101. CHRIS COHEN – OVERGROWN PATH (2012) Guest Contributor: Gerry Love (Teenage Fanclub)

Recently TNPC celebrated the career of Scotland’s finest with a twin take on two Teenage Fanclub classics (TNPC #96). For that feature, Gerry Love kindly agreed to share his thoughts on A Catholic Education and Songs From Northern Britain. We invited him to select a favourite album of his own and to say a few words about it…


If I was going to make use of hyperbole, I might say that Overgrown Path is my Odessey & Oracle of the 21st century, but I’m not going to say that, I’m just going to say that it’s a brilliant record full of brilliant songs, and if you don’t know it you should spend some time with it. A modern DIY masterpiece, perfect in its construction, with beautiful melodic twists and turns and unpredictable, evolving, almost architectural arrangements, played and recorded entirely by its creator, Chris Cohen, it is one of the truly great records of the last decade.

If I was to describe it in terms of known landmarks I would say it’s somewhere in the direction of Broadcast, Mayo Thompson, Chet Baker, High Llamas, Raymond Scott, Alex Chilton, Stereolab, but Overgrown Path undoubtedly inhabits its own magical environment and is very much in the present tense. The song that pulled me in was ‘Monad’. No great story behind the discovery: out of curiosity I click play on the video one afternoon on youtube in late 2012 and as the suspended eerie intro holds and then switches and transforms into the ascending guitar line, I find myself already drawn in, optimistically engaged – I had heard great things about this guy – and as the cool melancholic vocal picks up the guitar melody and the song begins to unfold, ascending and descending, amongst those loose drums, smart bass lines, sharp guitars and warm keyboards, all perfectly weighted and measured, it was clear to me that I was listening to something truly special.

‘Monad’ is the type of song that appeals as much to your intellect as it does your emotions with its fluent complex patterns and deep chord progressions masked by the beautiful simplicity of the melody. I must have played it thirty times in a row. The following day I took a train into town and bought the album and it has been a regular soundtrack in my life ever since. Over nine songs, Overgrown Path presents a unique soft personal psychedelia, a highly evolved collection of cascading melodies, asymmetrical time signatures and grainy cinematic ever-changing arrangements. As the work of one musician, Overgrown Path’s artistic strength undoubtedly lies in its closeness to the original ideas, its undiluted, fully realised, creatively pure conception. Its musical strength lies in its blend of killer melodies and highly sophisticated atmospheric arrangements. Check out : ‘Monad’, ‘Caller No 9’, ‘Rollercoaster Ride’, ‘Optimist High’. (Gerry Love)

100. Various – THE SOUNDTRACK TO OUR LIVES…

For TNPC 100, we’ve delved deep inside our record collections, warts ‘n’ all, for the tunes that changed the way we thought about music; the sounds that helped to shape our lifelong musical obsession. We celebrate the tracks that messed with our heads, remembering the songs that let us know we were not alone and those that made us feel we could take on the world. 

Better believe it, our lives were saved by rock’n’roll…

Paul

ALSO SPRACH ZARATHUSTRA – RICHARD STRAUSS (1896)

Sometimes I wonder how I came to be such an obsessive music fan as many of my earliest memories are of being terrified by what I heard – most of all this, the first piece of music to have a real hammer-blow impact on me. Even in Deodato’s laid-back, funky version, the wah-wah – a new sound to me – was like a cat yowling into the night, and those rising opening notes, darting like a bogeyman, remained as imposing as Strauss meant them to be. It only multiplied when I heard it as used in 2001 – the tympani simulating the voice of God like no music before or since. Even now, it feels disturbing, recurring through the maddest, oddest, most plain disconcerting U certificate film ever made – and Kubrick didn’t even intend to use it at first.

