The Wisdom Of A Permanent Inking; The Sisters Of Mercy / Vision Thing, Revisited.

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Life’s simple rules. Be nice to people. Read a good book once in a while. Listen to Mogwai. Don’t – as French chanteur Claude François discovered – change a light bulb whilst standing in a bath full of water. Don’t get the Eye of Horus tattooed on your shoulder – and if you must, don’t do it because you’re going through that difficult phase where The Sisters Of Mercy are heavy rotation on the turntable, and the“ooh, what’s that on the Vision Thing artwork?” conversation occurs.

Ah.

The “G” word naturally gets bandied about in relation to all things Sisters; Eldritch himself always distanced his material from goth, preferring to frame the songwriting in the pre-punk auteur tradition. It’s easy to smirk at this, to pull a funny face – goth has always had a seam of pantomime to flow against all that brooding and mal-illumination, with a certain Andrew Eldritch (née Taylor) as its reverse-image Pierrot. Still, that said, the third and final album to carry the Sisters Of Mercy stamp is most certainly not a goth album. It shares a degree of lyrical solidarity, but make no mistake – from the power riffs and “Twenty-five whores in the room next door” of eponymous opener onwards, by form and function Vision Thing is a full-on rock record. And a West Coast rock record at that; if goth (or at least its ’80’s origins) is European-minded, then this LP stubs it out beneath the heels of its LA snakeskin boots. There’s a titty bar on West Century Boulevard, out near LAX, and Vision Thing accompanies the listless shakes and shimmies each Tuesday afternoon between three and five.*

(* I’m guessing. I never went in. Even if they do have a Sisters of Mercy tattoo, seedy California strip parlours are not the twee, pale-faced English indie boys’ natural environment).

A big LP, then. Brash. An unfamiliarity with subtlety. Mono-textural. It features slide guitar (‘Detonation Boulevard’), sequenced bass and drums (every tack), Jim Steinman hovering near the mixing desk, earning a co-writing credit on the eight-plus unepic minutes of ‘More’ in the process, and backing vocals from Maggie Reilly (who sang the lead on (of all things) Mike Oldfield’s ‘Moonlight Shadow’), yet it still manages to carry a uniformity of tone and deliverance. Not to mention an aura that – despite carrying a loose, anti-US imperialism theme – never convinces. This is due, in part, to the album’s difficult and protracted transition into the world. The details are perhaps hazy and conflicting (plus I’m not all that interested), but amidst a fluid context of months in the studio and hired and fired musicians (you have to be in quite a pickle to have to call in Tony James of Segue Segue Spunik to play bass – especially if the finish product contains barely any live bass at all), the final mixes were jettisoned, with something more akin to the original demo tapes moulded into finished package in their stead. Such provenance is rarely (if ever) a promising aspect; as it is, in whatever year we’re supposed to be drifting around presently, Vision Thing comes across as flat. Undramatic. Not even a dry ice tear in the house.

We will now pause for several minutes’ contemplation regarding the wisdom of permanent inking.

The Sisters Of Mercy / Vision Thing

LGM’s 50 Favourite Début Albums Part Five: #10 to #1

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<<<<< #50 to #41 <<<<< #40 to #31

<<<<< #30 to #21 <<<<< #20 to #11

The business end of this proposition. It’s all a wee bit personal; records lived to, loved to, cried along with (although I’m not admitting to the latter). It’s actually difficult to write about much of the below (or at least do so concisely); these discs are love affairs – complex, sometimes painful, always passionate. People write books about less.

Thanks to @StaggerLee30 for curating the various débuts things flying about on Twitter, and @girloon for twisting my arm for my own 50 (as well as introducing me to the record at #2, one hot summer evening in the dim and distant). Also, cheers you lot for all the comments and tweets – but mostly, thanks for just for being you.

#10 DJ Shadow / EntroducingAsk the NoCal turntable nerds, the trip-hoppers, the frat boys, the hippies or the ravers stoned on the beach at sunrise: Endtroducing… is deeply spiritual. Not in the conventional sense, but in the spirituality of the soul that lives in your chest and got there from the ether and returns to the collective unconscious– the one you feel when you feel things. That’s the spirit that saves us from being fleeting and disposable: If I necked with that one girl that one sunset, with Endtroducing on the car stereo, then no matter who else did the same thing, I’m me and that moment’s still mine.

