Embrace – Embrace: Round 62, Nick’s choice

EmbraceTom accused me of dangling the ‘Embrace carrot’ at Record Club last time out, so I thought this week, sans theme, I’d hit him with the ‘Embrace stick’, and play the whole of their new album.

I’ve written about my weird relationship with this band at great length in other corners of the internet, so I shan’t bother going into it all again. I’ve also written thousands of words just about this record already, and listened to it about 40 times, which is just nuts. I think I’m insane when it comes to this band. Oh well. I’m very happy to be so; sometimes it’s brilliant fun and very rewarding. Other times it’s annoying and confusing. Oh well.

Embrace will always write ‘big’ songs, and some people will always hate that; that’s OK. People literally just hear music differently, as we’ve established here over the last three years. This record is stuffed full of mammoth choruses and chewable melodies and middle eights and hooks and sonic touches that draw on everything from post-metal to dubstep to stadium rock to New Order and a whole load of other stuff. It’s not the kind of record that lends itself to a record club listening context; any ‘aesthetic contemplation’ comes a little later on, after the tunes have embedded themselves and you can unravel them; also, for me, it packs a massive emotional punch that just wont exist for some other people. I’ve done a lot of unravelling, and this is an amazingly well produced record; it sounds utterly fabulous in how it’s mixed and mastered, unlike pretty much any mainstream rock record I’ve heard in years (and unlike most ‘alternative’ records, too, for that matter).

Anyway, as well as choruses and melodies and middle eights and hooks, they’ve added a host of synth and dance sounds to their palette; keyboards have always been prominent but never quite like the subdued, droning synthesizer oscillation that begins the opening track (which we talked all over so people probably only noticed the massive chorus and none of the subtlety). They’ve done stuff I always wanted them to do but which they never quite got round to, for whatever reason, and, compellingly, they’ve done it entirely themselves; no record company, no A&R, no producer, no engineer, no deadlines and no budgets. They sound like a new band making a really precocious debut album with a super-producer, rather than a load of 40-somethings who’ve been through the record industry mincer over and over again (unless you pay close attention to the words, perhaps). I’m delighted; I love this record.

Rob listened: I can’t remember all that much about ‘Embrace’, but that’s okay. I’m less interested in this band than I am in the relationships we make with bands and how some weather the storms, remaining strong despite rising and falling tides of critical opinion and cultural capital and others just fall away. I totally get Nick’s feelings for Embrace, and part of that is the acceptance that others won’t feel the same uneven, irrational but unshakeable and ultimately deeply rewarding passion. Who cares? Nick wins.

I can’t tell you too much about the record as we talked all over it and I can’t listen back to it without attempting to find a leaked copy. It sounded okay, some surprising elements, some familiar. I got that sense of a band trying to push themselves beyond their comfort zone and it certainly seemed to be producing interesting sounds at times.

Tom listened: Well, the good news is that this didn’t really sound anything at all like Oasis (thanks to Graham for reminding us just how much Embrace sounded like Oasis on the their first album by playing us a track from it on what turned out to be ‘Embrace’ night). It was much better than that. In fact, I quite enjoyed it, in probably much the same way as Nick quite enjoyed Real Estate. Some interesting ideas, one cracker of a tune about half way through…but, overall, a bit too ‘big’ for me.

Graham listened: I’ll get round to this album in a minute, but I have been ‘stalked by Embrace for some weeks now. They had a mention a few weeks ago and I felt inspired to unearth the ‘Good Will Out’ from its dusty home and gave it a spin. It then followed me in the car and hung around the house for 2 weeks. I enjoyed its celebratory moments but found myself induced into a melancholy stupor by many of the tracks and kept requiring repeated exposure to maintain the reduction in my pulse rate. I have no particular need these days to feel in such a way and I can only be thankful this album remained hidden in the cupboard during last Autumn.

After I played a track at this round, Nick then compounded my predicament by lending me ‘Drawn from Memory’ and ‘Dry Kids’. While I’ve enjoyed the more upbeat/frivolous tracks on both, I have been gorging myself on the deeper ballads. I’ve bought my daughter the songbook for their debut, so I can hear the piano parts on ‘Thats all changed ….’ and the ‘Good will…’ out on demand, well once she’s learnt them.

I never really got the Oasis, Verve, Coldplay etc. references to Embrace, as I never really listened to those other bands. I just thought their debut was a fantastic record and couldn’t understand why more people weren’t excited by them. Strangely I never bought any of the other albums but that will change following recent exposure.

