Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On: Round 48, Nick’s choice

Marvin Gaye "What's Going On" high res cover artWhen I set us the theme of ‘turning points’ a fortnight or so ago I didn’t have a specific record in mind; or, indeed, a specific interpretation. A ‘turning point’ record could be a fulcrum of an artist’s career, a dramatic change in your personal relationship with music, a shift in the way an entire genre works, or anything else we could gerrymander an explanation for. It seemed like the kind of vague idea that could make for an interesting evening’s listening…

But when I actually started thinking about it I wasn’t feeling inspired. So I threw the idea out on Twitter to see what bounced back; someone mentioned this and a lightbulb went on in my head. It’s the most obvious turning point album there is, on several levels: Marvin’s seizing of creative control from Berry Gordy was an entirely new thing for Motown and for him (though not, quite, for soul music as a whole; Isaac Hayes’ Hot Buttered Soul pre-dates it by about 18 months); it set the scene for Stevie Wonder’s amazing string of 70s solo albums (as well as quite a few other people); it established the idea that a soul album by a big-name player could be something other than a collection of singles and cover versions; and, for me, it was a seismic marker in my teenage musical development – the first soul album I bought, and a gateway into entire worlds of r&b and jazz that I’d barely been aware of outside of oldies radio beforehand.

As a 16-year-old I was a bit baffled by What’s Going On at first; I’d read a huge amount about it, about how it was legendary and amazing and significant, Ian Brown from The Stone Roses claiming it was the greatest album ever made, how it was soulful and serious, dealing with the Vietnam war and ecological catastrophe and economic meltdown. So I was expecting big things, as you would. Given what I knew about soul music back then, which wasn’t much beyond recognising all those classic Stax and Motown singles, I expected What’s Going On to be a string of undeniably great soul bangers, hit after hit after hit.

But actually, it’s something else entirely; the entire 35 minutes is a single piece, almost, the first side flowing through six songs which are more like segues or sections than discrete units, the second side a sandwich of two amazing grooves and a piece of subtly devout gospel. The opening two numbers, for instance, are essentially the same; the title track and its near-twin are separated by little but their lyrics. “Save The Children” and “God Is Love” are hymn-like calls to God, enough to make an atheist teenager feel hypocritical and uncomfortable just by listening in. “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)” and the title track were about the only two I recognised; the rest seemed formless, almost, strings and rhythm section and brass weaving through what seemed like improvisations (and which, I learned over the years, often were).

It took me some time to adjust my expectations and come to understand this record, but it wasn’t a difficult thing to do; not with music this amazing. Nearly 20 years on, I’d definitely claim What’s Going On as one of the greatest records ever made.

Tom Listened: Of course What’s Going On has been on ‘The List Of Albums I really Should Own But Don’t’ for years now and hearing it in full for the first time at Nick’s house has moved it way on up said list. I wouldn’t say I came close to working it out in a solitary listen and just as Nick has suggested in his write-up, it confounded my expectations (much more so than Innervisions which sounded more-or-less exactly as I had imagined it would beforehand) but I have been listening to records for long enough now to be able to tell the difference between discombobulatingly (is that a word?) good and discombobulatingly bad and this most definitely was the former.

A joy to listen to…as are most offerings at Record Club!

Interestingly (well I found it interesting anyway) I just noticed for the first time the lack of question mark in the album’s title.  Always assumed it was there. That changes things!

Rob listened: I too was baffled by ‘What’s Going On’ when I bought it in the mid-90s. It’s still a swirling, beguiling record, never quite what i’m expecting, always hiding something, always giving something different away. It still sounds like an amazing achievement. 40 years after its release I struggle to think of any other albums so compact yet fully-realised, so self-justifying as ‘What’s Going On’.

Graham listened:  Never heard this before and what a far cry from what I expected. Nick doesn’t credit himself enough for simply being a “bit baffled” by this as a 16year old. At my age it had me completely baffled by side 2. Having recently watched Platoon, I was happily groovin’ in the R&R bunker scene vibe as soon as the album began, but was not expecting the complete mixture of social and political commentary/religion/spirituality/jamming/gospel  that followed. Far too much to take in on a single listen.

