Housekeeping; you have until this Wednesday (Dec-10) to take part in the annual Album of the Year vote that, for reasons I’m far from certain of, I spend December compiling. So far well over 100 discs have been nominated, with two titles running neck and neck as the horses approach the final furlong – that is, it’s your vote in particular that’s going to swing it one way or another. You can vote for your top four – IN ORDER – in the comments section below, or via Twitter, where I occasionally hang out sprouting music-flavoured nonsense as @lazerguidedblog. I’ll publish the results at the end of the week.
Also: I’m currently writing up my own Album of the Year pieces – already far, far too long, as if explaining the attraction of shiny flat discs of vinyl, usually black but not always, is entirely dependent upon the amount of words thrown in their direction. The paragraphs concerning albums that just failed to make the cut are themselves bulky and quite possibly superfluous…. hence pulling the bit about Music and Words, the recently arrived collaboration between Malcolm Middleton and artist David Shrigley. You can have such a review here, instead.
Of course, Middleton himself appears so regularly on these pages that I’m going to have to start charging him rent. His last album – the post-rock-infused Human Don’t Be Angry project – picked up 2012’s Favourite LP accolade on this very site; there are moments when Music and Words sounds like H.D.B.A’s out-takes, across which a succession of voices, the majority belonging to Scottish actor Gavin Mitchell, read bedtimes stories that attempt to out-do each other with their sick and twisted contours.
Which is kind of grand, should – like me – the concept of H.D.B.A. out-takes married to depraved, puerile vignettes appeal. Not that Middleton’s soundscapes are regurgitated from elsewhere, you understand; they don’t sit all passive and disengaged whilst the spoken word soliloquies unravel. Instead, the guitar cadences and electronic sweeps and bangs – and the urgency through which these motifs repeat – promote an oblique, bevelled mindset, as if actively goading each voice into further confession or more vigorous profanity. Yup; should you be a fan of the f-word, this is very much a record for you…
The dialogue is very much Shrigley’s; he even narrates one of the tales himself. Mental illness figures prominently; social mores and etiquette completely misunderstood. Indeed, there are moments during this reminiscent of Chris Morris’ darkly expansive Jam period (“Greetings, and good fucking wishes to you, and your fuck-head, arsehole family,” begins opener ‘A Toast’). The slanted territory includes arguments with trees, arguments with house-guests, monkeys reminiscing (“Do you remember that time when you gave birth to a baby that wasn’t mine? I was so mad. I killed it, and ate it. I went crazy” – well, I did say that this is sick and twisted), as well as a caveman lament that would drift a little too close to misogynistic if it wasn’t for the context.
That Shrigley gets away with all this close-to-the-knuckle weirdness is due to how such dark surrealism doesn’t arrive as gratuitous. That amidst the laugh-out-loud phraseology lurks a disengagement with the modern world that we all experience from time to time. An LP that reflects, like the hall of mirrors at your local freakshow, and whilst Music and Words hasn’t quite made it in to my list of 2014’s favourites, it does come very highly recommended.
And the highlight: ‘Story Time’ (you’re in for a treat if you haven’t heard this), in which Bridget McCann’s lilting tones illustrate a tale of gentle woodland folk, which rapidly descends into an orgy of scatological horror. “Fuck this shit, we fucking hate it, we fucking hate the world,” cry the few animals that survive the carnage; it’s beautiful stuff.
Buy Music and Words (ltd edition vinyl, CD, download) here.