Endtroducing taps that inner-whatever better than most of the albums of its day, and it swims so easily that it established an entire genre of instrumental hip-hop– count how many records come out every month and are dubbed “Shadowesque.” Building the album from samples of lost funk classics and bad horror soundtracks, Shadow crossed the real with the ethereal, laying heavy, sure-handed beats under drifting, staticky textures, friendly ghost voices, and chords whose sustain evokes the vast hereafter. Even the “look at me” cuts like “The Number Song” didn’t break the mood; the album was so perfect and the technique, so awesome that it’s still definitive today, and Shadow has yet to top it.” – Chris Dahlen, Pitchfork

#9 Joy Division / Unknown Pleasures Should certain records be difficult to write about, others are a challenge to simply listen to. Unknown Pleasures is not recommended accompaniment to a little light housework. For children’s birthday parties I’d suggest something a little lighter, a shade more frivolous…

This is all about the production. Okay, not all about the production – there was a rather fine band in the studio, too – but what Martin Hannett achieved was to sculpt their sound, condensing the shockwaves to the point where they became emancipating. An icy liberation, perhaps, but liberation all the same.

I’ll let Pitchfork’s Joshua Klein continue the tale, as it’s in a similar vein to my thought processes, but so much more elegantly put.

It’s one of the most perfect pairings of artist and producer in rock history, but that shouldn’t undersell the band’s input. Joy Division, like many of their Manchester peers, were inspired by the DIY anti-ethos of the Sex Pistols; they just didn’t know what to do with it at first. So, shaped and prodded by notorious provocateur Hannett (who would turn the heat in the studio down low enough for everyone to see their breath), the group embraced space, ambience, and an imposing austerity. It’s noteworthy how many songs on Unknown Pleasures fade in like something emerging from the shadows. It’s also worth noting how heavy songs such as ‘Day of the Lords’, ‘New Dawn Fades’, ‘Shadowplay’, and ‘Interzone’ are, while sinewy anthem ‘Disorder’ and the discordant anti-funk of ‘She’s Lost Control’ are glorious anomalies in both their precision and concision.”

Essential, in other words.

#8 The Auteurs / New Wave Hyped furiously on release by a music press long given over to irrelevance, New Wave rapidly transcended such self-congratulatory navel-gazing (as if doing so with a louche shrug of the shoulders). Luke Haines may be a contrary bastard, one eye permanently fixed on the scuttling of any traditional career curve, yet even when wired up to a self-destructive initiative the sophistication of his songwriting can’t help but shine through. That the début Auteurs album isn’t some Situationist-shaped stunt means that there’s zero distraction – you get to focus intimately upon the endearing, sepia-tinged cynicism of the lyrics (‘Showgirl’; ‘American Guitars’), the pared-back components of instrumentation in which the cello is shaded light and dark (‘Bailed Out’), that unshakable sense of impending anger as the album grows into its junk shop clothes – a causticity of timbre that grows in noticeable patterns. An album that instead of feeling intrinsically of its era, flaunts its charms like Norma Desmond – I’m ready for my close-up now.

#7 The Jesus And Mary Chain / Psychocandy “Sometimes people tell you that a 20-year-old album “sounded like nothing else,” but when you listen with today’s ears, it seems rather quaint and unsurprising. Psychocandy is not one of those albums. Its noise isn’t the thick, tactile noise of the new millennium: It’s thin, trebly, and drowned in indistinct reverb, such that this record still sounds like it’s being played in the apartment across the street at staggering volume while someone intermittently runs glass through a table saw. The music stumbles its way from stoned, lazy beauty (‘Just Like Honey’) to speed-freak noise (‘Never Understand’) to almost-bouncy pop (‘Taste of Cindy’). Jim Reid chants his melodies in the selfish, mostly monosyllabic vocabulary of rock’n’roll (“I’m in love with myself,” “I don’t want you to need me,” “oh yeah,”). And just about every song comes out ideal: You’d think they’d sound like jerks, or toughs, and yet it all comes off so vulnerable, so pretty.

