Melt Yourself Down – Melt Yourself Down: Round 51, Nick’s choice

mydAnd so back to normal proceedings, and Rob’s house, where we haven’t been for a while due to babies and things.

Sans theme I thought I’d take along something new from 2013 – it’s been a pretty good year thus far, with plenty of records I’ve really enjoyed, but I feel like I’ve barely played anything from the current crop at Record Club. Most of them are quite long though – These New Puritans is 53 minutes, Holden is 75, John Hopkins is 60, Boards Of Canada is 62 – and with all four of us bringing albums again, and a baby in the house, I wanted to take something relatively brief. Luckily the debut album by Melt Yourself Down is only 36 minutes… (Even if those minutes are extraordinarily rambunctious.)

I reviewed this record for The Quietus the other week, so I shan’t repeat myself too much by going into the make-up of the band or how individual songs work; suffice to say that Melt Yourself Down is, at heart, a dance record, a party record – despite liking a lot of ‘dance’ records this year (like the aforementioned Hopkins and Holden), it’s this group of live-action (if you will) postpunk afrobeat jazzers who make me want to dance the most, who seem to have the most physically compelling batch of beats.

Good as those beats are, they’re not quite the stars of the show. Partly this is because Pete Wareham is in this band, and thus hyperactive, riffing-not-soloing saxophone is upfront and centre, twisting down audaciously catchy routes, and partly it’s because of Kushal Gaya’s frankly nuts vocals, which take in French, English, Creole, and made-up-stuff. But mostly it’s because of Ruth Goller’s outrageous basslines, which drive Melt Yourself Down with irresistible momentum, oftentimes forcing Wareham’s saxophone to merely mimic their own rhythmic patterns.

You can hear all sorts in Melt Yourself Down’s DNA – no-wave sax punk, Morphine, Acoustic Ladyland, Mulatu Astatke, Fela Kuti, electric Miles, and far more besides – so much that one could almost dismiss them as just being an amalgamation of their (admittedly myriad, and awesome) influences. Except that Melt Yourself Down also have the tunes. Boy, have they got the tunes. Amazing fun.

Graham listened: I must admit the first few minutes of this had me wondering if Nick had come across an album from the CIA’s Psycholigical Warfare program, as it sounded frenetic, to say the least. But it must have made an impression as it is now the only album released this year that I have bought for myself. The wife doesn’t seem to like it which is generally a sign that it is good. There are moments when it does sound like a Moroccan wedding band (if such exists?), a Madness tribute band and a hip-hop outfit have all booked the same rehearsal room, and that’s what makes it great!

Tom Listened: A new one to me, somehow Melt Yourself Down slipped under my radar and I had never heard of it (or them) before Nick played it to us. I liked Melt Yourself Down well enough and sensed that it is one of those records that would benefit from familiarity as it is so busy and energetic. However, after one listen it gave me the impression that it would be one of those albums that, should I ever own it, would rarely find its way onto my turntable despite being a perfectly enjoyable listen once there.

Acoustic Ladyland – Skinny Grin – Round 18; Nick’s choice

There was a little organisational chaos around this week’s DRC – we were meant to meet last week, at Tom’s with a complicated theme involving some serious (for us) logistical planning, but things fell through, so we rescheduled a regular, unthemed meeting for my house at short notice. So it seemed logical to go back to my mental checklist of albums I first thought of when DRC was conceived, and this excitable slice of “punk jazz” has now wormed its way to the top of that pile.

Released just before Christmas in 2006, I reviewed Skinny Grin at the time, and made bold claims for its genius and potential as a marketable crossover from the vibrant London jazz scene that’s produced seemingly scores of tokenistic-jazz-choice Mercury nominations – Polar Bear, Basquiat Strings, Portico Quartet, even avant-rock choices like The Invisible. I was convinced that Skinny Grin would garner universal acclaim and massive success.

Sadly, although it definitely got the acclaim, its bizarre choice of release date saw it fall into the cracks between Sufjan Stevens Yuletide boxsets and Celine Dion best-ofs, and nobody outside the crowd of usual suspects seemed to become enthused by it; it was too late to make any 2006 end-of-year lists, and by the time the 2007 ones rolled around, it had been forgotten in favour of Battles, who did a similar thing but seemingly from a different direction.

Acoustic Ladyland started their career with an album of, unsurprisingly, acoustic jazz reinterpretations of Hendrix tunes, and then spectacularly found their own sound at the edge of jazz, punk, the avant-garde, and metal with their second album, Last Chance Saloon, which came out around the same time as Polar Bear’s acclaimed, Mercury-nominated quasi-crossover, Held On The Tips Of Fingers; the two

Skinny Grin itself is frenetic, groovy, teetering-on-the-edge-of-chaos stuff. One track is mixed by none other than DRC-fave Scott Walker, who adds what sounds like a muzzle of angry electronic bees to the jerking, multi-directional instrumentation. Guest vocalists, and bandleader Pete Wareham, trading saxophone for microphone, add a punky, poppy dimension to some tracks, but it’s the (predominantly) instrumental tracks that hit the hardest, packing a progressive punch that transgresses genre boundaries like little else I’ve heard before or since. It’s not just jazz fusion; it’s far more exciting than that.

Tom Listened: I am amazed at how consistently Nick manages to choose records that I don’t know, most of which it’s turns out, I really like! This was another one, captivating from start to end, hard to pin down (was it jazz? rock?, fusion? – horrible word that), yet so effective in doing what it was setting out to achieve. I liked the vocal tracks just as much as the instrumental ones and would look forward to exploring Skinny Grin further, despite the fact the band have such an awful, and totally misleading, name. Well done Nick – another goodie!

Rob listened: I loved the first track which seemed cast as a face-off between a cocktail jazz quartet and a herd of straining mid-90s metal apologists. Which is all good in my book. As the record progressed, it started to lose focus, a sense of purpose, for me at least. I liked the compressed thrash jazz workouts wherein Acoustic Ladyland genuinely seemed to be onto something, combining the free associative joy of both genres without, apparently, doing either a disservice, but the more the record went on, the more I found my attention drifting.