especially on the first two tracks of the album, Disaster and For Agent 13.

Third track, And You Lied To Me, is the album’s epic and, as such, is probably its proggiest moment, segueing from one movement to another over the course of its 7 minute duration. But this is prog 30 years on and whilst the structures may echo past glories/misdemeanours, the music has been filtered through a lineage stretching from Glenn Branca, to Sonic Youth to Broken Social Scene, so there is only the faintest whiff of the 70s art form present on this, or indeed any other track on the record. Because Tonight is similarly lengthy but is far more straightforward in construction and plays like an indie band dabbling in post-rock probably thanks, in no small part, to the influence of Godspeed You Black Emperor’s Sophie Trudeau guesting on the album. The record closes with a gorgeous Beach Boys sound-a-like in Cedric’s War, its warm bounciness and summery vocals making it very much an outlier and a welcome one as far as I am concerned.

But that’s not to say that the album needed a change by track 8, it doesn’t. The preceding seven tracks (well, with the exception of Devastation, which I have never really got on with at all) are all lovely, interesting…compelling even. It’s just that, as an album, Are The Dark Horse doesn’t really draw me to it very often and, when it does, it doesn’t tend to keep me coming back for more. I’m not entirely sure why this should be the case…all I know is I’m glad the album exists, I’m glad to have it in my collection and I super relieved it didn’t turn out to be proggy at all…apart from the fact that, for me, the album as a whole seems to add up to less than the sum of its parts (see my response to Trespass in round 97).

Nick listened: Rockier than I expected.

Van Morrison – Veedon Fleece: Round 97 – Tom’s Selection

r-1560420-1446653929-4158-jpegAt the bum end of the 1980s barely a week went by in the music press without some mention being made of Astral Weeks. It was often cited as the wellspring for much of the music that I was particularly excited by at that time; the etherealists: Spacemen 3, AR Kane, The Cocteau Twins were all claimed to have emanated from Morrison’s first solo album. Hell, the journalists even managed to convince me that the noisemakers: Loop, Dinosaur Jr and Sonic Youth were supposedly connected in some way.

So I was feverishly intrigued to hear Astral Weeks for the first time and I recall sitting in disbelief as the pastoral strings and gentle bass runs of the title track began to writhe around the, frankly overblown (and very high in the mix) vocals. What followed was, if anything, even more discombobulating; the free jazz ramblings of Beside You, the folk-pop ditty Sweet Thing, The Way Young Lovers Do with its brisk pace and brisk brass and the extended, Dylanesque, streams of consciousness trilogy of Cypress Avenue, Madame George and Ballerina. By the time Slim Slow Slider’s clarinet(!) was fading out to nothing I was at the point of writing to NME and MM to ask for my money back.

…but a strange thing happened. I listened to it again. And then again! And again. And then I copied it onto a C45 (with Kitchens Of Distinction’s Love Is Hell on the other side) and listened to it pretty much non-stop throughout the entire summer of 1989. And for a while, at least, if anyone had been bothered to ask me, I would have proclaimed it the best album ever made, even if it didn’t really sound like any of the music that people who knew about such things had been likening it to.

Not long after, I checked out Moondance, Morrison’s follow up to Astral Weeks and…couldn’t stand it. So I listened, and listened again, and one more time…and still couldn’t stand it! It seemed as though it had been made by an entirely different artist and its hideously smooth, easy listening landscapes felt completely at odds with Astral Weeks’ edginess and unpredictability. So I parked Van Morrison as one of those weird artists that release a single, one off, masterpiece followed by a huge pile of cack and left him alone for a while.

But a few years on a friend of mine was giving away her vinyl and asked me if I wanted to take any. In amongst the Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell and Tim Hardin albums were Hard Nose The Highway and Veedon Fleece, two of Morrison’s mid 70s offerings. Well, to say I had low expectations was an understatement and, sure enough, the former was terrible…in fact I passed it on to a charity shop not long afterwards. But Veedon Fleece was different and, whilst it has never made its way into my regular rotation, I have always enjoyed its pastoral tones and Irish hues. But it’s not a consistent record and, unlike Astral Weeks, it doesn’t feel as though every song is an essential part of a jigsaw – a few pieces of Veedon Fleece could be happily lost down the back of the sofa as far as I am concerned being somewhat beige and uninspiring – folk rock by numbers, if you will (opener Fair Play and side two’s Cul De Sac and Comfort You are Morrison snooze fests of the worst variety).

