Music news. First, here are two LPs I have recently paid money for in a shop. Both are new. One is by the Irish-born, Cornish-raised electronic musician Aphex Twin, the other is by Wimbledon born and raised singer-songwriter Jamie T. These are both artists I have enjoyed in the past (the former much further back in the past than the latter), and seemed like safe purchases in a recession.
I hadn’t heard a note (or beep) of Syro by Aphex Twin before purchase. I trusted the reviews I’d read (especially this really long one by the eloquent Sasha Frere Jones in the New Yorker), and the very fact the album was his first new record under the name since 2001 and apparently a sort of compilation of all the musical styles he’s drifted through in his career. (Frere Jones writes, “It’s Aphex Twin saying, ‘Yes, that was me,’ rather than ‘Here is the new frontier.'”) I have listened to it through once so far, in order, on my headphones, on public transport and walking along, and I am very glad I bought it. The packaging, by Designers Republic (whom I interviewed for an NME article on record sleeve design when there were still records in about 1989), is exquisite – clever and witty.
I had heard three songs from Jamie T’s album, his third, Carry On The Grudge, thanks to Later … With Jools Holland, a lifeline for middle-aged music fans who would no more listen to Radio 1 than drink bleach. So I went in with my ears wide open (and had enjoyed his 2007 debut Panic Prevention and the single Sticks ‘N’ Stones from its follow-up). I have yet to listen to it.
And here are five reasons why.
Two Mondays’ ago, I had an email from the comedian Stewart Lee. Not a total surprise; we occasionally exchange emails, although it is not a method of communication he seems entirely comfortable with and the emails are not long or flowery. He asked me a favour, which involved me having contacts in BBC Radio – contacts that I wasn’t sure I had any more. With low expectations, I pulled the only string I could think of, and due to the kindness of that particular contact handing the request onto a more relevant one, I was able to effect a resolution by the next day. (If I worked at a help desk, I would have been very pleased with myself.)
Anyway, as a thank-you, Stewart promised to send me a compilation CDR. In the event, he sent me five. I checked with him and he doesn’t mind me publicising his act of musical philanthropy on this blog. I wanted to write about these five CDRs – Global Globules Volumes 9, 21, 22, 24 and 27 from a home-compiled series of 38 – because they have improved my life, and continue to do so.
I’ll get back to Jamie T, I promise. But right now, I’m listening to a varied diet of Swedish prog rock, Irish poetry, music concrete, reels, Krautrock, Eastern-influenced jazz, yogic West Coast psychedelia, Fort Lauderdale metal, and “British Invasion” folk-rock. That’s 47 tracks over five discs themed around nationality or intent, many of them coming in at around ten minutes (Stewart likes a song that defines the length of its own welcome), and one – Sommarlåten by Träd, Gräs och Stenar (Trees, Grass and Stones) – a full 26 minutes and 42 of your Scandinavian seconds.
I’m not going to track-list all five volumes, as Stewart has plans to at some point turn them into a radio series, which I wouldn’t wish to preempt. But I can promise you, they are a head-expanding experience, especially if, as I have been diligently doing, you avoid random shuffle and experience them in the order they have been prescribed in. (It would seem rude not to.) So, Volume 21, the promisingly named Black Acid, begins with a band I know, Funkadelic, but a track I don’t, Maggot Brain from the 1971 album of that name, which I’d not knowingly dipped into.
It’s blinking incredible, a ten-minute effects-pedal odyssey by guitarist Eddie Hazel recorded in one take and “directed” by George Clinton on LSD, whose decision it was to fade the other musicians and leave him to it (none of which I knew while first listening to it). Now, this is one track, and already my life – and a journey home from Hammersmith on a chilly evening – have been enriched. It’s followed by Ball Of Confusion, a song I know well and could sing along to, except it’s a cover by The Undisputed Truth, who I don’t. Another shot in the arm. Cane & Able next, then Cannonball Adderley … and by the time I get to By The Time I Get To Phoenix, an 18-minute way-of-life interpretation by Isaac Hayes, I have been picked up and put down somewhere else. All because a man made a playlist and burned it onto a CDR for another man.
In order to select the volumes he sent me, Stewart asked me to name my favourite countries. My first choice was Ireland, hence Volume 22: Ireland. I wouldn’t call myself the biggest fan of traditional folk music – although Billy Bragg broadened my palette in this regard in the late 90s when I was writing his biography – but when songs like The Streets Of Derry/Derry Gaol by the Bothy Band and McMahon’s Reel by Bernard O’Sullivan are elegantly folded into the likes of Square Room, a 1967 b-side by a post-Van Morrison Them and Sign Of My Mind by Dublin’s Dr Strangely Strange, a united Ireland of aromatic variety is founded in your ears.
The songs on Global Globules are generally not new. This reflects the tastes of their curator. They are mostly old. The decades the 60s and the 70s enjoy an actionable bias. Stringed instruments predominantly feature, although Roger Doyle’s ambient Solar Eyes would make Aphex Twin blink. Not all the songs are long, but some of them are really long. The shortest on Volume 9: Sweden is 7.11, and the most luxuriant is the aforementioned Sommarlåten at 26.42. I would say they are excellent value for money …
Here is a picture of Träd, Gräs och Stenar. I think they have earned it.
If I am driving at anything, it’s that opening your mind to the more obscure musical tastes of another is a fine way of pressing “refresh” on your brain. I eagerly await Later to find out if there’s anything current that I might be missing out on. I quite liked Alt-J the other week, and even FKA twigs [sic], who is very fashionable, so God bless Jools and his producers and all who sail in the only terrestrial music programme on television outside of the Proms and 1979 repeats of Top Of The Pops. But who needs new, when there’s so much thrilling, questioning, sincere, stirring, challenging, toe-tapping, foreign-tongued and long-lost old?
Now, go and make your own compilation and send it to someone. It is a thing we can more easily do in the digital age, but which harks back to an analogue one, where we spoke to each other occasionally and cared a lot. (And lovingly make the sleeve out of the sleeve artwork in a Celebrity Squares pattern, as above.)
Here is a picture of Stewart Lee. Thank you, Stewart Lee.
Jamie T can wait.