Friday, September 18, 2020

50 Days of Glam # 14 Queen


Of course it's up for debate whether this is Glam. I consider it so. But not enough to argue the case and list it Top Five. A song that divides people. I actually like it. Partly because I have strong memories of its seeming endless run at Number One in 1975.

Fear of Music - The 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk & Disco # 43 The Undertones - The Undertones


'The best album made about being a teenage boy.'

This is Uncool - The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 47 Devo


'One of the most successful attempts to infiltrate mainstream pop with creepy art-house ideas.'

Song(s) of the Day # 2,438 East Man


Certainly a first for this blog. A rave review for the kind of record I don't generally document here but one that I loved instantly and utterly on first hearing last night.

I know next to nothing about Drum'n'bass and Grime two genres this, Prole Art Threat the second album from East Man, (released a couple of months back) seems to draw on. But I know energy, invention and excitement when I hear it and this record has all three in spades.

Anthoney Hart is the man behind this, and he has a rep and track record going back to his work in pirate radios in the 1990s. He's an autodidact and a highly accomplished one. This album is a detailed and vivid description of working class street, high rise and council estate life that's as rich and evocative of that existence of anything you'll hear this year. Beats are great too.

As I said I'm no authority on this stuff, I just know the record sounds wonderful to me. For the back story, I'd refer you to this fabulous article about Hart and his way of working, on the Loud and Quiet blog listed on the right hand side of this page. It's a fascinating read.

If the thought of doing actual research doesn't appeal then just listen to Prole Art Threat, a record that takes its name from a Fall song title. Plenty of depth here but first and foremost a record that works on surface level. Never lets up for a minute. Loud, proud and incredibly English.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Brian Wilson

The Cure - Seventeen Seconds

 On my mind for a couple of reasons posted away. My favourite Cure album. Re-posting this.It's almost October again. Originally from 2014.

It's almost October. The weather's turning and the light's failing. At this point you start to feel the dampness gather all about you, whether you're at home or on the street the air around you telling you that Winter and darkness are closing in and you're going to have to brace yourself for the long weeks ahead. Five months before the Sun starts its recovery. All things considered, perhaps not the best time to listen to The Cure's 17 Seconds on repeat, in a darkened flat, on your own and try to write something worth saying about it. Particularly when you've got worries and concerns of your own.  It seems like the kind of masochism that human beings become prone to once they find themselves away from work. Yet, somehow, 17 Seconds is worth it. It's a particular record.

This is the best Cure album. This claim is not made from a position of authority or knowledge. I haven't heard an LP of theirs from beginning to end since Pornography was released. Since they became hairy spiders in pullovers that looked set to unravel if you gave a loose end a tug. And donned pancake mix make up and set forth to conquer The States in the late eighties.
So I'm no dyed in the wool fanatic., My interest stopped around 1985 when they decided they preferred  New Order to themselves, just before they chanced upon their own winning formula. It all became a bit Alice in Wonderland for the masses for me. I thought they were more honest and interesting here. This was the sound of the place where they came from. The London hinterlands. They surely soundtracked them better than anyone else, before or since. Smith wrote the songs in 1979 and 1980 in his parents' house in Crawley. The band then recorded the album in 7 days, apparently without demos over daily 16 hour studio sessions to minimise production costs on a tight budget. This, regardless of what anyone else might tell you was the sound of the suburbs.
The opening song is an instrumental. Always a brave move. Called Reflections, it's the sound of very little happening very atmospherically. It sets the tone for what's to come. It's aptly named. Much of the album sounds like it's observed from behind glass, by vaguely disaffected  teenagers who despite their mutterings will still come downstairs to table when called and eat supper when it's ready. Just another  rainy, overcast day in the suburbs, deep into Autumn.
17 Seconds sounds different depending on the time of the day you listen to it. In the afternoon it's all dripping taps and ticking clocks and rain on the window pane. Time refusing to pass. In the morning it's more sparky, the irony and skilled songwriting comes through more clearly. For me today, at the end of a long hard day at my desk, it didn't work. It seemed petulant when I needed something adult. It's an album of mood and frankly you have to be in the right one. Of course it helps if it's raining.

