Young Marble Giants – Colossal Youth: Round 22 – Tom’s Selection

As a ‘no theme’ evening, I had no idea at all what records Rob, Graham and Nick would be bringing. As it turned out, my offering couldn’t have provided a greater contrast to theirs. But then, Colossal Youth offers a stark contrast to pretty much everything else in recorded music – though it may have been an influential album, its sound has never (to my knowledge) been replicated and, now that we live in very different times and produce records in very different ways, I guess it is unlikely ever to be. Colossal Youth is certainly not one of those ‘timeless classics’. It was made in 1980 and it sounds like a record that couldn’t have been made at any other point in time. It’s all hushed tones, intimate, yet strangely dispassionate vocals, chopped guitar notes, cheap ‘n nasty organ sounds and the occasional, relatively frantic (as in a snail in fifth gear), bass run. When listed, it sounds as there there might be quite a lot going on. There’s not! I described Colossal Youth at the meeting as one of the most ‘undense’ records ever. I stand by that. Though sonically very different, I am minded to reference Nick Drake’s Horn as the only music I know of that conjures a similar feel…and that’s much less of a trick to pull off when you consider that its an instrumental, played on two strings of an acoustic guitar. But Colossal Youth’s shares its sense of space and intimacy and is equally intriguing.

My relationship with Young Marble Giants’ sole album has been a long running and ever evolving affair. I bought it with a vague expectation that it might be something I liked having seen it mentioned from time to time in the music press. This was prior to Kurt Cobain’s championing of the record and Hole’s butchering of Credit in the Straight World (a prime example of something becoming infinitely less powerful as the…well, power, I guess…is ramped up). I hated it at first. It sounded like mopy bedroom music. I found Alison Statton’s vocals to be cloying in the extreme sounding like something the Grange Hill school band might come up with on an off night. And the music had no momentum, at all. And that bothered me, a lot. So it sat on my shelf, gathering dust….

But every so often I would try it out again. You know how it goes. Gradually it wheedles it way in and before you know it, it’s one of your favourite records. Now, I love it all. I treasure the cheesy bits (the song Colossal Youth, Wind in the Rigging), no longer embarrassed by their lack of backbone but in awe of the restraint and bravery in making music that sounds so limited and fragile when your peers were playing with noise, feedback and distortion. And whilst there are jewels scattered throughout this record the run of Choco Loni through to Brand-New-Life is, for me, just breathtaking.

So, twenty(ish) years on, my conversion is complete – I am a Young Marble Giants devotee, an apologist no longer. I’m not sure whether this has been caused by my own maturation, the changing times we live in, or two decades of getting acquainted. Probably it’s a combination of all three. Perhaps my three fellow club members will shed some light on this.

Nick listened: I’ve heard of Young Marble Giants before, but only vaguely – they got mentioned quite a lot in relation to The XX’s debut album in 2009, as a touchstone for stripped down minimalism – but I didn’t really know what to expect when Tom unveiled his choice. And boy, is it minimal – maybe not ‘spacious’, as the vocals are quite closely mic’d – but there’s so little going on, and so much restraint. I really enjoyed it, especially the juxtaposition between some exceptionally childlike moments and occasional instances of something a little darker, almost more abrasive. I think I’ll be investigating further, not that there’s much more to check out…

Rob listened: Young Marble Giants were spoken of in appropriately hushed tones by the time I began my NME-scouring phase in the mid-late 80s. Somehow, inexplicably, I got them mixed up with Cowboy Junkies circa ‘Caution Horses’ and so when I finally got around to listening to ‘Colossal Youth’ a couple of years ago I found myself with more questions then answers. What a strange and rather wonderful record it is, sitting somewhere in the hitherto undiscovered and unsuspected territory between Low and Billy Bragg. One of the recurring questions at DRC is whether a certain record could be made now, or whether it was of its time. This is one that probably could only have been made in a specific 18-month window and that’s no bad thing.

Graham listened: A complete unknown for me. But I cannot recall a DRC offering when I have hung on every note, vocal etc as much as this one. I was always interested to know where each track was going, probably as the sound was so minimal. Some parts sounded like they were heading in the direction of ‘dodgy’ 6th form bands (believe me I should know), but there was always a  mini-drama/humour/ironic touch that demanded you keep listening. Like Rob said, probably of its time, but nothing wrong with that. Left thinking how the band could possibly follow that with another album?

Big Star – Third/Sister Lovers: Round 21 – Tom’s Selection

This used to be my favourite record. Now, twenty(ish) years on, having re-aquainted ourselves properly after a while apart, I am as astonished by this monumental piece of work as I was when I first tentatively placed my stylus in the opening groove of (the frankly gobsmacking) Stroke It Noel all those years ago. It was love at first listen. It so easily might not have been. I got lucky!

Big Star’s 3rd album has a complicated history. Due to all sorts of messy record label wranglings, the album failed to see the light of day at the time of its recording and hence the tracklisting when PVC (the cover above) finally released the album in 1978 was different to the one that Alex Chilton and Jim Dickinson had initially decided on. When Rykodisc re-released the record in 1992 they stuck more closely to the original playlist…but it makes little sense and completely alters the feel of the record. PVC got it right! So my first impressions of Big Star’s 3rd (and Big Star for that matter) were so overwhelming that the record could never fail to win me over. Had I bought the Rykodisc version, I would have initially been faced with the fine enough, but awkward, rocker of Kizza Me which makes an excellent, contrasting track three (after the lush strings of the aforementioned Noel and the equally beautiful, Jodie Stephens penned For You) but just doesn’t really cut it as a first track. Nick, who owns the Rykodisc version, actually took a photo of the track order from my record sleeve as it dawned on him how the record is completely transformed with a few alterations to sequencing.

