Sudden Little Drops has been recently resurrected so I could talk about music! Check out the new Albums of 2011 post below, and hopefully there will be more new content coming soon.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Albums of 2012


Here are ten records I enjoyed this year. They are - more or less my ten favourites, or at least the ten I most wanted to talk about. Partially I like making these lists as little time capsules, to remember what I really thought about the year just after it had happened. It's interesting to look back at last year's list and see what's missing. Atlas Sound's Parallax and The Caretaker's An Empty Bliss Beyond This World would definitely be on there were I to redo it, and I'm not sure how I overlooked Low's C'mon when I'd been playing it a great deal that year an oversight, certainly. But never mind. The main reason I make these lists is just to share some music, and to have a go at putting my thoughts about that music down into words. I didn't want to rank the albums in order of preference this time, so they're presented simply in alphabetical order.

Another point to note: three of my favourite bands in the world (Animal Collective, Grizzly Bear and Beach House) all released records this year, all three of which I had mixed feelings about. While I genuinely enjoyed all three (especially the Animal Collective, which I think is far better than its somewhat lukewarm reception might suggest) I feel like including them here would be something of a waste of time. Everyone knows I love those bands. So I've gone for ten other records I enjoyed, easily just as much if not more, as a kind of cross section (rather than a definitive 'top ten') of what I've been listening to. I hope it will lead you to discover or rediscover some great music.


 Andrew Bird | Break It Yourself


An easy record to forget about, tucked away at the start of the year, but one I've been steadily listening to throughout it, especially in the summer. The meticulous Bird loosens up a little on this release, and the songs have a more organic, improvised feel to them. He takes flight on the eight minutes of 'Hole in the Ocean Floor', which unfolds so gently that it's easy to miss how beautiful it becomes, how high it soars, until it's nearly over. Opener 'Desperation Breeds' is a twisting tale of an era without bees, and is a good example of how through simplifying his sometimes wordy lyrics he has heightened their emotional impact. My favourite moment, though, is 'Lusitania', a duet with Annie Clark (from the band St. Vincent), as relaxed and gorgeous as anything either artist has recorded. When Annie's voice first comes in, strolling in fashionably late mid-bar, it's a near perfect moment. Add in Hands of Glory, the recently released collection of extra material from the same sessions, and you've got two discs of treats from this always fascinating songwriter.

Andrew Bird - Lusitania


Burial | Kindred EP


Technically an EP, the scope of Kindred made it feel much larger, the longer track times allowing Burial to marinate in his atmospheres a bit more, do more with them, push them further. It is the first music of his that I've not just been impressed by, but really connected with. 'Ashtray Wasp' unfolds in separate movements, coming first as a swarm of noise and confusion before unravelling to reveal its sad, lonely heart. The last few minutes of it are just devastating. The drums on the title track feel desperate and charged; at several points they falter, or shut down completely, as though unable to continue. Like all Burial, the sounds here powerfully evoke the space of the city. He simply understands what it feels like to live in a modern city the day-in day-out weariness of it, the constant movement and people and voices, the alienation concealed by that and he captures this experience powerfully through sound.

Burial - Ashtray Wasp


Dan Deacon | America


What I really enjoyed about America was hearing Deacon's recent experiences in classical composition filter into his frantic, technicolour day job. America is both more ambitious and more refined than his earlier work, in that it does more with less. Opening track 'Guilford Avenue Bridge' is a typical cluster of synths and squiggles, but its delicate arrangement occasionally opens things up, allowing some breathing space, before colliding everything together again with even more force. Like the similarly amorphous 'Prettyboy', it is fluid and unexpected. These moments contrast nicely with straight-up pop songs like 'True Thrush', a tune which feels as inclusive and inviting as his famous live shows. The four-part 'U.S.A' is the climax of all this new exploration: it is ambitious, complex, unique, forward-thinking, and it feels like only Dan could have made it.

Dan Deacon - True Thrush


Fiona Apple | The Idler Wheel... 

