So I sorta fell silent and haven’t been posting much lately. This is due, in large part, to having accumulated a huge pile of music that is entirely new to me. It doesn’t help that it would be difficult for me to write about much of this music even given the advantage of intimate familiarity; most of it was obscure to begin with, and is abstract verging on the obtuse. Jazzy krautrock improv from Scandinavia, broad-spectrum wiggly noise bursts, ramshackle protean compositions that were coming unraveled even as they were recorded: these are highly individual outbursts of noise and creativity, and even when they’re affiliated with a time and a place or from a reasonably well-known artist (depending on how well-known you think Nurse With Wound is), they’re difficult to describe.
But that’s not really an excuse or a complete explanation. The simple truth is that spending sustained periods of time listening to music I’ve never heard before erases my ability to talk about music at all. There are albums where I can confidently say, after a single listen, “I like this,” or “this doesn’t interest me,” but for the most part the stuff I’ve been listening to lately resists that kind of immediate judgment. I can tell after hearing Mnemonists’ Horde or Rota-Limbs for the first time that they’re both interesting and exciting, but I lack the words for putting that fascination into concrete terms, and given the tiny audience for this kind of music, just saying “this rox u shud listn 2 it” isn’t going to do much for anyone. Especially when I don’t really know how I feel about it myself.
I think that explains why I’ve fallen off the soundwagon a little in the last few weeks and have spent some time listening to stuff that’s a little less demanding. There have been a number of great new records put out over the last month, too: the Breeders erase time with a miraculously good / unpretentious / direct set of songs on Mountain Battles, as accomplished as anything they’ve done since Safari; Torche’s new record, Meanderthal, is almost as good as their monstrous debut, putting the “thunder” in “thunder pop”; M83 have returned from the wilds of Elektronikaslavia with a newer, sleeker sound and a new album, the aptly named Saturdays = Youth; and a Dutch label has released a remastered version of OMD’s brilliant Dazzle Ships, with its incredibly infectious New Wave hit single that never was, “Genetic Engineering”. These are the things I find myself returning to when the stress of moving (oh yeah – I’m preparing to move me and my enormous pile of media across town) overwhelms my ability to deal with hours on end of square waves and rambling percussive scree.
But I’m going to try to suck it up and deal, both by documenting the enormous piles of stuff I’ve continued to add to my collection, as well as trying to come up with some kind of game plan for talking about it. It’ll probably be fragmentary and incomplete, but that’s what blogs are, aren’t they?
Pale Saints' In Ribbons is an album I've always loved. It takes a clean, no-nonsense approach to capturing a classic set of early 90s UK pop songs, with all of the little bits of the Byrds, Jesus & Mary Chain and the rest that you would expect. It's of a piece with the records that came out by Lush, My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive around the same time. The alternating male and female vocals (by Ian Masters and Meriel Barham, respectively) and the clean, simple harmonies are a nice complement to the guitars, which nicely balance bombast and restraint. Its only musical weakness is a tendency to play things a little safe, and maybe being a song or two too long (in the way that a lot of 90s albums were, before producers figured out that not every CD has to be full).
However, the album does have one fatal flaw:
Vaughan Oliver, the usually brilliant designer behind longtime 4AD associates 23 Envelope, had a brief-lived obsession with guts and eyeballs around 1991. This cover, and the cover to the Pixies' Trompe le Monde, are among the unfortunate fruits of that preoccupation (the Tromp le Monde cover also features a violently busy design and some more or less pointless cartoons, and is probably my least favorite 23 Envelope design). I get that it matches the title of the album, the type treatment is beautiful, and there's a certain formal beauty to the bleached entrails and the pale blue background, but Vaughan, that shit is nast. For reals. It's this ghastly shadow that's always hovered over my fondness for the music within.