The PVC copy tells the story of one man’s descent into the deepest, darkest recesses of the human soul imaginable. By the time he wrote the songs for 3rd Alex Chilton had sniffed big time success with The Box Tops and watched it disappear over the horizon as he picked up the pieces of a disastrous record label relationship with Stax that led to the first two Big Star albums selling diddly squat when they should have been competing with Led Zepp IV, Harvest and Ziggy. And it’s these circumstances that makes 3rd so special…here is a man with nothing to lose, in the depths of despair and at the height of his musical game. So we are offered a poignant and rare insight into the human condition, the dark night of the soul, perhaps second only to Nick Drake’s Pink Moon and maybe even more impressive as 3rd doesn’t have the weight of what happened next colouring our judgment. Chilton’s voice is so vulnerable, so weak and so affecting. It’s not the record that is broken, it’s the man. The PVC track order makes total sense because the darkness becomes more and more pervasive as the record progresses until we reach the pitch black triptych of Big Black Car, Holocaust and, to top it all, possibly the greatest song ever written to have no discernible rhythm (hell, let’s face it, possibly the greatest song ever written full stop) the immense car wreck of a song that is Kangaroo. Yet Chilton saves the absolute killer punch for last (on this version at least)…the sweet enough sounding but scarily bitter and sarcastic Thank You Friends, in which he thanks, ‘all the ladies and gentlemen who made this all so PROBABLE’. God, is he pissed off!

When I purchased Big Star’s 3rd I had no idea music like this existed. This was prior to Teenage Fanclub’s weak assimilation of the Stax records’ power pop, when barely a week went by without a music publication having some retrospective or other on the band. I remember a feeling of huge excitement upon first playing 3rd, imagining all the other lost classics I had yet to hear of, waiting for me to discover them. I thought there would be 3rd’s all over the place, and whilst I have made innumerable wonderful purchases over the years, few (if any) have affected me in the way this amazing record has.

Nick listened: I bought the Ryko CD version of this well over a decade ago, whilst I was at university, alongside Big Star’s debut album, #1 Record. The Ryko version claims to be closer to Chilton’s intention, but having heard the songs in this order, it seems like even more of an insane jumble now than it did back then; the Ryko version runs the exquisite Stroke It Noel straight out of the back of the Holocaust / Kangaroo double-bill of desolation. This PVC version arranges the songs into a narrative of disintegration, which sounds wanky and rockist but which honestly makes each moment more affecting. I’ve loved many of the individual songs from this record since I first heard them, and could sing along with them all, but it’s not a record I dig out often at all, and that’s not merely because of how much of an emotional slog some of the songs can be.

Of course, Chilton abandoned the record and left it for dead before it was finished, and then ignored it for 40 years before his untimely death two years ago, so there is no ‘proper’ running order (or cover artwork). In fact, it wasn’t even meant to be a Big Star record; apparently it was supposed to be released under the artist name ‘Sister Lovers’

Anyway, a great record, and a harrowing document of the frustrations and heartbreaks of someone who tasted success as a teenager and then spent the rest of his life trying to catch it again, and failing.

Rob listened: I never liked Teenage Fanclub. I thought ‘A Catholic Education’ was dull and the stuff that came after drippy and pointless. I suspect I might like the former now if I went back. However, I dislike them even more after this evening. I avoided Big Star for 20 years because of the number of times I was told that Teenage Fanclub’s schtick was channeled untampered with from Alex Chilton’s band. Why bother seeking out records that would sound like the boring Fannies? Brilliant. Thanks a bunch.

I thought ‘Third’ was mesmerizing, chilling, sweet and cruel in equal measures. All the way through I found myself thinking ‘this is a record I could love’. Through all our meetings thus far I’ve never felt the need to shut up and listen as much as I did during these 40 minutes – stronger even than the need to tell Nick to shut up and let us listen during the preceding ‘In A Silent Way’. It’s ‘In a SILENT Way’ Nick, not ‘Shrouded by Chatter’. I think this is the most affecting and captivating thing i’ve heard yet at Record Club.

Graham Listened: This has to be the most remarkable record I have heard yet at DRC. A thing of beauty. The only 2 tracks I had ever heard were Kangaroo and Holocaust, courtesy of covers on 4AD’s It’ll End in Tears compilation (featuring the Cocteau’s) in early 80’s. It was a joy to hear their original versions. Somehow this gave rise to a debate about whether you could recognise something as being an awful cover version, without having heard the original. Even though I had never heard Lou Reed’s original version, in 1984 when I heard Simple Mind’s version of Street Hassle, I knew it was just, wrong.

The Stooges – Funhouse: Round 20 – Tom’s Selection

It’s been a while since I did one of these. Our longest hiatus yet, so it seemed right to usher in the (not so) New Year with an incendiary blast of noise – blow out the cobwebs and all that. There is nothing in my collection more suited to this purpose than The Stooges’ legendary second offering…to my mind the only time the band got it right, avoiding as it does the clinical production and patchiness of their first album and the bizarre muddiness of Raw Power, possibly one of the best terribly produced albums of all time (what was Bowie thinking of?)! In contrast, Funhouse is a nigh on perfect mission statement for a band that must have been an absolutely thrilling live experience when they were at the height of their powers…in 1970 (as opposed to 1969)! Apparently in 1970 they ‘felt alright’. Don’t you believe it.