The Idler Wheel is an intimate listen. It feels startlingly and refreshingly homemade, and it rewards close attention. The percussion is all plucks and taps and hand slaps, making use of whatever's lying around. Apple's piano playing is often percussive as well, making use of staccato notes that feel bodily, embodied. Stripped-bare production means all these sounds feel close, clear, as though Fiona were playing right next to you. The striking hand-drawn cover and the confessional lyrics seem scrawled out as though in a diary, though with infinitely more craft and care than a typical diary would contain. From the first whispers of 'Every Single Night' the album draws you in, and remains brittle and engrossing, her voice often leaping from a whisper to a growl without warning. "I just want to feel everything," she sings in that same song: the anger and love and pain and desire all on show.

Fiona Apple - Every Single Night


 Julia Holter | Ekstasis


Following last year's excellent Tragedy, which felt like one long composition, Ekstasis is an album far more focussed on songs and songcraft. It is a collection of colourful, creative vignettes: the dreamy drones of 'Boy in the Moon', the playful 'Fur Felix', the wistful and longing 'Our Sorrows'. Each contains more ideas than many whole albums, yet these ideas are always kept in balance, handled with care and control, so that the songs never feel overstuffed or rushed. Then there is 'Marienbad', my favourite song of the year, opening with a watery synth-line and winding through a labyrinth of melodies before its elements all come together halfway through, with a kind of unexplainable alchemy, lifting the whole thing up to new heights. It's marvellous, and I could listen to it again and again and again.

Julia Holter - Marienbad


Liars | WIXIW


Liars' new album starts off gently. 'The Exact Colour of Doubt' arrives like a cloud of paint fumes, conjuring a hazy but tense atmosphere that lingers throughout the next ten songs. WIXIW, despite its emphasis on electronic textures, sounds physical and material. Its synthesisers feel like hot glue dripping from a glue gun, or nail varnish remover poured straight into your ears. Only more pleasurable than that sounds. Even the title is a strange sound in your mouth: I can imagine it scratched with a nail into a mirror in some horror film. But Liars' real talent, as it always has been, is in taking whichever strange, unsettling sounds they're working with and crafting oddly beautiful songs out of them, and WIXIW contains some of their finest: the strangely funky 'A Ring on Every Finger', the menacing 'Flood to Flood' and the shifting, elusive title track all fine examples.

Liars - A Ring On Every Finger


Perfume Genius | Put Your Back N 2 It


The intense vulnerability of Mike Hadreas's music is not the easiest thing to swallow at first, but the shades and depths of these thoughtful songs are worth discovering. The lyrics are especially haunting: '17' describes a young man's body stuffed "in the body of a violin", while 'Dark Parts' is a touching plea for his mother to let go of the abuse she suffered at the hands of her father. The melodies are restrained and often don't resolve, creating the sense that the songs simply bear witness, see things which need to be seen without trying to offer easy, insufficient answers. Just the right instruments are selected to accompany each song - a muddy, buried drum machine on 'Floating Spit', a crystalline guitar on 'Normal Song' - creating a short record that hits with great power.

Perfume Genius - Dark Parts


Sun Araw, M. Geddes Gengras & The Congos | FRKWYS Vol. 9: Icon Give Thank
 

I've been a fan of Sun Araw's work for a while now, especially his album On Patrol from a few years ago. But this collaboration was something a little different: he brought his modern, spaced-out psychedelica (along with similarly minded producer M. Geddes Gengras) to St. Catherine in Jamaica, to jam with classic dub reggae band The Congos, and the results are timeless and sublime. It's a conversation across generations, across continents, the sort of music that the internet makes more possible to initiate, but which only happens when different people are in a room together, bouncing off each other, exploring. The blend between the different artists involved in this project is seamless - they sound like they've been playing together forever. That on its own is inspiring. That the music itself is so gorgeous - a burst of sunshine that sounds like nothing else - is icing on the cake.

Sun Araw, M. Geddes Gengras, & The Congos - Happy Song


Swans | The Seer


The Seer is ludicrously ambitious. Much has been made of it being the culmination of Michael Gira's thirty years of sonic experimentation in both Swans and Angels of Light. Much has also been made of its difficulty. It is an act of almost physical endurance, requiring total immersion in its cosmic mingling of dark and light, fear and hope, the physical and the transcendent. But what impressed me most is that it achieves its cacophonous, experimental ambitions while remaining, at its heart, a kind of blues-folk album: eleven songs, a few guest vocalists, a mixture of tender ballads ('Song for a Warrior', 'A Piece of Light') and snarlier, bluesier numbers ('The Seer Returns', 'Avatar'). And when I think of it like that, it becomes even more astonishing: that Swans can stretch these songs so far, can transform them with swirling orchestral diversions, twenty-minute-long intros and stretches of pounding, relentless percussion, without breaking them, without losing the songs themselves. It results in the most powerful and moving album of the year, an album that genuinely leaves you breathless.

