"Put Your Arms Round Me (Stereolab / The High Llamas Remix)", by Todd Rundgren, Emil Nikolaisen and Hans-Peter Lindstrom.
[Photo contest: match the dog with its owner. Answer: they are probably all Todd's. Photo via Stereogum.]
Is it possible for the most confounding album of the year to also be the best album of the year?
We may be about to find out. "Runddans", a collaborative album by His Royal Toddness, the guitarist from Serena-Maneesh, and the King of Space Disco, is a fascinating and uncompromising listen. Like Nicolas Jaar's "Space Is Only Noise", or Flying Lotus's "You're Dead!", it is not so much a collection of songs as one contiguous suite arbitrarily broken, for convenience of searching, into individual tracks, but it should really only be heard as one uninterrupted slab. (If you've come to this from Todd, you know to expect the unexpected. If you've come here from Serena-Maneesh you will be gratified by the occasional outburst of shredding. If it's Lindstrom wot brought you here, be aware that this is more "Six Cups Of Rebel" than "I Feel Space". (Disclosure: I was a big fan of "Six Cups Of Rebel" from the minute I first heard it, and was surprised to discover that it was generally received as a steaming pile of ordure.))
If the album has a centrepiece, is would be "Put Your Arms Round Me", as close to Rundgren's pop mastery as the album gets. (It was also released as a single, probably a smart (but misleading for the unsuspecting) move; though it does important work in the the album's singular trajectory, it is also capable of having a life of its own, untethered from the rest of the album.)
I have been listening to the album, front to back, on my regular walk (it is the exact same length), at considerable volume, and have found a way, if not exactly to figure out what the hell is going on, to at least allow it all to wash over me in a somewhat leasing fashion. I wouldn't have thought it was a candidate for today's de rigueur fashion accessory, the remix ep. And yet here it is. Erol Alkan, no stranger to the remix game, and one half of retro-futurists Beyond The Wizards Sleeve, pulls off the significant feat of distilling an undistillable album down into ten easily digestible minutes while maintaining something of the peculiar flavour of the original. EYE, and this will be no surprise at all, piles noise upon noise.
And then there's this. The "Stereolab / The High Llamas Remix" of "Put Your Arms Round Me". What the? Stereolab, the band of the 1990s, have been on hiatus (at the very least) for some years now; Laetitia Sadier is building a solo career and Tim Gane has been operating as under-the-radar as it would be possible for the music nerd's music nerd to operate (a forthcoming release on Ghost Box will surely put paid to that). The High Llamas, well, they have been quiet for a few years too. So what kind of beast is this? My first guess, without hearing the remix, was that it was probably just Sean O'Hagan at the controls, he being a sort of uncredited member of Stereolab during their golden years. But listen. Within the first seven seconds you are plucked out of your seat and thrown back to "Dots And Loops"-era Stereolab so completely that it actually comes as a bit of a shock. In fact, it is extraordinary. Nothing is going to bring Mary Hansen back, which only makes the sudden immersion into the sound of her era of the band that much more of a jolt. My new best guess, then, is that it is O'Hagan and Gane together who are responsible for this. Who was the genius (okay; it's Todd Rundgren: you know the answer to that one) who put this on the table and made it happen? We can only be grateful. As the song says, "I have waited for this moment ...".
Wipe the tears from your eyes and smile.