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D’Angelo – Voodoo: Round 44, Nick’s choice

dangelo_voodooI decided to play this whilst we were listening to Frank Ocean at Rob’s house last week; despite my comments about that record, the one R&B full-length that has got me from start to finish (almost), is D’Angelo’s Voodoo from 2000.

I don’t like the myth of the ‘romantic artist’, the idea of musicians or poets or painters being magical individuals blessed with talent; I could talk about why not for ages. But Michael Eugene Archer, AKA D’Angelo, born in Richmond, Virginia in 1974, started playing piano age 4, self-produced first solo album aged 20, masterminded Voodoo age 25, then (seemingly, allegedly) went crazy and disappeared because he objected to being objectified for his abs rather than revered for his music and who hasn’t released an album since and only just started playing live again last year, seems like he might be the real deal. He’s certainly not your everyday common or garden pop star.

Voodoo is a strange beast. I bought it almost as soon as it came out, intrigued by salivating hyperbole emanating from critics who talked about it as being an instant soul/jazz/funk/roots/R&B/whatever classic, who placed it in a lineage with Marvin Gaye and Isaac Hayes and Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder and Prince and Sly & The Family Stone and Funkadelic and Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix – no expectation or pressure there then.

The copious sleevenotes, and even more copious musicological analysis you can find online, explain exactly how much of an influence the likes of Sly, Prince, Jimi, Stevie, and Marvin etc were on D’Angelo during the record’s gestation, but for the most part Voodoo sounds like nothing so much as itself. For a start, it’s a record very much about vibe and groove rather than about tunes – I was expecting melodies like Stevie Wonder’s on first listen and was confused and disappointed when they didn’t emerge. D’Angelo absorbed the musical lessons of his idols, and used what he learnt to create something different. As a result, Voodoo is hard to categorise; I think of it and use it more like a jazz album than a collection of songs qua songs.

Recorded on vintage analogue gear at Hendrix’s Electric Lady studio, musically Voodoo is comprised of languid, behind-the-beat drum patterns (courtesy of ?uestlove) and languorous basslines, which are up front and centre like hip hop beats. Above and behind this there are taut, high-up-the-chest guitar lines and riffs, woozy horns, indolent piano and organs, plus scratching, studio FX and chatter. The instruments were apparently recorded almost entirely live in a room, with barely any overdubs.

There are plenty of overdubs on D’Angelo’s vocals, though, as his voice floats over the top of everything else, harmonising with himself almost impenetrably, lyrics hard to discern but mood pretty easy to ascertain. He sings about sex, faith, and love, admonishes the greedy, prays for this son, the vocal melodies less recognisable as songs than understandable as blissful incantations.

Voodoo is world away from the modern digital R&B it was contemporaneous to. Is it better? Not necessarily – the likes of Aaliyah produced some sublime, heart-stopping music – but it is different. As indulgent as an album can possibly be, it is incredibly long, focussed to the point of myopia, obsessed with intangible notions like authenticity and spirit and soul. I go through periods where I get obsessed with it, with unravelling its secrets (and it does feel like it contains secrets), and then I put it away again and forget about it for a year or three or five. Because how often can you find the time and space and mood to listen to a record like this?

“Untitled (How Does It Feel?)”, the penultimate song and big single (with the abs-featuring video that seemingly ruined D’Angelo’s psyche for a decade), is like the ghost of a Prince ballad, the tune so clearly beautiful but so hard to touch that even as you’re listening to it you feel like you’re remembering it rather than experiencing it. It’s the only song to build to a climax, to feature bona fide hooks and a chorus, but it just stops dead, cutting to silence apros of nothing before it ever reaches the ecstatic plateau it’s been teasing you with for seven minutes. For a long time, the fear was that D’Angelo’s career might have done the same.

