Perfume Genius – ‘Put Your Back N 2 It’: Round 42 – Rob’s choice

perfume genius - put your back n 2 itFor me 2012 has been dominated and, to some extent book-ended, by two albums, ‘Mr M’ by Lambchop and ‘The Seer’ by Swans. Both are favourite artists of long-standing who have, after many, many years, produced career-defining records. Both albums manage to distill the essence of what has made their creators so important, to me at least, and still move their music on to yet another level of beauty, brutality, virtuosity and wonder (delete as appropriate). I saw both bands play devastatingly brilliant live shows this year. Kurt Wagner and Lambchop were exquisite, care-worn and heartbreakingly beautiful at the Bristol Fleece. Michael Gira and Swans were jaw-dropping, almost jaw-breaking, in their symphonic violence, a pulverising yet ultimately sublime experience which took days to recover from. I’m hopeless at remembering past gigs, but both these shows felt like they would fit comfortably within my top ten all-time list, if only I could recall the other 8.

I’ve already presented ‘Mr M’ to the Record Club and ‘The Seer’ is pretty much twice as long as the upper limit that DRC can tolerate. Which brings me for my record of the year choice, happily, to the second album by Mike Hadreas, aka Perfume Genius, which has also been on almost constant rotation this year. Superficially, there is little to bind this record to the other two. It’s a short album, just a little over half an hour, populated by 12 concise songs, most of which are simple sketches for piano and voice. However, Kurt Wagner would surely recognise the timeless delicacy of the songs and M. Gira would certainly appreciate the existential bleakness of the lyrics.

Hadreas has an incredible touch when it comes to melody. These are such simple, delicate, still songs but somehow he manages to breath a warm and fragile life into each. They are, in essence, torch songs, as memorable and beautiful as any, but meticulously drained of melodrama and sentimentality to leave brittle bones and reverberating husks. Within these he lays bare his passion, his self-loathing, his wounds and his desolate desires.

If this year has produced a lyric as bleakly poetic as ’17’ then i’ve yet to hear it. Almost laughable set down on the inner sleeve, in the context of the record it is horrifyingly direct and distressing. If this year has produced a song as heart-stopping as the 2 minutes of ‘Hood’, a moment more vertiginous than that when the drums swell in the middle of this track, then I don’t want to hear it for fear I may swoon clean away.

Hadreas is a rare, if tortured, talent. I have no idea where he may go from here, but ‘Put Your Back N 2 It’ is an album which approaches perfection. If Lambchop and Swans built the two major musical monuments of 2012, then Perfume Genius connected the two with a frozen river of votive songs.

Graham listened: I’ve left many a DRC meeting thinking about buying what someone else has brought along and gone on to do so. After listening to this I just knew I had to have  it, and with Christmas coming it went straight on my list. Simply astonishing.

Nick listened: Two for two. Emma and I saw Perfume Genius live (albeit very briefly) at ATP earlier this month, and also saw Owen Pallett follow him onstage and enthuse sincerely about how much Hadreas’ music means to him. On first exposure, in a Pontins discotheque, his piano-lead eulogies to youth, emotion, sensation, and regret didn’t come across that well (partly down to the very drunk girl puking on the carpet in front of us), but on record, Perfume Genius’ intimate talents were much more understandable. ‘Hood’, as Rob suggests, was worth the admission price alone. Suspecting that Emma would love the record’s bleak intimacy and simplicity, I bought her a copy last week in The Drift for Christmas. I’m looking forward to listening to it again myself.

Tom Listened: I was really glad that Rob brought Put Your Back In 2 It’ as his album of the year not least because I gave it to him for his birthday! I bought it with next to no knowledge of the band – I had read a few positive reviews and had a cursory listen in The Drift (how many plugs to they get from us nowadays? Surely it’s time to sort out some sort of commission…) to the first couple of tracks and, on hearing track 2 I came to the conclusion it sounded a bit like Will Oldham and would therefore nestle happily amongst the vinyl in Rob’s collection. It turned out that Rob already knew and liked Perfume Genius, that he had already played a track from the debut album at Record Club and, therefore, that I had shown supreme lack of imagination in making my choice of purchase. It also turns out that track 2 – the (ironically(?)) named Normal Song) is a red herring, being a couple of plucked strings on a guitar rather than the piano led torch songs that populate the rest of the album.

I liked the record – it sounded like a more honest, poignant and (much) less theatrical Anthony and the Johnsons (and I much preferred it to I Am A Bird Now, the one AATJ album I own) – but I wasn’t as blown away by it as I sensed Nick and Graham were…yet again I feel this is a record I would quickly grow to love if I spent some time with it, but I wish Hadreas had placed a more equal balance of guitar and piano on the record as I am a complete sucker for a parched acoustic guitar and a plaintive vocal (see the aforementioned Normal Song).

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Lambchop – ‘Mr. M’: Round 31 – Rob’s choice

Lambchop - Mr. MIt’s been an unusual year so far, for reasons I don’t need to bore you with, and one of the upshots is that I’ve more or less stopped buying records. Whilst I’ve listened to lots and lots of new and new-old music via Spotify I’ve only actually bought two new albums released this year. The more the year progresses the more I’m starting to think that perhaps I only actually needed one. I’ve been listening to ‘Mr M’ almost compulsively since it came out. It’s at the forefront of my mins whenever I reach for music and, more times than not, I can’t come up with good reasons to skip past it.