As for this album, having read a little about its long gestation, I suppose I was maybe expecting it to sound a little more “out there”, but I’ll only be in a position to comment once I have a copy and am able to feed my growing ‘habit’.



Odds and sods – Round 61, Nick’s choices

A great idea from Tom – rather than supplicate ourselves to the orthodoxy of albums once again, let’s just play some songs, freestyle.

I keep a massive playlist on my phone called ‘I need this song on my phone’, which contains a broad selection of mixtape staples, songs I love that don’t feel, to me, like a part of a parent album. Singles, b-sides, EP tracks, those lone tracks you love by artists you otherwise don’t give a stuff about; there are loads and loads and loads of pieces of music I adore, but which I’d never want to waste a whole album choice on at record club.

So as soon as Tom mentioned the theme, I opened that playlist, scrolled through it, and made a longlist of about 20 possibilities – anything was fair game, as long as I hadn’t played it here before (and I’ve played a good handful – stuff like “Flim” by Aphex Twin – at record club already). On the night, I took about a dozen with me, and played through them in whatever order seemed best, without logic or theme or plan. These are they.

The Boo Radleys – “Lazarus”

The version on Giant Steps (which is wonderful but too long to play at record club) is an edit, and shears off the extended, rolling, dubby intro. Which is a shame, because that intro is exceptionally good, and, as heard on the proper 12” version, wonderfully sets up the tension that the awesome, trumpet-and-feedback driven, wordless chorus of “Lazarus” then spectacularly releases. Guitar feedback, trumpets, dubby basslines; this song rolls all the good stuff together. And it’s about being agoraphobic.

Rob listened: Great intro, great bassline, great chorus, if a little brutish. Unfortunately the whole thing takes on a taint of meh-ness whenever the singing happens. Always liked the Boo Radleys but, come to think of it, not really because I liked their music.

Graham listened: Thought I knew what the Boo Radleys were all about, clearly I don’t. Great track.

Tom listened: I really like Lazarus but I know what Rob means…the intro is just so great that the rest of the track finds it hard to keep up.

Snow Patrol – “An Olive Grove Facing The Sea”

Before they were massive, post-Coldplay rock behemoths, Snow Patrol were a weird little post-My Bloody Valentine indie band on Scottish label Jeepster. This track, from their second album (the one before they got huge), is a lovely daydream about mermaids, gentle and modest and absolutely beautiful, with an eyeball-swelling lone trumpet solo for added sadness.

Rob listened: Pretty lovely. I never had a huge problem with the early phase of their behemoth incarnation. It’s fascinating to listen back to this and try to trace the evolutionary steps they were about to take. I guess on balance I would have preferred them to stay where they were, but neither would have trouble my record-buying habits.

Graham listened: Another eye-opener as I have Snow Patrol filed firmly away.

Tom listened: I am having a re-listen to this as I don’t remember it from the night. It’s OK I guess but I find the vocals a bit mopey. Nice instrumentation though.

Manic Street Preachers – “Motorcycle Emptiness”

Sometimes anthemic rock is the best thing in the world; platitudinous lyrics and major chord surges and melodies that pile up on one another. This puts its foot on the monitor but still maintains a degree of decorum. “Under neon loneliness / motorcycle emptiness” James Dean Bradfield hollers, like some pretentious sixth form poet; it’s pompous and ridiculous, but by god it makes you feel amazing.

Rob listened: Awful. Hate it for all the reasons Nick lists above, plus the fact that underneath the imagined sheen of retro rock futurism, it’s a plodding track with some doo-doo-doodle-oodle-doo-doo guitar bits.

Graham listened: Wonderful. Brilliant. Great. Would have made it into my winning singles world cup team hadn’t I known that the Manic haters in our midst might have shot it down. Huge sound, rifftastic, pretentious but brilliant.

Tom listened: I fall somewhere between Graham’s and Rob’s two stools (sounds messy)…I don’t mind The Manics but find them annoyingly predictable and safe at times. That said, this is probably their best single and I really enjoyed hearing it again.

Dave Brubeck – “Take Five”

My dad was only really into Johnny Mathis and dinner jazz when I was growing up, and I think my love of jazz comes largely from him. This is a tune I’ve loved for a whole lifetime; it’s weird that it’s so well known and was such a hit, when it was basically composed as a vehicle for a Joe Morello drum solo. Just an unbeatable tune.

