98. GYRATE – PYLON (1980)


One point to clear up and get out of the way immediately – Pylon are not a footnote in someone else’s story. Sure, their fellow Athenians REM covered their 1981 single Crazy – but it was a devout act of homage to a band without whose influence and tutelage they might never have crawled from the South. In fact, Peter Buck felt driven to despair the first time he heard it, so far did he (wrongly) feel it was beyond his own band’s reach. This is Pylon’s story.

They emerged at the dawn of the ’80s, a time of mystery and wonder, when the reviews and releases pages of the NME and Sounds were filled with names which fascinated but which, short of turning up on one of about three reliable radio programmes, would remain unattainable and undiscoverable. Even if they appeared in a record shop, to gamble pocket money away on a potential  disappointment was an overambitious folly and so there would be a lengthy wait before I would discover the truth behind Half Japanese, Tin Huey, the Bush Tetras – and Pylon, who were, for purely alphabetical and alliterative reasons, filed in my mind alongside Pyrolator.

Geographically, they were very much a Southern band – singer Vanessa Briscoe and drummer Curtis Crowe, both native Georgians, came together with Virginia-born, Georgia-based bassist Michael Lachowski and the late Floridian guitarist Randy Bewley in Athens, Georgia’s university town which was already a more invigorating and challenging musical proposition than some entire states. Georgia had previously offered vast riches – James Brown,  Little Richard, Ray Charles, Otis Redding – but the common ground Pylon and their peers had with them appeared to amount to naught and Pylon less than most. It seemed like Rothko next to Grant Wood, ee cummings next to Walt Whitman.

Or so it seemed. In fact  the band themselves have revealed to TNPC that the soul, country and blues which surrounded them all seeped in in some form. Not least the influence of Brown’s arid, frantic funk of the late ’60s and early ’70s, which pulsed far, notably at the end of the ’70s to Talking Heads and James Chance in New York and to Gang of Four and the Pop Group in the UK. Pylon closed this particularly spiny loop with their terse and quite thrilling interpretation. And while they were contorting rock into quixotic new shapes, they were still playing a form of edge-of-the-seat rock and roll and you can definitely trace a line back through to those ripest peaches.

One of the first things you notice about Gyrate, from the earliest seconds of opener Volume, is how far Crowe’s  bass drum is shunted to the foreground. It remains a leitmotif throughout the album; it’s blunt force but not bludgeoning, a thing of knockout blows but not black eyes – the kiss of the Louisville Lip. It hunts in a pair with Lachowski’s bass, which declaims and proclaims as eloquently as the same instruments in the hands of Hook, Weymouth or Wobble, while Bewley’s guitar doesn’t so much jangle as oscillate and, yes, gyrate like a kinetic sculpture in a gale. And Briscoe is a proudly abrasive singer, less in rage than in exultant celebration of the fizzing commotion she describes and surfs upon.

So many moments rush through, like snapshots of an unforgettable holiday. Feast On My Heart, with its gleeful riff, deliriously seesawing bridge and wall-embracing climax, is what college radio was invented for. Precaution shares a plot of land with the Cramps’ contemporary Sunglasses After Dark (and therefore also Link Wray’s Fat Back) but races well ahead into the new decade, running into the Fall at the other end. Human Body is lighter, poppier almost, but is still several time zones away from anything that could be described as commercial. Danger uses every one of its 339 seconds to justify its title with deep echo, screams and slide guitar that slips along like a train through 4am silence. Driving School also cleaves the calm with what initially sounds like the intrusion of an alarm clock but, as it envelops the song, takes on the timbre of a member of Kraftwerk’s choir or even a heavily processed Jew’s harp (Pylon have revealed the source to be a TV set – see Q &  A), all to a breathless sequence of postcards from behind the wheel (“Caution, red light, bus stop, turn right/Reverse, forward, neutral, low gear”).

Like much of Gyrate, Driving School’s lyrics are stacatto, almost cut-up, but one theme which does push itself forward is a desire for purpose. Working Is Not A Problem goes beyond the commonplace dead end job,  sticking-it-to-the-man posturing and locates in it a drive to maintain a goal where there seem to be none (“Putting things in boxes/I look at them and pack them”) while Read A Book similarly transcends the notion of learning more from books than TV with the urgent exhortation “Don’t be afraid.” It may have on occasion been  a source of mirth within the band but the intent is plainly there – nothing so trite as Follow Your Dreams but at least make some kind of mark.

