Previously on LGM: The Best Records of 2012, #10-#2
#1. Human Don’t Be Angry – Human Don’t Be Angry
Summer conversations. Thoughts scrawled into notebooks, on cigarette packets, in the margins of that Thomas Pynchon novel you couldn’t finish. Because should you be in the business of publicly declaring your affirmation towards a particular tranche of that year’s records, you tend to dwell on that subject long before publication. Individual components of the top ten, top fifty, top whatever – they’re considered in a range of different lights and contexts, an attempt to insert tendrils of objectivity into the subjective swash.
All of which triggers months of rumination in the cause of exactly how to define a favourite record. Which criteria qualify as urgent, entice the listener to play and play again before it’s indelibly seared across perception? This kind of thing has been on my mind, of late – in part because I could be accused of being decidedly idiosyncratic by identifying Human Don’t Be Angry as the best album of 2012. It didn’t shift in massive units. Doesn’t appear on any other breakdown of the year’s records of choice (at least not one that I’ve been able to spot). And in terms of its place in the career trajectory, it’s decidedly non-canonical, a reaction against the rigid parameters and louche expectations of writing, recording, touring, then repeating the whole thing again until fade.
I should insert a disclaimer at this point. I’m on record as having quite the crush on the music of Malcolm Middleton. The flirtation with Arab Strap that blossomed into something more profound as his solo career developed (‘Crappo The Clown’, the opening track on début album 5:14 Fluoxytine Seagull Alcohol John Nicotine can still, in the right circumstance, enfold this listener in such an acute sense of melancholic helplessness, the only appropriate response should be to cry, just a little). Hence the cynical interpretation of my album of the year choice; it’s a Malcolm Middleton disc – this fan-boy doesn’t hold the imagination to wave the flag for anything else. Well, yes… except that you could query the extent by which Human Don’t Be Angry slots into any expected pattern.
Because the material released under his own name is so distinctive – tender, graceful, intimate; little studies of contemporary miserabilism that by weight of wit and acoustic-lead delivery emerges from the turntable as uplifting and life-affirming – HDBA qualifies as a reinvention of sorts. Middelton’s Tin Machine moment (had Tin Machine been any good). Perhaps not exactly the franchise reboot as originally implied or intended (he’s now back working under his MM guise), but still something that hovers apart from the rest of the back catalogue.
Provenance aside, there’s also nine tracks to be considering. Post-rock, but not in a style fit for flippant categorisation. A suite of echoes that describe the relationship between each guitar-borne cadence and the sly solidity of machine, creating an elementary equilibrium between acoustic and electric, between electronic boxes of tricks and the tight unit of guitar / bass / percussion. Subtle glyphs of piano, prowling lasciviously in the background. What vocals there are are principally disfigured hoots all filtered through the sequencer’s bowels, or repeated refrains slewed through and against a range of effects (even ‘Monologue: River’ and ‘Asclipiio’, the two vox-driven tracks – and therefore the songs most akin to solo Malc – have a crafty, delightfully egregious quality).
At times (‘The Missing Plutonium’; ‘HDBA Theme’) this feels like an extension to the territory Vini Reilly of the Durutti Column was gravitating towards back in 1981. Other moments: subtle nods to the original Arab Strap aesthetic, and weird, extremely well-buried references to mainstream ’80’s pop culture – particularly in the inflexion (if not the bulk) behind some of the riffs, which wouldn’t sound out-of-place in a radio-friendly power pop standard; Middleton’s beloved Pat Benatar, perhaps.
And then there’s ‘1985’. A wonderfully pinioned five-plus minutes. Intricate, beguiling, building from a set of skewed-riffs and reference points with a momentum all of its own… when arrives the clincher: there’s a moment – two minutes forty-nine seconds in to be precise – when the bass riff conflagrates, rising up from the the track’s foundations like a Kraken. It’s exactly that kind of whoosh that encapsulates why I’m so intoxicated with recorded sound. A single bar from an unconventional track on a relatively disregarded, primarily instrumental album, and I’m jelly. Pulse galloping. Mouth sticky. Adrenalin mainlined.
Human Don’t Be Angry – and what comes across is Middleton’s musical guile. As a guitarist he’s criminally under-rated, managing to make the solitary stage-bound silhouette (with nothing but acoustic guitar as his prop) sound like three of four (solitary) shadows. And this, in a very different context; warm, playful, invigorating, profound glances amidst the polish of execution. In other words: record of the year – the only real candidate all long twelve months on.
Human Don’t Be Angry / 1985
Human Don’t Be Angry / HDBA Theme