I could have chosen any of Lambchop’s 11 albums to play for DRC. I like some more than others, but none are less than great. Allmusic.com describes them as “arguably the most consistently brilliant and unique American group to emerge during the 1990s” and that’s pretty tough to gainsay.

I’ve noticed that when explaining my DRC choices I have a tendency to tie myself in knots attempting to dispel what I imagine to be some fallacious public perception of a band or record I love. After two or three attempts on a given evening my fellow players get a glazed look, start ignoring me and begin talking about CAN instead. I suppose that this reflects a lack of self-confidence: I imagine that everyone else must be down on the music I choose to elevate and end up constructing tortuous ripostes to non-existent dismissals. I need to get over this pernicious mental hurdle.

This is important only in that this evening I found myself defending Lambchop against non-apparent charges of repetition and sameyness. These are easy to dismiss. Since ‘I Hope You’re Sitting Down’ in 1994 Kurt Wagner’s band may have retained the same essential method, but their music has stretched and flowed right across the landscape of modern American music.

It’s hard to be objective when I’ve been listening to this album at least half a dozen times a week for the last four months, but I think ‘Mr M’ may be their best record yet. This is intimate music, music with enough space and room for the listener to step inside it and have it feel like home and with such warmth that it’s almost impossible to resist doing so. The group play with such restraint, such gentle mastery that just being ion the same space as them is an enormous pleasure.

Still, despite line-ups which have chopped and changed and expanded to incorporate more than a dozen players at once at time, at the centre of Lambchop is always Kurt Wagner, his cracked and glowing voice and his words, the poetry of everyday scenes and scenery. He’s wonderful on ‘Mr M’. His singing balanced perfectly between hesitancy and insistence, his words tiptoeing a line from funny to bleak, from everyday to profound. “And the sky opens up like candy / and we do the best we can…” catches all the beauty and sadness of life in just two lines.

Apparently these songs were written partly to try to deal with Kurt’s grief at the suicide of his close friend Vic Chesnutt. They ache with loss but are so beautiful as to almost transcend it. “Took the Christmas lights off the front porch / What felt like February 31st”.

I can’t define beauty for you, and despite having heard Nick tack the word ‘phenomenological’ to it on more occasions than I care to remember, I’m none the wiser as to what it comprises. Still, if you pressed me for an answer right now, in mid 2012, I’d politely direct you to this record by this wonderful band. And then I’d be off, dreaming through these songs again, of that beautiful sound, wanting to live forever where that voice emerges, from that slight smile, from that face, beneath that cap, ideally sat on a chair on a stoop somewhere in Tennessee.

I didn’t have time for a track this evening, but we did talk about how great Lambchop’s performance of ‘Give It’ was at the Merge XX event a couple of years ago. This isn’t the best take around perhaps, Kurt’s voice is almost shot, but it’s a fantastic moment and it makes the feet skip and the hairs on the back of the neck twitch.

[youtube:http://youtu.be/zW3CRdTPEOY%5D

Nick listened: Nixon and Is A Woman were my introduction to Lambchop a decade ago, and I’ve subsequently investigated much of their previous work and kept pace with everything they’ve released since. Those two records still stand proud above the others in my esteem – Nixon with its drama, its soul, its occasional touches of dischord, and Is A Woman with its unique, laconic quietude. I’ve enjoyed everything else I’ve heard by them, and loved parts of it, but nothing else has really grabbed me. Oh C’Mon / No You C’Mon seemed like a strange concept (not a double album, despite apparent cohesion; too much to consume at once), Damaged was an uncomfortable listen given the context of illness, and OH (Ohio) just came out at the wrong time for me to give it time, and so has gatehred dust on the shelf. Mr M is the only subsequent release I’ve not bought yet, with emphasis on the yet; it sounded absolutely lovely, and I’ll keep an eye out for it over the coming months.

Tom Listened: A long time ago now I had an Uncut magazine sampler CD called Sounds of the New West and one of my favourite tracks on it was Saturday Option by Lambchop. After I became hooked on this song, I eagerly purchased its album, What Another Man Spills and there my relationship with Lambchop ended…..until, that is, Rob played Mr M to us.

On an initial listen I much preferred Mr M. WAMS never really grabbed me and I found it a bit of a mess of disparate styles and mumbled lyrics. Whilst I agree with Rob that Kurt Wagner has a unique singing voice, it’s not one I necessarily find easy to listen to. However, it sounded much better to my ears on Mr M, the context of the songs fitting his voice perfectly and there was a stately confidence throughout that perhaps reflects the self-belief that doing one thing well for a long time brings. So, just to put Rob’s mind at ease, I liked this record (as I do most of his offerings)!

Graham listened: Dangerous territory here. I’ve been aware of the band for many years and really liked what I had heard to date. Listening to a complete album for the first time has cemented my belief that this is a band I could really get in to. Could be expensive, 11 albums, where to start?