Complementary notions. Certain records work when played back-to-back. Nothing intentional – they just seem to fit. I usually like to follow Mer De Noms, the fuzzy, début album from “rock super-group” A Perfect Circle, with Queens Of The Stone Age and their rather quite fine Rated R LP. Commercial heavy rock (for want of a better classification) can be incredibly one-dimensional at times, swamped in meaty riffs and pointless posturing. Both records sidestep this quandary neatly; these are constantly intriguing affairs, Rated R in particular exuding intelligent strands of bluesy sleaze; if neither ‘Feel Good Hit Of The Summer’ or ‘The Lost Art Of Keeping A Secret’ fail to put a smile on your chops, you’re probably not human.
Also in the complementary pile: Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven by Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and How Strange, Innocence by Explosions In The Sky. At least, I think complementary is the right sentiment; either is an intense listen on its own, leaving thoughts to rattle around perception like a rogue ball bearing in the drum of an industrial washing machine. In my review of Godspeed’s ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend, Ascend!, I pointed out that, when it comes to writing about this band, the words feel like the pale imitation of the listening experience – and this truth works for Explosions In The Sky in equal measure; if you do play them one after the other, Godspeed’s is probably the beefier sound, yet even that statement feels weird when put into black and white – akin to pointing out the differences between two heavyweight boxers in a room full of skinny-boy music bloggers. Seriously – I don’t possess the vocabulary to do these records justice. If you do, let me know, and I’ll publish your 10,000 word screed in a gap between my usual overgrown indie kid witterings.
Three more albums on my list: Yesterday Was Dramatic, Today Is Okay by múm – perplexing, ambient noodlings. Relationship Of Command by At The Drive-In – a full-frontal attack in musical form. 100 Broken Windows by Idlewild – dexterous indie pop. You can play these back-to-back if you wish, but I wouldn’t necessarily claim that it will enhance the experience.
Nobody comes out of NakedSelf smelling of roses – least of all The The’s Matt Johnson. And whilst many of his records are defined by the abrasive, monochrome texture of his lyrics, his 2000 LP ratchets the angst up to intense levels; NakedSelf is his State Of The Union address, loaded with grainy imagery and caustic observation, the sentiment mirrored by the snarling angularity of each guitar break. Johnson clearly doesn’t like what he sees, even in the mirror; My life is half-way through, and I still haven’t done what I’m here to do, he opines on ‘Soul Catcher’. And yet none of this feels overtly claustrophobic; the inherent risk in recording an album flavoured with social commentary and exploration of self is that the material can appear clunky or overly dense if not adroitly executed. That NakedSelf works as an album is testament to the strength of the songwriting.
The identity of LGM’s Album of the Year – that’s a tough one; the two records I have in mind are such contrasting beasts, any objective calibration feels counter-intuitive. The Noise Made By People by Broadcast. Shiney On The Inside by David Devant & His Spirit Wife. One is something haunting, delicate, about as evocative as records come; the other, in a certain light, sounds like a homage to Anthony Newley – an art school cockney knees-up, in which the protagonists all wear eye-liner, then prance about under silly pseudonyms. Which LP I’d rescue from that fire I’m no doubt well overdue for – it varies according to mood; am I going to be a contemplative, maudlin drunk, or will I fancy having a dance with my umpteenth bottle of whatever? As I haven’t yet consumed enough hard liquor to decide which path I’ll be taking when I’ve finished this piece, I’ll just have to nominate them both as Album of the Year. Ask me when I’m fully wired to pick a preference – I may be able to mumble something vaguely appropriate before I fall over.
Shiney On The Inside first. It’s a big, brash, vaudevillian affair, the dayglo musicality indicative of DD&HSW’s cult band status – think raucous gigs in intimate venues, the drunk punters chanting along to every word. The band’s (proper) début album – 1997’s Work, Lovelife, Miscellaneous – is a collection of fast-paced indie disco ditties, heavy on humour but rather insubstantial because of it. For the follow up, the ambition is far grander. Preposterously grander – space opera proportions. And yet because it’s all done with a nod and a wink, lead singer The Vessel channelling the spirit of David Bowie circa 1968, you kind of know not to take this too seriously. Indeed, much of this feels like a great, lost glam-rock record; songs that are catchy yet kitsch, the lyrics subversively absurd (Dostoevsky receives a mention at one point), and album closer ‘Take A Deep Breath’ epic. (Well, it would have been the album closer, but for a random snippet of an air stewardess preparing passengers for landing; no – me neither).
The Noise Made By People, on the other hand, is 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 over two 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.
Queens Of The Stone Age / Feel Good Hit Of The Summer
The The / Shrunken Man
David Devant & His Spirit Wife / Take A Deep Breath
Broadcast / Long Was The Year