Swans - Mother Of The World


THEESatisfaction | awE naturalE


It's near impossible not to compare THEESatisfaction with their label-mates Shabazz Palaces, whose 2011 record, Black Up, I was pretty keen on. They both guest on each other's albums, and both share a love of strange, spacey sounds and unpredictable song structures. But while awE naturalE isn't quite as fully formed as Black Up, it's damn-near as enjoyable to listen to. It's the definition of short and sweet - at just over half and hour long, it's like a little tasting menu of different flavours and surprises, each song bubbling up with different ideas, then popping before you get too used to them. The warped downtempo of 'Earthseed' nestles between the playful two-step of 'Bitch' and the twisted, funky groove of 'QueenS'. The vocal harmonies are spot-on throughout, while Stas's raps are eloquent and thoughtful. These are the sparks of a very exciting duo.

THEESatisfaction - QueenS

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Sunday, 15 January 2012

Albums of 2011


So here are my ten favourite albums from last year. Any list of favourites is obviously fairly subjective; there are plenty of albums I've been meaning to listen to but haven't yet. Then there are some - like the new Atlas Sound, or Julia Holter's Tragedy - that I've only got into very recently, but might have ended up on the list had I heard them earlier. Such is the nature of any list. These are just the albums that, based on what I listened to in 2011, really stood out, and which I think are worth talking about. I hope you enjoy reading and listening =)


 10. Cass McCombs | Wit's End


I think I can say with some certainty that ‘County Line’ was my favourite song I heard this year. It is the sound of a song replaying inside someone’s head; I can imagine him driving down a long open road back home, tapping it on the steering wheel, humming it under his breath. Traces of a fuller song remain – the gospel-inflected whoah-oh-ohs in the chorus, the touches of electric guitar – but they never entirely resolve, never offer an easy answer. Its opening lines are confused, lonely, fraught with paradox: “On my way to you old county / Hoping nothing’s changed / That your pain is never-ending.”  Then the chorus hits, and his voice almost disappears entirely.

But Wit’s End was more than just its perfect opening song. Its remaining seven tracks continue to unfold at the same slow, sad pace, scattered with illuminating details: the clack of unsettling, offbeat percussion in the chorus of ‘Hermit’s Cave’, the clarinet winding its way through ‘A Knock Upon the Door’ and melting into the languid coda at the end of ‘Memory’s Stain’. This is carefully composed, patient music from a true master of song.

Cass McCombs - County Line


9. Sean McCann | The Capital


Perhaps it’s just the name, but each time I listen to The Capital it feels like exploring a city, one that is slowly unfolding around me. The record takes in everything from the quiet gurgle of a drain (the strange noises on ‘Unfolding Angels’ sound like creatures living in a sewer) to the towering skyscrapers of synth and piano at the climax of ‘This Was Nearly Mine’. McCann has an intuitive feel for when to layer up these details and when to pull back, letting a creak of violin or a melodic turn on the piano suddenly show through unexpectedly. It’s like glimpsing through a window, a humanising detail in an otherwise bustling metropolis. But, as track titles like ‘Aerial Sapphire Show’ and ‘Star Charge’ suggest, this is not the grimy, real-life metropolis conjured up by the likes of Burial; rather it’s the sound of an imagined city, a celestial city in the clouds, powered by the fuel of molten sound.
  Sean McCann - The Vanilla Maiden


8. Julian Lynch | Terra


Pretty much the only music I remember listening to all summer was Terra. I kept it in our car, so that wherever I was driving – be it heading up to the woods on a lazy afternoon, or heading down the dual-carriageway for another day making donuts for ungrateful customers – it was there to lift the moment, to make it into something more. For despite Terra’s relaxed pace, Lynch is able to coax out moments of subtle power from his arrangements. ‘Ground’ swells from its sombre opening tones into something unexpectedly majestic. Layers of synth and strummed-guitar collide triumphantly at the end of ‘Back’. Yet Terra is just as effective in its quieter moments: the gentle piano figure on ‘Fort Collins’, the lilting clarinet on the title track. Different details reveal themselves on different listens, but what keeps me coming back is how it all coalesces together to create something full of warmth and comfort. Which, sometimes, is just what you want from an album.

