97. FAUST – THE FAUST TAPES (1973) (Guest Contributor: Rolo McGinty)

Rolo McGinty is frontman with the wonderful Woodentops and has making brilliant music since the early 1980s. We invited him along one more time to write about one of his favourite albums.

There were a few low price records out there when I was just getting beyond T.Rex, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple. Roxy Music’s ‘Virginia Plain’ was a marvel. I was stuck between my fathers jazz and crooner stock and my own taste which was growing fast. Pocket money was for LPs, 45s. Therefore, any interesting looking record that didn’t use up the meagre budget was going to make it home. Relics by Pink Floyd was one of those – still an amazing collection and way into UK jamming. Camembert Electrique another full of ideas Virgin cheapy, the Virgin Sampler a double LP with White Noise and Captain Beefheart, again one pound for two LPs. The Faust Tapes was just under 50p, had a dazzling modern art cover by Bridgit Riley – I had no idea who she was – and hours worth of reading on the back, possibly with a magnifying glass. I know now that the collection was off cuts, bits and bobs left over from other projects and small experimental segments, which is exactly what I loved about it instantly. It is packed with extremes. Circular saws, bizarre voices, different languages, irresponsibility in music, then again some beautiful musical moments, lots of tape slowing , stereo malarky , echo, pianos and sax, in and out of time drums and effects that fall into beat, just because they are there. Pioneering production for the time, integrating some of the naive and memorable songs with the atmospheric, all brutally edited into one another. Put it on and leave it on! 

Track One is a good pointer to the journey ahead, piano slowed right down, chopping into a mad loop of voice drums and effects that is only there for a short time before you get the first ‘song’. This opens out into a haunting piano and primitive synth sound which almost sounds like a Pink Floyd Rick Wright composition with an almost Isley Brothers’ lead guitar sitting back in the mix, Swiftly you are into the mad. What is apparently a vocal exercise takes you to some kind of Sadhu mayhem, bang from there to proto-punk, almost Pere Ubu sounding, vocals distorted and repeating with a monologue over the top, disconnected aggressive sounds blended in. Then a brace of fake endings! Back into the song it goes. More sax, this time X-Ray Spex comes to mind. Its over and you find yourself in what it sounds like when somebody’s mobile goes off in their pocket and you can hear them going upstairs. Soon we are into the funky which sounds quite Pop Group 78-79, Bristol sound. With the chainsaw super loud in the mix. It doesn’t last long before we are back into the strange. Reversed slowed tapes almost Bela Bartok, vocals through the echo annoying and funny and speed altered like a nightmare in a monastery. The machines come back, drums ominously rolling away and it doesn’t sound a million miles away from the kind of thing you might hear in Cafe Otto nowadays. The Squeaky Bonk army. Thing is if you were brought up on this album, much experimental electronic music is not as impressive as the grinning nodding artists think it is. You heard it here first. Like now we are in a disconnected singular handclap to the left of fragile silence. Not for long. The saxophones are now sounding like a wolf pack calling across the ravine under the moon. With a deep double bass giving the piece a large dimension, sub bass!
Let’s take a break; two funnies. Two really untalented clueless people who I have met and been friendly with, have something in common. They are quite wealthy, one very much so. Super wealthy. Went and bought himself an amp and a Fender Strat. He had never played before. He asked if I could record him. Not knowing this was all rather new for him I agreed. I ran the tape and he just stroked the strings with no chord shape and neither was it tuned up. A bit like someone wondering if its in tune before, tuning it up. I asked him if he wanted to borrow my tuner but no, he was happy. So I recorded twenty minutes of what must be the most incoherent and lacking in anything guitar I’ve ever heard. Obviously as a musician I thought that was cool. Everybody tries so hard in my world. This had no concept of ‘try’. Later, years later, I was looking for something odd for a track and I used a small amount of that guitar the clown prince had played. It took a while to pinpoint what I was hearing. UH? The snip I used added a Faust Tape element to the piece, ‘Singularity’. I thought “Oh! that really reminds me of Faust I’ll leave it in then!”
Again a good friend with no musical talent and a few beans bought herself a Selmer 6 gorgeous sax, to learn on!! The man in the shop didn’t want to sell it to her. He knew it would be returning soon. It did too. For a few months though the owner wore it most of the day, repeatedly playing the only two notes (plus accidental harmonics) she ever got out of it. A very classy Dexys Midnight Runners sax player and mutual friend tried to teach her a bit, but most of the time would be giving me that ‘ no hope!’ look that is to be inner giggle only. The request came, “could you record me?” I was waiting for it ha ha! So I got my 8 track ready. Yep. the same two mournful notes went onto tape. I had a brainwave. I asked her to just keep going to overdub and overdub and overdub and track and track till we had something, a wall of sax. I had changed tape speeds, all of that, reversed the tape, all of it. Again I had forgotten about Faust but I was thinking, something about this reminds me of…. couldn’t think. The sax went back to the shop. Years after I was looking for ideas for something, I found this cacophony of saxes. This time though, i didn’t think oh i know what that is, I thought it sounded like traffic congestion in New York. Slammed some actual car and lorry horns in and there it was. I also thought “ah! sounds like Faust.” This must have been how they did some of that. Probably on 4 track too. I love those two pieces now. That they are up there with Faust for avant garde, makes me pleased. Plus I know people have used them in their productions.