Rob listened: Perfect. Presumably there’s a section of the populace who can recall only one jazz tune, and if it’s not ‘So What?’ then it must surely be this. The audacity to create one of the most identifiable piano parts of the last 100 years and then stick one of the most memorable sax lines over the top of it.

Graham listened: I recalled this, I am that section of the populace.

Tom listened: Brilliant…more than justified the evening’s concept on its own. A truly remarkable piece of music, the drumming is out of this world. Thanks for bringing it Nick!

Embrace – “Blind”

I toyed briefly with the idea of playing eight different tracks by Embrace, to show the scope and range hidden behind the scenes that’s made me love them so much over the years, but that seemed a little like cheating. Instead, this track off their first EP, probably the song I’ve listened to most in the last 17 years, and which never made their debut album. Just about my favourite guitar sound ever – a giant, textured post-MBV crunch that maintains enormous weight and swims across the soundstage like a car on black ice – plus a massive chorus that’s actually some kind of defiant stand against anxiety and PTSD, plus ba-ba-ba backing vocals. Vulnerability turned into savagery in an attempt to defeat it.

Rob listened: If i’m honest, this sounded like Oasis, even down to the vocals. Decide for yourselves whether that’s good or bad.

Graham listened: I think I’ve kept it fairly quite to date, but I thought the ‘Good Will Out’ was an amazing record and while it did well, I thought it deserved much better recognition. For no reason that I can remember, I never bought the follow ups and thats something I may address. Nick rolling this out inspired me to dig out GWO and give it a spin.

Tom listened: Nick’s keeps dangling the Embrace carrot over us at Record Club, yet here we are, three years in, and still we wait for an Embrace album to be brought by Nick. I agree with Rob on this one – it does sound like Oasis! Hopefully their other stuff doesn’t.

Kyuss – “Super Scoopa And Mighty Scoop”

Josh Homme’s band before Queens Of The Stone Age, Kyuss were desert stoner rockers, detuning their guitars, taking PAs into the middle of nowhere, and playing exceptionally deep, exceptionally groovy rock for people to set things on fire to. This is just exceptionally fun; Homme plays with the riff, bending it and corrupting it into silly shapes, and the stop-start outro is pure heaviosity comedy.

Rob listened: Great, loopy, open rock. Shows you can be indulgent and silly and still kick it hard.

Graham listened: I should really like Josh Homme’s work more, given my tastes. But something doesn’t work for me. I own ‘Them Crooked Vultures’ and don’t think I even got to the end. Strange.

Tom listened: One of Rob’s other ideas (other than Record Club) – hey, I’ve just realised he’s had at least two – was to do a podcast and within it one of the regular features would be a ‘Slipped Under Our Radar’ slot in which we listen to something pretty significant/ubiquitous that has always passed us by. I think that was the gist of it anyway.  I can now cross Josh Homme off my list. Not really my cup of tea (unsurprisingly) as big rock riffage is to me what jangle pop seems to be to Nick.

Sugababes – “Overload”

Just great dancefloor pop; I remember dancing to this on countless drunken nights at university, whether on ‘dance’ dancefloors or ‘indie’ dancefloors or just daft student dancefloors. It’s simply brilliant, and brilliantly simple. I’ve literally only just this morning realised the line that runs from this back through All Saints and via Massive Attack to Neneh Cherry; it’s produced by Cameron McVey, Neneh’s husband, who worked on all her albums and was part of the revolving community of musicians who effectively comprised Massive’s Wild Bunch sound system in the 80s and 90s (he’s credited as ‘executive producer’ on Blue Lines).

Rob listened: I reviewed the album when it came out. I expected to be dismissing it as another manufactured girl band (not an anti-girl band thing, there were just loads of cobbled together girl and boy bands being prodded in front of us at the time), but 60 seconds into Overload I forgot all that. It’s a belter.

Graham listened: Oh the joy of feeling free to come out at my age and feel comfortable stating that I and other members have a soft spot for the Sugababes!

Tom listened: For my money, Sugarbabes are one the very best singles bands of the last  twenty years – always inventive, slightly quirky, great singing (as in, not all that great singing – their slightly flat vocals seem so cool in this age of Autotune and X Factor). I don’t think I can recall a bad song by them and I imagine their Greatest Hits compilation is a thing of massive joy from start to finish. Maybe I should buy it!

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