This is an album full of menace, nastiness and danger. This is no artifice – this is even more 4 real than the Manics carving their arms in the NME! I remember one sultry Summer evening (we had them back then), not long after purchasing Funhouse, lying in my bedroom at my parents’ house in a sleepy Somerset village whilst the Stooges blasted me to sleep. The following morning my brother commented that he could hear the record from the other end of the village. Never has an album been further away from home! Funhouse belongs in the city, in a dirty and mean metropolis, preferably whilst there is a riot (or at least some looting) going on.

Funhouse is very much an album of two halves. Side A is definitely more accessible with Down in the Street’s gritty groove leading into the thrilling Loose which still sends a shiver down my spine every time I hear it, despite being played far too often on the various compilation tapes I have worn out over the years. TV Eye pounds away, bludgeoning the listener into absolute, sweet submission and then Dirt slowly grinds for seven minutes sounding as fresh and vital now as the day it was made. I absolutely love this side of vinyl – probably my favourite twentyish minutes of ‘loud’ rock and roll.

You’d think that there would be no way to out do these four songs but, if anything, side B is even more intense! It only occurred to me recently that it’s the introduction of a saxophone on the three songs on the second side of Funhouse that changes the mood of the record. The songs here are darker, more brutal, harder to take. In fact, the final 4 minutes of LA Blues is pretty much a free-form rock jazz mess, a seemingly random mix of howls, sax, drums and guitars that echoes some of the more challenging offerings from John Coltrane and Miles Davis during their excursions into noise in the mid to late 60s. Yet it’s worth hearing out and I’m glad I don’t have the option to skip LA Blues as it forms an integral part of one of the most exciting and visceral offerings that has yet to enter the rock and roll pantheon.

Rob listened: I’m disconnected from The Stooges’ discography. I taped what I thought was their first album from the University of Leeds library in 1990 or so and loved it. On reflection it seems to have been an amalgam of their first two, or maybe three. It definitely had both ‘1969’ and ‘1970’ on it, plus both ‘TV Eye’ and ‘No Fun’. If i’m honest, I think I prefer the slightly younger, more wiry, jittery first songs to those from ‘Fun House’, but that’s not to deny what a powerful force Iggy and his fellow hoodlums were, to which this stands as ample testimony.

Nick listened: I’m pretty sure I bought this at university, almost certainly from Spinadisc in Northampton, where I spent many hours escaping from emotional turmoil by browsing the racks. Even if I didn’t, I’ve had it for years and years, but probably only listened to it half a dozen times at most; so little that I’ve never consciously noticed the saxophone divide that Tom mentions above. Every time I have listened, I’ve enjoyed it – especially the relentless grind of Dirt – but Funhouse, and The Stooges in general, fall into an odd category that I might be tempted to call “historiography rock”; really good, clearly exciting, ahead-of-its-time stuff that just doesn’t quite click emotionally for me. Plenty of stuff falls into this category – Bobs Marley and Dylan, John Coltrane, Neu!, Funkadelic, The Small Faces, The Who, The Doors, The Velvet Underground, Wire – and listening to it feels a little like research, checking off a list of important music, whilst other stuff seemingly from before my time – CAN, Miles Davis, Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, Talking Heads, Love, and most notably The Beatles – I feel properly invested in. I guess that’s what we call ‘personal taste’.

Graham listened: I have to admit that I’ve never been drawn in by Mr. Pop and his colleagues. I’ve heard plenty over the years but never sat down and listened to a whole album of work. There has always been something for me about Mr. Pop’s cultural icon status that has strangely put me off giving his music the attention it maybe deserved. I really enjoyed the first half of this album but felt that was all I needed to hear. Credit to them for pushing the boundaries and influencing generations to come, but I’m still feeling I will be listening to those they have influenced, rather than returning to the source.

St. Vincent – Strange Mercy: Round 19 – Tom’s Selection

I found the concept of ‘Album of the Year’ night to be a difficult one to get my head around. What to take? My two favourite albums from the year – Bill Callahan’s Apocalypse and Smoke Ring For My Halo by Kurt Vile (an album whose brilliance has taken me by surprise as the year has progressed) were coincidentally both played at the same club night (round 5). What’s more, I have bought so little music from 2011, mainly because I have so enjoyed trawling my existing collection looking for potential offerings for the club, that I feel my meagre offerings on Tuesday night were somewhat paltry and predictable. In the end I took everything I have bought from this year (a massive eight or so LPs) yet I brought nothing that neither one of Rob or Nick hadn’t already heard and, in the end opted to play Strange Mercy more-or-less by default.

Whilst I like Strange Mercy a lot, I feel it is some way off the brilliance of Annie Clarke’s previous two offerings, especially Actor. Whereas Actor felt spontaneous and fresh, Strange Mercy seems to me much more mannered and manicured. On Actor the dissonance seemed integral to the songs, on its follow up it feels clunky at times (Northern Lights, Chloe in the Afternoon, Year of the Tiger), at others it comes across as embellishment, giving it a ‘tacked on’ feel. I can’t imagine Marrow (from Actor) without the guttural, bone shaking saxophones tearing it apart. Strange Mercy’s Champagne Year however (a nonetheless wonderful ballad) has some great sounds working their way into the last part of the song but I feel the song would work just as well without them.

I shouldn’t be too disparaging though, there is some fantastic stuff on Strange Mercy. Cruel is literally awesome, the title track is beautiful yet visceral, Neutered Fruit and Dilettante take St Vincent’s music into new and exciting territory and Annie Clarke needs to be applauded for developing her sound and music, taking risks and seeking to experiment. It’s just that with one of the best albums of the last decade in the bag, my expectations were, perhaps, unreasonably high for its successor.

