Yes, I know it’s the old record and there’s a new one out now.

Boards of Canada – that last track on the A Beautiful Place in the Country EP
Spiritualized – Pure Phase / Lazer Guided Melodies
Flying Saucer Attack
My Bloody Valentine (obviously)
CAN – Delay
Broken Social Scene – You Forget It In People

These are the reference points I have divined from this album so far.

Occasionally, thrillingly, pop happens, but overall, it’s an ambient record.  The drummer isn’t great and actually, the drum sound isn’t all that.  The snare sounds a bit weak and tinny.  This is compensated for by most everything else sounding as cool as fuck.

All is distant, reverberating.  Not enough to be right over the horizon, though; the shapes are mostly still solid.

The hook in was the song ‘Strange Lights’.  That was the one I heard on Myspace and kept going back for.  I listen to lots of stuff on Myspace, but this was the first time since Younghusband that I was seduced at first listen.  So many bands wash past me in an, ‘oh, that was OK’, kind of way.  Sometimes, three or four nudges from friends or trusted online sources send me back to the same source to unearth a gem.  It wasn’t like that with these guys.  I was made aware that ‘Microcastles’, the new one, is out already, but because I loved ‘Strange Lights’ so much, I just headed straight for its parent album.

What I know about them is that they are fronted by a gent named Bradford Cox and he very generously distributes his Atlas Sound side project material freely via (address here) – but I can’t tell you anything more about him than Pitchfork or Wikipedia could, so why should I.

Actually. I was going to say ‘when has biography ever been important about an indie band?’  Then I remembered avidly reading Our Band Could Be Your Life, with its fascinating, inspiring chapters on Mission of Burma, The Minutemen, Fugazi and Black Flag.

The Deerhunter story is interesting to me, because they appear to have found a way to be a traditional, even retro indie band in the late ‘00s – and yet be right on the zeitgeist.  Check the Atlas Sound Orange Ohms Glow EP (you might as well, he’s giving it away).  ‘Activation’ – Jesus, it’s the new Pavement!  It has the same warm, wonky glow.  Then there’s a cover of an old Joe Meek song.  This isn’t rocket science, yet it’s become extremely important.  The lineage continues.  A friend of mine nailed it when he described Deerhunter as ‘nothing new or radical, yet … so refreshing’.  It’s a conundrum.  It’s a continuum.  Indie prevails.

So the back-story becomes important.  They blog creatively as well as making music and its all part of the same thing, now.  You have to move with the times.

Anyway, Cryptograms.  Hooked in by ‘Strange Lights’.

First track, called ‘Intro’.  Swoons in with a minute or so of ambience, then in comes the title track, which is savvy as fuck.  Dirty, fast bass, distorted, double-tracked vocals (a typical and creatively well-used Deerhunter trick), a hissing nightmare of feedback, drums that battle in vain to keep up with the impending typhoon.  The vocals get sicklier, more slurred and affected – and compelling – as the guitar swathes become more and more overwhelming.  The bass keeps turning around and around.  This is a brilliant statement of intent.  Our old label boss Tom Rose would be proud. ‘Track two has to be the winner’, he always said.

The album then becomes more meditative.  I think they botched the track order a bit, actually.  ‘Strange Lights’ doesn’t appear ‘til track nine, on the heels of the album’s other stonewall beauty, ‘Spring Hall Concerts’.  Those two should have been split up.  If they’d put either ‘Spring Hall’ or ‘Strange Lights’ in at about track five, momentum would have kept up through the album better.

I like the sprawl of the album, though.  And the outstanding ‘Octet’, programmed in at track six, whilst not a first-listen stunner, soon grows in your perception to become an LP peak.  This is the track that gave me that lushed-out, light, gently cosmic early Spiritualized impression.  Those delayed guitars and the skipping bass, the background layers of reverb.  The repetition, the tension that builds, the release of the hook bass change.  It has that formality that I am in love with and want to get to the bottom of.

It isn’t them at their best, though.

This review has been coloured by the fact that I just heard the delicious ‘Agoraphobia’, from Microcastles, which means I now have to buy that album.  ‘Agoraphobia’ is more grist to my ‘they’re the new Pavement’ mill.  But they’re potentially better than Pavement, because they’re better musicians.  Pavement were so fucking sloppy.  Deerhunter are far from sloppy.  They work hard to mask their deficiencies with production technique.  This is not a ‘warts and all’ endeavour, far from it.   And the more records they make, the better they get.

Is there a bell curve when it comes to creativity?  If there is, I don’t think they have reached the peak of it yet.  I hope not, anyhow.

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I live with Stereolab in my heart. It feels almost like I know them personally, so fond am I of their music. Even when they’re being shit, I love them. On some of the tracks on Chemical Chords, they are being a bit shit, but I forgive them for that, because I love them.