Julian Lynch - Terra


7. Matana Roberts | COIN COIN Chapter One: Gens de Couleur Libres


In terms of sheer ambition, nothing else this year could touch Matana Roberts and the first instalment of her COIN COIN project. Drawing from post-rock, blues, free-jazz, and just about everything in between, she weaves a polyphonic narrative detailing the early history of black slavery. The album overflows with stories and ideas, veering into constantly unexpected places. Case in point: when the perspective shifts from one story to another at the start of ‘Pov Piti’, and Robert’s voice morphs from a kind of tentative scat-singing to a full-throated howl, in one of the most powerful minutes of music I’ve heard all year. Or when album centrepiece ‘Bid Em In – Libation for Mr. Brown’ (a song imaginatively sung from the point-of-view of a slave auctioneer) suddenly, following its a-capella first half, blossoms into a big-band gospel-romp, complete with plodding double-bass and jazzy keys. Or when the galloping piano that opens ‘Song for Eulalie’ is cut through by a screech of an electric guitar, like something off a Godspeed You! Black Emperor record. I could describe more, but you need to hear it. Amazing stuff.

Matana Roberts - Pov Piti


6. Tiago Sousa | Walden Pond's Monk

From Dustin O’Halloran’s delicate and dreamlike Lumiere, to the playful experimentation on Hauschka’s Salon des Amateurs, it has been a spectacularly good year for piano music. None, though, quite captured my imagination like Tiago Sousa’s concise, understated exploration of the life and work of Henry David Thoreau. I’m always a little wary when composers tie their music to a very concrete idea, but the playing here is more than expressive enough to carry it off. It really does feel like travelling deep into the isolated wilderness. Though barely longer than half an hour, it covers an extraordinary range of ground: opening and closing with  solo piano, it merges on its way with sinuous twists of clarinet, ripples of tribal percussion and deep, ominous drones, while never losing sight of where it’s heading. The piano itself is fluid and elusive, coaxing you to follow it on its journey. It’s a journey worth taking time and time again.

Tiago Sousa - Walden Pond's Monk (Part I)


5. Panda Bear | Tomboy


Panda Bear’s last album, 2007’s Person Pitch, meant a great deal to me, so I was pleased to find his new one sounded nothing like it. He could never have recaptured what he achieved on Person Pitch and he didn’t try to. Instead, he made what was in many ways a more direct album, with actual choruses and catchy melodies, but which paradoxically took longer to fully wrap your head around. Tomboy is a grower; you have to soak in its bath of reverb and echoing repetitions for a while before it starts to soak into you. But as it does sink in, it begins to take on an almost hymnal quality, a quiet but deeply affecting power which stirred inside me for the rest of the year.

There are little touches of Panda Bear magic all over this thing. It’s wonderfully sequenced, its two most abstract cuts framing its centrepiece, ‘Alsatian Darn’, probably the most straightforwardly beautiful song Panda’s ever written outside Animal Collective. Then there are the little moments within the songs themselves: the “I know, I know, I know” coda in ‘Last Night at the Jetty’, the buzzy synth whipping suddenly into the mix on the title track, the hypnotic tribal loops that close out ‘Afterburner’. Yeah. I mean, it’s Panda Bear. Of course I love it.
  Panda Bear - Last Night At The Jetty


4. Colin Stetson | New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges


Applying microphones to every part of his saxophone, as well as his own body, Colin Stetson captures the full experience of its being played: clicks of fingers on the keys, the resonances deep inside the bell, his own breathing. Much has been made of the technical achievement of this method, and rightly so. Stetson records each piece in a single take without overdubs, an astonishing physical achievement at a time when more and more music involves no physical creative act at all. But what really fascinates me about New History Warfare is the sound of the music itself, a sound at once strange and otherworldly, yet at the same time grounded, earthly and intimate. It’s a sound-experience that threw me completely off-guard. There are precedents, sure – the flurries of high-notes bring to mind Coltrane – but it doesn’t really sound like anything else. Rising as though from an abyss with the building growls of ‘Awake on Foreign Shores’, it proceeds in all kinds of unexpected directions – the hallucinatory spirals of ‘A Dream of Water’, the sorrowful, guttural ‘Lord I Just Can’t Keep From Crying Sometimes’ –  while remaining, at its core, a solo-saxophone record.