Nick listened: This is one of my favourite records of the year, quite easily – I ranked it third in my top ten the other week, and live in Bristol in November (also attended by Tom) she was very good indeed. I’m not sure if I like Strange Mercy as much as Actor yet, but it’s a different beast; it feels a little more mannered, artful, and strange (not that Actor is lacking in those qualities). Glad Tom played it; I’d brought it along and had been debating choosing it myself.

Rob listened: Still smarting from having missed St Vincent’s recent show in Bristol thanks to a broken car (anyone want 2 tickets?), I came to the new album, which I had intended to pick up at the gig, expecting something deliriously challenging, based on my apparently erroneous reading of a handful of reviews on its release. Tom and Nick led me to believe that the first track, ‘Chloe In The Afternoon’ would ram my head through a musical mincer and that the rest of the record would afford me scant opportunity to reassemble my shattered sensibility. I thought the album was bold, bright, charming and really rather lovely. They seemed disappointed with this.

Telstar Ponies – In The Space of a Few Minutes: Round 18 – Tom’s Selection

In the absence of a theme due to a postponed ‘Wife’s Night’ (not as dodgy as it sounds), I was a little at a loss as to what to take to meeting number 18. I find themes really help me make my selection – my mind likes the process of sifting through the possibilities, rifling through its filing system looking for appropriate choices. With no particular direction offered by Nick, I returned to Telstar Ponies’ 1995 offering – In The Space of a Few Minutes – a record I had previously considered for Nick’s ‘Under Appreciated Records of the 90s’ theme.

Although ITSOAFM is not a record I turn to all that often, I always enjoy it when I do and view it as a little treat when it settles onto my turntable and unleashes it sound. ITSOAFM almost fits Rob’s possible future theme – ‘Albums Not Yet Reviewed on Allmusic’. There is no written review, but the site has gone to the trouble of awarding this album two stars! Pillocks! It makes me wonder whether they have ever heard it, especially when Mogwai’s constellations of stars in their discography is taken into account. I don’t own any Mogwai albums but I have heard enough by them over the years to realise that they do not sound THAT much better (if at all) than Telstar Ponies do here.

In another, possibly better, world Telstar Ponies would be more than a footnote in the history pages of 1990s UK indie. I find their sound pretty much impossible to pigeonhole  – first track ‘The Moon is Not a Puzzle’ reminded Rob of Sister-era Sonic Youth (see Round 16) but for me the influences are much less obvious and more distant. I hear traces of Slint and other early 90s post-rock bands and a little Neu here and there in the prepulsiveness of some of the tracks (second track, Lugengeschichte – try saying that when you’re drunk! – being a prime example). Occasionally David Keenan’s vocals sound reminiscent of Jim Reid or Bobby Gillespie, other times closer to, say, Mudhoney’s Mark Arm at his shoutiest. Rachel Devine adds a wonderful contrast on ITSOAFM with her breathy, warm and mostly spoken vocals and, to my mind, it all works a treat (unlike on the followup album, Music for a New Society, where she attempts to sing on a couple of tracks with decidedly mixed results).

I find it fascinating that an album that garnered enough attention at the time of its release for me to want it, find it and buy it, that manages to so successfully appropriate its influences and mould them into something original and fresh and that has gone on to apparently influence relatively major groups (such as Mogwai and Godspeed YBE) has not managed to gain the recognition it deserves. It’s time the balance was redressed and that In The Space of a Few Minutes was welcomed into the rock’n’roll Hall of Fame with open arms. It deserves better than a measly ** from Allmusic and a few half-baked blog entries.

Nick listened: Telstar Ponies are a name I’ve been subconsciously aware of for years. If you’d asked me before Tom put this on the turntable at DRC, I’d have probably said they were Scottish, and maybe had a vague connection between them and Teenage Fanclub in my head, but little else. I certainly don’t think I’d ever heard them though.

Predictably, given that they’re my points of reference, Telstar Ponies sounded like the midpoint between Teenage Fanclub’s early, crunchier Americophile pop (before they got all wistful and harmonic, when their guitars chugged rather than chimed), and Mogwai’s doomed repetition. The problem with that equation is twofold; firstly, I find Mogwai’s elongated approaches and dramatic pay-offs too long and, as a result, predominantly unrewarding most of the time, mostly because they’re rhythmically unsubtle – not repetitious enough to get into a proper kraut groove, and not free enough to inspire surprise. This was definitely something Telstar Ponies suffered from; there were hints of krautrock but they seemed watered down and unexciting.

Secondly, I felt like Telstar Ponies were neither fish nor fowl. The postrock-y workouts were musically nothing special when compared to Godspeed or Bark Psychosis or Tortoise, and the songwriting side of things, admittedly from only one listen, seemed to lack melodic sparkle, instead mining the same vein of intensity over and over again.

This isn’t to say that I disliked Telstar Ponies, I just found it to be a bit of a drag…

Rob listened: Had I heard this when it came out, I would have adored it intensely and by now it would be filed alongside AC Acoustics, Lotion, Come, Drive Like Jehu and yes, Mogwai under an invisible heading of ‘Records Which Seemed World-Changing But Got Left Behind’. I’d glance at it every now and then and feel slightly guilty passing it over to listen to something else. In short, I liked it but had I got to it in time, we would have been great together.

Kate Bush – The Dreaming: Round 17 – Tom’s Selection

As I left Rob’s house on Monday night after a frankly exhausting evening of terrifying listening, I felt that I had really let the side down. And Kate! I wished I had saved The Dreaming for a different evening; next to The Drift and Sunn o)))’s Black One, The Dreaming sounded like Steps at their breeziest.