‘The Ecstatic Static’ is an interesting song title and almost sums up what’s going on here. I understand that this record was made very quickly – and it sounds that way. Stereolab fans will find loads of gems, but those who aren’t already indoctrinated will probably find themselves slightly nonplussed. I’ve hammered the album now and still find certain songs drifting past me, but I remember my first listen left me feeling a bit short-changed, to say the least.

Virtually none of the songs had a proper ending. They all seemed to either fade out or stop dead at the end of a cycle in a totally unsatisfactory way. The silence at the end of certain songs seemed almost embarrassing. Is that it? I wondered.

I started to consider the record as something of a sketchpad, or, more precisely, a working record. By which I mean, a record made whilst going from one place to another. A curate’s egg, something they were capable of doing at the time, without really surpassing themselves – Tim Gane, off the top of his head, set up some tracks, let them flow, got Laetitia Sadier to shake her not inconsiderable thang on top and that was kind of it. Move fast, keep the tracks short.

Some of the structures are, of course, brilliant, but one of the album highlights, ‘Valley Hi’, features one of the laziest musical changes I’ve ever heard. It sounds like they had two parts and simply couldn’t be arsed to bridge them, so welded them together- voila! A cut and shut. It is only the extreme quality of the second part – a delicious coda powered along by luscious, lovely smooth roto bass thrum – that allows them to get away with it. I’m so thrilled by it that I kind of forget what came before. Which is actually a really nice part.

The first two songs, ‘Neon Beanbag’ and ‘Three Women’ are absolutely brilliant. ‘Neon’ has a superb shimmy to it, which Sadier replicates with her warm ‘doo-wop’, which has been treated to make it sound kind of translucent. It sits in with the track so organically. ‘Three Women’ follows up with a shit-hot groove, two note bass repeating, adroit, across the slave drums, then the bass turns round and trips in the chorus, while a sheet of trebly organ descends and brass suaves in to lift the whole thing into quite magnificent propulsion.

Then song after song comes in with a promising idea and disappears off leaving nary a waft of an impression.

Track 8 ‘Pop Molecule’ is basically their repetition song, ‘Kyberneticka Babicka’, redux. I remember being really thrilled with that when I bought it on 7”. Then I played it to my friend Yuri, who just laughed and said, “they can release anything, can’t they?” I was rather stung by that. Am I a sucker?

Yeah, I’m a sucker.

But a sucker who is REWARDED by the beautiful ‘Daisy Click Clack’, which follows a bunch of so-so numbers, stretching from track 7, ‘Silver Sands’, which actually just isn’t very good, to track 12, ‘Fractal Dream of a Thing’, which is the most interesting of the lot and certainly one of the better things on Chemical Chords. It has a great, rhythmic, rapped vocal moment and a swooning ‘chorus’, which terminates in a lovely one-note solo. With development, it could have been a classic.

All hail the one-note solo! Neil Young knows it and Tim Gane knows it too, in a very different way. ‘Daisy Click Clack’, which is utterly fantastic, has one too. It’s clean and simple, skipping across the more complex and layered backing track, which is a whimsical, formal, off-kilter piano-led woozy sway, with lots of vibes. Subtle, clever, hits you in the heart. This is why I love them.

The version I bought has bonus tracks, so I’m not sure where the regular album finishes. I would imagine track 14, ‘Vortica Phonetique’, is on the album – and dashed good it is too. Simon Johns gets his bass working, the structure develops with a pleasingly natural complexity. It’s a builder, with nice drop downs and ‘ba ba bas’. Weirdly, there’s a triptych of some of the best stuff on the LP clustered right at the end.

In the end, this album feels like something Tim Gane toyed with for a week, before sauntering off to forget it over a decent lunch.

I’m glad he did it.

http://www.myspace.com/gianttree

There is a video excerpt from our debut show here:

http://thesilverwoodshop.blogspot.com/

We’re the third band in.

Tom Mills is first – he played some organ on the new Nightjars album.  Which I think will be done soon.

When Neil Burrell sent me his new album, he didn’t include any song titles.  It took several texts and a couple of draft lists before ‘final’ titles were forthcoming.

‘Oli,
i was gonna leave it up to the listener
to decide on the titles
but that would get a bit confusing i guess’

Thank God, a maverick.

Because I’m bored.  Because everything is so fucking straight.  Everything is so rational.  Everything is so logical.  Everything is so repressed, everything is so hemmed in.  It’s quiet.  Platitudes are murmured.  Conventions are observed.  Standards are upheld.  Eke, eke, eke, from month to month, pay check to pay check, office to pub, cigarette hangover, under the same sky every day.

”Jon, he had it sussed / He was living the life of a tramp / In his bed was the cold and the damp / but the sun was his friend….”

Burrell’s folk hero ‘Mad Jon’, meanwhile, lives out there in the English greenwood (does it still exist?), whilst  caged, frightened curtain twitchers peek, speculate and mythologise.

