Ekoplekz – Reflekzionz (2015). This is not what I expected. From the cover art, and this being on Planet Mu, and Ekoplekz being referred to online as someone making music in the Braindance style; in my mind this was going to be some Dave Monolith/James Shinra wunderkind producer making shiny squelchy acid breakbeat type stuff. But I am happy to have my expectations overturned. The 12 tracks on Reflekzionz are lo-fi, downbeat and melancholy…or if melancholy sounds a bit much, there is something very soothing in the faded tones and understated slow moving melodies – like flicking through a scrapbook of vintage postcards from nondescript British towns.
This is Braindance in the more classic sense and the closest comparison I can think of for this record is µ-Ziq’s seminal Tango’n’Vectif. This record, like that one, stands outside of contemporary trends – the beats and rhythm aren’t trying to replicate any particular genre, they simply represent the forward motion of the track. It sounds like it was made by a musical outsider – someone with a four-track and a load of gear and nothing to prove, making sounds for their own amusement and pleasure. And what a haunting, captivating little musical universe they’ve created for themselves. This isn’t music that smacks you in the face and grabs your attention on first listen, rather on repeated listens it subtly creeps up. Ekolplekz has that rare knack (like Richard James, and Mike Paradinas on a good day) for painting very emotive haunting scenes with sparse elements and creating something more than the sum of its parts. The aptly titled Downtone is a perfect example of this, evoking a windy, rainy Pennine landscape, much like Aphex Twin did back in the day on ICBYD, with its rugged windswept beauty.
Eels – Souljacker (2001). I hadn’t listened to this album in ages; though I’m a lifelong Eels fan and I played this album repeatedly when I first got it, it’s not one I return to often. But listening to his most recent album, The Deconstruction, I was suddenly in need of something to accompany my commute that I knew inside out. The first thing that struck me was the kinda goofy naivety.
On its release this was billed as a ‘heavier’ sound for Eels – both in the fuzzy distorted production, courtesy of long-term PJ Harvey producer/collaborator, John Parrish, and in the lyrical content. Not that Eels were ever a band known for cheery lyrical themes. But after the largely acoustic and positive (in light of recovery from serious grief) Daisies of the Galaxy, Souljacker is definitely a harder rockin’ beast, full of perfect teenage angst material. But listening now, what seemed ‘majorly like, heavy dude’ now sounds tongue in cheek. A feeling not unlike re-reading a teenage diary and cringing at the triviality of what seemed like serious issues at the time.
Dog-faced Boy is hilarious, in classic Eels-style – the outsider/loner raging against the world but self-aware enough to laugh at himself as well. Though I know from reading his excellent autobiography, that this song is inspired by true events in E’s life, which were no doubt very difficult at the time, I also can’t believe he is not having a little fun exorcising his demons when he full-throatedly yells, ‘Ma won’t shave me, Jesus can’t save me!’
So yeah, there are a few missteps here, where the rock-posturing misses the mark somewhat (That’s not really funny), but there are also some straight up lovely – no better word – tracks: the guileless positivity (Fresh Feeling), and evocative storytelling (Woman Driving, Man Sleeping) of Eel’s fulsome warm atmospherics and classic songwriting. Special mention to Bus Stop Boxer as well, even though I think it’s a fictional story, it riffs on a common Eels theme: childhood and upbringing and the effect it has on later life. Gets me every time. Overall, not an album I think would convert new listeners, but definitely one for the fans.
The Brian Jonestown Massacre – Take it from the man (1996). It was after the watching the Dig rockumentary that I jumped into the Brian Jonestown Massacre’s early discography with both feet (having already been a lifelong Dandys fan). Recently listening to Take it from the Man sparked strong nostalgia for that year in my life, when my circumstances were quite different from how they are now, and the surprising realisation that it was eight years ago. The nostalgia was doubled up as I considered that this album is actually 24 years old, and I found it odd to think it came out around the same time as some of my oldest all time favourites (Blur, Radiohead, Oasis, Dandys, Eels etc), but it’s only resided in my consciousness for a third of that time. The nostalgia was compounded even more by the consciously retro style of the music – late 60s psychedelic/British Invasion, which obviously I am too young to have experienced firsthand, but because of the listening habits of my baby-boomer parents, is innately nostalgic of my early childhood.
So what of this album? It’s a riotous racket of chemically induced creativity, spearheaded by a restless and troubled genius, whose need to get all his ideas out as quickly as he can before they fade away somewhat impedes his ability to make a concise coherent album (a trick he mastered later in his career). Like many BJM albums, there are some outright bangers, some moments of real beauty and emotion (David Bowie I Love You), but there’s a lot of clag and I have to admit I cut things short three quarters in this time. I always feel guilty when I skip tracks or cut an album short but I don’t have quite such the appetite for repeated Stonsey rehashes that seem to clog up the end of the album.
Throwing Muses/Kristin Hersch. I’ve been continuing to feed my obsession, which started around four years ago, with Throwing Muses and Kristin Hersch (creative leader of the band). I don’t think I’ve been quite so addicted to a band, listening to so much of back catalogue and so frequently, since I was a teenager. They’ve got completely under my skin, and because they’ve got so many albums (none of which I’ve failed to enjoy yet) the obsession is only going to feed itself as I delve deeper into their music. Kristin’s surreal, twisted, brutal, beautiful and poetic lyrics, and searing delivery and that ineffable, inexpressible but instantly recognisable late 80s/early 90s indie guitar sound. Surf Cowboy, with it’s lo-fi dirge and just a hint of punkrock kick, sounds just like something Blur might’ve recorded in ’95. Lovely stuff. Too many other examples to list. Start with University.
Swirlies – Blonder Tongue Audio Baton (1993). This was another album plundered from Pitchfork’s Best 50 Shoegaze Albums list, and the closest record to compare it to sound-wise is probably Loveless (the archetypal shoegaze album?!). Droning whirring guitars that can be soothing or migraine inducing, depending on mood, male and female twin harmonies (very MBV) and heavily thrashy percussion. Opening track Bell starts out queasy and dissonant, but the last minute or so descends into a frantic punky jam. I often think of Loveless being an album painted purely in soft brush strokes – of haze, feedback, shimmer and semi-audible murmurs, but it actually contains a good helping of bratty indie/punk thrash – guitar strings and drumkits taking an equal beating (see, What you want and Only Shallow).
Much like Loveless, Blonder Tongue has that wonderful hazy, headachey feeling – like lying in an unmade bed at 3pm in the afternoon as the sun streams through the window. And right now I can’t seem to get enough of that aforementioned 90s guitar sound – ineffable, inimitable – so warm and toasty. So yeah, great little album if you want a (relatively undiscovered) gem of 90s American Indie – part shoegaze, part punk, permeated with a joyously innocent offbeat sense of humour.