A second album, Chomp, was at least as barbed and spidery as Gyrate. I could just as easily have chosen it but Gyrate edges it on the shock of the new test. Since then, they’ve continued to function, despite the sudden and shocking death of Randy Bewley 2009, and can currently be seen under the banner of Pylon Reenactment Society. The ripples from their boulder spread as far as Throwing Muses, Pavement and Sleater-Kinney – as far detached from the rock ‘n’ roll silliness they were born into as from the hipster whimsy that prevails today. Gyrate will make your head spin. (PG).

Q & A – Vanessa Briscoe Hay and Michael Lachowski

To an outsider, the music of Pylon appears to bear little relation to the musical heritage of the South in general and Georgia in particular. Received wisdom, rightly or wrongly, perceives Athens as an enclave apart from Georgia but to what extent has the state shaped Pylon’s sound?

VBH: I think being of the time and place that Athens, GA was at the end of the 1970s contributed to who we were and how the sound of the band progressed.  There were influences from Georgia and the South that were in the background for me personally. Music from artists like Georgian James Brown and the proximity to Atlanta and the musical offerings there shaped a lot of my early interest in music. Blues, jazz, rock and funk were just a short drive away and on the radio. My parents were super interested in country music and I would be remiss if I didn’t credit early exposure to female artists like the Carter family and Patsy Cline with the innate knowledge that women could be equal to any man. But, the music of Pylon was tremendously influenced by music not on the Georgia family tree. The new music of our college years made a tremendous impression which was mostly coming from elsewhere — places like England, Germany and New York. We shared and listened to records at parties. If we liked the record, we might keep flipping it over and dance to it.

The bass drum sound on Gyrate is extraordinary. Was it a conscious decision to have it as powerful and prominent as it is?

ML: Ha! We just wanted Curtis’ drums to be kick ass on the record just like they were live — but that’s impossible. It sounds like the drums are in balance to me, maybe I’m just used to his style. I hear a clamped-down echo on the snare, probably our way of trying to fatten it up without just turning it up more in the mix; that’s what really comes forward in the mix to me. Curtis was a barely controllable power house and he saved our band from being a nerdier sound experiment.

How was the buzzing sound on Driving School achieved? I love it but I’ve never been able to pin it down.

ML: That’s made by interference from a cathode ray TV screen, and it is regulated by adjusting the vertical hold on the screen to make sounds that “rev up” and down — which sounded a little bit like car engine sounds, so we used it on Driving School. (The vertical hold control disappeared from TV’s long before the cathode ray screen did.) This was discovered by accident; Randy and I used to practice in our apartment (way before we had the rest of the band members), and we’d have my old black and white TV playing just for its industrial aesthetic — because in Athens we could barely pick up any TV channels over the antenna since all but one of them was coming from Atlanta which is over 100 kilometers away — and it would just display active static with shifting bands of grays and the occasional glimpse of an image. At one point I leaned close to the TV while adjusting the stereo or turning on our tape recorder, and we heard the buzz. I played with the controls until we found we could change the sound. We went through some considerable effort to bring a TV with us for our live shows, sometimes it was more trouble than it was worth — but people were always fascinated when that sound was created “somehow or another” live onstage with me fiddling around behind a television.

On songs like Read A Book and Working Is No Problem, there seems to be a real ardour for purpose and fulfilment. Did you feel this was something lacking in your peers, particularly compared with the nihilism of a good deal of US and UK punk?

VBH: I can only speak for myself and not point a finger at what was lacking in others. These two songs came out of a genuine feeling that I had that it was okay to read, to work, to be yourself. I came from people who worked very hard and took education seriously and who didn’t have a whole lot of respect for having others who had never worked telling them what they should think or do.  Fulfillment for me has it’s roots in finishing the job, doing what I say I am going to do. There is nothing more satisfying than using creativity and knowledge to come up with solutions to complete a project. That said, Read a Book can be a very silly song. The band sang it to me at lunch one day and embarrassed the crap out of me.