  Play For Today is next and it shows how far The Cure have travelled and how many literary books and artistic films have been devoured. since Boys Don't Cry. Play For Today was a BBC programme of the 70s, one off  heightened melodramas of the kind Robert Smith, (always The Cure's mouthpiece and puppeteer), indulges in here. It's a display of petty, unpleasantness to make a statement of who he is. 'I take what I require...' the Punk refusal to be nice, drawing a line in the sand to demark them from the Hippies. No love out here in the suburbs.

Secrets may as well be another instrumental, as what lyrics there are Smith mutters deep in the mix. It all adds to the sense of this being a soundtrack without a film. In Your House keeps the pace up, though in this case it's quite consciously that of a metronome ticking on the shelf. Uncommunicative teenagers gather in gloomy rooms to pass time together. Slowly.

'I play at night in your house
I live another life
Pretending to swim
In your house
I change the time in your house
The hours I take
Go so slow ...'

And then Three, another instrumental to close off the side. If I'm making the record sound humdrum I'm not doing it justice because I think it's a minor masterpiece. It describes a certain outlook, perspective and response to existence perfectly. It's Harold's life before he meets Maud. Terry's before he met June.

'The girl was never there. It's always the same. We're running towards nothing. Again and again and again and again and again and again and again...'
Flip the record and  after yet another brief instrumental  A Final Sound  which I never realised existed until just now, A Forest kicks the second side into gear. It's an absolute landmark moment for the band and somehow should jar in some way. A great song among very good ones. But it slots in perfectly here as it's cut from the same cloth as everything around it. Existential gloom. The vague sense that something awful might be about to happen but also the possibility that it equally well may not. That you just have to wait. Smith himself has been resistant when asked about the song's content. Having originally indicated that it was inspired by a childhood dream he later changed his tune and said it was a song about a forest. Personally I don't blame him. It stopped people asking the question. If it's an albatross for him it's one he wears lightly. A Forest has been played live by the band an estimated 800 times.

Listening to 17 Seconds at 48 when you first heard it at 16 is rather similar to looking back at Hamlet if you first read that at the same age. You understand the subject matter a lot more than you did at the time but are still struggling to work out what either are really talking about because you never really will. They're both deliberately, hanging question marks. Which is better?  Received wisdom tells us Hamlet and I'd probably agree, (I'm being ironic here but refuse to type a winking face),  but A Forest  focuses on similar themes. Quite consciously talking about what it feels like to be young but feel old, to be alive but unsure of whether we actually are, to wonder whether it's worth remaining so and ponder on the nature of unknowable. All the big themes kids! Listen to it. It really does all these things. It didn't make such a big splash just because it has a good tune. It reached Number 31 in the UK Singles Chart in 1980. It should have been Number 1.It made its mark nevertheless.

 People are now writing PhDs about The Cure and getting taken perfectly seriously so I'd better stop here. I won't encroach on their territory. All I'll say is if you've ever had a dream and felt it was real and it's disturbed you by what it intimates about yourself and life, go listen to A Forest. It describes the uncanny as well as any song I know.

From A Forest to M, another quite masterful and beautiful, strummed gloom-fest pop song. 'You'll fall in love with somebody else again tonight...' Smith is very good at conveying the powerless of us all within the scheme of things and the way we all go along with life's dictates. He's read his Modernists.

'Take a step
You move in time
But it's always back ...
The reasons are clear
Your face is drawn
And ready for the next attack.'

'At night.  I hear the darkness breathe. I sense the quiet despair
Listen to the silence . At night'
The album's winding down. At Night which follows is almost generic, so well have the band established their sound by now. It points forward to the more portentous sound of Faith an album which is played out almost in darkness while 17 Seconds is all fading light and all the better for it. It's probably the weakest of the fully developed songs on the record but frankly the standard is not dropping much.