“Mothers sang to their children / beware of Mad Jon…”

Mad Jon was off the beaten track, the Path Thru Life.  He was to be shunned, he was penniless, he was dangerous…

”He was free…”

Compare / contrast with Wilco (and I do like Wilco), a conventional rock band from one of America’s big cities: –

“It’s OK for you to say what you want from me / I believe that’s the only way for me to be / Exactly what you want me to be” (‘Handshake Drugs’ – A Ghost Is Born).

’Mad Jon’ is, to me, Neil Burrell’s most focused and revealing broadside yet.

Elsewhere, the immediately appealing, rural lope of ‘Sun Low’, with it’s brilliant opening line (“Smiling from ear to ear” … it’s hard to explain, just listen to it), reminds this listener of Tim Buckley, before a beautifully lazy slide motif riff melts the perceptions and really does seem to evoke sunset, especially when allied to gorgeous, subtle high harmonies.  ‘Sun Low’ is the scene of some brilliantly executed production ideas.

Where Burrell has fallen down in the past has been in neglecting to really do justice to his own ideas.  Not a criticism that can be levelled at him on the strength of this album.  There’s even room for a reinvention of Lou Reed’s ‘Pale Blue Eyes’, which is so different from the original, that my initial reaction was to think, “hang on, he’s stolen the words to ‘Pale Blue Eyes’ for this song”, rather than, “oh, he’s covering ‘Pale Blue Eyes’”.  There’s something haunting and timeless about the way Burrell sings the line ‘Most of all time, you make me mad…”, holding the note on ‘mad’, so that it floats and makes you close your eyes with it.

The song and album conclude with a creepy segue into the refrain from the timeless ‘You’re All I Need To Get By’, which is an uncomfortable listen, until the plug is suddenly pulled and the song stops dead, mid line.

We’re in Alice’s Wonderland here.  The terrain is unpredictable, slightly spooky, up and down, laden with pitfalls, but you come out glad you experienced it.  Neil Burrell inhabits a hinterland of English imagination, an inheritance that rightfully belongs to all of us, but that the most of us, keyboards thundering as we type our very souls into our emails, our blogs, excitedly pouring unimportant personal consumption preferences into Facebook – look, we’re forgetting ourselves.  We don’t even know where to find ourselves any more.

Neil Burrell’s music has been dismissed in some quarters as the faux-naïve whimsy of a drug-addled Syd Barrett wannabe.  Wrong.  This is a much better record than its predecessor, White Devil’s Day Is Almost Over, which felt like what it was – a collection of early demos.  In comparison, The Shine of Your Skeleton feels like a suite of songs, written, recorded and mixed together.  Doesn’t matter if it is or not, it just doesn’t seem so scattershot. Coherent, controlled and rife with creativity, there is even a tantalising hint at the possibility of Burrell as a songwriter who might develop a fearsome back catalogue of songs and sonic excursions, a la Jason Molina, over tens of albums across different projects.

Not that his ethereal songwriting itself is reminiscent of the far more sturdy, craftsmanly Molina.  Unconventional (thankfully), unpredictable and prone to moments of beauty, hidden away in a forest that is anything but impenetrable, it will take a leap of faith, a left turn off the A roads you know so well, to encounter The Shine of Your Skeleton.  But before you know it, you too will be dancing with Mad Jon.

He means you no harm.

YOUNGHUSBAND EP (Culture Deluxe)

Myspace.  Thousands of utterly, utterly useless bands.  All with one ambition…  To ‘make it big’. 

 

If these poor sods actually realised how far from their aspiration they really were, I think that most of them would give up on the spot.

 

Oh, I don’t know, I’m sick of it.  It’s overload.  I think we should bring back National Service.  There are just too many colourless, bland, tuneless, competent, pointless ‘indie’ bands, contributing not one new melody to the celestial store.  At best, some of them could be broken down for spares and repairs in the great indie scrapyard.  Sifting through the wreckage of the mediocre, one might come across a nifty drummer, a guitarist with a spark, a sideman who hits high harmonies nicely.

 

Think of these BBC sitcoms, with their canned laughter.  The majority of them seem to be written by people who are capable of writing scripts, rather than people who are actually talented.  Is that harsh?  Am I a bad guy?  Well fuck it; myspace has made me feel this way. 

 

Younghusband is cut from an entirely different cloth.  Euan Hinshelwood is a talented songwriter, as opposed to a musician who is capable of writing songs.

 

I was fortunate enough to receive an email, via myspace, from Euan, who was turned onto The Nightjars by an American acquaintance.  Friend requests are often accompanied by horrible, disingenuous little generic notes, but Euan’s actually seemed personal, which encouraged me to give his stuff a listen.  20 minutes later (in this era of ‘you have 30 seconds… make it good’), I was still listening to his material, downloading a song and composing a reply to his message. 