Colin’s no selfish guy, though. As well as producing extraordinary solo work, he plays in many a back-up band and brought his inimitable touch to a number of other great records this year, among them Feist’s excellent LP Metals, as well as the next album on my list…

Colin Stetson - Judges


3. Bon Iver | Bon Iver


“Somewhere baby a part of me apart from me.” There, in that line from ‘Holocene’, is the essence of Bon Iver. The album unpicks how our identities get mapped onto geography, how different memories and people and places collage together to form our sense of who we are. Its songs feel like scrapbooks of different sounds, each with their own emotional resonances, resulting in an album that is constantly shifting, re-making itself. Listen, for example, to where opener ‘Perth’ morphs into ‘Minnesota, WI’, which may be the best transition between two songs I’ve ever heard. This shifting geography is reflected in every part of the album: its impressionistic patchwork of lyrics, the gorgeous artwork by Gregory Euclide, and even the title, printed on the side of the record as ‘Bon Iver, Bon Iver’, like an American town. Most of all, though, it is infused into the music itself, ten intricate, transportive songs that I’ve only just started to uncover all the depth in.

The first Bon Iver record had such a feeling of capturing something special – a lightning in a bottle kind of moment – that it seemed impossible to imagine how Justin Vernon and his band could ever follow it up. Turns out the answer was simple: make an even better one.

Bon Iver - Calgary


2. Tim Hecker | Ravedeath, 1972


With Ravedeath, 1972, Tim Hecker created music through the process of destroying it. Taking some melodic sketches into a Reykjavík church and recording them on a gorgeous, ethereal-sounding pipe-organ, he then proceeded to compose the album retrospectively, manipulating and partially destroying the sounds he had captured to create Рor uncreate Рthe recording we hear now.

At least, that’s one picture of what this album is. I can describe how the record was made, the processes behind it. I can describe how the resulting sounds manage to be both menacing and uplifting simultaneously. I can describe some of the conceptual ideas I feel it explores: digital garbage, the impact of technology on music, the contrary human impulses towards creation and destruction, the reasons someone might want to push a piano off a roof.

But none of these things would really tell you what Ravedeath, 1972 actually is. Nothing I could write could express what it sounds like, what it feels like to experience. Because, like the greatest of music, what Tim Hecker communicates here can only be communicated through sound. Therefore I can only urge you: hear it.

Tim Hecker - In the Fog I


1. Shabazz Palaces | Black Up
 

Wow. Black Up. What can I possibly say?

Like Tim Hecker’s album, it’s a very difficult one to put into words. Indeed, Palaceer himself (who is, of course, actually Ishmael “Butterfly” Butler from 90’s jazz-rap legends Digable Planets) recognises the limitations of words (“I can’t explain it with words / I have to do it”) and turns, therefore, to sound as his primary language. Every sound here – a sudden flurry of saxophone, the extra crunch of a drumbeat, an unidentifiable noise (there are a lot of them) swooping overhead – has clearly been laboured over, weighted to give the most expressive impact. But equally thrilling is the way all these little sounds come together: a psychedelic, jazz-inflected pool of noise, murky and echoing, swarming with deep bass, clattering with drums. It’s quite a dark sound, reflected in its often angry lyrics, its tirades against greed (‘Youlogy’) and hypocrisy (‘Yeah You’), which have the feel of trying to make sense of a strange world. That was something that was easy to connect to this year – it’s been one hell of weird year to live through. But the album also finds time for comedy and lightness (take, for example, its often hilariously verbose track titles) and it is in this lightness where the most profound moments are often to be found: when the album loosens, turns to others, asks “how are you?”