'Time slips away. And the light fades away. And everything is quiet now.'
And so to the final track 17 Seconds itself . In many ways its three minutes  encapsulates the record itself. A completely clean, assured and identifiable sound, quite distinguished by now from the early influences Wire, Magazine, Buzzcocks, Banshees and the like. They've made suburbia their own. Light fades away on the quiet tree lined avenues and there they are, behind glass, watching the shadows gather, musing on whether any of all this really matters. 
As I said earlier, a minor masterpiece. Having had it on repeat play for the last few days I'm happy to stack it midway back on one of my racks for a while and let it sink back into its gloom But it's a record with very much its own statement and mood and I'll come back to it.
 From here the band descended into depression and then full on, certifiable mania with Faith and Pornography  Others prefer these. I'd plump for this instead. Partly for nostalgic reasons and partly because I think it stands up better now. A constant reminder for me of when I was seventeen, sitting in my attic room in my parents house, listening to my gradually growing record collection, making my way through Penguin classics, thinking about girls and trying to make head or tail of where I was going and what it was all about. Like countless others. Still not quite there yet.

'Seventeen seconds, a measure of life.'  

50 Days of Glam # 17 Sweet


Great name for a Pop Band. Great Pop Band.

Fear of Music - The 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk & Disco # 41 Elvis Costello & the Attractions - Armed Forces



This is Uncool - The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 45 Elvis Costello & The Attractions


'A bitter sneer at the Kings Road set and the dying remnants of the swinging '60s'.

Song(s) of the Day # 2,436 Archie Sagers


Browsing round an HMV in Canterbury yesterday with The Cure's 17 Seconds wafting over the shop system it occurred to me how ubiquitous this particular sound of my youth is now. Young friends talk about Robert Smith in venerated tones as if he were Charlton Heston descending from Mount Sinai with The Ten Commandments.

This brittle gloominess is all over Wiltshire Archie Shepp's debut Happy New Year. Of course there are other modern precedents for this sound. Beach Fossils, DIIV, Wild Nothing. Anyhow the record is utterly mired in this sound. A decorative but inessential listen.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Songs About People # 1,173 Susannah York

Neat classical piece for Posh Old School English pin up.

June Brides

50 Days of Glam # 18 Chicory Tip


A song with particular emotional resonance for me as it's probably the first Pop song I ever liked. Aged about seven, Here's what I wrote about it ... about seven years back:

In 1972 one group scalped their guitars, torched the drumkit and  left the moog to drive alone, not just placing it centre stage but making it the heart of their sound, the reason for their existence. The name of the group? Chicory Tip
My parents moved back from Zimbabwe, (then Rhodesia) in 1972. It was slap bang in the middle of glam. This is the first thing I heard I can remember liking. I was 6. I'm now 48 but it still does it for me. Chicory Tip were, probably deservedly, much derided as bandwagon jumpers. They got themselves togged up in utterly bizarre glam clobber on occasions. Best known for their Giorgio Moroder moog driven Number One, Son of my Father, this was the follow up I think and reached the UK Top Twenty. Morrissey and Marr apparently chased halfway across the country together trying to track down a copy of another of their singles Good Grief Christina, (a very Morrissey title that). Here they are in their pomp.

'His (David Bowie's) chameleon changes were mimicked on a more prosaic level by Chicory Tip who went from denim rockers to full Martian costume overnight.'

Fear of Music - The 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk & Disco # 40 The Fall - Live At The Witch Trials


'The Fall's debut album is probably their best, if only because Mark E. Smith's bitterness is leavened by the thrill of being here... as an example of intellectualised working-class anger , it's nigh on unbeatable.''

This is Uncool - The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 44 Nick Lowe


Song(s) of the Day # 2,435 Sea Girls

It's not just Boy and Girl bands that can sound as if they've been put together like Airfix kits for public consumption. Listen to Sea Girls debut album Open Up Your Head. Hear The Killers, Arctic Monkeys, Razorlight, Vaccines, Sam Fender, 1975. If you opened your dictionary and turned to Generic, it would probably have a picture of the boys / girls next to it. I listened to a few songs then went to The Killers latest album which it hadn't listened to yet. It seemed more streamlined.

Monday, September 14, 2020

50 Days of Glam # 19 New York Dolls


'And you're a prima ballerina on a spring afternoon. Change on into the wolfman, howlin' at the moon. Wowooo!'

This is Uncool - The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 43 Wire

'Their early records have slowly made them into British punk's most directly influential group.'

Fear of Music - The 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk & Disco # 39 Earth, Wind & Fire - The Best of Earth, Wind & Fire Volume 1


Song(s) of the Day # 2,434 Lo Tom

Lo Tom, made up of four players from Pedro The Lion, The Soft Drugs and Starflyer 69 keep things simple on second album LP2. They peddle a hard-ish Rock sound that occasionally blurs the line between Soundgarden, Screaming Trees and stale old Rainbow riffs. This permanently depressed perspective became a bit tired for me a few tracks in but fans of this genre might reap greater reward than I.