To be honest, I really struggled to find a ‘Halloween’ record. I just don’t like things that sound like that, just as I don’t really like watching horror movies. The scary songs I do own tend to be one offs. Frankie Teardrop, for example, is a damn scary song (so much so that Graham’s steering definitely twitched on the way home when the first scream erupted out of the car stereo), but the rest of Suicide’s debut is relatively stress free listening. So I opted for The Dreaming, primarily for its final song, Get Out Of My House (which was inspired by The Shining) and the blood curdling screeching of the song’s title. But in reality it’s the singer who is terrified; the listener is simply incredulous – yet another vocal twist to add to the already  bewildering array of voices on this album. And they’re all by the same singer! It’s a remarkable record, possibly (probably) my favourite ever and it deserved to be played alongside….something else!  I will be very interested to see what Nick, Graham and Rob made of it, whether they felt the impact had been lessened because of the sonic company The Dreaming kept on the evening.

I listened to The Dreaming quite a few times prior to the meeting wondering whether it still sounded as good as ever. I shouldn’t have worried. This album just gets better and better with each subsequent play. I must be well over my 100th listen and I’m still finding numerous new sounds, new inflections, new atmospheres. The songs are so complex, yet compelling, detailed, yet instinctive. They’re relatively accessible yet reward repeated listens. It’s an amazing trick to pull off, one that hasn’t happened that often in the history of recorded music to my mind. It’s the sound of an artist in complete control (this was the first of Bush’s self-produced albums), fearless and brim full of confidence, at the top of her game. It’s all the more remarkable to think that Bush was only in her early twenties when she made The Dreaming as it deals with such a breadth of subject matter (the acquisition of knowledge, The war in Vietnam, rape, bank heists, the plight of the Aborigines). And the music is breathtaking. Each song writhing in and out of sections that fit like a glove. So much of the genius of this record lies in the way Kate Bush experiments with her voice. Nick raised Tim Buckley’s Starsailor as THE critics’ voice album of choice but vocally The Dreaming offers so much more than Buckley’s honeyed wailing. Take fourth track Suspended in Gaffa for example. That one song veers through at least six different voices as it wends it way to its conclusion. Playful in the verse which is cut through with rasping yelps, then smooth voiced and intimate in the chorus until she heads off to the very top of her register for the briefest of forays. But my favourite moment of all is when she plummets from her most unhinged wailing to a beautiful, intimate, whispered ‘I don’t know why I am crying’ – all the more startling because it’s gone in a flash not to appear again on the song, or for that matter the entire album. It’s all light years away from Wuthering Heights.

And each song is amazing. There are no favourites, no weaknesses. The best song is the one you’re listening to! But the horns on Sat in Your Lap! And the helicopters and car effects on Pull Out The Pin. The sound of the car hitting the kanga on The Dreaming. The fiddles on Night of The Swallow. The whole of Get Out Of My House. Just incredible.

The muted critical reception the album received in 1982 must have been devastating for Bush. She had made the album she had always wanted to and suddenly she was out of favour with the music press and record buying public alike. Of the singles, Sat in Your Lap sold relatively poorly, The Dreaming didn’t make the top 40 (not all that surprising when you listen to it) and There Goes a Tenner didn’t even chart at all. Of course Bush would take stock, lick her wounds and come back with what was to be (wrongly) her most critically lauded album three years later. The Hounds of Love is a good record with moments of greatness but, in all honesty, it can’t hold a candle to The Dreaming, an album so good that even Alan Partridge didn’t dare to touch it in his Kate Bush medley!

Rob listened: I’m the least Bushed of the DRC regulars. I was 7 when ‘Wuthering Heights’ was all over the radio and TV and, seriously, how could any 7-year old be anything other than freaked out by this:

Subsequently I ignored Kate Bush whilst harbouring a growing, but distant, respect for her integrity as I realised just how carefully and with what determination she had been pursuing her own creative path.

So, this is the first Kate Bush album i’ve ever sat through, and I really liked it. Not scary, but good.

Nick listened: I’d call myself a Kate Bush fan without hesitation, but this was the first time I’ve heard The Dreaming, and essentially I only really know The Hounds Of Love and Aerial, plus a handful of singles. I own, and have dabbled with, The Sensual World and The Kick Inside, often with great gusto and appreciation, but neither of them has really struck. But The Red Shoes and The Dreaming have somehow evaded my time and attention, despite numerous people whose taste I respect dearly rating The Dreaming as Kate’s best, most rewarding, most idiosyncratic record.

One listen, especially on Halloween and in the company of Sunn o))) and The Drift (and our other, as yet unrevealed on this blog, record of the evening), was clearly not enough to unpack the dense, involved tapestry of this record, lashed with a million different voices all emanating from the same larynx, but it was more than enough to reveal that it’s a record worth unpacking. I intend to investigate further in the future.

John Cale – Paris 1919: Round 16 – Tom’s Selection

Graham set us the task of bringing a ‘triumphant fourth album’ to the latest meeting and seeing as Paris 1919 had been on ‘the list’ since we started (as has Music for a New Society, but I haven’t felt mean enough to inflict that on my fellow members yet!), I thought it an excellent opportunity to treat them to what is, perhaps, John Cale’s most surprising, in some ways most disorientating and definitely most accessible offering.