A band that doesn’t seem to give a fuck about much, including pleasing its own audience, and thus lets that audience live out its own (sensibly unfulfilled) fantasies of alienated non-fuck-giving and antisocial moping. Psychocandy remains a perfect record for states of feeling so bratty, depressed, or disgusted that you actually start to enjoy it.” – Nitsuh Abebe, Pitchfork

#6 The Human League / Reproduction I still remember first hearing this LP. Was round at an ex-girlfriend’s place; she was a punk in the late ’70’s, much older than me, possessing a fascinating vinyl stash – Throbbing Gristle, X-Mal Deutschland, Public Image Limited – and because I didn’t have a) record-obsessed parents, or b) an elder sibling to provide a musical education, a rather young me looked up to this woman probably more than he should have. So this record is her fault; my pre-existing crush on The Human League was based entirely on pop. On Dare. On and ‘Mirror Man’, ‘Open Your Heart’. ‘Heart Like A Wheel’, even. That there was some evil reverse image to such school disco apparel was a revelation.

Reproduction is the sound of the maths faculty on the wrong drugs. It’s JG Ballard in musical form. A stark, tight album that pushes the listener’s imagination to do the legwork, a pop music aesthetic refracted through the wires. ‘Empire State Human’ dances on its tiptoes. ‘Circus Of Death’ sounds as if it’s lost in space. And then there’s ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin; Feelin”; it’s an incredibly brave move to dissemble then rebuild such a track in the first place, but to have it segue from the delicate frigidity of ‘Morale’ – Phil Oakey’s vocals dispossessed, chilling – is a master-stroke. Should you ever doubt the power of the analogue synth to stun, you know in which direction I’ll point you.

#5 Dawn Of The Replicants / One Head, Two Arms, Two Legs Pretty much ignored by critics and public alike on release. Fifteen tracks of perfectly-crafted sci-fi geekiness. Nonsense lyrics that come across as exotically profound and necessary. Unorthodox chord changes, divorced harmonies, unsettling nuggets of sound and texture embedded across each track (‘Ten Sea Birds’ is a song of such immense, otherworldly presence that a good proportion of these words have been written with this on constant repeat). Paul Vickers has such a distinctive vocal style, it’s as if he’s a precise component of both the orchestration – a cor anglias, perhaps, or some slightly smoke-damaged retro synth – and the general, glorious sense of clutter on display ripples. Messy records have a habit of being – well, somewhat on the messy side. What One Head, Two Arms, Two Legs manages to pull off is mess as a liberating construct. The track titles provide a clue as to state of mind; ‘Cocaine On The Catwalk'; ‘Windy Miller'; ‘Let Them Eat Coal’. Yet this isn’t weirdness for it’s own sake; rather, the surreal thought patterns have a delightfully soft, playful touch (“Start communicating with the radar in your room”, as Vickers sings on ‘Radars'; I’ve wanted a radar in my room ever since).

This is an album that’s constantly intelligent, eternally interesting, I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that One Head, Two Arms, Two Legs is sentient, and once I’ve gone to bed (or passed out of an evening), it enjoys weird Czechoslovakian animation from 1971, and scans the skies for signs of extraterrestrial radio signals. Lovely.

#4 The Velvet Underground / The Velvet Underground & Nico The obvious (and safe) nomination. Despite the contrivance. Despite featuring some of the worst production values ever assigned to posterity. Despite Nico’s voice carrying the scuttled burr of broken flowers – too many sleeping pills on the S-Bahn. It’s an album that’s intrinsically New York whilst simultaneously lacking homeland – not otherworldly as much as displaced, an outsider sensibility on manifold levels. And whilst the world hardly needs any more words spent upon this record – there’s quite enough already – it should never be forgotten that at least half of the entries on this list wouldn’t have existed without it.