Tom Listened: In the past two days I have sat through the whole of The Age of Adz and I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One – gargantuan double albums by Sufjan Stevens and Yo La Tengo respectively. And I have experienced almost exactly the same thing as I did when listening to Voodoo at Nick’s house. The albums begin wonderfully, plateau a little and then my own failings kick in and I just want to move on, listen to something else, change the mood in the room and in my head. Sufjan’s and Yo La Tengo’s albums I know well and I thoroughly enjoy both in smaller doses (in the case of the Age of Adz I know I’m probably not supposed to but, for me, it’s a much more enjoyable album than Illinois). But over the course of 70 minutes plus, I find it hard to sustain interest in an single (double) album.

Voodoo suffered a similar fate – right up to about the 50 minute mark I found this wonderful – vital, sharp and intriguing, I certainly see where Nick is coming from in his categorising Voodoo as jazz as it has that freedom and ability to surprise that the more rigid structures inherent in many forms of more traditional pop music discourage. But, to be honest, I could have lived without the last 15 minutes. Like almost all the double albums I know (and many that I love), to my ears, a bit of judicious trimming would probably have improved the work!

Graham listened: I must admit I settled down to listen to this thinking it would be a fairly testing experience. For around about the same time as Tom mentions, I was incredibly surprised to find myself toe tappin’, boppin’ and noddin’ (my best efforts at R&B slang) along. An effortless and restrained jazzy groove and vibe had me hooked. But after three quarters of an hour or so my attention began to fade. I not sure if I had heard enough, the style became closer to what I was expecting originally or the arrival of a Lebanese takeaway played its part? Still, in the right mood and with a little trimming in places, I would happily listen again.

Rob listened: I’m afraid I failed to sustain any interest in ‘Voodoo’, so Tom and Graham have done extremely well by comparison. I knew a little of the backstory, and have read some of the glowing reviews, and I love spending time with many of the record’s apparent reference points, Miles Davis, Stevie Wonder, Prince. After about ten minutes, I could feel the jazz influence coming in and thought the record was going to grow into something as twisting and beguiling as I was hoping for. Instead it seemed just to plod on, one long groove after another. Played beautifully, assembled lovingly, and clearly concealing genuine depths, i’m afraid ‘Voodoo’ left me with two predominant thoughts: ‘I fancy a snooze’ and ‘Where did I last see my copy of ‘Jazzmatazz Vol 1?’

Sly and the Family Stone – Greatest Hits: Round 25, Nick’s choice

Sly and the Family Stone’s 1970 Greatest Hits collection was my introduction to the band, after hearing I Want To Take You Higher played on the radio by the singer in a current band I liked. I made a beeline for the record shop, and Greatest Hits was the only thing on offer; my inner teenage rockist almost certainly wanted a proper album, but beggars can’t be choosers. It wouldn’t be until much later that I’d realise the esteem this ‘mere’ compilation is held in – Christgau describes it as “amongst the greatest rock and roll LPs of all time”, and in 2003 Rolling Stone ranked it number 60 in their 500 greatest albums of all time.

This esteem is because Greatest Hits quite simply houses some of the best music ever made, even though it was devised as a stop-gap to fill time while Sly himself was going mad (more on that later). Sly and the Family Stone, a revolutionary multi-racial group at the time, surfed their way through so many different styles, grooves, melodies, and emotions from 1967 to 1969 that it boggles your brain – they’re ostensibly a rock / soul band, but they were keystones in developing funk and psychedelic music, and they traversed boundaries at will.