Sunday, September 13, 2020


Albums of the Year 1965

Another quite unnecessary series to keep me occupied. Accessing the Best Ever Albums site which is a quite incredible resource. It catalogues every album countdown you could imagine, all organised from the votes from site users. So I'm going to list their Top Ten from each year starting from the year of my own birth in 1965, then my own Top Ten from the same year, the proviso being that I need to own the records concerned myself. On vinyl.

1965 is a good place to start. That's when the album really set off as a meaningful form of expression in Rock Music. It began to take over from the single in the next few years but 1965 was the cusp. Here is the Best Ever Albums Top Ten.

1. Bob Dylan - Highway 61 Revisited
2. The Beatles - Rubber Soul
3. John Coltrane - A Love Supreme
4. Bob Dylan - Bringing it all Back Home
5. The Beatles - Help
6. Otis Redding - Otis Blue
7. The Who - My Generation
8. Nina Simone - Pastel Blues
9. The Beach Boys - The Beach Boys Today!
10. The Byrds - Mr. Tambourine Man

After this it becomes predominantly a Jazz list. It was in 1966 when this balance started to be redirected to Rock. Here is my own Top Ten list of albums I own from this year. I struggled a bit to make it to ten but these are all fine records in their different ways. Should be easier from now on.

1. The Beatles - Rubber Soul

2. John Coltrane - A Love Supreme

I feel I need to qualify this. Great as this record is, (and it's actually a very important life record to me), it felt a bit fussy for my tastes listening to it right now. Easier to admire and be in awe of than to love sometimes. So Rubber Soul pips it.

3. Otis Redding - Otis Blue

4. The Who - My Generation

5.  Bob Dylan - Bringing it all Back Home

6. The Lovin Spoonful - Do You Believe in Magic

7. Bob Dylan - Highway 61 Revisited

8. Manfred Mann - Mann Made

9. Various Arists - The Sound of Music Soundtrack

So what exactly is wrong with this? Ask Coltrane.

10. The Beatles - Help!

Songs About People # 1,172 Derek Jarman

Derek Jarman, the visionary English director, tended a famous garden on the shingle shore close to the Dungeness Nuclear Power Station. A bold and poetic statement. Here, Nicky Wire, from his only set of solo recordings in 2006, pays tribute.

Doves - The Universal Want

About twenty years ago, in my mid-thirties, I spent a year working and living in Catania, Sicily, looking to find myself and some new direction and impetus in my life. I did so eventually, but as so often is the way with these things, not quite in the way I was expecting to.

While I was there, I heard about and bought Lost Souls, the debut album from Manchester trio Doves. It was a record that chimed with me quite a bit at the time. Made by guys who were a similar age to myself who seemed to be coming upon a similar realisation as I was that life may not be ready to yield everything that you had once expected it to. I listened to it a lot through the second half of that important year.

I've kept my eye on Doves since. Not with incredible focus but just because they clearly had a little bit more to them them most guitar, bass, drums outfits of their type. An intelligence. An introspection. I saw them about ten years back in Newcastle where I now live. They were quite good. I left before the end.

Now they have a new album out, entitled the Universal Want, their fifth in all and rather astonishingly their first for eleven years. The band came back together to do some gigs in 2019 and they went well, including a sell out at The Royal Albert Hall. Now they've completed and put out a record.

It's good. It sounds thought through and is sure to satisfy devotees of the band because it has all of the Doves' defining characteristics. Glum anthems, soaring but earthbound. Grounded in reality. A certain, and very English, slight but manageable depression. But constantly trying to say something. Vastly preferable to my ears to bands of a similar sensibility, Stereophonics or Elbow for example.

But that's as far as I'd go, because despite chronicling what it feels like to be in their fifties rather than in their thirties with great acuity, there are few actual risks taken here. So while I tip my hat to Doves, I'm not sure I'll be back to this one much.I'll give it 7.

50 Days of Glam # 20 Jobriath

Not actually a single this one, but I make the rules so I can break them. One of Glam and Pop's strangest and saddest stories.