 

Euan was consequently kind enough to send me the EP and I’m extremely glad he did, because it’s wonderful from the get-go.  ‘Mass Kiss’ opens it up with a chorus refrain that owes something to Grandaddy, before delivering a nicely turned lyric, which wrestles fresh relevance from that old chestnut – ‘and I woke up and found it was nothing but a dream’. 

 

Hinshelwood’s voice is very strong.  He has a very fluid, relaxed delivery and seems never to be stretching for a note.  In vocal company such as this, the listener feels comfortable.  The voice comes to you effortlessly.  Vocalists who don’t have this ability to connect are faced with an enormous barrier to surmount straight away.

 

There are many singers who simply sing and try to get away with it (I include myself in that).  Then there are other singers who open their mouths and people want in, straight away.  I don’t think you can learn it, or ape it, you simply have it or you don’t.  I say Euan Hinshelwood has it. 

 

The second track, ‘Mirror Man’, is my particular favourite.  Again, the easiest of easy tempo intros puts you in mind of one Younghusband’s influences, this time Blur (‘Coffee and TV’, it’s that three accents on the acoustic, then snare hit pattern.  Stereolab use it to great effect on ‘Margarine Rock’ from the Margarine Eclipse LP), before the chorus lifts the song away from the contemporary and off into its own space.  The electric guitar that subtly arrives mid song and burrs away thereafter puts me in mind of those woozily lovely Syd Barrett solo songs, only far more coherent and healthy.

 

‘French Grammar’ follows with a stylised intro, replete with reversed guitar and timpani.  Intros that seem to drop you into the middle of a song you’ve been enjoying for a long time (or maybe have always known, somehow) are high on my list of magical things that I like.  Then the piano comes in and the rest of the track melts away, allowing Hinshelwood to expose something that is unfashionable, or at least it seems to be.  A sympathy, or resonance, with ‘classic’ songwriting. 

 

People who run around with two haircuts, glowsticks, tazers, coke and whatever else will not like this music.  Good!  Fuck ‘em!

 

Track 4 – ‘Woody Allen’, a melodious paean to the bard of New York City.  Maybe the least essential of the four, but still with plenty of class.  A sweetly delivered refrain of ‘I thought I could get away’, then a smooth gearshift into the thoughtful chorus.  Nice and nicely done.  The guitar riff’s a bit gauche, but he’s only 20, for crissakes.  Forgiven. 

 

More please, Younghusband. 

The Monochrome Set were fuckin' ace.

The Monochrome Set were fuckin' ace.

I’m not entirely sure why, but this is a band that fascinates me like no other. Is it the obscurity? Is it the fact that they failed so heroically? The fact that they are not really remembered, despite being the first ever band to release a record on Rough Trade? The fact that nobody seems to know anything about them these days?

I grub around in Kingbee Records in Chorlton, occasionally sidling up to the guy behind the counter, asking him if he has anything. Three records have turned up so far.

‘405 Lines’, a 7” single from the magnificent Love Zombies LP… An utterly quixotic choice for a single, a seemingly tossed-off instrumental, with a few noncommittal backing vocals added to the single version as a concession to commerciality.

Monochrome+Set+-+Love+Zombies+-

Love Zombies - Great album, wrong single!

Why the hell did they put that out, when there were such obvious choices for two or three other singles on the record? I need to know, did they put out the brilliant ‘Adeste Fideles’? What about ‘Apocalypso’? What was going on at the time?I was introduced to the Set by Rob Fleay, who got involved with my band Lazer Guided in 1997 and helped us to self-fund and released a split 7” with another local group, Stumble, then a second split single, this time with the Reading-based Saloon – Saloon went on to top John Peel’s Festive Fifty in 2001.

As a Christmas present, Rob made a C90 for me and our guitarist, Will Stone. This tape was peopled with figures from the seventies and eighties in the main and whilst I am sure the majority of it was seriously worthy (the curmudgeonly mutterings of William S. Burroughs featured, alongside Captain Beefheart and many others), the standout winner for me was the Monochrome Set’s awesome ‘Lester Leaps In’. It, well, it leapt in with a snake-hipped guitar riff, then in cracked the snare, then an insanely busy, beetling bass part, then the guitar ripped into an amazing motif and the band chugged along, watching the lead guitarist go, powering his solo. Then in the middle 8, they suddenly change the melody again and in come the handclaps. It was exquisite, so formal, so perfect, the absolute quintessence of formal rock’n’roll, which is something I’m totally obsessed with.

It makes me feel nostalgic for a time and place that simply doesn’t exist. One or two other songs do the same thing, but The Monochrome Set seem to be able to do it to me all the time. They hit me in a spot that no other band does, maybe ever will.