However, when it’s good, Veedon Fleece is spectacular. The trio of great songs that properly launch side 1 (once Fair Play has been negotiated), Linden Arden Stole The Highlights, Who Was That Masked Man and Streets of Arklow are all of the highest calibre, equal to almost anything on Astral Weeks and, to my mind, offering an Arcadian warmth that Astral Weeks misses, focusing, as it does on the scruffy urban vistas of Dublin rather than the lush green countryside of rural Eire.

But pride of place has to be the frankly awe inspiring 9 minute long meditation of You Don’t Pull No Punches, But You Don’t Push The River. I have no idea what he’s on about, I’m not even sure of what he’s doing musically, but I do know that it vies with Astral Weeks as the best song I’ve heard by Mr Morrison and I can’t think there are many tracks out there, by Van, or anyone else for that matter, that have the ability to elevate the listener as effectively.

Rob listened: I know little of Van Morrison, beyond owning ‘Astral Weeks’ and having had brief periods where I wanted to listen to the title track on repeat for hours. I felt very well disposed to ‘Veedon Fleece’ which seemed to me another burbling brook of an album. I love the idea that Van Morrison is like a 24 hour radio station, and each album just an hour spent tuning in to whatever is playing at that given moment. I certainly like him most when he’s at his most stream-of-semi-consciousness. Lots of nice stuff here and some stuff that did sound awfully twee, at least until Steve opened up his record bag…

Nick listened: Irish.

The Avalanches – Since I Left You: Round 96 – Tom’s Selection

the-avalanches-sinceimetyouTaking advantage of a theme free and underpopulated evening I chose, as the deadline was looming, the 1 hour and 39 seconds of aural bliss that is, it turns out, The Avalanches first (as opposed to only) album, Since I Left You.

Released in 2000, for me no other album signified the coming of the new millennium quite as effectively. Bright, busy, supremely optimistic and breathtakingly well conceived, Since I Left You seemed, at the time, to mark a new dawning, a fresh way of doing things. Surely the shape of things to come! Taking our lead from the album cover, we waited, with baited breath, for the tidal wave of copyists; the magpies, the hoarders, the new collagists, imitating the mother lode but, inevitably, never improving on it. But they never really came, sunk without trace!? So we waited for the Avalanches themselves; to follow up their gargantuan first effort…and we waited, and waited, and waited! Internet rumours came and went, as they tend to do, but the offerings were piecemeal; the odd song here and there, guest artists occasionally letting slip that they had been allowed in to have a play but still nothing. And then, just as we were giving up, Wildflower was released and finally, Since I Left You had a sibling…sixteen years on! What does it sound like? I don’t know because, I’ve never heard it! I haven’t felt enticed because, and I guess this might be partly why we waited so long, Since I Left You is as close to damn it to perfection that I really don’t feel I need anything else like it.

I realised, as I was considering writing this blog entry, that Since I Left You is probably the only album I own which I really, really love yet know practically nothing about. After all, I can only recall the names of two of the songs, and can’t really hum, or even remember anything other than the occasional musical motif, a whiff here and there, the tiniest of shards, gleaming yet gone in a flash. Since I Left You (the song) and Frontier Psychiatrist are so anomalous (in that they are recognisable as songs in their own right) from to their bedfellows that even though they are both awesome pieces of music, you do end up wondering whether they belong with the rest of the stuff on the album. Because, if they weren’t there, Since I Left You would play out a bit like a dance orientated, poppy version of one of those albums we’ve had at record club every so often (The Necks and William Basinski spring to mind) where the music twists and turns and morphs and mutates over time, shape shifting imperceptibly yet definitely. But, in contrast to the minimalism on show in these other cases, the movements here are from one beautiful groove to the next, gradually and seamlessly blissing out as the end of the trip looms into view. I own the vinyl version of the album and the only breaks in the musical theme (apart from the aforementioned singles) are the end of the sides…I almost wish I owned this in some digital format instead, just so that that continuity could be preserved!

I don’t listen to Since I left You all that often but, whenever I do, it feels like a real treat. As for Wildflower, I am pleased for the Avalanches that they have managed to move back towards, if not into, the zeitgeist but I can’t help feeling that there is something inherently cool about those rare cases in popular music where a band comes along, releases a single classic album and then buggers off never to be seen again. For sixteen years The Avalanches were one of those bands; now they just seem a little bit more ‘regular’ than their fantastic debut album would suggest.