PEPPER BOX – PEPPERS (1973)

A birthday present I proudly took to the school Christmas party, with my name pencilled on the label – and a scintillating, feverish instrumental from France, an unmistakable product of its time and simultaneously 20 years ahead of it. The spring-heeled clavinet and squealing primitive synth belong in the time of The Goodies and power cuts – but then come the handclaps of a funky flamenco and a barely-audible but making-all-the difference scat vocal, and in a blind test you could easily have it down as Air or Daft Punk, as well as fitting right into the belle epoque of Jean-Michel Jarre, Space and even Magma.

DEATH ON TWO LEGS – QUEEN (1975)
My time as a rock and metal fan was brief and brought to a swift, sudden endby punk but before then, I found it close to impossible to see beyond the cape-sweeping of Queen, particularly on this marauding opener of A Night At The Opera, with Freddie denouncing an anonymous critic every bit as louchely as you’d expect. Their decline, fast, sharp and irreversible, began very soon afterwards.

SOMETHING BETTER CHANGE – STRANGLERS (1977)
The first punk record ever to make it into our house. It’s always been overshadowed by Peaches, No More Heroes and Golden Brown but it was a top 10 hit as well. I can’t say it put a swagger in my pre-teen step but it felt like it did – and the trick was replicated on the breathless b-side, Straighten Out.

KU KLUX KLAN – STEEL PULSE (1978)


A true eye-opener. My introduction to reggae, to dub – and to the knowledge of racism’s evils. How can it be that this is as topical as ever?

COLD CITY – SPIZZ OIL (1979)
I could have chosen dozens of songs to represent my realisation that music didn’t begin and end with the charts but this stands out for creating an apocalyptic vision with nothing more play-in-an-hour guitar, creaky sound effects and cave-dweller percussion. They’re usually remembered as a novelty act for Where’s Captain Kirk? and their practice of changing their name every year (Spizz Oil/Spizz Energi/Athletico Spizz ’80/Spizzles). They were far better than that.

TRANSMISSION – JOY DIVISION (1979)


Around two months before their abrupt end in dreadful circumstances, I got properly into Joy Division through Unknown Pleasures and this electrifying, white-knuckle single. Punk was now over – the future was underway.

ABSOLUTELY SWEET MARIE – BOB DYLAN (1966)
My record library not only helped me keep pace with the precipiate present; it was also invaluable in my endeavour to sort out the past. I finally took Blonde On Blonde out, some eight months after choosing an audiobook of I, Claudius instead, and it soundtracked a bright spring rather than a gloomy, drenched summer. Its majesty was immediately apparent; this is the song that hit first and hardest.

REVOLUTIONARY SPIRIT – WILD SWANS (1982)
I saw them supporting Echo and the Bunnymen at Glasgow Apollo in 1981; liked them. They issued this single two months later; I thought it sounded good and mentally filed it away. Just over a year after that, I was unable to dislodge a particular melody from my mind. It turned out to be Revolutionary Spirit – I declared it my favourite song of all time and have continued to do so ever since. All the power, drama, magic, mystery and beauty you could seek in music is here, with the velocity and dynamic of a fleet of planes taking off. Just hear it for yourself; I’d only diminish it by trying to describe it further.

TERRAPIN – SYD BARRETT (1970)


The library triumphs again. The Madcap Laughs is not entirely a comfortable listen, and it’s questionable whether some moments on it should have been included at all, but at its finest, it’s a man attempting to make sense of the world in the only way he can and offering to share that world with us with wit and generosity. While Men at Work and Bonnie Tyler were scrabbling across the airwaves, this was all I wanted to hear.

PAPUA NEW GUINEA – FUTURE SOUND OF LONDON (1992)
I’ve always been a dabbling dilettante when it comes to dance but I know what makes sense to me when I hear it. This impossibly beautiful and richly crafted tune rose above the nosebleed anthems like Excalibur thrust out of a swamp.

FAT CHANCE – MOTHERS (2016)
In my most recent review, of Pylon’s Gyrate, I neglected to mention that their influence has found its way to the present, not least in this band from, appropriately enough, Athens. Tense, compelling, glowering yet tender – and gloriously devoid of millennial whoop (PG).