Years later, I had moved cities and moved bands. We had a group called Stars on the Water, who made, under the influence of a lot of hashish, some very beatific, naïve records, described in one of the few reviews we got as a new sort of clean post-rock. The only label to ever take a serious interest in us was Dreamy Records, an indie from London, run by an ex-pat Californian named Tracy Lee Jackson. Tracy’s favourite ever band was … you guessed it. So when her birthday came around, she booked ourselves as her favourite current UK band (an honour), supporting Scarlett’s Well, the new incarnation of Bid, the man behind the Set.

I dug out the old tapes and found ‘Lester Leaps In’. Still worked. My house at the time was something of a music download centre, so I tapped in the Monochrome Set to a P2P site we used and waited to see what came down. Not a lot, was the answer. On the whole web, it seemed that hardly anybody had the band on their hard drive.

In the end, I found an LP called Strange Boutique, along with bonus tracks, including ‘Lester Leaps In’ and something called ‘Eine Symphonie des Grauens’ – ‘Eine Symphonie’ proved to be an instant classic and my heart was won.

I read through what history I could find, noted the arch interview quotes, the masses of art-school pretension. The Lester of ‘Lester Leaps In’ was Lester Square, of course. Bid, I thought, looked like a slightly shifty character, but one I would have killed to have known. I was thrilled with them. No other band had made me want to be there at the time. People would probably go on about ‘The Rolling Thunder Revue’, or Led-bloody-Zeppelin, or The Beatles, or whatever, but no, I would have liked to have been around this group in the early 80s. If I could teleport back any place, any time, it would be to London, to see them play, around the time of Strange Boutique.

The Peter Saville-designed cover of the fantastic 'Strange Boutique' LP

The Peter Saville-designed cover of the fantastic 'Strange Boutique' LP

So, Stars on the Water frove down to London to play Tracy’s birthday party at the Water Rats in Camden, in support of the mighty Bid himself. Struggling to navigate the vicious one-way system, we drove into the heart of the capital and found ourselves circling the venue, noting the double red lines outside. Double red lines, we knew, meant that if you stopped at all, for whatever reason, you risked Instant Death, but desperate to get some sort of soundcheck / stop driving around in circles, we ultimately ran out of ideas and simply parked outside the venue, red lines or none.

I ran into the venue to be confronted with a small, shifty-looking individual with wiry hair, deep in conversation with an enormously florid, bespectacled man, sat on a chair on the stage twiddling on a bass guitar. The florid man was talking about his time in the seventies, hanging out with CAN. I suspected it must be nonsense.

I gabbled quickly that we were parked outside. The small, shifty-looking character started, said ‘oh, blimey’ and darted out of the door. ‘Come on’, he shouted over his shoulder, ‘hurry up’.

So it was that Bid of The Monochrome Set humped my bass amp into the venue for me. This is a task I have, in vain, been trying to delegate to lesser mortals for years.

Bid (left) - Leapt into action to save SOTW from a certain parking ticket

Bid (left) - Leapt into action to save SOTW from a certain parking ticket

I seem to recall hanging around, vaguely hoping to talk to Bid, but not really having much to go on. I knew only a very little about the Mono Set, which didn’t help.

So Scarlett’s Well soundchecked, we soundchecked, the venue started to fill up. Friends started to come over and say hi and the nerves started to flow. A gentleman named Matt Dornan, who ran an exemplary magazine called Comes With A Smile, came over to chat and exhorted us to record an album ourselves. ‘Don’t wait for someone to give you the money, just do it’, he counselled. Tracy had been feeding him all our stuff and he was impressed.

Finally, some recognition and some encouragement. We had been sending records to all the wrong places, labels like Twisted Nerve and Infectious, or tiny micro-indies that were essentially only extensions of somebody else’s band. Tracy hadn’t the money to do a record for us, but she was dying to help in any other way she could.

The gig would prove to be one of Stars on the Water’s very last, but it was a triumphant affair. We played well and the new song we had written especially for Tracy (she was supposed to be putting together a compilation CD with a Valentine’s Day theme, but it never happened) went down great. We had another new song we were pretty excited about, entitled ‘No Kicks’. We played that last, as a showstopper, replete with screams and as much thunder as we could muster (Stars was not a very heavy band).

I walked off and backstage, feeling rather happy with the set. I rounded the corner and the first person I saw was that man Bid.

‘Good’, he said, levelly, looking me dead in the eye. I was somewhat unnerved. ‘Particularly that last one’.

Duly noted.

I was thrilled and started blathering about the Monochrome Set, hoping I could maybe blag a CD off him or something – such is the way my mind works. He puffed out his cheeks on hearing the name of his old group.

“That’s going back years now”, he sighed. “Maybe try Cherry Red (Records)?” I was surprised. I would have thought that the records would have been easily available, that he wouldn’t have been at a loss if asked about his old band. Clearly, they were far more obscure than they should be.