Ok back to the treasure trove. More ‘untitled’ pieces that have you wondering what did that? I’m listening to something that is not far from the modern, electro-acoustic people. They have college courses to learn how to do stuff like this noise now. Birmingham University, Beast sound system all of that. We are on the deep drone voice that sounds like Heinkels overhead. See how quickly this is moving? That was about 25 seconds before more old school piano, acoustic and well recorded, yet sounding like you and your friend sitting beside each other having a jam. The piece that’s on right after that is awesome. It could almost be Cabaret Voltaire or Einsturzende Neubaten. A flanging electronic loop going round with what sounds like cars going by. It doubles, collapses and fades and a really strong jazz flugelhorn plays over pure chill out. It’s gorgeous. Distorting and clean at the same time, the drums minimal and it used to sound so great at night. Sounds good now. Then comes another of those riffs that fit because they are there. Plop! back into all the saucepans in the kitchen and echo.Tape is being hand manipulated into the echo. So lots of dubby rewinds and reverb shots. Scratchy guitar leads into another of their simplistic almost pop hit numbers. The lyrics are odd and the voices earnest singing them. Its inviting and nothing goes on too long. We get Der Baum next. I have never forgotten this one. Sounds like everybody is singing a different song at once. It’s pure Pere Ubu. It begins to build and some of the German voices begin to get uppity. Just one riff going round. Who needs verse chorus right? All the voices sound cool and German. The effects are Dr Who proper. Which leaves us with one last work of art. Track 26! 50p!! A perfect fall asleep last track. I say that because in the late night I could listen without parental disturbance. I would drop off. A voice would come in loud wake me slightly but I know the arm will rest I have no need to move. Drift..into pretty acoustic guitar and French conversation.

So, The Faust Tapes, an introduction to the European alternative and the German experimental scene that had so much to offer. As a Dr. Who kid it had a direct connection to the techniques of reversing and science fiction echo. it also had rock and roll, electronic sound and an atmosphere so strong you would only listen when the time was right. Listening through to write, even though I’ve not got the vinyl out its on youtube, it sounds fresh and unscratched. Ok, mp3 I know, but I used to listen to this on a dusty needle on a mono Fergusson player as a kid so it sounds pretty new! Mind you music sounded great on that box. There was plenty of bass with the lid down. I didn’t see it as hippy either. I had no idea what they looked like. Kraftwerk perhaps?
I admit I’ve always wanted to do a kind of cut up like The Faust Tapes myself. However, believe it or not, I had a job for a few years as a ‘think tank’ for a music company Boosey and Hawkes, I had to come up with the odd. Sadly a new manager came in who didn’t get odd at all. So after about 5 years of releases it ended. In a way though the job was my chance to avant grade and i definitely leapt into the pool. I made tracks of all descriptions. Dripping water in a drain I found in a wood, that when finished sounded like polar ice cracking, I used environmental sounds and made them unrecognisable and worked to give a distinct visual image, or unplayed playable instruments. I can safely say Faust opened the door for me, made it possible for me to think the unthinkable and steer creativity into the dark and find shape. Search for the timeless.
I went to see Faust not that long ago. 3 or 4 years ago. It was really good, they did play a song from the Faust tapes.