ML: Ha ha, I’d love to be reminded of how we came to be singing Read a Book to you in a restaurant, Vanessa! Working Is No Problem is one of my favorite Pylon songs, and it is my favorite for the lyrics — I always loved the composition of those words and the revealing earnestness behind them. Vanessa wrote the lyrics to both of those songs. Pylon’s lyrics ranged from artsy to silly to earnest, but we always meant what was said and took our fun seriously.


Garage Punk, Greatest Records, Uncategorized

93. TEN NORTHERN SOUL GEMS (Guest Contributor: Stuart Cosgrove)

Northern Soul, Rhythm & Blues, Soul, Uncategorized

 One of the inevitable obstacles when trying to prescribe the perfect record collection is that some musical genres are undoubtedly better represented on formats other than the LP, most notably Northern Soul. In order to rectify this situation, TNPC is delighted to welcome Stuart Cosgrove, world renowned authority on the subject and author of the fantastic Young Soul Rebels who has given us his lowdown on ten classics guaranteed to fill the floor at any NS all-nighter.

Ten of The Best


“There is no such thing as a Northern Soul Top Ten, as it’s all in the eye of the beholder: era, styles and all-night clubs. But I like these ones from across the genre.”

‘I Spy for the FBI’ – Luther Ingram (Smash, 1965)  – The original version of an all time classic, more gentle that Jamo Thomas’s more famous version.

‘Agent 00 Soul’ – Edwin Starr (Ric-Tic, 1965) – A great special agent soul record, classic mid-sixties Motown.

‘Bari Track’ – Doni Burdick (Sound Impression, 1967) – For me the best Detroit instrumental of the lot – immense!

‘I Miss My Baby’ – Rose Batiste  (Revilot, 1966) – And if you prefer it with great soulful vocals, then here it is…

‘My World is On Fire’ – Jimmy Mack (Palmer, 1967) – Hectic riot record from Detroit in 1967. Big Wigan all nighter sound.

‘Who’s Makin Love’ Johnnie Taylor  (Stax, 1968) – Memphis rollicking dancer and illicit sex all in 3 minutes.

‘Seven Day Lover’ – James Fountain (Peachtree, 1970) – An all time favourite – modern funky northern and still a big dance-floor hit.

‘Who Will Do Your Running Now’ – Marvin Smith (Mayfield, 1969) – Chicago crossover classic.

‘I Want To Wrap you in My Arms’ – The Pro-Fascination (MOT, undated) – A New Orleans wedding band still making rare soul well into the modern day.

Melvin Brown and James Mathews – ‘Love’s Stormy Weather’ (Philmore Sound, 1976) – Love duets like Marvin and Tammi are usually male-female; this is the best all male duet I’ve heard.

(Stuart Cosgrove, Author Young Soul Rebels & Detroit ‘67)