This was a band I couldn’t bear to see languishing in the dustbin of history – they were far too good. But the back-history was so sketchy. Signed to Virgin, dropped after a couple of albums, careering on through the eighties with constant line-up and stylistic changes.

Scouring Manchester second-hand stores such as Kingbee, Vinyl Revival, I managed to pick up a few bits – I slavered at stupidly expensive 7” copies of ‘He’s Frank’ and ‘Eine Symphonie des Grauens’ on eBay. It is perhaps fortunate I didn’t “remember” to bid for these artefacts after a night out, as happened to me with the early Pavement 10” Perfect Sound Forever. Which is terrific, incidentally.

After a few drinks whilst watching the Slow Century DVD, I felt compelled to spend £40 on this badboy.

After a few drinks whilst watching the Slow Century DVD, I felt compelled to spend £40 on this badboy.

The problem is, I am no sort of record collector, as I’m incapable of keeping things nice and believe that records exist in order to be played and enjoyed, not kept shrink-wrapped in a vault to accumulate value. So although I try to pick up records when I can, they will certainly be played and not kept locked away for future re-sale.

Suddenly, a total fluke in Vinyl Revival! Scouring the racks, on a random search, I noted something hidden behind a plastic board that read ‘Indie & Rock, J-L’. Pulling it out, the moment of realisation, it was Strange Boutique! Not in the greatest nick, but who cared?

£6. The cover was silver, with a small, silver-on-black photo in the dead centre, of a woman diving into water. I turned the cover over and read the credits to discover that it was designed by Peter Saville. The glorious mystique around this band only grew.

That’s about as much as I know, for now, but any more info would be great. Jesus, maybe I’ll write a book about them some day!

This is the second of the All Tomorrow’s Parties “Don’t Look Back” gig series I’d been tempted into. The first was superb – Tortoise performing Millions Now Living Will Never Die, with a few from TNT and It’s All Around You for afters – and of course, this one is superb too.

What else did you expect me to say?

Thurston, Kim, Steve and Lee come on, a silver candle as their backdrop, then burr through “Teenage Riot” as I muscle my way to front, breaking a personal record for the most repetitions of the word “sorry” in one minute. I’m not sorry. Well, I am, but it can’t be helped. I find my friends by fluke; we touch glasses together and settle in to venerate our idols.

Can anybody spot the irony therein?

My first thought is ‘where is the bass?’ – but the bass on the album itself is largely subliminal, a delicate, just tangible pulse, dominated by the glacial, plaintive, twin guitar attack. So I guess the treb-ly sound is justifiable.

On to “Silver Rocket”. I crane my neck this way and that to spot what the two guitarists are doing, trying to see who is responsible for which coruscating riff, which precise piece of magic comes from where. Praying that this is not the last word in guitar style. Sure, there’s the odd lyrical clunker from Thurston Moore, who tried a bit too hard to be cool at points (example: – ‘There’s bum trash in my hall and my place is ripped / I totaled another amp, I’m calling in sick’, delivered in a tone that sounds way too healthy to convince during “Hyperstation’), but musically, all the stars aligned, everything coalesced.

I wonder how Sonic Youth feel, replicating this glorious material, trying to deliver it as if it is new, but in reality, simply covering themselves. As artists, I can hardly imagine they are thrilled to do it, but they have kids to put through college, mortgages to pay, lifestyles to fund and a sold-out Roundhouse is more than happy to chip in £25 a man, on what is only the first of a three-night stand here.

Steve Shelley looks as happy as a pig in shit, gleefully and faithfully pounding out the simplistic, pummelling, military rattling rhythms. Kim Gordon, dwarfed by a huge Firebird bass, focuses and leads the band through a deadly “The Sprawl” and “Cross the Breeze”. Lee Ranaldo then heroically delivers the sterling brace, “Eric’s Trip” and “Hey Joni”. He stands by two excellent sets of lyrics with pride and emerges from this show with maximum credit.

By the time they reach track nine, “Candle”, any pretence at watching and taking mental notes has deserted me. Several beers from the earlier session in the Lock Tavern with Phil, Will and Fran have their inevitable effect and I am nothing but another sweaty male figure within a superannuated moshpit.

It’s those songs that sound so awesome on your stereo at home, writ large – you can see Thurston and Lee at work, generating some of the most intelligently harmonised guitar parts in history. It’s too much. When Thurston delivers ‘Candle’, all my churlishness at his occasional lapses in taste (and who the fuck am I to judge the man?) are utterly, utterly dismissed. His pop instinct is perfectly married to the arthouse style and something melodically infectious and uniquely potent is magicked into being.

“Kissability” is a riot, slightly spoiled by the fact that I am bouncing around like an oversized child, bellowing “kissability”, out of tune with Kim. It’s better if I don’t do that. I can hear it and become conscious of myself and the others around me, the big, dark-clad, male shapes. They are bellowing too. It sounds vulgar.