As Mr Cale himself states in his autobiography, What’s Welsh for Zen, ‘Paris 1919 was an example of the nicest ways of saying something really ugly’. It’s the lushness of the sound, the sweetness of the songs, the warmth of the recording that is so unsettling not, perhaps, so much in itself but when placed within the context of John Cale’s career. After all, Cale was the man who gave the Velvets their visceral cutting edge: the screeching voila on The Black Angel’s Death Song, Sister Ray’s thrillingly exhausting battle for supremacy between Reed’s guitar and Cale’s organ, I Heard Her Call My Name’s cacophony. Cale’s post Paris 1919 output is, in many ways, just as challenging, never more so than on the aforementioned (totally harrowing) Music for a New Society. So it is a little unnerving to find this concise, perfectly formed treasure trove of sweet sounding songs nestling in the heart of Cale’s discography. It was interesting to see the surprise on the faces of my fellow club members as Child’s Christmas in Wales (a ‘jaunty’ little number) led into the beautiful, yet jarring, Hanky Panky Nohow. I guess they were expecting something much more obviously challenging and discordant. Yet not far beneath the surface, dark forces are at play and whilst I have no idea what any of the songs mean, I can’t help sensing they are much more macabre than they initially appear.

Cale’s lyrics are so oblique and cryptic on Paris 1919 – it is immediately obvious that these are not the random warblings of some 1960s acid casualty but skillfully constructed pieces that are packed with meaning but only decipherable by those with the intelligence, patience and motivation to do so. I’ve never bothered (or don’t have the capability!), but I am intrigued by lyrics such as ‘elephants that sing to feed the cows that agriculture won’t allow’, from Hanky Panky Nohow (why ‘Nohow’ not ‘Knowhow’?). And why is he welcoming the subject in ‘Graham Greene’ back to ‘Chipping and Sodbury’? It’s a rare occurrence for me that I pay much attention at all to lyrics; normally words in songs are there to carry melody and emotion for me, not meaning, but I find everything about Paris 1919 beguiling and the more I listen to it the more I realise that it offers so much more than what appears, on the surface, to be nine lovely, if somewhat odd, little pop songs.

Rob listened: I’ve heard parts of this before, although Tom doesn’t remember playing it. He was drunk at the time and had just recovered from a fit of the vapours having accidentally flashed the inner sleeve of ‘Bummed’ to a room full of sensitive Totnesians. I liked it then and liked it more this time. It seemed to have an exquisite balance between the restraint and delicacy of pastoral folk and the underlying sense that its subject matter was curdling away and turning things bad. Lovely stuff and definitely one i’ll look to get. Also amusing to note that the first artists we all thought it reminded us of turned out, without intent, to be Welsh (Gorky’s, SFA…). Something in the water or an enduring Cale influence in those parts?

Nick listened: (Whisper it) I’m not a massive Velvets fan. The eponymous album with I’m Set Free on it is very nice, and bits of the banana one are quite good, and I’m sure at the time they were pretty radical / cool / shocking / etc etc. I own White Light / White Heat but I can’t remember a damn thing about it. So I’ve never investigated post-Velvets solo work by the members, except for Transformer, which my brother bought me, and which, two famous songs besides, I think is complete bobbins. This, though, makes me interested to hear more of Cale’s solo work; it’s tuneful, beautifully arranged, intelligent, inscrutable, and enjoyable to listen to. I’d only ever vaguely recognised that Cale was Welsh, but it definitely makes sense hearing this and knowing that Gork’s and SFA are fans. A good choice.

Graham Listened: Now, way back, I probably liked the Velvets and Lou Reed a bit too much, and took it all a bit too seriously. I never really followed John Cale’s solo work, but I had a perception it would all be a bit too strange for me. Well, then Tom plays this! Nick has really said it all about the impression it made on me and it really drew me in. I found “jaunty” as an apt description on the night.

Girls Against Boys – Venus Luxure No.1 Baby – Round 15: Tom’s Selection

After last meeting’s ‘Guilty Displeasures’ it was good to get back to normal and have records that we actually liked to listen to! That said, I wasn’t sure how Venus Luxure No.1 Baby would be received – alongside Todd Rungren, The Beastie Boys, Owen Pallett and The Necks, Girls Against Boys share the honour of being one of the few bands my long-suffering wife has ever offered a negative opinion on. And listening to the record again in the time leading up to the meeting, it was easy for me to see why – this is a harsh, abrasive sound, Scott McLoud’s voice grinding away like Mark E Smith with tonsillitis whilst his band conjure up the dirtiest, muddiest grooves ever to come crawling out of the swamp. Catch it on a bad day (ie a good day, bright sunshine, birds tweeting in the back garden, freshly baked bread etc) and it can sound so incongruous that it will need to go back on the shelf immediately, even before the (thrilling) introduction of In Like Flynn is over; although there are grooves galore on this wonderful record, it is about as far removed from the Jackson 5 as can be. But slap it on the turntable on an early Autumn night as the ever shortening days become increasingly apparent and the first post-Summer storms sweep in from the Atlantic and you’ll be in early 90s post-hardcore heaven.

I thought Venus Luxure No1 Baby was pretty under renowned at the time it was released, but in our meeting Rob heartily disagreed. The reasons for my mistake could well be due to the circumstances with which I bought the record back in ’93. Stumbling into my favourite record shop at the time (Replay Records in Bristol) , I chanced upon the record in their new releases section. The shop used to put stickers on some of the albums with handwritten comments by the staff and VL#1B had garnered a particularly complementary one. So I pulled it off the shelf, had the guy behind the checkout confirm that it was one of the top five records of the year (in fact he said it was probably #1, somewhat appropriately!) and walked out with my purchase having never heard a note or read a word on the band before. The thrill of putting a record on a turntable and having next to no idea what it will sound like (alright, it was on Touch & Go, so that offered a clue) is one that is increasingly hard to come by in these days of Spotify, 6music and Apple adverts and one that I miss. VL#1B hit the spot immediately. I have never been a fan of the bleaker end of US hardcore but I found Girls Against Boys’ sound to offer just enough light and colour so as to render their music captivating, accessible and unexpectedly groovy. There were wonderful surprises all over the record – the amazing bass runs on songs like the aforementioned In Like Flynn, Go Be Delighted, Bug House and Bulletproof Cupid, the use of keyboard riffs on Billy One Stop, Eli Janney’s whoops on Seven Seas, Rockets Are Red’s monstrous guitar riff, the fact that I could hear (admittedly) faint echoes of Slint at times – it is the multitude of ideas and idiosyncrasies that lifts VL#1B out of the genre, to stand alone as one of the pinnacles of the US Indie Rock scene of the time.