The big bang, the sound of medieval voices, the fate of the dinosaurs – unfathomable mysteries all. No one came any closer to unravelling the late Ivor Cutler’s brilliant mind – I once had a shot myself but more of that later.
Whatever label might have been pinned to him  – singer, writer, humourist – none was appropriate. He was all of these things, none of them, more than any of them. It would, for instance, do him a screaming, simplistic disservice to peg him solely as a comedian – the old saw around comedy records is that they don’t bear repeated listens but this, of course, depends entirely on the strength of the material; it was the laugh-out-loud (NO acronyms here) stuff which reeled me into Ivor Cutler’s world on the eve of my teens and it retains its potency every time.
But the layers and nuances later became more and more apparent. There was bewilderment, dread, folly, sordidity, resentment and rage – loads of rage. The father and son trapped in a pulverisingly repetitive diet in Gruts For Tea are in as mutually ruinous a relationship as Albert and Harold Steptoe; the unfortunate bearer of The Curse of smelling like the kitchen sink is shunned even by the Friendless Society, and the stern environment of Life In A Scotch Sitting Room is claustrophobic and, on occasion, simply terrifying.
The names of Beckett and Kafka are frequently evoked when this aspect of Mr Cutler (as he preferred to be called) is explored, with some justification, but he actually sits at a midpoint between them and PG Wodehouse; they rarely admitted any but the briefest shafts of light but Wodehouse was incapable of being sombre; one of his finest creations was Roderick Spode, a thinly-veiled Oswald Moseley spoof in whom fascism was summarily and thoroughly satirised by the simple expedient of being made utterly ridiculous.
His genuinely unique vision went a long way towards his equally unique status of being embraced by the more leftfield tendency of the pop world while, as a proud and long-standing member of the Noise Abatement Society, having little in common with it. His late ’50s/early 60s broadcasts on the BBC Home Service – the forerunner of Radio 4 – made youthful Beatle ears prick up in much the same way as the Goons, leading to his biggest exposure in Magical Mystery Tour, appearing as Buster Bloodvessel in the film in which the world’s most beloved pop stars bemused their audience like never before. The circle was completed the same year when his Ludo album was produced by George Martin, whose Goons work had attracted the Beatles to sharing a studio with him.
In the ’70s, Ivor stood incongruously yet fittingly alongside Gong, Henry Cow and Hatfield and the North, in the ’80s with the Smiths, the Fall and the Woodentops at Rough Trade – and Robert Wyatt at both, appearing on Wyatt’s masterpiece Rock Bottom and having (Go And Sit Upon The) Grass covered by him. All of which prompted John Walters to ask in 1983: “Are you surprised to find yourself – once again – groovy?” The characteristically deadpan reply: “I suppose I must always have been groovy,” the inverted commas so pronounced they needed no spelling out, certainly not with synchronised middle and index fingers.
The genius – I don’t use the word lightly – of Ivor Cutler was to locate acute humour even in the most desperate situations – the existential despair of a saucer realising it’s a saucer, the  vengeance of a waiter whose feet have been sacrified for a diner’s platter. Not for nothing did a manic cackle become one of the Cutler trademarks.
That  cackle isn’t to be heard on Jammy Smears but pretty much every other signifier of the Cutler genius is there. Lest I’ve made it all sound too bleak, there’s plenty that may not be out-and-out wacky but is out-and-out funny and also has a great deal of warmth. When introducing people to Ivor Cutler – a selfless act of real generosity – I recommend you start with Big Jim. A desperate plea from a drowning man goes unheeded because his beguiling voice is too much of a distraction. Then move on to Lemon Flower, a devastating account of lemon juice’s destructive acidic powers which was my party piece for more years than was sensible. Choose either of the episodes from Life In A Scotch Sitting Room, an irritation-free soap opera where a walk in the country fails to deliver the slightest enlightenment on nature and the brain-nurturing power of a diet of herring is tested by a highly singular curriculum.
Ivor had himself previously been a teacher but chafed against a system which required – and would continue to do so until the early 1980s – the brutal administration of corporal punishment; even teaching at Summerhill, the ‘free’ school renowned for giving adults and children equal status, constrained him. What educational system could accommodate a febrile imagination capable of producing both the terse, stern fable of The Turn and the splendidly silly A Wooden Tree?