It sounds better if you close your eyes and listen, just like you do in your room.

The drink, the surreality of the situation, the perfect, faithful rendering. I knew all this already, I think, as I go crazy to the music, always a step ahead, always aware of what is about to happen, even when they noise out. It’s not about what’s happening on stage, it’s about what already lives in my head. I know this.

Our kicks, if these are they, were fashioned 19 years ago. I was a child then and didn’t come to this music until over a decade after the fact, but it instilled fire and belief in me, belief in guitar music as a valid art form, not just a product to be packaged and sold. We, the bedroom thinkers who worship Sonic Youth’s achievement and queue up to give them more money, we know this and we are united.

Ticket and booking fee @ £27.50 + train there and back @ £44.50 + drinks and expenses @ best part of £40. About £110 to hear what I already own on beautiful gatefold double 12” vinyl, followed by an encore consisting of much of Rather Ripped, the latest album. Ex-Pavement bassist Mark Ibold joins the band for this section of the set and they purr through the excellent “Incinerate” and “Reena”, which pretty much are that album but, you can’t help but realise, are truly inferior to the material that preceded them on the night.

I’m exhausted and stupefied with drink by this point and back at the bar for another pint of Kronenbourg, which is the only beer on sale. Then off into the night. We stand outside, smoking cigarettes, but I fail to choke mine down. Camden buzzes, of course. Then we get the tube. I don’t talk on the tube. I look around at scores of people buffeted by the noise and shown up in the surgical, harsh light and for the first time, think I’d never like to live in London. I’m scared of feeling so small, scared of spending hours a day on these tubes, even though part of me finds it’s all so romantic.

I look at the texts I sent around to my friends in the aftermath – ‘Fucking Genius’, ‘…best gig ever’, ‘I reek of mosh’. Back at a friends’ house the next morning, I awake feeling nauseous. I go to the toilet and vomit a little, discretely, into the bowl, leaving no trace.

http://www.myspace.com/sonicyouth

-Ollie Wright

A veteran songsmith, Wyatt’s music is meditative and subtly constructed. Not a thrill a minute (is life?), Comicopera is a subtle record, demanding the listener’s full attention to extract maximum reward. It’s most poignant moments of sound are generated not by raw power, but by intelligent song structure.

Young bands tend to go for the listener’s throat, with a rush and a push of sheer adrenaline and force of will; it’s their energy which attracts. Sometimes, it’s because they don’t quite know how to write a song, but if they’re good enough, the sheer drive and irrepressibility lets them get away with it.

This is very different. Listen to the chastening ‘A.W.O.L’, for example, a harsh reflection on the realities of growing old in this world. ‘The tick and the tock of the damnable clock’ (and notice the way he pronounces the ‘n’ of damnable) is the rhythm that beats out as the protagonist, Hattie, waves to ‘trains that no longer run’, ‘haunted by waltzes with Harry / who’s hat’s hanging there in the hall’. This is an unflinching evocation of loneliness and mortality, which leaves the listener with much to ponder.

Wyatt sounds like a David Bowie who didn’t have a problem with getting old. ‘You You’, in fact, reminds me of the more ambient sounds on Bowie’s “Heroes”, with its solemn brass backdrop. Brian Eno was involved with Comicopera, playing instruments on various songs and sharing composition credits on ‘A Beautiful Peace’ (which also features a cameo from old Roxy Music stager Phil Manzanera on guitar), during which Wyatt assumes a narrative tone, describing an English high street, strewn with flattened dead rabbits and polystyrene containers half full of chips. ‘What’s that in the gutter? He obviously didn’t want to finish his chips… that’s unusual’. There’s something deeply touching about this flat description of any small, poxy English town’s depressing environs. The seniority and the lack of condemnation in the tone make the song.

Each of the three parts contains a variation on the same melody – ‘You You’ in Part 1 (Lost in Noise), ‘Out of the Blue’, which closes part 2 (The Here and The Now) with the chant ‘you have planted all your neverending hatred in my heart’, whilst Wyatt pimps on an ‘Enotron’ (essentially a mellotron loaded with samples of Eno’s voice). The melody reoccurs in Part 3 (Away With The Fairies), in which Wyatt sings in Italian and Spanish, a form of linguistic protest against the ongoing (neverending?) War on Terror. “Just being silent as an English-speaking person, because of this fucking war”, he explains. Well said.

A slow, sprawling, haunting album from a man whose art is his life and whose life is his art. Comicopera is lengthy and brooding, but its depths and rewarding of repeated visits. Try to love him the way he is, because you’ll never change a thing about him.

http://www.myspace.com/robertwyatt

-Ollie Wright

A difficult one to write about, Blitzen Trapper. All I know is that they are from Portland, Oregon and that their new album, Wild Mountain Nation, has some superb moments.