Terry

The Teddy Bears – To Know Him Is To Love Him (single)

In amongst my parents record collection was this single. I think it was where I discovered that music could be more than the words and notes committed to tape. There is something else captured on this that is utterly transporting. As David Briggs would say – It’s got the spook.

Ramones – Rockaway Beach (It’s Alive)
The first noise that drowned out all the crap around me. Because the opening lyrics define rock’n’roll to me. When the Ramones albums were only available on import It’s Alive gave you twice as many songs for only £1.00 more and that was important in those days. 

Velvet Underground – Heroin (Live 1969)
I bought the Velvets’ albums in a weird order. Luckily I had a fellow TNPC’er to help guide me through. I’m glad I heard this LP early though. I think hearing Lou rap about football made them seem so much more accessible and easier to identify with. The sleeve notes are among my favourite (along with Husker Du’s Warehouse Songs and Stories). Pull up a cushion. 

Jesus & Mary Chain – Somethings Wrong (Psychocandy)

From hearing their 1st Peel session in late 1984 to seeing them in early 1986 the Mary Chain owned me. For a long time I thought this was the greatest song ever recorded. 

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Sad Waters (Your Funeral My Trial)

I bought this for someone and in the end couldn’t bear to give it away. Released as a double vinyl, it was so good it was a week before I played the second record. Still the highpoint of an incredible body of work.

Nick Drake – Time Has Told Me (Five Leaves Left)

A fellow TNPC writer loaned me the Heaven In A Wild Flower compilation c. 1988. I discovered that if I set my record player to 7” it would drop perfectly on this track. I would then play this on repeat for several hours at a time, and allow its meditational healing power to wash over me. Nick Drake has been a near constant companion ever since.  

Van Morrison – Astral Weeks (Astral Weeks)
In the late 1980’s, Melody Maker in the UK issued a magazine called Pop! The Glory Years containing some of the finest music writing I’ve ever read. The piece on Van Morrison opens “Think about all the people you ever knew. Some of them are dead now, others have been lost in the slow unwinding of the years, gone mad, burned themselves out; others are out there, busy with their lives, happy with what thaey have become. It will have been a long time since you last saw these people you know and maybe loved, but listening to Astral Weeks will bring them back into your life.” That is about as close as anyone has ever got to summing up this masterpiece for me.

13th Floor Elevators – Slip Inside This House (Easter Everywhere)

An avid collector of Nuggets, Pebbles, etc. psych garage compilation, no amount of garage rock could prepare me for this. Sometimes I feel I’m on the verge of grasping its elusive meaning before just giving into the trance cooked up by Roky and Stacy. 

Bobby Bland – I’m Not Ashamed (Two Steps From The Blues)
The re-release of Greil Marcus’ Mystery Train provided a treasure map to a world I barely knew existed. Soul music rarely gets deeper than this.

Galaxie 500 – Don’t Let Our Youth Go To Waste (Today)
The first track I heard by them (thanks John Peel). Turning an acapella Jonathan Richman track that barely lasts two minutes into a psychedelic epic is some kind of genius.  

Debra Keese – Travelling (Build The Ark)
Digging deeper into the world of reggae in the mid to late 1990’s opened up whole new sonic vistas to me. Along with a series of incredible re-releases on the Blood and Fire label (Keith Hudson, The Congos, Yabby U, Horace Andy etc.) a local record shop (Fopp) had 3 Lee Perry triple vinyl box sets for £5.00 each. The Upsetter, Open The Gate and best of all Build the Ark. This is a song that never fails to take me into the mystic. 