Greatest Hits combines all the band’s singles from the albums Dance To The Music, Life, and Stand!, plus a couple of charting b-sides that accompanied those singles, another album track from Stand!, plus three stand-alone singles that followed Stand! in 1969. (Sadly it misses the splendid Underdog from their debut album, 67’s A Whole New Thing). Rather than arranging songs chronologically, the sequencing starts with the epic, heavy funk of I Want To Take You Higher (from Stand!) and finishes with Thank You (Falettineme Be Mice Elf Agin) (one of the stand-alone singles), which function amazingly as bookends. The ten songs between range from the plaintive, heartening Everybody Is A Star to the deranged jerking groove of M’Lady, and the beatific sunshine piano-pop of Hot Fun In The Summertime. I own the albums most of these songs come from, and this order is still the way I prefer to hear them.

Even if you don’t recognize the songs themselves, Sly and the Family Stone have been sampled left, right, and centre, and not just by prime-sampling-era hip hop acts like Tribe Called Quest, Public Enemy, Beastie Boys, NWA, Queen Latifa, Arrested Development, Stetsasonic, Snoop Dogg, Redman, Common, Pharcyde, KRS-One, Mobb Deep, Jurassic Five, De La Soul, Missy Elliott… they’ve also been sampled by Primal Scream, Fatboy Slim, Janet Jackson, Beck, Alanis Morrissette, Four Tet, Skinnyman, DJ Shadow, Kid Rock, Pizzicato Five… The list, quite literally, goes on, and on, and on.

After Greatest Hits, Sly and the Family Stone were a transformed band, never the same again. Things started to hint at negativity a little on Stand! (for instance the racial unease of Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey – not included here), but 1971’s infamous, paranoid, cocaine-psychosis-blur There’s A Riot Goin’ On sounded like a different band because it was; Sly himself played almost every instrument, his band disintegrated by his erratic behavior and cavernous drug consumption, as he recorded on the same tapes over and over again until he’d obliterated song after song, hence the infamous muddy tape-hiss sound. There would still be good music after Riot, but nothing as free, as hopeful, as vibrant, as life-affirming, as the material the Family Stone recorded in those first three years together.

Edit: In quick response to Rob, below, Sly and The Family Stone simply don’t seem to have crossed the Atlantic very well – I get the idea from American contacts and friends that they’re held in massive esteem and regard, and hold a huge place in popular culture, that just isn’t reflected or understood over here.

Rob listened: This was a lot of fun while it was on and playing spot the sample is always enjoyable, even if it more often than not leaves me worrying about how quickly my memory is degenerating these days. Clearly hugely influential, Sly and co. have perhaps been denied their place in the pantheon of pop, presumably thanks to Mr Stone’s disintegration. There’s no obvious reason that we should know all the hits by Stevie Wonder or the Bee Gees or The Beach Boys or whoever and not by this bunch. But we don’t. For now they’ll go back on the ‘artists i’m ashamed to say I don’t really know but don’t really feel like i’ll have time to snuggle up to any time soon’ list. Enjoyed hearing them though.

Tom Listened: Worryingly for me, I pretty much agree with everything Rob has written! I enjoyed this, but imagine I would like the paranoid, darker tones of There’s a Riot (a record I have always kept an eye out for but never seen for sale on vinyl) more as I enjoy darkness and paranoia (see recent offerings: Babybird, Big Star, Anais Mitchell, Kate Bush). Sometimes a little cheesy, but always fun and energetic, this was a great collection of tunes and I think it fitted the wonderful bright evenings of April perfectly. Thanks Nick.

By the way: To extend our discussion on the night,other compilations that are possibly more well known than any individual album in an artist’s discography: Legend and Standing on the beach.

Graham listened: Clear and present danger of consensus breaking out over this choice. There were some stonking (not a word I use lightly) tunes on this album. Like Rob says, it almost criminal that some of these don’t have the status of ‘classics’ by the other artists we hear so frequently. If the sun was shining and I had a convertible car, I would be reaching for the 8 track of this and go cruising with the window down and elbow out. Its great that a quick hit of such music can evoke feelings like this. Not sure if the Afro wig would suit me though?

Dexy’s Midnight Runners – ‘Too-Rye-Ay’: Round 21 – Rob’s choice

Time is short. I’m going to skip the bit where I explain that Dexy’s Midnight Runners were more, so much more, than the School disco gypsies that most of the Northern Hemisphere remembers them as. Sure, I’m handing our credits here. Fill your boots.