Beyond his familiar, if unlikely, place as a Peel and Kershaw fixture, I loved seeing Ivor Cutler appear in unexpected places – reciting Gruts For Tea on The Innes Book Of Records on early evening BBC Two (itself an improbable slot for former Bonzo Neil Innes), on flyers for ‘Teatime Special’ readings which I saw being delivered door to door by someone scarcely any older than my 12 years (he dropped one and I grabbed it for myself), in an anthology of nonsense, where How To Make A Friend and The False God nuzzled alongside entries by Spike Milligan and Edward Lear – and in Who’s Who, where he rubbed shoulders with nobility, captains of industry, High Court judges and senior politicians. A contact address was listed – and, in January 1983 , I boldly took the chance to send him a card for his 60th birthday.
A reply came, written on a shopping list and generously accompanied by a pack of stickers which, if swapped with Eno’s Oblique Strategies, could produce intriguing results, festooned as they were with sustaining messages such as “oh you lovely postman!” and “funny smell.” Another sticker on the envelope proclaimed optimistically: “Esperanto is catching on.” It still hasn’t quite stuck but could we give it a shot and see if it works? A postcard had him perched on his basket-bearing pushbike and a speech bubble in that childlike scrawl so familiar from his record sleeves informed me he was off to join Hell’s Angels, whose chains would wilt when faced with the might of the Glasgow Dreamer. All a warm and generous gesture he was under no obligation to make, even overlooking my adolescent impudence in addressing him by his first name and signing off with the description I had offered of him – “a sort of hero.” Not wishing to be a burden to a brilliant mind , I didn’t send another card – to my lasting regret.
In my card, I had lamented that, along with one of my TNPC colleagues, I was a solitary Cutlerite but was assured  I wasn’t alone – we could meet many kindred spirits at a CND rally. Sure enough, I’d come across like-minded souls as the years passed and, following Ivor’s death in 2006, at the age of 83, two motions of tribute were tabled at the Scottish Parliament, garnering between them the signatures of more than 40 MSPs from all parties, some of wouldn’t be seen within a very long range of an anti-nuclear demo.
There have been assorted covers – by Jim O’Rourke, Roddy Frame (who loosely adapted Everybody Got, a disquieting meditation on taboos from the album under discussion) and, most recently, Yorkston/Thorne/Khan. All sincere, affectionate and serviceable homages – but none in that inimitable, bottomlessly lugubrious voice. And uniquely so far among our TNPC choices, it genuinely is all about the words. There’s a range of styles on offer – boogie-woogie on Bicarbonate Of Chicken, Eastern European folk on Rubber Toy (a nod to Ivor’s Hungarian roots – his family is said to have arrived in Britain with the name Kussner) and, on the Scotch Sitting Room episodes, the skirl of bagpipes imitated on the harmonium, an instrument he did as much to proselytise as Nico –  but these are  very much supporting, the canvas on which pictures of wit and acuity are painted. For more illustrations, see the smudged and freckled works in Ivor’s books by sometime Private Eye cartoonist Martin Honeysett – all the rage, fear, warmth and, yes, absurdity of the works is there.
Speaking of supporting, a quick mention of guest artist Phyllis April King, who strews Jammy Smears with wondering sketches of nature, alongside Dust, which delivers a sinister punchline to its reflection on everyone’s least favourite houseguest, and The Wasted Call, where an argument over answering the phone ends up probing far deeper questions.
In his NME review of Ivor’s 1983 album Privilege, David Quantick offered no quotes “because I do not wish to spoil it for you.” I’ve endeavoured to do the same here with Jammy Smears and the entire Cutler oeuvre- and anyway, its brilliance still leaves me tongue-tied.  Hear the lot for yourself – privilege is the word all right (PG).

58. MICHAEL JON FINK – I HEAR IT IN THE RAIN (2001) – Guest Contributor: Alasdair MacLean (The Clientele)

Neo-Classical, Uncategorized

I sometimes dream I’ve been given a chance to make a feature film. It’s a free-form adaptation of the children’s book ‘The Dark is Rising’ by Susan Cooper, nothing like the horrible Hollywood treatment it got in 2007. Maybe the film will run for days – maybe it will adapt only one image or element in the story and be over in minutes, but the opening credits always show a bus in South London, early winter, grinding to a halt at a terminus. The shadows between the bus and the wall, the movement of birds on the trees, briefly form the outline of a face, something gliding, fugitive, almost unnoticed, through the world. The whole point of representing ‘the dark’ –the supernatural, shapeshifting force described in the book- would be to depict it as a part of other, everyday things. Something briefly glimpsed in the corner of the eye in a shopping mall, rather than an obvious phantasm.

Michael Jon Fink’s ‘I Hear it in the Rain’ is always the soundtrack to this film. The ninth track, ‘Living to be Hunted by the Moon’ would play as the camera panned to a wall of trees at the edge of a field, fog slowly gathering and moving outwards over nineteen long minutes to besiege a house. ‘Echo’, the fourth: the movement of undulating river water as lost objects slip away under the waves. I still see these scenes when I listen to the record. Maybe they come from the record itself.

‘I Hear it in the Rain’ is a collection of spare and beautiful instrumental pieces recorded between 1986 and 1997 by classically trained musicians in California. Instruments used are celesta, piano, glass guitar (whatever this actually is, it does sound like a guitar made of glass), clarinet, samples, electric bass and percussion. It was released on the Cold Blue Music label in 2001.

