Finally Paying Attention
Recent listening, July 2004
Itís all too easy ≠ or it is for me ≠ to not pay attention to new music, even when Iíve bought the CDs and itís on the stereo; and much of what Iím going to mention here is music that has only recently managed to get me to pay attention to it. This has partly been facilitated by my partner and our children vacating the premises for a week, allowing me to learn to listen again and to have the time to do so.

Over the Rhineís double album Ohio [on both CD and vinyl itís a double set] released through the Virgin subsidary Back Porch, is one that slipped through my net. Regular readers know Iím a big fan of this band and their melodic and intriguing brand of rock. But somehow nothing on Ohio grabbed me. The lack of lyrics, and finding out that the double LP version had them all printed out, didnít help matters, nor did the rave reviews it seems to have got everywhere.

What did change things was the arrival of Changes Come, a new live CD available only through their website [although I see the exellent Paste magazine/artiste website has it too]. Here the mix of some familiar songs and the rougher, somehow more Ďaliveí arrangements did their usual stuff, and, noting that many of the tracks are from Ohio, I returned to it. How stupid Iíd been to have missed the soaring melodies, the exquisite songs, the careful and intriguing arrangements. Both discs are full of wonderful music; as is the live outing. I highly recommend both.

More miserable and downbeat are Pedro the Lion, whose new album, Achilleís Heel I got whilst availing myself of a free 50-track download trial offer recently. [My greatest delight was finding a 60 minute one-track improv album by Fred Frith on the site; sad, I know]. Terms of reference might be early Red House Painters though thereís a more country feel and if anything the band are even more miserable. If you like funereal misery on your CD player, check them out. And get hold of Chris Whitleyís two new CDs too. Weed showcases stripped-down, acoustic versions of older tracks, whilst War Crime Blues is all new. Whitley is a great blues guitarist and his gravelly, grating voice a one-off. I think heís a neglected genius.

Another reason for not paying attention is, of course, that Ďoh-itís-just-more-of-the-sameí feeling which sometimes hits you. I felt this with the Cowboy Junkiesí recent offering, one soul now, and though it might be true it doesnít of course mean the music isnít any good. The music is more assertive and fluent than their early fragile outings, perhaps more mainstream, but itís still ethereal and beautiful country-rock. If you get the chance check out the limited edition version with a bonus CD of great cover versions, including stonking Neil Young, Townes van Zandt and Youngbloods tunes once you get past the rather iffy Springtseen. [Personally, I think all Springsteen is pretty iffyÖ]

Fripp & Enoís The Equatorial Stars also feels like more of the same, but thatís what comes of waiting a couple of decades [or whatever] between albums! We can hardly blame their imitators and musical offspring for making processual ambient as everyday as it seems to be. Nor is the CD quite as obvious as one first assumes, but it is still rooted in tape delay systems and frippertronics. Personally I love this kind of slow moving and unhurried stuff.

Janek Schaefer in some ways makes a similar kind of music, although he has come to it through architecture, live vinyl mixing and electronica. Above Buildings drones and clunks its glorious way along through eight tracks with titles like Ďspindle spiderí and Ďcontraptioní, whilst a duo outing with Robert Hampson of Main, as Comae is rawer and vaguer, less defined and even more intriguing. Schaeferís website, is one of my favourites at the moment, and his mail order service second to none.

In fact so efficient and friendly is the man my parcel arrived with a free copy of Wish for a World Without Hurt, a collaboration between Rothko and Blk w/Bear, a CD made in remembrance of the events of 11 Sept 2001. Itís a careful, evocative and unnerving set of instrumentals that sounds like very little else Iíve heard for a long time. Moments of melodic violin give way to static and collage, drones, funereal tunes and moments of grim crescendo. Itís brilliant stuff that needs careful listening to.

As does Objectís something and nothing, a CD of selected improvisations by this Exeter-based trio. Live recently, Object came on like early AMM and 60s events: candlelit tables, small instruments, projected blurry minimal films and careful musical dialogue; the CD seems to me less dynamic and not quite so interesting, although one is spared the duller moments of live improvisation where the audience waits for something to coalesce and form, grab their ears again. But thereís care and consideration, and an attention to detail in this music, which draws on a rich and wide history of many types of improvisation and musical encounters.

And finally, Wilco, who have also somehow fed a much wider array of music into their mix than their roots would suggest. Here on a ghost is born are a new bunch of songs that take on board the drone and sustain of the Velvet Underground, the noise and attack of early Sonic Youth, hiphop, remix and dance culture, ambient and electronica, and feed it into their pop songs. The band seem to take turns to play different instruments, songs vary in length from the short to the epic, but somehow it all gels into their best album ever. I hope you find the time and space to get into some of this music quicker than I did. It all deserves it.

© 2004 Rupert Loydell