Broken Record #58
Earlier in the year, Audio Antihero and Old Money Records co-released an anthology of recordings by post-rock experimentalists Fighting Kites. It's a intriguing insight into a band which had great potential but never really "made it" outside a hardcore fan-base. Here, founder member Neil Debnam (who also performs as Broken Shoulder and runs the Kirigirisu Recordings label) talks us through some of his record collection in #58 of our Broken Record series.
Mercury Rev - Boces
I remember when Mercury Rev were great. It was exactly around the time of this album. I also like the previous stuff a lot and the stuff that followed this album to a lesser extent, but Boces was the Mercury Rev peak for me. David Baker was still in the band, and whilst I’m not sure he was the major creative force in the band, they certainly made a lot more interesting music with him than they did after he left, when they moved towards some kind of American dream classic song writing ideal, hints of which you can perhaps hear buried deep on here. These songs are maybe fundamentally quite simple, yet they have so many layers to the recording that there’s always something interesting and new to discover on repeated listens, whether it be explosions of guitar noise, flute melodies or other audio flotsam. It’s brave to start your album with a ten minute meander, but it captivated the young me at a time when I wasn’t exactly used to long songs. Nowadays of course I can sit entranced in an hour long recording of someone farting into a Tupperware (as long as they do it slowly and intensely enough). The whole album is a winner but I’d probably say I like Bronx Cheer and it’s wobbly video the most.
Trumans Water - Spasm Smash XXXOXOX Ox & Ass
From my youth, but still deeply loved by me, this is the album to which I learned to play the guitar in a way that was a lot more fun than the countless tutorial books I’d tried before. It might sound a bit ramshackle but these are intricately constructed songs with plenty of stopping and starting, loud and quiet bits and lots of fret pounding and string bending. I remember that the lyrics printed inside the sleeve were difficult to match to the songs, given that you couldn’t really hear what they were singing most of the time. There were also a few sets of lyrics in there for songs that weren’t on the album too, which seemed enjoyably chaotic at the time and I guess still does. You can’t go wrong with this, in my eyes, although the other former Fighting Kites members may disagree. The guitars are loud and skronky, the singing is raucous and joyous and it’s all propelled along at quite a whack by a rhythm section that seems to be getting totally pounded. And not forgetting the cover which looks like someone with plenty of enthusiasm has been let loose with an old photo album, a box of felt tips and a roll of tape. It’s funny, given my first two picks here, that I remember cutting out and keeping an amusing Melody Maker article where they calculated who was worst out of Trumans Water and Mercury Rev. As I loved both bands, I found it a very enjoyable read. Can’t remember who was deemed shittest, but if I recall rightly, Trumans Water were referred to as the San Diego shitehawks.
Palace Music - Arise Therefore
Perhaps this could go down as my underrated choice too, as I think this album is often overlooked when people are talking about the genius of Will Oldham in his various guises. This is perhaps the bleakest album I own that is built around musty old drum machine beats, minimal piano and subdued plaintive guitar and bass. It’s quite a juxtaposition given his previous releases which leaned more towards a more traditional almost country kind of sound. A lot of the music I listen to is instrumental or is music that doesn’t rely on lyrics to sell it. On this album, the lyrics are unavoidable, and given that the accompaniment is often fairly minimal, are right there in your face, pulling you in a generally downward direction with a wide range of strange and disturbing and sometimes moving topics. Even the more upbeat songs have downbeat lyrics. Ironically, I have a strong memory of listening to this lots on bright sunny days at my parents’ house, I think on a summer holiday from university. And everyone knows there’s nothing as sad as a sunny day when you have zero responsibilities, but plenty of time to be angsty and wallow, eh?
Tortoise - Millions now living will never die
It’s probably a bit strange that I chose this category as I don’t really ever drive. I’d like to pass this off as an ethical and ecological thing, but in reality, it’s probably more to do with the fact that I find driving a bit scary. However, back in the distant past of University days, I did occasionally manage to borrow my parents car (seriously, what were they thinking?!), and drive to some gigs close to my university which was in Egham, a pretty unexciting town by the M25. Of course, there would have been no point in driving into central London, where the majority of my gig going was done, but there were some other interesting venues which were pretty difficult to get to or to get back from by public transport. There was a nice little venue called the Humdrum in Weybridge (I think…), which put on some really good bands. However, when we think of driving music it is not really the image of driving through small suburban south west London/Surrey towns that really inspires. It has to be the super modern freedom or night time motorway driving! So my driving memory album is Millions Now Living Will Never Die by Tortoise, who I saw play in Reading at the Alley Cat, a journey which crucially involved using a motorway, night time and bass heavy post rock. I feel a little like I’m shoe-horning this album into this category, but there is definitely to be said about the feeling of semi high speed motion and the motorik beat and blobby baseline of the album opener Djed. The Taut and the Tame has also speeds along excitingly, and then there’s the slower songs which I guess if I’m being ultra cheesy are the perfect come-down from an exciting gig. This smooth bit of music writing is of course let down by the fact that the fast ones and slow ones are in a mixed up order, so what I’ve written is all a bit of a nonsense really. I’d say Tortoise were an important influence on Fighting Kites though, so there is some kind of sense to this. I’d like to think that their genre hopping and range of influences reflects a little on the FK way of doing things. Certainly, every time I played bass on a FK song there was a large Tortoise influence to my meanderings. Perhaps there is a bit of a difference though in that Tortoise were able to choose from a vast array of vintage synths to fart around beautifully on and Luke played an old Casio keyboard with his foot and a drum stick.
France - Desastre Live at Kraak Fest 2011
Or should I say, live tape. Running through the list of categories I was having a little trouble coming up with something to write about as in spite of being a bit of a bitchy person in real life, in public I try to steer away from saying anything too nasty to anyone about anything. Therefore all the negative categories were out. Then I spotted the live record and remembered one of my favourite releases by a band I really like. I first saw France at the show that this tape captures. I have a bit of a thing about Belgium for various reasons. One of the main reasons is the great music scene they have there. Although France are unsurprisingly a French band, this was recorded at the Kraak Fest and released on the Kraak label, a mainstay of the exciting Belgian underground scene. The festival is usually amazing and usually full of artists I have never heard of. As was the case with France, who were the first band on and played in the cafe part of the venue surrounded by their audience. I didn’t really know what they would sound like as their band name is pretty much ungoogleable but I knew they were a hurdy-gurdy, bass and drums three piece. What could be more exciting? It’s a bit more intense than their line-up might suggest though, as everything is pretty full on. The bass and drums usually play pretty much the same thing for half an hour, building a platform for the hurdy-gurdy to just go a bit nuts over. I suspect that medieval enthusiast hurdy-gurdy purists might not like it though. The best thing about this album is that there is an early power cut leaving a confused drummer just playing his part for a little while, before the bass comes back in and then a wall of hurdy-gurdy noise returns. This varies from the usual structure of their pieces which are usually just all in from the start and all in till the end. I love repetition in music, and France excel at this. I also love the sound of a drum kit and I think that’s often lacking when it comes to more droney types of music. Fighting Kites has drums and were repetitive at times, so I guess there is some kind of slightly tenuous connection to Fighting Kites in this selection. I love this album so much that when I started Kirigirisu Recordings, my micro label here in Japan, I asked France to be one of our first releases and they kindly agreed.