I was fortunate to see GVSB in 1993 and it is, to this day, my favourite gig ever. GVSB went on to release two more good to great albums, Cruise Yourself and House of GVSB but they never again matched the natural magnificence of Venus Luxure No1 Baby.

Rob listened: I loved V-Lux at the time and it still sounds just as good. I probably came to it more gradually than Tom, following a trail from Big Black, Husker Du and Fugazi that led me to the Jesus Lizard, GVSB and a bunch of stuff that woud certainly tip the bleak end of Tom’s hardcore scale. For me, GVSB are dirty sexy, driving, hard pop music. Pop in the sense that I can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t be thrilled to hear this record. I’m delighted that Tom brought it tonight. Karen, you need to hear it again.

Nick listened: Girls Against Boys are another of those late-80s, early-90s names that I know of but have never heard – Tom and Rob are doing a sterling job of slowly introducing me to many of them! I really enjoyed this, the dirtiness of it, the low-key, low-slung grooves, the juxtaposition of twin basses, guitars, and muddy keys. Not quite so keen on the vocals, but I can live with them. Which I probably will be doing – this has gone on my list of records to buy in the near future.

Graham listened: Tom’s suggestion that this maybe labelled “hardcore” had me worried as not an area I’m would choose to explore. I was pleasantly relieved and in my perception I would describe this as more grungy pop. I imagine the live performances would up the octane levels though!

The Wrens – Meadowlands: Round 14 – Tom’s Selection

When I came up with it, I thought the idea of a ‘guilty displeasure’ was genius. An album that you knew you were supposed to like, that had become established in the annals of rock history as a key work (or potential key work) but that you just hadn’t clicked with yet. Throw it into the DRC blender, let the other guys point out where you are going wrong and, hey presto, you have another once-neglected classic to add to your trove.

There are plenty of albums in my collection that fit this bill. As a careful, as opposed to carefree, purchaser of records I will often research an album in minute detail before acquiring it, to such an extent that I often know the song titles, running time and recording history before hearing a note! I am definitely the opposite of a completist. I don’t think I own all the albums by any major artist who has stuck around long enough to make more than a couple of records (although I do own the Nick Drake box set, he hardly has an extensive discography) as I will ditch an artist as soon as I sense that I no longer need any more music by them. So I should only have a few guilty displeasure records in my collection; yet there are loads, and most of them tend to be the established classics, those BIG records that are firmly of the canon, in the top 50 of the latest (ridiculous) top 1000 records of all time lists. You know the ones: Sgt Pepper’s, Blood on the Tracks, most Neil Young, Funeral, Transformer, The Stone Roses, Screamadelica, Murmur. In other words, records that are so highly regarded that no amount of scouring the music press or internet review pages can put you off…because there just isn’t much written that could put you off. But I knew before our meeting that my mind is more-or-less made up about these records, that no amount of persuasion would alter the way I felt about them. So I went for The Meadowlands instead. Thought it would work. It didn’t!

I have only owned The Meadowlands for about six months, having wanted to own it for a few years beforehand. I first became aware of the album around about the time I started following Pitchfork – it was in their 2003 year end top album list (number 18 and scoring a whopping 9.5 – I put that in just for Nick, knowing how much he likes ‘the numbers’ – in their review) and I clocked it as an album that I would probably get on with. Over the intervening decade the album’s reputation seemed, if anything, to grow! In the end of decade chatter it frequently cropped up as one of the most important and rewarding releases of the noughties and was talked of as a grower of rare depth and staying power. Just my sort of thing. I probably had unrealistic expectations by the time I slapped it on the turntable for the first time.

What’s wrong with it? Nothing really. Most of the songs are pretty interesting with nice melodies, good to great lyrics, they shift around a bit, usually building to a climax but employing a range of dynamic shifts along the way. I certainly don’t dislike the record but, much in the same way Nick (wrongly, as it happens) feels about Pet Sounds, I don’t love it like I should…and I am beginning to feel I never will. In the back of my mind I am holding on to those comments I read that said, ‘hang in there, the time you invest will be more than paid off when it clicks’ but I have really tried already with The Meadowlands and it hasn’t clicked yet. I thought perhaps that playing it at DRC would do the trick but, if anything, the views of the fellow members (with the exception of Graham, who seemed to quite like it) reinforced my own. I think Rob, in particular, said something that rang true: ‘it all sounds a bit flat’. I know what he means and, whilst I haven’t completely given up on The Meadowlands yet, I do wonder if it will ever become anything other than a (slightly) guilty displeasure.

Graham listened: For a first listen I quite enjoyed this. Some tracks seem to ramble rather than develop, but I would certainly listen again (not that Tom would lend it to me when he saw the state that Green arrived in!).

Rob listened: This sounded inconsequential to me, I’m afraid. I’m aware of its rep, but it came across like run of the mill alternative rock, recorded just badly enough give it a patina of faux authenticity and desperation. I’m sure it’s completely heartfelt, and it appears to be a record that many people hold dear to their hearts, but Tom, i’d give up if I were you.