Check the thoroughbred Americana title track, with its sleazy motif riff, or ‘The Green King Sings’, which comes on like the Super Furry Animals if they weren’t such bloomin’ stoners – slicker, quicker, leaner, fitter, more direct. Brilliant. There’s a gorgeous acoustic ballad in there – ‘Summer Town’, with affecting lyrics and a sweetly delivered chorus – to name a few of the many pop zeniths scaled, via various unique and thoughtfully mapped-out paths, on this terrific LP.

Words about musicians are nothing but a distraction, sometimes, or at least Blitzen Trapper clearly feel that way. Their press release does everything it can to keep the band’s identity a secret. No individual glory seekers, these musical brothers; it’s all about the sound. Not about the music, maaan, these are not preening musos. The sound is too busy and joyful for that.

Music made by egotistical males can be the most pompous, boring and futile exercise on the planet; Blitzen Trapper, even at their most willful, never sound pompous, boring, or pointless. For me, an album which stripped out the silly (the country hoe-down ‘Wild Mountain Jam’ and the bizarre (‘Woof & Warp of the Quiet Giant’s Hem’) and replaced these more self-indulgent elements with more pop-rock belters a la ‘Sci-Fi Kid’ would be a treasure and could quite easily put the group up there, in commercial terms, with the Shins of this world. But maybe they’re a bit too rough-hewn and rugged to go that far into the mainstream and maybe, in reality, if I didn’t see the flaws, the gems wouldn’t shine quite so bright.

Contrast is important.

E. Earley of the band was good enough to field a few questions, which constituted me doing little more than groping in the dark for a light switch.

>>>OK E, HERE GOES NOTHING! THANKS A LOT, OLLIE

>>>HAS THE BAND CONSISTED OF THE SAME MUSICIANS ALL THE WAY THROUGH, OR HAS THE LINE-UP CHOPPED AND CHANGED AROUND A CONSISTENT CORE?

The line up has remained the same.

>>>WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT WHEN YOU LISTEN TO ‘WOOF & WARP OF THE QUIET GIANT’S HEM’?

A robust menagerie of birds and carnival mixed with alligator wrestling and girls chewing bubble gum.

>>>WHERE IS THE LINE BETWEEN SELF-INDULGENCE AND SELF-ASSERTION? IF YOU REPRESS TOO MANY ELEMENTS OF YOUR OWN IMPULSES, DO YOU RENDER YOURSELF POINTLESS? WHAT I MEAN TO ASK IS, WHY DO YOU FIND THAT THE MORE ESOTERIC ELEMENTS OF THIS RECORD ARE NECESSARY?

None of it is necessary, but I hesitate to give answer to a question so heady; as a songwriter I work purely on instinct, like a bear burrowing for grubs.

>>>THE RECORD COVERS A LOT OF GROUND, FROM PURE-BREED ACOUSTIC POP TO INBRED MONGREL NOISE. HAVE YOU EVER, OR DO YOU THINK YOU MIGHT EVER, RELEASE A RECORD THAT WAS ONE WAY OR THE OTHER, SO TO SPEAK – I.E. SET OUT TO MAKE A POP ALBUM, OR SET OUT TO MAKE A TOTALLY GONZO EXPERIMENTAL LP? EXCUSE MY IGNORANCE OF YOUR BACK CAT, I’M NEW TO YOU.

We’ve recorded pop records but never released them; also loads of pure noise recordings which never come out either, we choose carefully what we decide to push at any given time.

>>>THE PRESS RELEASE IS KIND OF GNOMIC, SO I MIGHT JUST HAVE TO BE BLUNT AND ASK YOU FOR SOME CORE MUSICAL INFLUENCES. I’M GUESSING (AND PROBABLY SHOWING MYSELF UP) PAVEMENT, CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL, THE BAND, ERM, ZAPPA… HELP A POOR ENGLISH SCRIBE!

Fela Kuti, King Tubby, Dylan, Augustus Pablo, Neil Young, Doc Watson and Clarence Ashley, Merle Haggard, Sonic Youth, etc.

>>>DO YOU FEEL THAT MAINTAINING A PERSONAL MYSTIQUE HELPS TO FOCUS ATTENTION ON THE ACTUAL MUSIC? YOU SEEM HELL-BENT ON KEEPING YOURSELVES RIGHT OUT OF IT AND LETTING THE SONGS JUST BE.

Yes.

>>>WHERE CAN WE PICK UP THE STUFF YOU RELEASE ON THE WEB?

I’m not exactly sure, i never really look for music on the web, I guess free stuff on myspace and pay stuff on iTunes.

>>>WILL YOU BE PLAYING THE UK ANY TIME SOON?

Perhaps.

e.earley

http://www.myspace.com/blitzentrapper

-Ollie Wright