Six Organs Of Admittance – Eighth Cognition/All You’ve Left (School Of The Flower)
Aiming for Alice Coltrane but ending up somewhere else is no failure. A perfect gateway both to the earlier and later work of Ben Chasny, and also a multitude of other artists. (TT)

Johnnie

HERB ALPERT & THE TIJUANA BRASS – THIS GUY’S IN LOVE WITH YOU (1968)

I was brought up on a diet of Debussy, Stevie Wonder and bossa nova, stuff my mam listened to, so I had an ear for melody. And Burt is really the king of melody. Herb can’t sing on the other hand, but hey…

SWEET – LOVE IS LIKE OXYGEN (1978)
I mind hearing this on the radio, and feigning illness from school the next day in the hope that I might hear it on the radio once again. Lying on the couch, my mam hoovering the living room, and me, fingers on the ‘record’ button – having to tell her to stop when it finally came on. I can’t quite understand what it was that appealed. That multi-tracked vocal probably sounded like the future to me, even though Sweet by then were obviously a relic from the past.

JAPAN – GENTLEMEN TAKE POLAROIDS (1980)


The first band I thought of as ‘mine’. I took this home from the library and played it all summer (’81 I think). It was the perfect antidote to all that NWOBHM guff that all my school mates were listening to. They used to stand playing air guitar in a line and shaking their hair to their Saxon records, while I just stood aside entirely bemused. I remember being really upset finding out Japan had split, just as I had discovered them.

THE VELVET UNDERGROUND – SUNDAY MORNING (1967)


Adam Ant selected this on some radio show in 1985. When I heard it I lost interest in going to the football. I started perfecting my forlorn indie kid look and buying the NME. Yes, I blame the Velvets. I immediately bought the banana album, which kind of shocked me by its abrasiveness, but there was no way back.

PERE UBU – NON-ALIGNMENT PACT (1978)
Well, it’s the most thrilling introduction to a song ever isn’t it? Then it’s a Martian singing outside some radioactive power plant, backed by the loudest garage band in town.

TIM BUCKLEY – LOVE FROM ROOM 109 AT THE ISLANDER (1969)
Well, who doesn’t like ocean sounds, a bit of improvisational jazz and Dionysus crooning over the top?

PUBLIC ENEMY – REBEL WITHOUT A PAUSE (1987)


I resisted hip hop for a while, but this was the turning point. Insanely radical, sharp intellects, precision programming and ‘that’ noise, whatever the hell it was. They made better records but this was the bomb.

AR KANE – BABY MILK SNATCHER (1988)
I missed all that C86 stuff because I was too busy buying all the cool LPs from the NMEs ’85 Top 100 list (as well as from the original Perfect Collection book) to notice what was going on, so I only really got to grips with new sounds around ’87 – no bad thing: the next few years produced an abundance of astonishing music on both sides of the Atlantic. Here’s a great track from a band that seems to have slipped from collective memory. This is the EP version.

LEONARD COHEN – FAMOUS BLUE RAINCOAT (1971)
I was asked the other day, if I preferred Dylan or Cohen. Not an easy question, but lyrically, Lenny was untouchable. The melody got me first, and the words still shake me to the core. A relationship song but not about ‘that’ relationship. Is he singing to his friend/’brother’ or to himself? A song for grown ups, as anti-pop as its possible to be.

FLAMINGOS – I ONLY HAVE EYES FOR YOU (1959)
I think I heard this in 1992 or thereabouts. I think it’s the greatest production job I’ve ever heard. Take a bow George Goldner! 

DJ PIERRE – MUZIK IS LIFE (Life Long Mix) (1992)
This alongside Derrick May’s remix of ‘Sueno Latino’ was the soundtrack to the early ’90s for me. You can say what you like but Chicago and Detroit were where it was at. A patient, building, hypnotic, disorientating, ecstatic noise. 

JULIA HOLTER – MAXIM’S I (2013)

Loud City Song
is proof that popular music is alive and well. There are still fearless pioneers out there, amongst them Kendrick Lamar, Daniel Rossen and Julia Holter, who writes like a mad poet and sings like a schizophrenic ghost. (JJ)

98. GYRATE – PYLON (1980)

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.

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)

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.”
—————————-

  (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)                               

94. GLORIA – SHADOWS OF KNIGHT (1966)