Around the time it came out I was bored of the same old guitar bands and trying out other things I’d meant to get round to hearing one day: one CD each of Japanese noise, musique concrete, skronky jazz, dub, Detroit techno. Rough Trade Shop stuff. Officially, ‘I Hear it in the Rain’ falls into the ‘post-minimalist’ category. No, me neither. Amazon bafflingly lists it as ‘orchestral jazz.’ ‘Ambient’ doesn’t work – it’s too tightly wound, focussed and ominous. It perhaps shares some of the otherworldly mood of Alice Coltrane’s ecstatic, spiritual jazz, but is way less swaggering and full of itself. The titles of the tracks probably describe it best – it really is like music you would hear inside the rain: pieces called Passing, Mode, Fragment, Echo, and Epitaph.

I first saw it mentioned in a roundup of new releases on http://www.tangents.co.uk, described as:

“patinas of notes, near and far, heard and half-heard. It’s an astonishing, entrancing album, careful and considered, yet never too precious or conceited”.

I ordered the CD after reading that sentence.

When it arrived it had that odd, magical attribute of feeling like something I’d always been looking for, but hadn’t known I was.

As teenagers, we used to listen very closely to ‘The Pictorial Jackson Review’ by Felt. My friends and I admired the elegance and feeling for space and composition on that record; the way that side A contained pop songs and side B only spacey, mysterious instrumentals. The fact that the two types of music could coincide naturally on the same record was incredibly inspiring to us. They were different but united by the same austere elegance. I could suddenly see a link between my classical guitar training and the pop music I loved. ‘I Hear it in the Rain’ brought me back to that lightbulb moment; abstract music within my grasp again.

Years later, a friend asked me to make a soundtrack for an art installation he was putting together. I recorded the trees around Epping Forest and then the sound of a harp’s strings being vibrated by the wind, and combined them, edited them into waves of sound which ebbed and flowed for twenty minutes with the rhythm of air moving through the woods. It was an attempt to get on the same spectrum as ‘I Hear it in the Rain’. Unhurried, and at the same time bringing in something disturbing – some indefinable extra voice which came from outside, something from the corner of the eye (or ear). A new kind of music, at least for me.
And one which I have still not worked out how to combine with pop songs. I haven’t listened to ‘the Pictorial Jackson Review’ in years, it’s done its job for me and I’ve moved on. A lot of game-changing, transformative records eventually get worn out in that way. But I still listen to ‘I Hear it in the Rain’ and it still opens up new possibilities in sound. (Alasdair MacLean)

Click here for a link to our feature on The Clientele’s magnificent Suburban Light compilation:



Indie / Alternative, Rock Music, Uncategorized

As a comparatively unloved record in the discography of a comparatively unregarded band, Do The Collapse is in something of a double bind. For a band who had earned renown for unvarnished, elliptical, sawn-off songs, being produced by RicOcasekoftheCars, pedlar of incorrigibly MTV fodder, seemed imponderable and impardonable to some, like Lester Bangs agreeing to do a column for the Saturday Evening Post, particularly following the departure of deputy chief songwriter Tobin Sprout.
The sheer prolificacy of GBV and their penchant for brevity  meant they were not immediately packageable but their irresistible way with a melody offered a chink of light to the mainstream – but it doesn’t take much for sellout to be entered on the charge sheet. Furthermore, selling out can be highly relative – Can were accused of it after they joined Virgin, even though they were still capable of breaches of the peace like Unfinished and Animal Waves. Some considered The Fall to have become a pop band in the years when Brix was chief song officer but a world in which Lay Of The Land and US ’80s/90s are pop songs is one which does qualify as wonderful and frightening. And hadn’t Ocasek, two decades earlier, applied a gloss to Suicide’s second album which made it superficially more accessible than their peerless debut but, on closer inspection, retained most of its panic, tension and threat intact?
It’s apt to mention the Fall when discussing GBV, as the simplistic equation I’ve been known to offer for them is “music by Paul Westerberg, lyrics by Mark E Smith.” Robert Pollard’s lyrics and titles devour and defile language in a similar manner to Mark E Smith’s, although it’s his rueful delivery that nudges him in the direction of Westerberg – in fact, the trajectory to Do The Collapse’s measured disarray from, say, the tunefully ragged 1994 EP Clown Prince Of The Menthol Trailer, runs parallel to the path the Replacements staggered along from Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash to All Shook Down.
I purchased Do The Collapse on a whim a few weeks after its 1999 release, reasoning that, while I’d always been impressed and intrigued by GBV, apart from Clown Prince I owned nothing by them and a new album would be a sensible place to start. The years seem to have hardened the cognoscenti consensus that Bee Thousand (which enjoys the accolade of being the subject of a volume in the Thirty Three and A Third book series) or Alien Lanes are the GBV albums against which all others are measured. I’m open to persuasion on this but they were – and remain – less familiar than I’d prefer them to be and I was able to approach Do The Collapse on its own terms.