#3 The Smiths / The Smiths “One word sums up the début Smiths album; desperation. The desperation to impress, with a willing but also weary world waiting to see if they were the real deal. The desperation in Morrissey’s voice as he tries to get across the sheer scale of horror and humour of a human life on hold, squirming and squealing that the world isn’t fair and needs to be put to rights. The desperation in those tunes, beautiful, intricate as we would come to expect but here given a harder, harsher edge through the desperate playing of the 3 principle musicians. Finally the desperation in not getting the production right but, oh, those songs.” – Mark Stephenson, The Guardian

#2 Broadcast / The Noise Made By People An album that – late at night, behind closed doors – can make me cry. It’s such an incredibly beautiful experience; tender, enveloping, each rhythm, every buzz and bleep delivered in graceful, sonic packages. This is electronica as something hyper-nuanced; deeply melancholic in places, unsettling in others (particularly the instrumental ‘Minus One’), and all of it framed with a retro, cinematic feel that lingers long after we’ve hit the run-out groove. 

This is a record in which all its the elements are complementary – the sparse production, the 60′s references, the live percussion. And then that voice. It’s been a couple of years since the world lost Trish Keenan; I don’t usually get into that whole eulogising shtick when it comes to passed-away musicians, but in this case I’m genuinely saddened every time I remember that we’ll never hear her sing again. A voice of such understated elegance, such channelled and restrained emotion. It’s a voice that belies so many hidden complexities. Yeah, I miss her.

An opening track as statement of intent, something that pulls you into its tender arms; this is what ‘Long Was The Year’ does. The intro, fading in, confirmation that this is to be a highly cinematic record. Think arthouse pacing, oblique camera angles, a young woman – delicate features, pretty frock – climbing a grand, spiral staircase; it’ll be 1967 or ’69, she’ll be French, and madly in love with her literature professor or something. And then the vocal kicks in, Trish lovely, far away. The hint of fragility, of detachment, of a sadness. Like all the best Broadcast songs, it floats above the music, an exercise in equilibrium. I’ve been thinking of words to describe their sound; a phrase such as Betamax Parisian Soundscape is regrettably clunky, but it exudes the sense of atmosphere that I’m searching for.

A poignant album, then; influenced by intelligent electronica, The United States of America, La Nouvelle Vague. The first non-exclusively electronic act to sign to iconic label Warp, the sound grew sparser (but no less interesting) as the 2000s played out, partly as a result of the reduction from a five piece to a duo of Trish and James Cargill. Keenan’s death stripped the planet of a fascinating and detailed aesthetic, but the haunting undertones of Broadcast’s canon remain just as striking. The Noise Made By People is an album as statement – complex, brooding, strangely animated and decidedly beguiling.

(Also, yes; I’m aware that Work And Non Work arrived three years before The Noise Made By People, but as it’s a compilation of early singles, I’d at least like to pretend I’m on safe ground with the above).

#1 Prolapse / Pointless Walks To Dismal Places As previously hinted, normal people, well – they’d be writing about Searching For The Young Soul Rebels round about now. Me – I get to squawk about a bunch of noisy, scruffy herberts with a shared love of John Osborne, krautrock and Mark E Smith records, who one day in the bar at the Leicester Polytechnic Student Union came up with the wheeze of channelling the Hungarian Suicide Song via discordant celebration.

The result was just about as perfect as pop can be; a début album full of non sequitur lyrics, hacking guitars, slanted melody, caustic narrative. The rhythm section throbs and pulses. Those twin guitars are radioactive – at turns dissonant, spicy, provocative; these elements alone would be enough to entrap a boy’s attention (the outro to ‘Headless In A Beat Motel’ is a riotous mind-blower, amplifiers howling, as if for mercy). What however carries Pointless Walks To Dismal Places beyond any “ooh – this is a shiny record” and straight to favourite début territory is the theatricality of girl verses boy vocals – underwritten by a twist of sexual tension and embellished with improvised, nonsensical wordplay – and how such vox interplays with the backing to create something very special indeed. It’s difficult not to believe that Linda Steelyard (with her aura of being slightly bored, somewhat above all this) and Mick Derrick (all brash, abrasive Glaswegian with a wink about his personage) were in competition with one another; they shout over each other, interject, mumble, simultaneously sing different songs, bounce off the guitars (yes, them again)…

Also: urgency. “All aboard the Ark Royal” shouts Scottish Mick on fucked-up travelogue ‘Doorstop Rhythmic Bloc’, and clambering aboard said boat instantly becomes the most important thing in the world. ‘Surreal Madrid’ – subject matter former Atlético Madrid owner and well known crook Jesús Gil – includes his direct quotations. Opening track ‘Serpico’ is five and half minutes of free-form rant that sounds like Ivor Cutler on amphetamines. It’s the whole package behind Prolapse that makes this so invigorating; their wit, their verve, their cutting (and for bonus points: the sad, post-rock instrumental titled ‘Hungarian Suicide Song'; touches like that can win a boy’s heart).