So there you go, 49p of brilliance that sounds more experimental and rough than most of what you get today. One man’s psychedelia is another mans poison right? The Faust (party) Tapes gets away with it. Some moments you will go ‘oh bloody hell’ then something really captivating will happen just as you reach for the door handle.This album has no constraints, having to be radio worthy or commercial. Virgin probably paid little to put it out. The recording was already done. They must of made their money back tenfold. I have two copies as I say. Just in case! (Rolo McGinty)

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96. TEENAGE FANCLUB – A CATHOLIC EDUCATION (1990) / (A) SONGS FROM NORTHERN BRITAIN (1997)

Teenage Fanclub are a Scottish institution. Many of us have grown up with them. TNPC speaks to Gerry Love and selects two albums often unfairly overlooked from an impressive career.

  
A Catholic Education (1990)

The inclusion of Teenage Fanclub in The New Perfect Collection was always an easy decision. Not so easy was narrowing it down to a single choice. Bandwagonesque and Grand Prix tend to get the plaudits, even making some of those Best Albums charts which were a reason for starting this blog. That still left me with 5 albums which were all candidates for inclusion (even Thirteen which Norman Blake recently rated as his least favourite but which includes personal highlights ‘Norman 3’, ‘Gene Clark’ and ‘120 Mins’, classics all). 

But the inclusion of A Catholic Education may not be as obvious a choice. In a lot of ways it is the least Teenage Fanclub sounding album. Its true it is sonically different to the TFC we now know. This is TFC before they were fully formed, recorded before they had played live. A noisier, more raucous confection, less obviously in thrall to Beach Boys/Beatles/Big Star/Byrds/Orange Juice. The sound here is closer to a loose Crazy Horse meets the Stones filtering through the myriad of changes affecting American post punk and hardcore. The early hazy melodicism of R.EM., the fuzzy power of Husker Du, the ear bleeding folk rock of Dinosaur Jr. Most of all I thought of them as a stoned (more Stoned?) Replacements, a similarly Alex Chilton-obsessed band with a reputation for riotous early gigs. 
Formed from the ashes of The Boy Hairdressers, a group was assembled to record an album written by Norman Blake and Raymond McGinley before they had ever played live. Initial recordings made in Glasgow were supplanted by a re-recording of four songs at Peter Hooks studio in Rochdale in the second half of 1989. This is the Fannies before they discovered those daydreaming harmonies, before those jangling chiming guitars. The guitars, for reasons that now seem lost to time are down-tuned two semi-tones, giving them a thicker sludgier sound, a sound they would move away from even as it became more popular in the early nineties. It has a style of guitar playing that had all but gone by the time they recorded Thirteen.
Some will dismiss it as an album overshadowed by one killer song, filled out with instrumentals and two versions of the title track. While true that the heart melting surge of ‘Everything Flows’ is possibly the standout track on the album, and is the only track from the LP still performed live, it fits the flow (ahem) of the album perfectly. Starting each side with an instrumental I always thought was a supremely confident move, ‘Heavy Metal II’ in particular sounding like Crazy Horse jamming on the Pastels’ ‘Ditch The Fool’ and I wouldn’t trade a second of either. The inclusion of both versions of ‘A Catholic Education’ was down to indecision over the best version (version 2 adds a chord and ups the tempo), and manages to sum up a youthful nihilism in about 10 words, played with a suitably ‘Rip This Joint’ looseness. Skill.