There’s a quote variously attributed to Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello and various other smarty pants rock stars that goes thus: “writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” It’s a peach. Plus, as a bonus, it’s pretty accurate. How then to write about Dexy’s Midnight Runners, and Kevin Rowland in particular, a band and a singer who, at their most fearsomely intense, used their music as a platform to struggle publicly, forlornly and beautifully to express the essence of what they wanted their music to be? They never reached the purity, the core that they sought and if they couldn’t express what they wanted for their music in the form of their music then writing doesn’t stand a chance. So, I’ll dance for 400 words instead.

Before we speak of Kevin and his heart of fire, let’s be sure not to skip past the sound his band made. The sound he made them make. Rowland conceived Dexy’s Midnight Runners as a hard-hitting hoodlum soul revue and he drilled them, technically, physically and mentally, until they were the outfit he needed. Then, after their first album, they all abandoned him and he started again. The band we hear on this, their second record, is almost completely new and (perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised) despite the additional adornment of fiddles and dungarees are harder, bolder, tighter and punchier than any other Runner’s incarnation. Hear how they push and push their way through ‘I’ll Show You’, piano, horns, strings, drums hitting every step, every sublime transition together and hitting them hard. Try to spot a single crease in ‘Until I Believe In My Soul’ a 7 minute gospel torch song that sweep inexplicably into a jazz pastiche and back out to a floor thumping, chapel-filling cri de coeur.

In Dexy’s Kevin Rowland fused the personal and the political then sublimated them. In this he and his band equalled, perhaps surpassed, the great testifying rock and soul acts. ‘Too Rye Ay’ is his least political and most personal record. It plays down his desire to reconcile his Black Country upbringing with his Irish heritage, which dominates much of ‘Searching for the Young Soul Rebels’ and ‘Don’t Stand Me Down’, and focusses on his urgent need to create something that will burn bright down the ages, a pure expression of abstract inner truth that will stand as no less than a monument to the beauty and the worth of the human soul. Sounds over the top? Fair enough and, by the way, screw you.

Rowland’s lyrics are remarkable. Each song is like a workout, a battle as he fights to express himself, beating down the language, beating down the constraints of the form, throwing propositions back and forth in dialogue with his band members, searching, climbing, grasping for the secret resolution he knows is out there somewhere. And the Runners go with him creating elatory music to match their leader’s fervour.

All this comes together in it’s most perfect form in ‘Let’s Make This Precious’, Rowland’s signature piece. The band kick hard, fast, joyfully, irresistibly. Rowland’s lyrics, his dialogue with the band and himself are a pure plea for purity, for commitment, for transcendence. Together they are striving, working, training and straining for something beyond the ordinary, something more, something that they can sense but cannot reach, something that will transform them, redeem them, save them.

“Pure, this must be, it has to be.
Pure, let’s make this pure,
(Do you mean it?) Yes I do,
(Then let’s sing it) Certainly, but
First bare your hearts and cleanse your souls
(And then?) Let’s try and make this precious, like this.”

Their quest never reaches it’s end. They never get there, perhaps they never could. But, my goodness, ‘Too Rye Ay’ brings them pretty close.

Epilogue: reversing the Curse of Devon Record Club, in the days after this last meeting Dexy’s announced the release of ‘One Day I’m Going To Soar’ their first album for 27 years.

Nick listened: Dexys are an odd proposition; any understanding of them for me, and for most people I suspect, is so massively overshadowed by Come On Eileen (even more so than Geno, which I’ve read about countless times but don’t ‘know’) that it’s difficult to form any kind of relationship with them and their music. I tried to, years ago, by buying Searching For The Young Soul Rebels, in the hope that it would be the white soul classic I was looking for back then (I suspect it was, but I wasn’t ready for it, for whatever reason – the reason probably being Eileen). So, I’ve read more about Dexys than I’ve listened to them, but Come On Eileen is still burnt into my consciousness more than anything else about them.