Grimes – Art Angels: Round 95 – Tom’s Selection

59ef246fMy choice for Nick’s ‘I Can’t Believe We Hadn’t Had This Already’ round elicited a disapproving sneer from our illustrious and sage leader when he walked in, late, to the strains of Belly of the Beat…or Kill VS Main…or some such.

It appears that my choice was ill conceived in that:

a) We had already had a couple of songs played from it at the Xmas round up last year (technically only one as far as I am concerned as Realiti is not on my version of the record and I, therefore, don’t consider it as part of the whole).

and

b) It’s only been around for about ten months.

Well, I see the first point as an irrelevance (we’ve never played the album) and I see the second point as…an irrelevance too! The irony is that Grimes has been mentioned far more times at record club than the band that made Rob’s record (I’m not going to give it away by mentioning it by name) and, hence, of the two, I am much more surprised it hadn’t yet been featured at the club. As a side note, I’m not surprised at all that neither Nick or Steve’s albums had passed us by up to this point!

But, seeing as Art Angels is a work of genius, a signpost to the future of pop music, an enduring classic (I’d put money on it) in its infancy, I felt it was about time somebody did the decent thing and took it along. It is also one of only a handful of records that everyone in my family is nuts about…well, maybe not my parents, but my wife and kids seem to love it just as much as I do.

And it’s not hard to see why. Because what Grimes is doing on Art Angels is stunning. Listening closely tonight to Belly of the Beat, trying to see what it is that makes the record so special, it struck me that it is the production (Claire Boucher did everything on this album, including the engineering!) that is particularly breathtaking. One of the albums shyest tracks, Belly of the Beat is, ostensibly, an acoustic strum laid over a programmed drum beat with some typically sweet vocals floating eight miles high above the instrumentation. Strip away the production and you’d be left with something lovely…but unremarkable, perhaps. Listen closely, however, and you’ll hear the workings of what is, surely, one of the great minds working in music today. Sounds come and go in torrents, gush and then recede, swirl and distort but, crucially, never feel forced or over-considered. The song itself never really does much, there’s no rousing singalong chorus, no real hooks, but it also never repeats, never gets lazy, constantly keeps you guessing and, consequently, leaves you wanting more. And more is what you get, because each and every song (even the weird little ones, the grit in the oyster, if you will) sound amazing. Art Angels is such a complete work, 45 minutes of aural, and cerebral, bliss, art masquerading as pop. I worry for Grime’s next album because it may never appear this natural, this unforced again. With Art Angels she’s pulled back the curtain, revealed the magic and, in the process, made things very difficult for her future self.

But worrying about something that may never happen makes no sense at all and so whilst I wait to see what her next move will be, I plan to wear out my copy of Art Angels whilst regularly reminding Rob of how it’s actually a much better album than a scuzzy 50 year old relic with a banana on the front. Whoops. I may have just let the cat out of the bag!

Steve listened: No need to get all defensive…It’s a great album although I wouldn’t have said that it was a classic one that we have failed to listen to yet, whereas a certain recording with a banana cover…is. I would also argue that Mr Cope’s entry into the world of music also fits that bill. But here’s me being all defensive of the other choices when Grimes’ album is, I agree, a pop masterpiece. It’s also a possible intersection in the musical Venn diagram between my tastes and my children’s. So, I will inevitably buy it and listen to a lot…..in the car.

Rob listened: We’ve only had 8 or 9 rounds of DRC since this record was released (slowing up guys…), and 3 or 4 of those had prescribed themes. So, on balance, I can very well believe that we haven’t had ‘Art Angels’ yet.

Which is not to say that it wasn’t a welcome arrival. I bought it when it came out, on the strength of the blistering ‘Kill V Maim’. I loved the album but never really allowed it to sink it’s hooks into me, and without the early attachment, it has sunk out of sight. Hearing it again reminded me how laser bright, mercilessly catchy and gobsmackingly inventive it is. Hearing all three wrapped up in one package is very, very rare and so I concur with Tom, this is a special record.

Glad we didn’t have to wait any longer.

Robbie Basho – Visions Of The Country: Round 94 – Tom’s Selection

visions_PINAlthough I have had a healthy interest in music since I first discovered the records of the Beatles when I was about ten years of age, my obsessiveness developed into encyclopedic around the time I started university; a time which happened to coincide with my purchasing of the weekly music mags (partly as a way of avoiding my studies?) coupled with listening avidly to John Peel’s nightly radio show.