Fear of Music - The 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk & Disco # 38 The Jam

This is Uncool - The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 43 The Normal

'Less a pop record, more a visionary dipping a toe in the water. The Normal's one and only single remains one of Britpop's most startling and accomplished records.'

Song(s) of the Day # 2,433 Dan Deacon

Oddball, individualistic musical statements, (for which there is a plentiful and ever fortifying market in the Twenty First century), don't come much more oddball and individualistic than this. Baltimore, based composer and electronic composer Dan Deacon has quite a lot of form in this respect, having been putting out records and staging slightly eccentric events for the best part of twenty years since graduating from the Conservatory of Music at the State University of New York at Purchase.

I won't worry you with the man's whole back story. You have Wikipedia for that. I'll just direct you to his latest album, Mystic Familiar, which is worth bending your ear to. An exuberant and distinctly electronic yet deeply humane album, it might remind you of Arcade Fire and Sufjan Stevens sometimes but those are hardly off putting reference points.

This is a quite exhilarating record all told, ideal for those who feel they might be too old for rollercoasters but wouldn't mind a reminder of the sensations of riding on them. It's breathless and dizzying stuff, versed in Eno and Kraftwerk, but sounding up to speed and date too.

What the record is about I have no idea, but it certainly strains every sinew imaginable to maintain listening interest and did just that for me. Deacon is a highly prolific artist, having scored eight films since his last album proper. Not sure I'll be delving into that for the time being. This is more than enough to float my boat for now.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Album Reviews # 73 XTC - Black Sea

Forty years since it was released. So I'm re-posting this:

A rather special one for me this one. Not because it's one of my favourite records, it's not, but because it's one of the first albums I bought. Back in 1980 when I was fifteen and searching around for an identity. I found myself at XTC from The Police, T.Rex and Split Enz and went from here to The Associates, The Teardrop Explodes, The Bunnymen, Aztec Camera and eventually R.E.M. and The Smiths.

XTC were a useful gateway to all of that. A good and occasionally great band, here at just about their commercial peak. This was certainly their big Pop moment. Five singles were culled from the album in all and plenty of the other songs on here wouldn't have been out of place as 45s.

The band were relentlessly provincial, from Swindon in Wiltshire, a town that's produced little else of note, at least to my knowledge. Black Sea is beautifully sleeved with a picture of the band posed as Nineteenth Century deep sea divers surrounded by incredibly detailed, loving, period design. Listening to it now, I'm struck by the way that they appear almost unembarrasable in their Power Pop stance. They never once try to be cool. Which may be why I didn't stick with them as I probably did want to be. Still, almost forty years on, it certainly sounds a pretty neat record. So here we go, song by song, what I thought of them and it then and now.

1. Respectable Street

One of the record's best songs to start with. A riff that Blur stole, (pure and simple), for Tracy Jacks. A track that just careers along from verse to chorus, starting with a vinyl crackle effect. Words charting the joys or otherwise of suburban living. I was tickled by the slight sexual innuendo of the lyric at the time. Now I just think it's a great tune. It was refused radio play and a shot at the singles chart not by that but ultimately for the reference to a Sony Entertainment Centre.

2. Generals and Majors

Andy Partridge, the band's nominal leader hands the baton over to Colin Moulding, XTC's bassist and second songwriter. By this point in the band's trajectory he was begin to assert himself, having written Making Plans For Nigel, the band's biggest hit a year previously. Generals and Majors is complete Pop, nowhere near Punk frankly. Taking its lead from Penny Lane, (The Beatles are the key influence on Black Sea), it's hardly social commentary, just a fine melody.

3. Living Through Another Cuba

Partridge again. Not for me this one, then or now frankly. Ludicrously fussy. A song about the Cuban Missile Crisis, wordy and frankly rather gormless and to my ears pointless.  Full of sub-Police cod-reggae touches.the album's weakest though I get the sense that Partridge is rather proud of it.

4. Love at First Sight

Back to Moulding. Perfectly serviceable but hardly deserving of being a single which it was. A repeated backing chant of 'What they want is...' enhanced by basic studio effects indicate that the band were fans of even the Ringo sung songs on Beatles records.