For me, however, its the rest of the songs that are the heart of the album. Early live favourite ‘Too Involved’ is a withering attack (“You’re just nothing”) on a slacker. ‘Don’t Need A Drum’ pitches itself somewhere between a shuffle and a boogie, with a lead guitar higher than the vocal. The vocals on the album are generally deep in the mix, unusually for a band with such good singers. their records would rarely be this unbalanced again. Side one closes with ‘Critical Mass’, a bittersweet love song in true Fannies style (“You’re in my heart, but its the feeling that all fell apart”)
‘Eternal Light’ is such sunny sing-a-long tune I wish I knew what the lyrics were so I could join in, and is graced by one of Raymond’s finest guitar solos. At various times ‘Every Picture I Paint’ has been my favourite song on the album, a love song to rival TV Personalities finest. Another of the reasons that A Catholic Education feels different to almost every other TFC album is the lack of Gerry Love songs, and perhaps this is the strongest reason for not including it. Indeed the only writing credit he received is on the scathingly funny album closer ‘Everybody’s Fool’. A friend once called this (not entirely tongue in cheek) our generations ‘You’re So Vain’. Whether or not it is about a specific person or not, I’m sure most people will have come across someone like this at one time or another. It dishes out some brilliant Glaswegian sarcasm, before building to a delightfully dismissive sweary chorus. They always seem to know when best to deploy the F-bomb (‘Verisimilitude’, ‘Some People Try To Fuck With You’)

I admit that some of my affection for this album is tied up in nostalgia for the period it was released. I saw them at (I think) their second gig supporting Primal Scream at the Glasgow Tech. They seemed to crop up regularly on support slots around that time and they were always a joy to behold. But that does not take away from this record. They would release better collections of songs in the future, their new album has all the makings of a masterpiece. But whenever I haven’t listed to them in a while, A Catholic Education is always the first one that I reach for, and it invariably leads me to working my way through the entire catalogue. It has been 10 albums and 26 years since A Catholic Education was released. Listening to it now, the distance from there to Here doesn’t seem so far. (TT)

Gerry Speaks…

The guitars are all down tuned a whole tone (I think) for this album. Was that a nod to The Velvet Underground/Sonic Youth, or was it the result of experimentation that worked for these songs? 
“Looking back, I don’t actually know why the guitars were tuned down two semitones. I asked Norman and Raymond the other day and they can’t remember exactly why. Our only guess is that there might have been a change of key in a couple of the songs, if the original key was proving a more difficult range to sing, and tuning down would allow the chords to be played in the original shapes; having the same open strings ring out in the same way instead of placing a capo higher up the neck or trying to find a jazzier way of playing it and losing the open strings. Tuning down definitely made for a more resonant sludgy sound, especially on open strings, and maybe they just decided to record everything that way instead of tuning up then tuning down. There was probably no real reason why the bass should have been tuned down too but I had just joined the group and I just did what they did, I wasn’t going to rock the boat.”
I read that the band were not happy with the initial recordings made in Glasgow and it was re-recorded in Rochdale. Does the album include recordings from both sessions?
“The first session was recorded in Pet Sounds, Maryhill, with Francis Macdonald on drums. In the following months, Brendan O’Hare joined the group and the decision was made to re-record four of the songs which we thought could be improved, maybe the tempos were slightly wrong or maybe we decided to try a different feel. We recorded the four songs and then mixed the entire album at Suite 16 in Rochdale – but i could be wrong, it’s all a bit blurry, maybe mixes from Maryhill made the final cut, but I think it was all Suite 16. The album contains the four songs recorded with Brendan and seven songs from the Maryhill session, with Francis. The song ‘A Catholic Education’ appears twice as we couldn’t decide which one was best.”
Was anything recorded at the time not used?
“No, everything was used. The whole point of the session was to record an album that Norman and Raymond had written. We hadn’t played live at this point, we weren’t really a band as such, we were a means to an end. We didn’t even have a name when we first turned up in Maryhill. The first album was the absolute beginning of the band; apart from a few rehearsals, there was nothing before that.”
You, Norman and Raymond are all credited with writing ‘Everybody’s Fool’. Was it written with someone specific in mind? (someone recently called this our generation’s ‘You’re So Vain’).
“I have to say I don’t know if the song was about anyone in particular but we all knew characters who tried too hard to be cool, who would try to put you in your place, and I always regarded the song as a counter to that type of character. As far as I remember, this was the only lyric that Norman didn’t have finished. He may have had a few lines here and there and I remember us sitting about suggesting possible rhymes to finish off the verses, but It’s all a bit hazy. It was predominantly Norman’s song, myself and Raymond might have come up with a line each and so we shouldn’t really have had any significant songwriting credit.”
Had you played in any bands prior to TFC?
I played bass guitar in a live incarnation of Joe McAlinden’s Groovy Little Numbers. I’d messed about with pals before that but nothing had ever come of it. The Groovy Little Numbers was the first time I had ever played bass and the first time I had ever played live on a stage. I knew Joe and Catherine from school, and I knew a couple of the other guys in the band, including Francis Macdonald. They were a nice bunch of people, with a few patter merchants – it was a good laugh.”
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  (A) Songs From Northern Britain (1997)