Rowland himself is a fascinating character, doing, as Rob points out, the musical equivalent of breaking the fourth wall, singing about the music he is singing, striving for something primal and honest. This was great (as was the Don’t Stand Me Down track that Rob played alongside it), and I want to know and hear more. Sadly, as ever, I think the distance of time elapsed between then and now, coupled with Eileen’s ubiquity and strangeness, will make any appreciation I come to of the rest of their ouevre just that; appreciation, rather than love. But I’m gonna keep looking out for Don’t Stand Me Down, lest it ever be around for less than £50, and try and pick this up too.

Graham Listened: Since the mammoth success of …..Eileen, I have probably been doing my best to avoid Kevin Rowland. The first album had no real imapct on me at the time, but I could recognise Geno as a great tune. But being around at the time, the success of ……Eileen categorised Dexys as just another pop band for me. I can recall listening to this album at the time of release and really “not getting it”, as it were. I was probably expecting more of the pop classics like the singles and didn’t really get all the heart and soul searching. I can hear it now but still harbour doubts.

Tom Listened: I have a friend at work who is really into early 80s ‘pop’…hell, I even caught him listening to a Heaven 17 Youtube mix the other day! I told him about Too-Rye-Ay being an offering at our recent DRC meeting, offering condolences that he wasn’t there but he replied that Dexy’s were never his thing. When I (incredulously) asked him why not, he related to their ubiquity at the time. In his words ‘you don’t come home and drink scotch when you’ve already got plastered on it in the club’. Now I suspect that with that statement he is not referring to Dexy’s, he’s referring to their crowning glory/albatross…that song…you know the one!

The thing is, once you come to properly listen to the albums you soon realise that Come on Eileen is so far from being representative of Dexy’s that it has probably done the band more harm than good. That one song is, to most people, Dexy’s. And I haven’t met all that many people who don’t like it. But I also haven’t met all that many people who have explored the band’s output beyond it. And I guess the reason for that is that the song’s album is an awkward bugger, packed with disorientating time signatures, oblique lyrics and (horror of all horrors) more key changes than you can shake a stick at. So it’s really difficult to get to grips with (at least for me it is) and yet I feel as though, six or so listens in (Rob lent me his copy), this is probably a work of genius, passion, authenticity and other good words. One that’s very much worth persevering with and although I still wouldn’t say I have clicked with it yet, I am beginning to really enjoy the ride (and none of it is remotely like Come on Eileen… apart from Come on Eileen).

PS I have also felt inspired to go back to Searching…and that sounds brilliant…and much more accessible! Definitely an easier introduction to the band.

MAKE-UP – Save Yourself – Round 12: Nick’s selection

I picked 1999 as a theme because it feels, to me, like it’s perceived as a fallow year. 1997 felt like a marquee year for big modernist rock releases, Radiohead, The Verve, Spiritualized, Blur’s step towards American experimentalism, Oasis’ grand folly, plus the big-beat monopoly of The Chemical Brothers, Fatboy Slim, Prodigy’s US breakout. 1998 was a transition year, the moment Britney landed, the last year when something definably 90s happened. 2000, with XTRMNTR, The Marshall Mathers LP, At The Drive-In, Kid A, Queens Of The Stone Age, PJ Harvey, Supreme Clientele, Coldplay’s debut, and Stankonia, feels like the beginning of a new decade. But 1999 feels like The Flaming Lips and piss-all else.

I first heard MAKE-UP in 1999, and while I really love it, and have subsequently bought a handful more albums by them (although I’ve never investigated Nation of Ulysses, the group they evolved out of), I’d never claim it as a classic nor expect all that many other people to love it. I do think it’s great fun, though, for pretty much every second of its 35-minute length.