And the highlight: closer ‘Tina, This Is Matthew Stone'; seven plus minutes of abrasive, feedback-heavy hooks above which Linda goads Mick into a full-on fight. “Why don’t you shut your mouth and let someone with something good to say speak?” by stages descend into screams of “Your mother’s a whore”, “When I think of you I think of a little piece of shit”, and finally: all out fisticuffs. It’s glorious – I’m having it played at my funeral.

Dawn Of The Replicants / Ten Sea Birds

Prolapse / Tina, This Is Matthew Stone

LGM’s 50 Favourite Début Albums Part Four: #20 to #11

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<<<<< #50 to #41

<<<<< #40 to #31

<<<<< #30 to #21

We could have done the tasteful route. The cute set of coffee table records, polished into shape by consensus . A world in which Searching For The Young Soul Rebels is the pinnacle of long-player appreciation. Yet this would be phoney; not that there’s anything wrong with Young Soul Rebels – I might even be double bluffing, and you’ll find the Dexy début taking pride of place when I reveal my top ten – but there needs to be a connection. Adrenalin; the fundamental thrill that underpins each listen. It’s a something that I’ve been writing about on these pages for years without ever coming close to truly defining. There’ll be an expression for it in German, with no direct translation.

#20 The Long Blondes / Someone To Drive You Home Whilst records that bathe in the glare of hype are a reflexive, tiresome turn-off, there are just a few that – once extricated from media attention or the strife of remaining a going concern (rather sad circumstances behind the end of this band, by the way) – sound as fresh and important as when released. Yes, I know that Kate Jackson’s look, pout and lyrical positioning consciously target the (male) indie hipster crowd – she’s sassy and sultry and bitchy and just that little bit saucy – but that’s only one angle of the appeal. Because Jackson doesn’t so much act as a focal point for the band’s sound as allow the waves of music to flow through and around her vocals. A framing device, in other words, and whilst the aesthetic is tinged (but never smothered) by a spiky, poppy, new-wave relevance, its charm lay it how it glamorises yet never patronises the emotions of early adulthood.

The narratives behind Someone To Drive You Home – its viewpoint deliciously twenty-something – operate within a never nostalgic, never patronising skein of realism. One in which mistakes are made because we’re human, and that’s what we do. Where if there’s anything to be learned, it’s to be yourself. Oh – and great songs, too. Energy, melody, indie pop guitars. I can’t fail to get swept up in tracks such as ‘Weekend Without Makeup’ or ‘Giddy Stratospheres’. And then there’s the majestic, art school jealousy of ‘You Could Have Both’. a song about boy meets girl from a deliciously dark and slanted angle, all of it propelled by fierce instrumental energy and a fine jangly guitar. It subverts its subject matter (“I don’t kid myself about happy endings, I’m too old for that now”), facing up to the fact that matters of the heart are predisposed to complexity and atavism with panache, with an endearing form of elegance.

#19 PJ Harvey / Dry Polly’s début simply ripples. Stark, tight, powerful, the guitar prowling, the percussion driven. As a record it says so much about femininity, the awareness of femininity, a framed degree of polarity, a young woman sure of herself in a place and time that’s still distinctly unsure and uncertain. A album whose themes are framed elegantly, exploratory, intense and personal yet crafted, the use of cello unorthodox, the higher strings discordant, coarsely brushing against the rhythm section. Sparse instrumentation, spiky intonation, an intelligent album that slotted neatly into the vocabulary.

Stand out = ‘Sheela-Na-Gig’; an opening whisper, the delicate, measured wail of barely-tuned guitar (one level of attraction behind all this pivots upon the raw, caustic verisimilitude of the production). Then, in the space left behind: “I’ve been trying to tell you, over and over…” 

When the guitar re-starts it does so with a prowling edge to it, as if the fretwork belongs to one of Billy Bragg’s angrier one-man shows. And a half-beat after that, the vocal; Look at these, my child-bearing hips / Look at these, my ruby red, ruby lips.” It’s a powerful rhyming couplet; dramatic when contextualised by the arrangement, by the route this particular track takes as it coils itself around both narrative and thematic deposition. A wonderful record.