Because if there’s one thing that really hit me about Black Up ­– aside from how original and innovative the actual music on it is – it was its sense of compassion. “I’m free”, the opening track declares, and it sounds at once both a shout of celebration and a challenge. We’re all free to act how we choose in our strange world: to “be a slave to our most powerful instincts” or to stand out and live for something more. When the lyrics coalesce around a certain phrase, it often feels like a mantra for action, as on the stunning final track: “If you talk about it, that’s a show / But if you move about it, then it’s a go.” Doesn’t sound like much on paper, but bursting from the denseness of the previous nine tracks on a beat that’s suddenly spare and light, it’s both thrilling and challenging.

Like I said, Black Up. Wow.

Shabazz Palaces - Swerve... The Reeping Of All That Is Worthwhile (Noir Not Withstanding)

Shabazz Palaces - Are You... Can You... Were You (Felt)

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Monday, 25 April 2011

Deep Eddy

1. ORIGINS

You press play and these are the first sounds to emerge:

A gurgling, spluttering sound, like water. Waves of tape hiss. The distant drone of a violin, half-submerged beneath the bubbling and hissing. A guitar being tuned. The brief shuffle of sticks over a muffled drum skin. The sound of children laughing. A man’s gently lilting voice fading into the mix: this is the Deep Eddy Swimmin’ Pool in Austin, Texas...


2. THE POOL

Geology allows for recreation. The furious Colorado River is paused, held, where over the years the rocks have weathered. A great hole in the limestone causes the water’s current to form an eddy. Surrounded by steep river banks, the eddy is strangely deep. It attracts people to it, becoming a sort of swimming hole for visitors.

1902. Mary and Henry Johnson inherit the land from their father and open Deep Eddy Resort. Attractions include campsites, picnic areas, rental cottages and a cable ride into the river. The water is calm and people are not afraid. The years pass.

1915. A.J. Eilers, prominent and wealthy businessman, buys the land off the Johnsons and builds a concrete swimming pool, the first of its kind in Texas. The following year the Deep Eddy Bathing Beach opens. Attractions include silent movies, a ferris wheel, carousel rides, a 70-foot slide, a 50-foot diving tower and trapeze-swings over the pool. The star attraction: Lorena’s Diving Horse Show, where, just for kicks, a mule takes the 50-foot plunge off the diving board to its death in the water.

1935. The City of Austin purchases the park for $10,000. Two weeks later, a massive flood on the Colorado River devastates the region, filling the pool with mud and debris. It is out of action for a year, while the people of the city come together to rebuild it. It reopens as Deep Eddy Swimming Pool.

2007. The pool bears little resemblance to the carnival of horrors it once was. The mystical ‘swimming hole’ is long gone; in its place, a shallow kids pool, wide and square, with lap lanes at the far end. Yet its cool, spring-fed water still provides the same allure as it has for a hundred years. It is still a place where people gather, a point of community deep in the heart of Austin, where the afternoons slowly unravel.

Except, none of this has happened yet. Let me tell you the story of how it all got there.
  

3. SLEEPYHEAD

The first Rifle Range record was called Songs for Bears to Dance To, an allusion to Gustave Flaubert’s ‘Madame Bovary’, which I’ve never read, and Robert Cormier’s ‘Tunes for Bears to Dance To’, which I have. It was the record that established their sound, announcing to their singular audience the presence of a band with spiralling, elegant guitar lines, sleepy drumming, warm washes of texture and colour.

I cannot quite remember how they emerged, this Rifle Range. It was not a single dramatic moment, though that would have made for a better story. Rather, they came gradually, pieced together from a blurry multiplicity of daydreams. There were others who arose from these reveries too: Y Lac (pronounced ‘why lack’) were almost absurdly prolific, spilling out these ambitious records, EPs, side projects, solo albums, all the time brooding with melancholy and atmosphere. Then there was Lanterns, a genreless collective, making vital, explosive, experimental soundscapes. Each grew as my own tastes grew. As I discovered jazz and electronics and drones, so did they.

But Rifle Range were, I guess you might say, the most elemental, the closest to spilling over into real life. Their music was austere but graceful; it never outstayed its welcome and its power was subtle. They seemed to genuinely write their own material, as if I had no control over the direction it might take.