I understand Nation of Ulysses as a shouting, testifying, politically-charged, DC post-hardcore band who ran their course and then, in the mid 90s, under the leadership of singer Ian Svenonious, adjusted line-up slightly and transformed into a late 1960s underground gospel-garage dirty psychedelic band. Whether they’re pastiche merchants, parodists, or loving adherents of a certain aesthetic is not clear – there’s such care in the way this album, and all their others, is recorded, in the way the band present themselves from record sleeves to matching yellow jumpsuits, such passion in the onstage testimonials to the power of rock and roll, of soul, of jazz, of gospel, that if this is pastiche or performativity then it’s of the type that is so committed as to overwhelm any initial motivations. MAKE-UP blow notions of authenticity out of the window; there is no inclination of where the line between the real people end and the “band” (as gang, as performance, as philosophy, as presentation) begins – at least one other album by them claims to have been recorded live in front of an audience despite (apparently) not having been.

Save Yourself itself is murky, funky, sexually-charged (comically so – despite Svenonious claiming in an interview around the time that advertisers only used sex as a selling tool in order to encourage people to procreate and thus ensure the existence of future markets to buy products, and not because sex itself is an intrinsically pleasurable activity – again, where does performance end?), driven by blacker-than-black, echoing, reverberant, subterranean basslines and decorated with lashes and storms of properly dirty electric guitar plus squalls and swoons of excitable brass. There’s a two-minute song built around an irresistible organ riff and entitled “White Belts”; a lascivious paean to the angles and edges of shapes with multiple sides (“I’ll be your tetrahedron” indeed); a song called “C’Mon Let’s Spawn” with brass which can only be described as erotic and which, joy of joys, fades out and then back in again. The album climaxes with an eight-minute cover of “Hey Joe” which turns the song into a duet between Joe and his maltreated lady, which devolves into accelerating guitars and a bizarre telephone conversation. It’s brilliant, but it’s the sound of 1969, not 1999.

Boredoms – “◯” (circle) from Vision Creation Newsun

As Save Yourself is only 35 minutes long, I picked a big track to go with it – the storming, psychedelic, tribal rave-up that is the opening track from Boredoms’ masterpiece. I think of VCN as being an album from 2000, which is about when I first heard of it, but it was actually released in autumn 1999 in the group’s native Japan. Boredoms are another group who evolved out of a punk band, only this time the punk band wasn’t another unit with a different name; it was Boredoms themselves. Over 15 years they moved from shouty, near-incoherent, cyberpunk beginnings into a relentlessly experimental, rhythm-worshipping collective who bridge the gaps between dance music, The Wire-friendly avant-garde noise, experimental indierock, prog, and blissful ambient. Over it’s near 14-minute length, “◯” sums up the entirety of its parent album – repeated guitar riffs and raucous multiple-drummer rhythms disintegrating and rebuilding into and out of calmer, disorienting lulls of sound. I find it exhilarating and irresistible.

Tom Listened: I really liked the first track on this album. It felt not unlike Kill The Moonlight era Spoon and set the album up beautifully; tight, taught and spare it really whetted my appetite for more. Unfortunately, for me, the rest of the album failed to come close to those initial heights and I found the rest of the songs to be a bit of a cliched mess to be honest. It seemed as though the album’s production was deliberately muddied to give it that late 60s Nuggets garage rock sound so that, whereas Jim O’Rourke is updating the sounds of the 60s within a modern context and, to my mind, creating an homage in the process, Make-Up on Save Yourself came across as pastiche. It wasn’t awful, but after the excellent first track (Save Yourself) I was expecting the unexpected.

Graham Listened:

A band I had never heard of, but that’s why I enjoy DRC. This was great stuff. Once I was updated on the band’s philosphy and mission, I could really appreciate their sound was for themselves and their followers only. Commercialism was not going to cause them to stray from their path. In fact it sounded to me like a couple of tracks could have easily been transformed in to bright/catchy/poppy hits, but that is clearly not where Make-Up wanted to go. Still their militant funkamentalism (I hereby copyright that expression!) was really enjoyable.