#18 Suede / Suede The posturing, the dodgy lyrics and car crash interviews, the fact that, when the magic (and Bernard Butler) left them in the middle of the night, their refusal to simply go away was stubborn (and in retrospect, not the wisest decision). Yet regardless of the reams of hype thrown at this at the time, or the worry that Matt Osman’s bass is a little too low in the mix, this is a record that’s instantly and instinctively evocative, filtered through a lens of sleaze and ball-breakingly gorgeous guitar hooks.

I like Suede, very much. The themes it foster slink and scuttle across the half-light. “She’s fucking with a slip of a man whilst the engine ran” (‘She’s Not Dead’). “Whilst tough kids sing about tough kids she just skins the world” (‘Moving’). But principally I like Suede as a precursor to something richer, which (of course) never fully materialised. We could label it a fascinating (if flawed) début that works in tandem with some quite astonishing b-sides – compiled and released as Sci-Fi Lullabies – which saw their pennant hoisted in rich and fertile musical territory. Only, that promise was never delivered upon, Butler (with justification) flouncing off into the arms of David McAlmont, leaving the band’s second line-up more akin to a mannequin version of Suede.

#17 The Stooges / The Stooges What Rolling Stone magazine thought back in 1969:

The Stooges, formerly the Psychedelic Stooges, hail from Ann Arbor, Michigan, where, in case you’ve never been told, they do things high-powered — high-powered music, high-powered doping, high-powered fucking, high-powered hyping. The picture on the cover of the album shows the Stooges to be four nice middleclass-kids-gone-wrong wearing brand-new synthetic leather jackets and pouting at the camera in a kind of snot-nosed defiance. They don’t look at all that bright, although they may be college dropouts, and I’m sure that all the high school kids in the area dig the hell out of them. Three of them play guitar, bass, and drums, while picturesque Iggy sings in a blatantly poor imitation early Jagger style. The instrumentalists sound like they’ve been playing their axes for two months and playing together for one month at most, and they just love wah-wah and fuzz just like most rank amateur groups. The lyrics are sub-literate, as might be inferred by the titles: “No Fun,’ ‘Not Right,’ ‘Little Doll,’ and ‘Real Cool Time.’ This last is the monument of the Stooges’ artistry: “Can-uh Ah come ovuh/To-gnat-uh?/We will have a real cool tam-uh/We will have a real cool tam-uh …” Their music is loud, boring, tasteless, unimaginative and childish. I kind of like it.” – Edmund O. Ward

#16 Laurie Anderson / Big Science An admission; certain elements of Big Science appeared on a previous LP; a split spoken-word album titled You’re The Guy I Want To Share My Money With, alongside John Giorno and William S Burroughs. Hence consider me suitably admonished should you disagree that my #16 is a début – no refunds, however. Also, you can take performance poetry and go and drown it the canal for the most part; Big Science’s sly electronica, wry experimentation and Anderson’s magnetic presence carry this far beyond any need for a wet death in the Grand Union. With its enigmatic statement and minimalistic structure, this is a record that constantly and knowingly takes on the listener; the disconnected air of ‘O Superman’, the hypnotic menace of ‘Born, Never Asked’ (later covered by Spiritualized), the bagpipe-throttling ‘Sweaters’. The more I listen to Big Science the more I understand that I don’t possess the vocabulary to describe it – it really is that striking.

#15 Fuel / The Back Of This Beyond The facts: 1987, Scottish musician Hamish Mackintosh and an album called The Back Of This Beyond, released under his Fuel moniker. Vinyl-only. Perhaps an unfortunate name to record under, considering the later (and very much uninteresting) American rock act, who sat down one miserable afternoon and picked a band name already taken, forever despoiling a casual Googling in the process.

