Monday, 3 November 2014

Wot I dun: album of the day revisited

You are all familiar with my love of music. My collection - both real and ethereal - falls broadly into three groups. One: rock and pop and singer / songwriter, preferably on vinyl. Two, electonica. Three, stuff that doesn't fit nicely into these boxes, e.g., Kate Bush or Prince - because they are genre defying -or stuff that is generally rubbish, e.g., iron maiden / the cheeky girls (although, even I would be tempted to listen to any collaboration between those two...) 

This blog focuses almost exclusively in category two, and let me explain why. Since discovering Metronomy, I have rediscovered my passion for this wonderful, beeps-and-noises style of music.  It began when I was a kid obsessed with rock and punk such as the Police a Bad Manners, suddenly discovering this new and unusual form of sounds upon nicking uncle Gary's copies of The Buggles and OMD, New Order and stolen snippets of Kraftwerk*** through my lifelong love of the Pet Shop Boys, through "growing up" and listening to Autecere and Aphex Twin, seeing it go mainstream with Electronic and the Chemical Brothers; know we have gone full circle with MGMT, Empire of the Sun and, of course, Metronomy. 

As far as I am concerned, Metronomy are a breed apart. Their albums are story telling at its finest, carried by innovative and unusual instruments with names that belong in sci-Fi comics. I first discovered the English Riviera album, went onto Love Letters, the album of 2014 for me, and - and this is where this blog started - went back to find Nights Out

So, with a week of Lanzarotean sun beds on the horizon, I loaded the iPod with new electronic albums, and got down to some serious studying. 

Gulp - Season Son 

 Erm...yes... I first heard "I want to dance" on 6 music and loved it, so it was a prime candidate. However, on the first listen, the second listen and even the third, all I could hear was the OST of a Quentin Tarrentino spaghetti western. There were two or three individual moments that I really liked. However, other than that... I was left feeling like I'd done a good thing; ticked something of my list. But will I listen again? Probably not if I'm honest. 

They are fully within their rights to argue that they don't fit into this box, and they'd be quite right, but that's what it said on the tin. This album, for me, goes rather disappointingly into the less pleasant end of category 3, somewhere between Nirvana and S club 7. 

Caribou - Our Love 

 Now, this I liked. A lot. I liked it because it had a number of really amazing melodies. However, more than that, it contained a number of electronica devices and cliches which improved the whole piece, such as a change of tempo in "Can't do without you" and the use of silence in several tracks (few other genres have learned this lesson) often best executed by Scandinavian house djs or, dare I say it, early Pet Shop Boys. 

 Overall, I just enjoyed a strong collection of songs which I would love to hear live. Also, the complete piece is so good that I would struggle to choose one highlight for a playlist - this is, simply put, a good late night chill out with a glass of wine album. 

Phoenix - Bankrupt! 

 Again, I was introduced to this group via 6music. Early one morning, I put it on and was very very pleasantly blown away. This was an easy listen, and a highly enjoyable one, although it could also be one of those genre defying ones - some songs were pure electronica, but at some moments I heard the Strokes and the Guillemots. 

 As with Caribou, this is an accomplished piece overall, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Bearing in mind I was until recently bemoaning the death of the album, I've found two corkers. 

 I suppose the difference is that this is group who know their my instruments and their roles, and put them together extremely well. Furthermore, they are not too afraid to say "that doesn't need any bass lads, you crack on with your moog and I'll sit this one out". 

 It's just good: simple as. Furthermore, although I discovered it in the sunshine, I think it will add to a playlist containing groups like the go betweens and the Cocteau twins, to whom I always seek recourse when the nights draw in; like the novels of John Irving or the poetry of Robert frost, it will bring warmth and comfort when needed on a cold November night. 

East India youth - Total Strife Forever 

 There are three things you need to be wary of when composing this kind of music, I feel. One: pretentiousness - there is a place for that; it's called the early 80s. Second: repetition. Third: power cuts. Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie never really worried about the juice running dry. 