 
4. UNDER THE WAVES

This was long before the pool, of course. At this point the fascination was building in incomprehensible waves, sweeping over and under and over, while simultaneously the music developed; elsewhere, unlocated.

I once told this girl how I was fascinated by pictures of empty swimming pools and how I often had dreams about them. I couldn’t explain why. She laughed. She’d make frequent reference to it for the rest of our time together. I felt like I was revealing a deep, dark secret.

Still, I’d not made any connections yet. Nothing fit together. I was filled with vague desires, inclinations towards a kind of transcendence I could not find or understand. My attempts at explanation were too abstract, swirling; they needed something concrete to contain them, for them to lie in and be still.


5. FRIGHTENED BOY

The second Rifle Range record was imaginatively titled Sophomore, in all ways a darker, more serious record, with utterly perfect song titles like ‘In the Nocturnal House’ and ‘The Player’s Gold’, titles so brilliant I can’t help but hope to one day turn them into poems, though it’s likely no words could ever do them justice and I’m too afraid to try.


6. COME ALIVE / IN A STILL LIFE

After this, a long break. It was difficult to see where Rifle Range might go next and they almost got washed away amongst other things. Then something saved them.

I first came across the photograph browsing around the internet for images of empty or near-empty swimming pools. This photograph changed everything; it changed who this band were, it affected their chemistry. It was the clearest distillation yet of my fascination with pools: water – fluid, magnetic – held in the eddy of this pool, made still. The water was that chlorine blue, the colour deepened where the shadows of the great surrounding cottonwoods fell across it. Behind it, more cottonwoods stretched up, their green intense against the blue of the sky and the water. Everything was balanced. Power lines cut across the top left corner, mirroring the line of the pools edge. A man was half-way through climbing out.

This image eventually came to grace the front cover of the third Rifle Range album, their masterpiece, unquestionably the most perfect album that has ever or will ever be recorded. It was called, simply, Deep Eddy.


7. FEELS LIKE HONEY

Then of course! It was clear. Where else could my Rifle Range be from but Austin, Texas? Austin, the home of South by Southwest, of Stars of the Lid, of the Keep Austin Weird movement. I could see them, drinking coffee in their Juniper Street apartments, spreading Round Rock Honey on granary toast and stuffing it in their blurry, indistinct faces. I could see them, battering out rhythms in the Cathedral of Junk on the old porcelain sinks, on the bicycle wheels and lawnmowers. There were future albums built into its landmarks, there in the rich history of the city. Perhaps they’d record Eurycea Sosorum, a multi-part string-laden tribute to the Barton Springs salamander. Or perhaps they’d loosen their song-structures and play a more stripped back, instinctive set, call it Hippie Hollow Park, where they’d launch it by playing a gig in the nude.

Ah, Austin. It was the place. Austin where the cedars breathe pollen dust that looks like smoke in the winter, and it drifts out over the pool.


8. THE POOL (Reprise)

Deep Eddy, the album, was launched at Deep Eddy, the pool on 2nd June, 2007. The band played all ten tracks from the album, masterly sequencing intact, and visitors lounged in the pool to listen, getting some free coffee from Mozart’s Coffee and enjoying the sun for a little bit, enjoying the music. The songs floated over the water.

If only you could have been there. The music, fluid as the water, pulling you under, till you never want it to end. The melodies rising, the sounds rippling. And you feel it coming over you, that longing. Your hairs stand reaching out your skin, the walls of sound swelling, dissolving, chords resolving from major into minor into major into minor. The fragile coda shoots a shiver right up you spine – and you feel its frail, icy climb working its way up your back like a droplet of water in reverse.

And as you listen, under the infantile cloak of the music, the pool is drained and emptied of its water, and people shovel mud and debris into the pool, and the flood pulls it back out again, and the mule leaps from the water to the diving board, and children are sucked up the 70 feet of the slide, and the pool passes back from A.J Eilers to the Johnsons, and the water swirls faster and faster, the deep eddy becoming shallow, the sediments of rock rejoining the limestone; only all of this is happening at once, simultaneously, in one great cataclysm of sound.

