Friday, June 30, 2006

Next Time Round

Why I would be no good at reviewing records is, well, I don’t know how this works, but somehow I am able to miss the obvious on the first few listens to something, maybe there are too many factors at play, expectations, trying too hard, distractions; whatever. I put the record away for a while, having listened to it just enough times to have some small part of it, almost unknowingly, embedded somewhere in that corner of the deepest recesses of my brain where song fragments lie in wait for an opportunity to surface.

Then I go about my business.

Until, for some reason, I am reminded of this record I have had sitting in that pile over there, maybe for a few months, maybe a year, who knows, and I think, well, I don’t recall being all that excited by this at the time, but I should give it another go, because they have another record out, or someone blogged positive about it, or I have a nagging feeling that there is something there busting to be let out. I listen again. I think, I remember this. I think, hey, this is quite good. I think, you idiot, you’ve missed the point again.

It ... is ... happening ... again ...

A few days back, Pitchfork mentioned that M Ward has a new album in the works, wherein he is backed by a “full band” (full of what? being the real question). I bought “Transistor Radio” some time back, played it a few times, pigeonholed it under “quite good but not “Transfiguration of Vincent””, and promptly went on to the next thing. I can’t believe that I had entirely forgotten about it. But I had. So I listened again last night. And again today. And do you know what? I can now say it is one of the best records I have listened to this year. Mr Ward is somehow able to occupy a place slightly outside of time without sounding in any way contrived or forced. I suppose you could say something similar about Gillian Welch. But in the case of M Ward he is somewhere between the Pacific Northwest, John Fahey and Bob Dylan. In fact, the opening piece funnels the Beach Boys through the mind of John Fahey. And succeeds. From there it’s a trip through a world of song fragments, some developed, some less so, and always (as was the case with “Vincent”) a stone classic is never far away. What I really like about M Ward is the way he chooses not to sing his heart out, but always keeps a little something permanently in reserve. It keeps you wanting more but also glad he doesn’t give it to you.

Then there is the mysterious case of “The Life Pursuit” by Belle and Sebastian, a group that should have worn out its welcome some time ago but somehow keeps finding a new chain to pull. I think I dealt with my early impressions on these pages a while ago. Those turned out to be my only impressions, until a copy turned up in The Shop Formerly Known As Revolution on the weekend, which I duly bought. (Who can resist a photo suite of gorgeous young lassies dressed in tartan?) There may still be some patches of this record that I can’t quite warm to, but it is relatively early days, really, and I feel confident in saying that, whoever you are, you will like this record. Adrienne says they must have been listening to The Kinks. It could be true (although I put the overall feel of this record a few years later than “... Are the Village Green Preservation Society”, which is our own benchmark Kinks long player). It certainly sounds very clean. Stevie Jackson’s guitar playing keeps getting stronger and stronger. Belle and Sebastian may yet outlive the cardigans and old Penguin paperbacks jibes. They may make more great records. This may turn out to be one of them.