If they have stayed true to that cautionary maxim not to become too big for their boots, then Teenage Fanclub have done so virtually unselfconsciously. In itself, commercial success was never something they strove to achieve. If it came along, then sure it would be welcomed; if not, then too bad. It would be futile, dishonest, to chase after it. It is that very groundedness as human beings – the stubbornly democratic creative principle within, the unassuming personalities outwith – which is a turn off for some. This is rock’n’roll after all. Where’s the glam, the swagger, the smashed up hotel rooms, the foul mouthed tirades? 
It’s a rhetorical question of course. Cliched rock’n’roll behaviour was never really their thing. Instead, they excel at making brilliant records. Their collective artistic output during the ’90s compares favourably with any other band I can think of. Usually however, it is Bandwagonesque and Grand Prix which battle it out for the accolade of best album, but our second Fannies’ pick is Songs From Northern Britain, coincidentally the band’s highest charting release (#3, August 1997).

“Here is a sunrise/ain’t that enough?/True as a clear sky/ain’t that enough?”

Sometimes chastised as the blander, ‘mature’ album, a pale regression following the dazzling cocksureness of Grand Prix, it was a record that saw a conscious shift in approach. Gerry Love explains: “I think we decided, after making the Have Lost It EP, that we may as well do our own thing from then on, please ourselves and just follow our own instincts…we had done noisier stuff but we didn’t want to get stuck there, we were into all sorts of music and I guess we wanted to express ourselves in a slightly different manner.”
And the results were fresher than a fridge full of fruit smoothies. Blake, recently married and a new father, was in fine optimistic fettle on ‘I Don’t Want Control Of You’ an ethical, nay equitable, adult love song with majestic group harmonising, and is at his yearning poetic best on ‘Planets’ a romantic ode to seeking out nature’s solitude, which as well as conjuring images of chilly autumnal evenings in the West Highlands, is also one of three songs to experiment with the Mini Moog the band had acquired relatively inexpensively in Boston six years earlier. “I guess we used it because we had it there in the studio, but also the musical territory of that album provided a perfect context” recalls Love. “[It] sat really well amongst the strings in the song ‘Planets’, it was Norman’s idea to arrange it that way…it provided a good counter-texture to the more scratchy rhythmic elements.” The string accompaniment was added at Abbey Road.