Nick listened: Writing for Stylus from 2002 to 2007, there were many, many record enthused about by my compatriot reviewers which I did not get, or, indeed, from the tone of their enthusings, did not even bother to try and acquaint myself with. This is one of them. The cover is awful; who knows where the phrase “you should never judge a book by its cover” originated, but I thoroughly disagree – book, and by extension record, covers are MEANT to be judged, are meant to lure you in, to make you want to hear a song or read a story, to offer an impression of what might be contained within. I guess Meadowlands did that for me; clumsily composed, solipsistic, monochrome, lacking definition, dated, without personality… I’m unsure whether I’m describing the artwork or the record, because this just sounded like pointless, identikit American woe-is-me pseudo-meaningful indie rubbish, and I suspect that a huge part of its mythos is based around its backstory (misery, delays, personal troubles, record label failings; who givers a toss?).

The Slits – Cut – Round 13: Tom’s Selection

Of all the myriad genres into which popular music has been categorized, for me punk has been one of the most difficult to embrace. I blame The Sex Pistols and The Clash, in particular two of the least representative songs in their respective oeuvres. Thinking these songs (have you guessed what they are yet?) as indicative of the entire movement, much of the real quality on offer passed me by for many, many years. And as a result I wasted precious time listening to chart drivel (Brothers in Arms – ouch!, Invisible Touch – the shame!, August by Eric Clapton – almost too embarrassing to admit to!) when I could have been immersing myself in truly astonishing music like Cut by The Slits.

The back story (please feel free to skip). At the tender (and impressionable) age of 15 I got a job working in the Ilminster (of bypass infamy…and not much else) Co-Op, stacking shelves for a pittance whilst marveling at the tightness of the correlation between ill fitting hairpieces and the odour of stale urine. Hours passed by ridiculously slowly and the prospect of venturing to the local video game ‘arcade’ – it was a stinky room with a couple of out-of-date games with broken joysticks, a jukebox and a sticky carpet – at lunch was scant reward for such a mind-numbing morning. The two staples on the jukebox were…wait for it…Frigging in the Rigging and Should I Stay or Should I Go. Two songs that, to this day, are so unremittingly awful, and are connected to such awful times, that I still get a shudder down my spine when I recollect them. In fact, writing this has been something of an ordeal as I now have them both firmly lodged in my brain. Of course, both bands released work of great quality and huge cultural significance and I have grown to quite like The Clash. I have, however, never quite seen past the posturing and rhetoric of The Pistols and I still have problems when I hear that sneary Lydonesque warble that was so prevalent throughout the early days of punk and, to the 15 year old me, symbolized what punk was all about.

So I came late to the party and it has only been in the last fifteen years or so that I have realised that floating around the fringes of punk are some fantastic, innovative and honest-to-the-core records that are pretty much unique within popular music. And Cut is right at the top of the tree. It is, crucially for me, much closer in sound and attitude to reggae than The Ramones and is a very distant relative to Never Mind The Bollocks. Hugely sophisticated yet childishly simple (and they say the band members couldn’t play their instruments!?!), dangerous and threatening whilst being welcoming and accessible, rhythmic, melodic and hilarious…it’s a cracking record and one of the most important of the era.  Cut has paved the way for so much that has come since, the Riot Grrrl stuff from the 90s, Sleater-Kinney, Bjork’s yelps, PJ Harvey’s independence and, more recently, the chants and playground feel of tUnE-yArDs. But whilst Merrill Garbus conjures up an inclusive, celebratory, Sesame Street style playground, The Slits playtime is full of menace; back-stabbing cliques from an inner city comprehensive out to get you. Having a laff, but at your expense. As they say…’Typical girls feel like hell. Typical girls worry about spots, fat, natural smells’. But in the same (awesome) song they also manage to rail against the system: ‘Here’s another marketing ploy. Typical girl gets the typical boy’. The listener is left in no doubt that The Slits are definitely not typical girls and that is starkly evident not just from  the words they use throughout Cut but from the way they use them.

If you like punk, you already own this record. If you think you don’t like punk, Cut may be the record that makes you think again. It did me.

Rob listened: I was passingly familiar with The Slits but had never listened properly to ‘Cut’. It’s on the very long mental list of post-punk canon I have to investigate at some point of infinite idleness in the distant mythical future (hey Minutemen, Bad Brains, This Heat, Television Personalities, The Pop Group… i’ll get to you guys too). So pleased to hear it this evening. What a stark reminder of the wild, fearless creativity that flowed from punk’s second wave and, amidst the clattering reggae fusion, what a strong voice for young women. Ari Up R.I.P.

Final note: We’ll get a chance to discuss Tom’s view of one of the great rock albums (Never Mind The Bollocks) and one of the great rock vocalists (John Lydon) when I bring ‘The Flowers of Romance’ to a meeting in the near future…

Nick listened: I liked this, a lot; enough to buy it the following morning. Well, order it online. Sadly the rainforest shop shipped it via the notoriously poor Home Delivery Network, and it still hasn’t arrived, a week and a half since I placed the order, meaning I’ve not had chance to reassess and see if it left me as impressed second time around as first.

I liked Cut so much because it wasn’t what I was expecting; I was expecting something punky, amateurish, spiky, confrontational, and what I actually got was a really awesome, characterful dub-pop, shot through with the energy and freedom of punk but not the safety pins, perhaps. I had no idea it was produced by Dennis Bovell, that it was so minimal, so smooth, so sinuous, so… dubby. I goes I should have cottoned on that it wasn’t going to be a spiky, guitar-noisey first-wave punk album simply from the fact that it came out in 1979 and not 1976, but I was four months old when it was released, so you’ll have to forgive me. Like Rob, it’s one of those records that’s been on my mental checklist to investigate for some time. I’m glad Tom gave me the opportunity.

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