 
9. WHALES

The last track on Deep Eddy is called ‘Whales’. It is built of layers and layers of droning guitars and sampled vocals, gradually swelling and rising like water filling up a pool. The guitars, all drenched in reverb, ripple and spume. Around them, white horses of noise build and peak. And the voices and guitars struggle and are covered in a deluge of distortion and wrath. Then finally, as its six minutes have almost come to a close, the noise all falls away and the quiet guitars are left cycling through the chords a few times. And then it ends.

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Saturday, 26 March 2011

The Jigsaw

                                   you know the type:
                                                      halcyon scenes
                          of green spread out
                                           across the box with foxes
 scurrying through hedgerows
                                          rabbits burrowing
                                                   here to be reconstructed
                               from this jumble of cut-outs:
                                                        the shadow
                                         of a farm
                                               the tip of a windmill blade
     

                                           rough
                                                   sedimentary tunnels of
                                     cardboard
             layers peeling – and
                           the light in the fields
has softened from years of light
          in front rooms
            – and the colours have faded


          mash the pieces together
                                        & fragments appear:
                        a daub of sky, a pink streak of cirrus
                                                            its gentle wisp
                                             emulated with a dry brush


                                                           yet gaps persist

the cardboard contours
        cut out once to perfection
are here rough, problematic

            rubbing like leather
           on leather
                                      patterns fall together
                                    patterns fail

        the child’s fingers
            run wild amid their veil

    the real stuff
              in his hands
                            in all its frailty

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Virology

Diseases do not make
the science;
they themselves more
charged, spring-
loaded, like
particles

inseparable from blood,
from the bloody abscesses of
lives

which they suddenly
expunge,
in bedtime baths,

in violent red emerging
spattered on fleshy pink.

Rather, it is the more cerebral
instruments,
with the equipoise that tends
towards

some calculated shot
at joy.

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An Elegy for a Flock of Electric Birds

The seabirds here, who in their brighter days
Had flirted with the waves’ ecstatic crests,
Are rusting from a thousand years of spray,
Retreating with a shy swoop to their rest.
Their nests of coiled wires fall apart,
Releasing tiny clatters, like a knife
Dropped into a draw. Their diode hearts
Are flooded with electrons running rife.
The remnants of their frames, their crooked wings,
Forged from scraps of metal by some hand
Long since forgotten, now become mere things,
There to fall and clutter up the land.
They spiral from the air into the sea
Who swallows all their electricity.

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Land Singing

I

That is no forest. The leafless trees
Sleek varnished poles
Rising like capitals
From the sludge of language.

No birds sing from them, lest
Their nests decrease
The aerodynamics
Of the fall.

Less interference is
A positive goal,
Pursued by men in
White suits

Who have never seen the inside of a dying horse,
Or felt the maggots strip
The flesh from
Its carcass.

Yet they have stripped the undergrowth from the wood,
Robbed the leaves of morning, trodden black
By boots for mass-market paperbacks, full of
Made-up words.

The birds they evicted circle the horse
That lies abandoned in the field,
Flies screaming round its injury.
And the men look away.

They keep their mind on the road and the
Volume up and the window shut and the door
Locked and safe.
At bay.

Where are the trees they set their eyes on?
Only limbless replicas
And the electric line
Mirroring the horizon.

But that is no home for birds.
Perhaps a spot to practice acrobatics,
The remnants of slow static, quietening
Through their claws.

Where is the static flowing?
The same direction as the cars are going.
Everything is moving towards the tunnels,
Towards home.  

II

Home is where the side holds unwashed dishes, moulds expanding
Slowly from the centres of unfinished mugs of coffee,
Spreading white ambition to an edge
They cannot reach.

From above,
Their spread recalls
That of the forest
Before its fall.

And yet
What bird can shelter
In an imaginary forest
Made of mould?

What bird can find in words that fill
The books that line the shelves, the shapely
Carvings from the self-same wood
That used to harbour owls, a home?

And so the owls are driven to the tunnels,
The only darkness in a constant day.
And other birds disappear up buildings
Out the way.

You do not see them as you enter the tunnel,
Your eyes on the road and your hands
On the wheel and language
Washing round your head.

You are heading home.
Where the only horse is starring glassy-eyed and seizures
From the faux-Picasso there behind the futon.
Home.

Where no horse or bird finishes its dying.
Where no mould reaches its goal.
And the grip of a tree stirs no neurons –
You only know them holding up electrons.

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