Raymond sounds equally ‘loved up’ hitting peak form on what I understand to have been the last song recorded for the album, ‘Can’t Feel My Soul’. A stinging lead intensified by some seriously twisted whammy-bar pummelling recalls the axe sound on those early fuzzmungous Buffalo Springfield records. Meanwhile the ghost of ‘Eight Miles High’ wanders the corridors of his equally splendid ‘Your Love Is The Place Where I Come From’.  
Gerry’s Zuma-flavoured desert foraging on ‘Mount Everest’ sounds bruising, possibly even rather solemn, whereas his ‘Take The Long Way Round’ and in particular ‘Ain’t That Enough’ are unashamedly ebullient slices of pure pop, as indebted to The Archies or The Monkees as to Big Star and The Byrds.
I have always found the lyrics to the closer, Gerry’s ‘Speed Of Light’, to be a little cryptic. If they communicate positivity, still I’ve struggled to deconstruct them. Perhaps it’s pointless to try – I suppose we construct our own meanings from our favourite songs – but under minimal duress, their intrepid author was happy to explain (spoiler alert*): “Firstly I need to describe the context: I was in a marijuana phase at the time, we were on the verge of a new century and I guess I was trying to write some type of futuristic pop song. It’s not a short story or a cohesive narrative in the traditional sense, it’s more like a slide show of related images…Lyrically, I would classify it as an advice song. I’m from a big family and I have a lot of younger brothers and sisters, and at that time a couple of them were still teenagers. It wasn’t intended as an instruction manual for them, or for anyone for that matter, it was only intended as a vehicle for the melody, under the guise of bubblegum philosophy. It’s certainly no big hitter, nothing there that I’m particularly proud of. I was just looking for a lyrical possibility, a means to an end, and this was it, this was the breakthrough. In the first verse, “ Drive an easy road, if you’re looking for direction”, “Take an easy load, all you need is information” – pretty straightforward, be smart and value knowledge over materialism. “Only you and me add up” – together we’re stronger. “The speed of light and stars have planned it” – it’s simply a law of the universe, how it is and how it will always be. Second verse “Need a changing face when the wind around is blowing” – A clunky way of saying if the wind changes direction your face will stay like that, which was the type of advice I received when I was a teenager, which I would guess translates as roll with the punches and don’t get too hung up. “Waste in space, if you’re looking for persuasion, everything you need can grow” – back up in outer space, I can see space junk and fruitless searches for meaningful life and I’m saying forget that – all we need is right here on earth. And there you have it, ‘Speed of Light’, a lyrical deconstruction twenty years later!”
Rather than being a watered down version of what came before, here we see our four friends finally finding their places in a world of adult responsibility. Through their lens, this grown up graduation was not as unwelcome as it is for many. Liberated from the burden of having to make any kind of statement, musically or politically, they simply let their own optimism and enthusiasm spill over naturally into what I would regard as their finest set of songs. It’s more them than Bandwagonesque (indisputably marvellous but sooooo Big Star) and the songs, performances and production (if not the volume) are ratched up a notch or two from Grand Prix. It’s unfairly maligned and is deserving of greater acclaim. I often think of it as their Notorious Byrd Bros, their Loaded. With characteristic understatement Love recalls the album fondly. “I think we achieved good results everywhere, everything sounded really nice, we were working with good equipment and good people.” TFC have the knack of making everything sound effortlessly joyful and uncomplicated. Northern Britain is proud of you. (JJ)

(*Gerry’s emphasis)

95. ATLAS SOUND – LOGOS (2009)

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Bradford Cox often seems completely baked. When he sings, it sounds like he’s sucking a tin of spaghetti hoops through his front teeth. He remains an enigma: interviews are relatively rare and he doesn’t really do social media (his blog seemed to dry up around three years ago). His band Deerhunter are indie big hitters: prolific, consistently remarkable. His solo project Atlas Sound has remained in the band’s shadow, despite yielding three fine albums, the second of which, Logos, was released during a genuinely purple patch of creativity, sandwiched between Deerhunter’s two best albums Microcastle/Weird Era and Halcyon Digest. And I think it could very well be the best thing Cox has ever done.

The sleeve, a bleached flashlight image of a skeletal torso turned inside out must surely be Cox? He suffers from Marfan Syndrome – but here it looks as if someone has reached in and pulled his heart from his chest. It can sound that way too at times. Cox plays around with different styles and genres. He is clearly someone who lives and breathes music. His songs are readily identifiable – drifting shells of wasted reverie with ghostly voices (‘The Light That Failed’, ‘An Orchid’…) irresistibly infectious slices of dislocated rhythmic pop (‘Shelia’, ‘Logos’, ‘Quick Canal’ – a lengthy motorik thang featuring Letitia Sadler), malformed garage sludge (‘Kid Klimax’), cryptic psych-collages full of electro-magnetic signals (‘Washington School’) and retro doo-wop’n’roll delivered by Cox like a faded angel through a couloir of cracked reverb (‘My Halo’).

And then there’s ‘Walkabout’ the album’s showpiece, made in collaboration with Noah Lennox  – a genius take on The Dovers’ obscure 1965 garage track ‘What Am I Going To Do?’ Mr. Panda Bear, as ever, sounds like he’s singing underwater, but like everything else on here the guiding hand is Cox’s. Ecce homo. Bradford Cox is the man and Logos his eternal word. (JJ)