5. Rocket From a Bottle

Now this is Partridge and XTC at their best. Once again unembarrasable in terms of it's lyrics, 'I've been set off by a pretty little girl. I'm like a rocket from a bottle shot free. I've been just explosive since you kissed me. I've been up with the larks. I've been shooting up sparks. And I'm feeling in love..' But the sheer momentum of the singing,  playing and production never let up.

6. No Language in our Lungs

Probably not a song that did much for me in 1980. Taking its lead from later rather than Pop period Beatles and full of Harrison White Album touches and more wrought lyrics and vocals from Partridge than usual, it's impressive though not really affecting. Roland Orzabal of Tears For Fears, who praises the album to the high heavens here, cites the song as a key influence on The Hurting. Whether this is a good thing remains open to debate. Anyhow, No Language in our Lungs stands as evidence that this is all an act of album construction rather than something that's merely thrown together and ends the first side neatly.

Something worth noting is that XTC, particularly at this point in their career, came at things from an essentially humorous perspective. They are a comic band, in the way that Gang of Four are political and Siouxsie & the Banshees are Gothic. Even though they're broad ranging in terms of their themes, on Black Sea you get Capitalism, the Cuban missile crisis, the difficulty of relationships, the mundanity of suburban existence, the pointlessness of war, the psychogeography of urban environments, religion and nihilist dystopia they're all handled essentially playfully. They never forget that they're a Pop band and what the job of such a unit is.

 Language in our Lungs by contrast is the one moment when they, and Partridge in particular, seem intent on looking you in the eye and allowing you to take a peek at some essential inner anguish. Which perhaps is why it's more for Orzabal than for me. Not that it's not a fine song, particularly in the context of the record where it comes as some surprise.

7. Towers of London

Towers of London, first track on Side Two just takes the biscuit. It's an absolutely wonderfully constructed song from start to finish, XTC at their absolute peak. The influence of Revolver era Beatles is clearly apparent here as well as Kinks lyrical concerns. At this point in time those were strangely quite unusual reference points for young guitar bands who had nothing to do with the Mod Revival and XTC were quite apart from that despite the way they dressed. but Towers of London clangs and chimes to wonderfully stirring effect.

The lyrics are a call to respect the history around you and Partridge understandably chooses London over Swindon as the better reference point. The band went to a country studio owned by label boss Richard Branson to try and get a matching sound for his vision. The event is documented by a fine BBC film from the time called At the ManorXTC come across as gauche and goofy, Steve Lillywhite, who was pretty much the record producer of the time, and deserves great credit for the sound of the record which is wonderfully crisp and clear, distinctly plummy.

At the Manor is a great testament to how much work and thought goes into the making of a record but also proof of how much more rewarding the whole grind is than most nine to fives. The band sit around the studio and the estate's lake, working on getting the sound of the song absolutely right and though I think they succeed the resulting single failed to make the Top Thirty. It really should have done but the competition at that point in Pop History was fierce.

8. Paper and Iron

Due to an exhausting touring schedule XTC had become by now a highly muscular touring and recording machine. Black Sea documents the height of this process . Partridge describes them at this time as 'a well-oiled gleaming Moloch of two chopping guitars bass and drums'. It's an apt desciption of much of the record. Next track, Paper and Iron is further testament to this, it has a tick tock precision and full on momentum. Drummer Terry Chambers, who is always key to their artillery attack, (they were certainly never again the powerhouse they'd been after he left), pretty much owns this one.

9. Burning With Optimism's Flames

An album track. But every album except for Greatest Hits needs album tracks. Partridge veers slightly too much into Sting warbling territory again for my personal liking but the 'optimism' is clearly present, the band work, as all the best bands do, as a team. Four minutes pass in a flash and we're speeding towards album closure.

10. Sgt. Rock (Is Going To Help Me)

To the record's one sizeable hit single. It got to Number 16 in the charts. The band seemed to be on Top of the Pops every two weeks for a couple of months with performances of quite ridiculous energy and enthusiasm. Partridge doesn't like the song much now, but I'm not sure why. In many respects it epitomises the childlike attractions of the band. Comic strips, bottles of pop, fantasy.