Of course, despite my voracious thirst for musical knowledge, there were many genres of music for which my research came up short, but when it comes to white American men strumming or plucking or plonking acoustic instruments, until recently I have felt as though, even though I may not have heard the music itself, I would know of the key players, the movers and the shakers…that new names would not crop up or, if they did, it would be because they weren’t particularly good! Robbie Basho’s Visions Of The Country has been a revelation and makes me wonder how many other gems are out there, flying under the radar.

Until about two months ago I hadn’t heard of Robbie Basho. Flicking through the ILX forum one day, lost for inspiration, I noticed his name as a thread title and had the thought, ‘why not actually click on the thread’ rather than do what I would normally do and dismiss it as someone not worth bothering with…simply because I had never heard of him!

There was the usual level of internet devotion on the thread, but as respondents are a self-selecting group, that’s hardly surprising…I could click on a Whitney Houston thread and find a similar level of enthusiastic devotion but she would still sound like a bunch of cats being tortured no matter how many times someone tells you she is the greatest female singer of all time! However, there was also a link to a youtube clip of Blue Crystal Fire and this had me spellbound from the off. A simple strummed acoustic guitar which wouldn’t have sounded out of place on The Palace Brother’s wonderful debut ‘There is No-One what Will Take Care Of You’, or Smog’s masterpiece ‘A River Ain’t Too Much To Love’ and that voice, kind of like Bill Callahan doing his best Anohni impression. The song was ponderous/funereal in terms of pace, repetitive, overtly earnest…and, for me, absolutely captivating. Usually a youtube clip, even of a song I like, will keep me interested for a minute, maybe two, before I see a suggested link and click on that. Well Blue Crystal Fire got about four full plays…and then I bought the album, avoiding playing anything else from it lest it diminished the impact of the first run through when the record arrived.

It turns out that Blue Crystal Fire is a bit of an anomaly, at least as far as Visions Of The Country is concerned – most of the other songs on the album involve lengthy passages of semi-improvised(?) finger picking interspersed with relatively brief blasts of Basho’s deep baritone. On many of the tracks there is no discernible repetition, no conventional song structure, it should be a formless mess, almost impossible to access and intimidating to listen to. But…it’s not. At least as far as I’m concerned!

As Nick suggested on the night, possibly that’s down to the images and atmospheres the songs evoke (the image on the album sleeve is almost exactly the image Basho’s music conjures up). The record transports the listener – perhaps to another (better?) place, almost certainly to a simpler time, perhaps a time we all yearn for where we are closer to our natural environment; where we would be more likely to take notice of the beauty of a flower or a waterfall or a deer; where there is time and space and, ironically, silence. Whilst this may sound like hippy dippy shit, Visions Of The Country avoids all those trappings by mining the source and in the process it sounds like it has always been there, just like the mountains, lakes and streams it so exquisitely evokes.

Rob listened: Blimey.

One of the beautiful things about record club, some of the most memorable, tangible moments, come when some record or other, and it’s almost impossible to predict which ones, just end up captivating us. We’re extremely capable of talking over almost anything, quiet or loud, long or short, insistent or passive, but every so often an album just captivates us. So it was with ‘Visions of the Country’. It could have passed us by. We could have been non-plussed and untouched, as we seemed to be by Tim Hecker in the previous round, as Robbie Basho also tinkled out a load of abstract, unstructured sound. But we were completely drawn in.

And yes, I was reminded of some of Will Oldham’s instrumental outings, and also some of the Derek Bailey improvised guitar stuff I’ve heard. It also reminded me of some of the abstract twinklings I like to listen to, and I also got Tom’s suggestion that it captured the same desert spirit as some of the good Captain Beefheart’s music.

But it was also wonderfully idiosyncratic and helplessly absorbing.  I’ve got a feeling I had heard of Robbie Basho before, only in that I can faintly imagine someone American saying his name in an interview. Now you can mark me down as someone actively seeking out his records. Thanks Tom, an absolute winner.

Steve listened: Blimey indeed

This was the album I talked, effused and waxed lyrical about when I got to talk about the night’s proceedings with my wife. I was most struck by the level of musicianship, and how he managed to take a 12 string guitar and play it like a sitar. This approach completely contrasts other western musicians who have embedded eastern music into a western style, almost as an add on. Here the subject and sounds seemed to blend seemlessly. Yes, thanks Tom, I will seek too.