 Sadly this album is all repetition and, towards the end, a little pretentiousness. Peter Gabriel used the same name for an album 4 times - that's cool; the same name for 4 tracks on the same album smacks of art school over seriousness. Or just bloody laziness, if I'm honest. 

 This was long, and dull, to put not too fine a point on it. It's a shame, because having been teased by "Dripping down" I was really up for this. I had to listen to it in two sittings - never a good sign. 

At the risk of sounding like a teacher, they need to do their homework. You can do length without the pitfalls mentioned above. Check out all nearly ten minutes of "It's alright" by the PSBs on Introspective - I spent many a teenage afternoon doing just that, repeatedly. Or try "I trawl the megahertz" by Paddy Mcaloon - not the whole album, but the 22 minute title track. No repetition there, just very very good music. 

 This however is not. Sorry fellas. 

Glass animals - ZABA


 Not wow as in rollercoasters or puppies for Christmas. More wow as in did I really just enjoy that? Did I really get the chance to experience that? Having finished it I had to immediately listen again. This is epic, really good stuff. 

 I also have that feeling I often get about wishing I was more intelligent, wishing I could get it more. Like you feel when you first listen to the XX. Intrigued at first and then fully blown blown away, this is great musicianship. Again, they know when to use instruments, when not to, and when to just shut up for a second or two.  

 You see, one of the reasons I love this genre so much is, in the words of Shrek, layers. Listen carefully enough, there's more than one thing occurring, and electronica does it best. On my second listen I sought out these layers, and got lost trying to keep up. It's not often to say an album is beguiling, but this one is. The last track, entitled "jdnt" - no pretentiousness there, it's clearly thought out and means something to someone - works on so many layers it's practically an audio trifle. 

It's the first time this holiday / homework project I've had a must listen to that track again several times moment.

Song writing and music making of this kind comes along all too seldom, but, I suppose, we enjoy it all the more when it does. This is going straight into the must be listened to again, a lot category.  Corridors of Badock's Wood, prepare yourself. 

 Just wow. How do they do so much in four and a half minutes? That, mate, is electronica.


Metronomy - Nights Out 

 This is where it all began this time around.  I was already a devotee of the later two albums (see above) and therefore in the rare position to go back and discover old stuff.  This was a joy.  As it is a different band composition, and an earlier work, its a different sound, and more raw and gritty sound than its successors.  

However, this does not detract; nor does it sound like a pale imitation - this is very much one chapter in what I hope will be a long and successful history of this band.

From the opening sounds to the final, hypnotic track, I just enjoyed this album for what it is - great story telling, great music and excellent musicianship.  Joe Mount, the songwriter, does something incredibly simple, but does it incredibly well: he / they create riffs and patterns that don't merely get repeated, but built upon, again and again - more of that layering.  Also, sometimes it's just a good old fashioned verse-chorus-verse-chorus song, but again, that build a story from start to climactic finish.

I must have looked a fool bobbing up and down repeatedly in the aisle of the plane to "On dancefloors" but, to be honest, I didn't care.  Like so much of what I love about this style of music, at first it sounded bleak, almost quiet, but went on to build a strong and dynamic story, which, by the end, has you utterly engrossed.

Where it all started again. And, where I know, it will continue.

A good holiday thanks.  Nothing spectacular, but enormously enjoyable in many ways, and memorable for reconnecting me to a massive part of my musically-formative years.  It also gave me the chance (via the generosity of a very dear friend) to purchase some very new albums and just sit back and enjoy them.  For my October half term homework, that is all.  Thank you...

Lanza Playlist

On Dancefloors - Metronomy
Chloroform - Phoenix
Second chance - Caribou
Gooey - Glass Animals
Need Now Future - Metronomy
SOS in Bel Air - Phoenix
Pools - Glass Animals
Can't do without you - Caribou
I want to dance - Gulp
Jdnt - Glass Animals

*** for those of you uninitiated, listening to Kraftwerk as a kid in the early 80s always felt a bit like eavesdropping on a conversation between adults at a party - you knew deep down you shouldn't do it, but there was no way you were going to stop, and you did not want to be rumbled.  It always gave me the feeling that it was something you never really wanted your mum to know about...