Hallowe’en is over for yet another year, all my sweets have been extorted by a succession of little demons and I’ve spent far too long assembling a new record player, the instructions to which are only slightly more complicated and abstract than those imprinted on the side of the two Voyager Spacecraft should they be discovered at any point in the universe’s vast future by a civilisation of audiophiles. The spirit (ha!) of the day is duly extended here by a band whose central sound tends to evoke horrors of yore, bolstered here by the addition of what I read to be the Southern Hemisphere’s largest Grand Romantic Organ, a title that I must admit to previously believing to be held by Sir Les Patterson’s skin.
While I’ve been switched off recently, I was also apparently rather busy as the last few weeks has seen a whole raft of Things I Ordered And Then Forgot About arriving in a steady stream. This is something I do rather a lot which always results in a pleasant surprise when stuff appears, and it’s somewhat miraculous when duplicates are few and far between. That said, I have absolutely no recollection of ordering this one, although there’s plenty of evidence stating that I must have done. All I can do at this point is offer my congratulations to whatever subconscious part of my brain was working on whatever day I handed over the cash for this one, as it’s a bit of a corker.
There’s something comfortably strange in looking way back to understand something contemporary. This new one from The Soundcarriers is a fine case in point, as not only is it a great record for Now, but it also revisits and slightly reinvents a past where kids TV shows such as Play School and Rainbow were staffed or themed by cheerfully odd folkie musicians and one of my first crushes was directed towards the person of Maria from A Handful Of Songs. Being exposed to such slightly psychedelic folk-tinged playful pop as a child certainly helped to open the door (or variously-shaped windows) for the arrival of this record, a welcome addition to the Ghost Box stable where the feeling of nostalgia for something that never quite existed is never far away…
Spreading from the centre of much of my listening habits of the past 25 years or so (sshh) are but two bands. From these parts of my musical youth all manner of tendrils have sprung forth; some branches with stronger ties to their roots, some less so. Looking at this from a wistful, nostalgic view it’s a genuine pleasure to gaze right back to these sources and also to the younger me who was so moved by it all back then as well as feeling a strange tinge of glee that it’s all still going on. It’s also great to see and hear so many of the people involved in these groups and their various satellites continuing to create and amaze as they find new avenues to explore with new people alongside them. One of which appears thusly.
Due to an especially harsh set of criteria set by yours truly, one of my favourite records of last year didn’t make it onto my Top 50 list – The Night Terrors’ Back To Zero was indeed released last year, but was a remastered vinyl reissue of an album that first surfaced in 2009 on CD. Last year was the first time I heard it, and it blew me away, in the way that only Australian Theremin-led noisy prog instrumentals can. And as I used up all my Theremin facts in my review of that particular gem, I shall have to find a new handle on this new record. Which turned out to be easier than I thought, given that the whole of this one is geared towards placing a very specific form of dread in the mind of the listener.
Well, it scared the bejaysus out of me anyway.
As vinyl becomes more and more popular among people who want something a bit more three-dimensional in life, it’s probably inevitable that little hiccups happen along the line. At the moment, I’m waiting for three things to be released, all delayed because of production issues. The explosion in demand in recent years hasn’t been met by an increase in production facilities, and with more labels wanting to use the services of those who thankfully didn’t scrap all their machinery to make room for computer storage, the queues are getting longer – especially now in this run-up to Record Store Day when more people than ever will be champing at the bit to get their goods done and ready in time to meet the demand from
eBay Flippers fans waiting outside stores all night.
But hey, this is all about personality and passion, not punctuality. I’d rather something was late and wonderful than on time and rushed. Like films whose release dates are timed, set in stone and hyped months in advance to maximise the market and then are bodged together at the end after a series of unforseen delays, records need to be finished and prepared so that whenever they appear, the time is right for them to be there. And until someone either finds a stash of forgotten pressing machinery in a shed somewhere or has the bright idea (and cash) to make some new industrial equipment, we’re stuck with waits and apologies – and in this case, some digital files while we wait. Thanks for that!
It’s a strange thing, scribbling about music. Translating sound into words in the hope that the person at the other end can vaguely translate it back again in their own minds is akin to typing out a recipe in one language, babelfishing it into another, and then getting someone to translate it back again with a different web-based translation tool and hoping that they don’t poison themselves or their entire family with the resulting culinary creation. And I’m sure that the people who make perfume adverts know exactly what’s going on when they come up with visual campaigns that essentially try to sell an indescribable smell; it’s just that by the time it gets to us mere consumers, it’s all a bit weird and arty.
Anyway. The reason for that mad preamble is that this record is something that I am in no small way struggling to describe. I could cheat and read the reviews of others who do know what they’re talking about, or I could plough on regardless and see what happens. Could be fun.
Right, after that enjoyable diversion, I’m off again.
On to the Top Ten at last, and while the records featured were easy to pick out, putting them in some sort of order I’m happy with has proven to be a nightmare thus far. In short, it’s not done yet! I’ve spent much of this week’s travelling time listening and relistening to each album, and I’m still none the wiser as no sooner have I finished listening to one, then that one leaps up several places until I listen to the others and it all gets a bit messy. But that all just gives me an excuse to listen to them all again and come up with a different order, so as pointless as this whole thing’s been since the start, at least it’s still fun.
There’s also the thing that all of these final entrants, in whatever order they manifest themselves in, are in the last ten not just because they’re really good records (which they are), but have stood out from the others for reasons that aren’t necessarily musical; hopefully the guff written about them over the next three weeks or however long it takes will go a long way to explaining this intangible otherness that’ll all make sense at some point. Fingers crossed on that one.
So, at Number Ten, I have this absolute gem from Germany that I bought on a late-night whim and more or less because of the title and a sepia-toned cover that reminds me ever-so-obliquely of Tove Jansson’s Moomin artwork. And if that’s not a decent enough reason to blind-buy a record, then I don’t know what is.
In this era of technological marvel, it’s quite sad to see that nobody’s really wowed by anything any more other than a new phone arriving (or, even more blandly, a new operating system for a phone). We have just put a robot on the surface of another planet *again*, and nobody blinks. The man whose first steps on the Moon (the Moon!)’s recent passing was all-too-briefly noted by most, before returning to celeb gossip. To be honest, the only thing that would raise an eyebrow nowadays would be if the chocolate pudding wasn’t drugged…
So with that in mind, it’s nice to see that the spirit of looking beyond the currently explainable or achievable is kept alive in some quarters. Enter Van Conner, interested Cryptozooloist and Astrophilosopher, and his band VALIS (Vast Active Living Intelligence System, according to Philip K Dick) who continue to look at the world – and beyond – with an intention to find the wonder, strangeness and general otherness when most of the rest of the population are looking increasingly inwards.
The month of May is proving to be a rather expensive one. Not only does it seem to contain the birthdays of almost everyone I seem to know or am related to but there are also some spectacular works of music out this month, which is leaving me somewhat stony broke, but happy.
I have to confess to only a passing acquaintance with Richard Hawley’s work in the past, and most of that is because of an interest in the output of other connected people – his brief cameo during the Soulsavers’ Broken album for one, and the inclusion of the Smoke Fairies pushed me into buying his False Lights From The Land EP which really should have got me to buy into his back catalogue but for whatever reason I have yet to do so. With all this in mind, it was only fair to give this new one a go.