It’s also a record that I can’t help but repeatedly turn to; I love the way in that album opener ‘Age And Present Past’ dares to lead with its jangly guitar hook, only to subvert notions of the late-eighties indie aesthetic by venturing off-kilter, refracting the sound, layering the sound, using hackneyed effects such as soft-peddled vocal and backwards taping in new and interesting patterns. I love how the album never resorts to the disposable lyric, and how it positions its dreamy inclinations against the musical firmament delicately, so that you’re never certain if you’re listening to Echo And the Bunnymen, Vini Reilly, Win, anything released on 4AD, or all of the aforementioned simultaneously. Hamish has one of those voices – vaguely reminiscent of a lower register Billy MacKenzie – that’s full of expression (however low in the mix or bounced about with on the mixing desk), and when taken as a whole, the LP exudes a warm, enfolding eeriness. A late at night listen, with wine, and wind at the windows.

(This is also fucking obscure. A real shame – here’s a stream).


#14 Soft Cell / Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret Recycling the dark experimentation of underground electronica for the Top Of The Pops audience. Ignore ‘Tainted Love’; the black Weimar Republik of Soft Cell’s Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret drips with sleaze, a soundtrack for dubious basements, velvet-scented peepshows, neon-lit rainscapes. It’s a record that perhaps sounds a little contrived to our modern, sophisticated ear – Marc Almond’s torch-singer-gone-to-seed posturings backlit by Dave Ball’s broad synth brush strokes – but I’ve always admired the glint in this disc’s eyes, that sense of strut and flicker.

#13 Young Marble Giants / Colossal Youth “Even at the height of their success, when their one and only album Colossal Youth briefly became the second-biggest seller for their label Rough Trade, unassuming was rather the Young Marble Giants’ thing. They never looked like a rock band: singer Alison Statton’s plimsolls, print dresses and ponytail give her the look of a wholesome village schoolteacher. Their rhythms came from a drum machine that they made themselves by following diagrams in Practical Wireless magazine; onstage, even this proved too flashily high-tech, and was replaced by a portable cassette recorder. Amid the tick-tocking of the drum machine and oblique lyrics about robots, failed romance and train crashes, there is a sound that manages to be both stark and serpentine: a lone twanging guitar or organ and bass, the parts wrapping around each other “like knitting”, as Stuart Moxham put it. It’s a suitably un-rock’n’roll simile for music that sounds like nothing else in rock’n’roll. Even more striking is how the songs pull so much variety out of such basic ingredients. ‘Salad Days’ is wistful and pastoral; instrumental ‘The Taxi’ conjures up nameless urban crepuscular fear; ‘Wurlitzer Jukebox’s’ dazzling bass slips between limber funk and mechanical precision. It’s spellbinding; an unassuming triumph, but a triumph nonetheless”. – Alexis Petridis, The Guardian

#12 The Pastels / Up For A Bit With The Pastels Scruffy, scuzzy, out of focus. Entire passages where the band sound like they’ve forgotten to tune the guitars. Others where no-one’s quite sure what key they’re supposed to be playing in. And then there’s Stephen’s bus stop vocals. Fey, urgent, vulnerable, all over the place. Also, Up For A Bit is the most endearing record I’ve ever heard. Joyous, affirming, fizzing – it’s both delightfully messy and wonderfully produced – and in ‘Baby Honey’, still the band’s set closer even now, there’s a song that makes you stand back with “wow” smeared all across your chops.

#11 Jackson C Frank / Jackson C Frank A musician who released but a solitary album, who qualified as obscure well before his untimely death, but whose influence continues to be wide-reaching, underpinning a significant cross-section of folk-tinged guitar music; the list of musicians who’ve covered his songs is impressive; Sandy Denny, Nick Drake, Simon & Garfunkle, Marianne Faithfull, Bert Jansch, Malcolm Middleton… even Counting Crows – a band not noted for visits to the LGM stereo – feature in the roll-call.

Frank’s is a tale defined by the mechanics of talent, a suite of songs carried by a delicate, introspective elegance, heavily influenced by the Greenwich Village folk scene but – unlike the contemporary vogue – far more personal and introverted. It’s a beguiling record. Measured, relatively simple in construction, but rich in gentle beauty and backdropped against deceptively intricate guitar work. You can hear this album’s influence all over the place, and it’s easy to hear why – these are songs that enchant, draw you in, and although this was released in 1965 it’s a record that still sounds fresh, relevant.