11. Travels in Nihilon

The album's final track, all seven minutes of it, is like nothing else on the record, or frankly anything else XTC ever recorded. It's almost Prog in terms of its sensibility. Chambers fabulous drumming is once again the driving heart of things. But the band's essential Pop sensibilities are still evident, even though there are hardly verses and choruses. The song's title is taken from a dystopian Science Fiction novel by Alan Sillitoe, is full on from start to finish and doesn't seem nearly as long as it is. It probably had little effect on me when I first used to play it. Now I'd say it's one of the best things they ever did.

So, Black Sea, certainly a damn fine record, as I've learned to appreciate sitting and listening to while writing this today. English Settlement, their next record, ( a double), is probably their masterpiece. But I prefer this, for the sheer energy and power of the band, for it's Beatles meets Talking Heads sensibility, for documenting so much that is actually good about England, for its Pop grip and essential optimism. It stands up. I was right to buy it way back when!

Toots Hibbert 1942 - 2020

Songs About People # 1,171 Sinead O'Connor

Alice Donut have a jolly good shout about Sinead.

Album Reviews # 79 Pylon - Gyrate

My own year zero moment, (sorry to keep banging on about it, but it's true), was discovering R.E.M. on the release of their debut album Murmur in 1983 when I was eighteen. I always think of myself as a late developer music wise, and in other ways too, but that was the Road to Damascus moment for me musically, in many ways personally too.

It was not so much the record, (great though that was in itself),  as the way that it led me almost immediately to other things. Almost as if I'd been waiting for it to come to me without knowing it. R.E.M. were always extraordinarily generous in interview, spending as much of their time as they could spreading the word about lesser known American fellow travellers, those they'd learned from and played with during the emergence over the previous three years.

Probably the name most frequently mentioned name was Athens, Georgia contemporaries Pylon. Pylon had made a small splash in British waters upon the release of their debut Gyrate in 1980, no more than that. The record certainly wasn't readily available only three years on. But, besotted with R.E.M. as I was, I was determined to track it down. When my girlfriend of the time went to The States in 1987, my only request was that she get me a copy. When I went myself four years further down the line I bought the band's other album Chomp.

I still play them both, particularly Gyrate, on a regular basis almost thirty years later. Within the confines of its innate primitivism, it's an almost flawless Post Punk statement. Utterly state of the art in terms of its raw wanton youth but also deeply smart. Frankly you could hang it on the wall as a model lesson to future generations as to how to go about creating Art, having learned first of all that technical proficiency is not all.

Pylon was a side project on the Athens college and music scene that took on a life of its own and eventually came to be the defining act of authorship of its four protagonists, vocalist Vanessa Briscoe, guitarist Randy Bewley, bassist Michael Lachowski and drummer Curtis Crowe. In Lachowski's words, 'art students assembling things with sound and instruments.'  

Originally conceived as a youthful diversion from studies and career planning it soon became much more than that as Pylon quickly gathered attention on the American underground. A trip to New York to support Gang of Four was a significant bend in the road and they became the second biggest players on the humming Athens scene. R.E.M. were next.

Gyrate's essence and beauty is in its simplicity. Short snappy song titles, clinical, functional lyrics. They learn their lessons from Gang of Four, Wire and Talking Heads primarily but this is quite its own thing. Rhythm driven, taut but fun, something you can dance to but also think about. With all the time Vanessa Briscoe's urgent, strident vocal turns, acting almost as punctuation, a gear stick to speed things up or slow things down as the mood requires.

R.E.M. clearly learned plenty from them and did their best to pay back the favour. Probably a fair proportion of the records Pylon sold from 1983 onward had something to do with R.E.M's approbations. Robert Christgau, who very occasionally gets it just right, wrote this on the record's reissue.

'Where are the songs, some naive young people will cavil, thus permitting the beat-wise hipsters at DFA to riposte, 'What the fuck you think these are?' Plectrists Randy Bewlay and Michael Lachowski's simple lines display untoward rhythm and melody, respectively. Cameron Crowe bangs away so obdurately it's hard to understand why he didn't become rich. Vanessa Briscoe Hay barks and brays whatever incantatory phrases seemed called for. Timeless. Cool.'

Timeless. Cool. There's little more to add. Gyrate seems both spontaneous and utterly thought through. It's an altogether marvelous album an exemplary lesson to choosing and sticking to your road. Turn up the volume!