About two and a half (more of this in a moment) of the songs could have been ripe for MTV mutilation and were within the grasp of Virgin (now Absolute) Radio’s scaly fingers and shrivelled, shrunken playlist but, mercifully, they escaped and I knew this was a far richer, more lasting and more rewarding proposition than flavourless, dehydrated contemporaries (not peers) like Fountains of Wayne or Semisonic.
The two whole songs, though, did reach, perhaps unwitting, wide audiences by other means. Opener Teenage FBI, robotically limbed and with rare lyrical directness, found its way on to the Buffy The Vampire Slayer album (though not, as I understand, the programme itself). The thrust and melody resonate with the driven-in line “Someone tell me why,” though behind the youthful doubt of the phrase, part of me also hears the teacher that Pollard remained for years after forming GBV demanding an explanation for undelivered homework – a brilliantly baffling duality.
The other most radio-ready song, Hold On Hope, would be easy to characterise as a just-add-water Everybody Hurts, a calculatedly poignant work designed to overlay emotionally manipulative montages in reality shows and dramas alike. Except that, firstly, even after two decades of grievous misuse, Everybody Hurts survives as a genuinely moving, throat-swelling song; secondly, the same description applies to Hold On Hope, and thirdly, the hospital series it soundtracked was not the blustering Gray’s Anatomy but a rare moment of pathos in the endearingly silly Scrubs.

The 50:50 split comes in Liquid Indian, where the verses don’t seem too bothered what you think of them, with glowering riffs hoisting lines like “Soft clay orifice quivering like new structures and formations” before the invasion of a chorus which could have stadiums from Shea to Shawfield levitating through nothing more than repetition of a title which seems to celebrate an ink used as a drink – surely the most radical transformation since Lucozade morphed from a pick-me-up for sickly children into an elixir for the modern superathlete. The David verse battles back but the Goliath chorus rises again – it all ends in a draw but there’s no time to go to penalties as there’s too much happening elsewhere…
For instance: Zoo Pie helps itself to the coda of the Clash’s Garageland and has Pollard hollering through a bullhorn in a particularly belligerent moment; Mushroom Art sees him confessing vulnerably “Living without you is difficult” before the odd old instincts kick in and he elaborates: “Cloud faced oldman winking/You see, he tests me.” Its already measured riff is slowed further still on In Stitches, where he promises “Human amusement at hourly rates,” in tandem with a menacing backing vocal which has its flock of wrath turned away by a delicate tremolo. Dragons Awake!, with acoustic guitar, strings and Lennonesque vocal reverb, is less psychedelic than its title promises but is still as close to that status as GBV get, while Things I Will Keep lists, veers and swerves like Prime Husker Du.
And it all came out on Creation, in its very last days. The label may not actually have been brought to the brink of financial bankruptcy by the procrastination of Kevin Shields but creative bankruptcy was definitely wrought by general post-Morning Glory hubris – the recruitment of veterans GBV and Ivor Cutler were just about its only inspired moves at this time.
GBV themselves collapsed afterwards and did so again after a recent reactivation but the songs have never stopped pouring out of Robert Pollard and this prolificacy is almost a recommendation in itself. It’s well- known that actor Paddy Considine is an enthusiastic champion of theirs, perhaps less so that, when Daniel Radcliffe was once  invited to disclose the contents of his MP3, a couple of stray GBV tunes were revealed to lurk within. Since then, he’s gone on to play Allan Ginsberg, one of the great American poets of the 20th century – a category I’d contest Robert Pollard has a powerful case for belonging in (PG).



HOPEIf Mazzy Star and My Bloody Valentine shared one thing in common then it was their mutual capacity to induce in the listener an almost euphoric stupor. For MBV, this came about through their woozily oscillating sonic textures; for Mazzy Star, primarily through David Roback’s retro slowmo jangle and Hope Sandoval’s sultry vocal delivery. So it would have come as no surprise to some when, following a short-lived Mazzy Star reunion in 2000, Sandoval hooked up with MBVs Colm O’Ciosoig – ten years into rock’s longest and most public musical hiatus – to form a new band, The Warm Inventions.

Their debut album Bavarian Fruit Bread’, has a fairly mediocre critical standing, beset by the kind of ‘above average’ ‘7/10’ ‘pleasant listen’ approval ratings which I find hugely offensive. It means so much more to me – comfortably one of the new millennium’s Top 10 albums – that I would be prepared to arm wrestle a grizzly bear to defend it’s reputation.

I fear the album may have instantly lost a few ears with its unassuming opener, a cover of the William Reid-penned ‘Drop’ (a CD only cast-off from the JAMCs 1989 album ‘Automatic’) With its stark plodding Johnny Cash guitar line it gives little indication of the treasures lying in wait.

By the second track ‘Suzanne’ (interestingly, written prior to Mazzy Star’s formation), one’s expectations soon begin to soar. So what is it that makes this song so curiously beguiling? Perhaps the simple, languorously strummed rhythm guitar or Hope’s trademark flirtatious vocal?

‘Suzanne is waiting by your doorway,
But all she does is waste your time
And she looks just like my sister
But she feels just like my man.’

Or could it be the enchantingly hypnotic glockenspiel, suggestive of the opening moments of ‘The Velvet Underground & Nico’? Surely, all of these features make their individual contributions, but more particularly I would point to the production which here and elsewhere on the album is so crystal clear one can almost hear the guitar strings gently bend and feel the air blow through Hope’s wistful harmonica.

On ‘Butterfly Mornings’ we hear the familiar intricate picking of guest guitarist, the late great, Bert Jansch. What sounds like a bizarre collaboration – the drummer from indie avant-noise pioneers MBV and the folk guitar legend is in fact the most melodious of marriages. Jansch’s playing on this and on the equally gorgeous ‘Charlotte’ is never unnecessarily complex, demonstrating great sympathy for the album’s soporific spirit. It’s a spirit which does not for a moment relent.

Each time I hear the first few bars of ‘On The Low’ I still expect to hear Tim Buckley’s opening line to ‘Morning Glory’, but in truth any disappointment is short-lived and this song may be the equal of its illustrious ancestor. A genuine highlight, it further augments the album’s narcotic timbre, and is enhanced immeasurably by Hope’s achingly beautiful harmonica accompaniment, which is outstanding throughout the album – whether it be showcased here or by her languid blues playing on ‘Suzanne’ and even when replete with treatments as on the wonderful ‘Clear Day’.

The arrangements are carefully considered. While the cello on ‘Feeling of Gaze’ adds momentary gravitas to the proceedings, the harmonium on the gorgeous title track fashions fleeting melodic moments which seem to dissolve before alighting, disappearing like sand through one’s fingers, as Hope purrs:

‘I’ve got a brand new set of wheels
I’m gonna drive you straight to tears
I’m gonna spend all of my money
Making you cry.’

The aptly titled closer ‘Lose Me On The Way’, with its drifting reverb-drenched rhythms may run the risk of rendering the listener unconscious before reaching the finishing line – but by then the web has closed in, the entrapment complete. In fact these songs are at no point content simply to seduce my earbuds, preferring instead to lay me down, unbutton my shirt and slowly blow daisies off my chest. A second album, ‘Through The Devil Softly’ would follow, after a reasonably lengthy hiatus of their own in 2009. In some ways it was a more cohesive whole, and some will point to a development in the songwriting, but it had mislaid BVB’s elegantly wasted aura. (JJ)