Top Ten Records I Meant To Write About For Stylus But Never Got Around To

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

When Todd told us back in July that he was shutting Stylus, one of my first reactions was- actually wait. Hang on. Let’s go back to how it happened.

I was in the kitchen with my girlfriend and her brother, and I’d just opened the MacBook and was about to turn it on and login. I had cold beer in the fridge and was going to cook the three of us a meal, as I remember. Then I got a text message, just as I was logging in. It was from Dom and it said “Oh shit”. I replied “wtf?”, or somesuch. Then my email popped open. Literal seconds between the two. I knew what the “Oh shit” meant.

One of my first reactions; I scribbled a list of things I knew I needed to write about before we closed, ideas I’d had and started work on plus things I’d always vaguely wanted to write about one day “in the future" but that wasn’t urgent. Suddenly everything became urgent. A lot of them I got round to; some of them I didn’t. The Rita Lee piece was one, as was the most listened piece, the ‘make better records’ top ten, the headphones piece that’s underneath this. I shoed in Long Fin Killie, Kitchens Of Distinction, Califone, Jim O’Rourke, Lift To Experience and a handful of others I’d always wanted to cover but never quite known how.

But I didn’t manage everything. Obviously. So here are ten I wished I’d got round to, or tried to get round to, or only remembered at the last minute, when it was far too late.

10. Deee-Lite – “Groove Is In The Heart”
I did a handful of Final Seconds pieces for Todd, because… I could, and I wanted to, and I thought it might help. They came pretty quickly. He only ran with one, though, which is good, because it was the best one, and it fitted the feel of the piece well. The very first song it struck me to write about, though, wasn’t “I’m Free Now” by Morphine, but this. Which I’d always wanted to do a Seconds piece on, because… well, if pushed, I’d pick this as the greatest single ever released, just edging out “I Want You Back”. I love it. I have done since I was about twelve. It’s perfect.

9. Youthmovie Soundtrack Strategies
Joe 65dos raved about them to me. They had something about them live the other night that made me want to dig further. But an album won’t emerge until next year. Too late for Stylus.

8. Dave Brubeck – “Take Five”
For that scene in Pleasantville, and also for my dad. He loves Brubeck. Cheesy as hell? I only thought so cos I assumed my dad isn’t cool. He isn’t. This is, though.

7. Elbow – “Station Approach”
I love Elbow, in a platonic way, and I think this might be my favourite song by them. It surges, you see. The best songs do. Surging is something dynamic range compression fucks-up. I wrote another Final Seconds blurb about “Station Approach”. It goes like this;

“Both triumphant and exhausted, this is the sound of coming home, literally. Comfort and revulsion, a slow, resigned meander suddenly enlivened by the stomp of recognition; ‘Coming home I feel like I / Designed these buildings I walk by’. Guy Garvey even finds affection here in the things he used to hate. From nothing to everything.”

I didn’t write about Elbow’s last album for Stylus because Ian called it first. Initially I thought it trailed off a touch too much; it doesn’t. Those last few songs are beautiful. Guy Garvey posting a comment on Imperfect Sound Forever made my heart swell. I walked past him on a Manchester street corner once, nearly a couple of years ago. I wish I’d said hi.

6. De La Soul – “Eye Know”
Would have been number 11 on this, but wasn’t, for some reason. It’s those opening guitar notes, isn’t it? Are they Steely Dan? I bet they’re Steely Dan.

5. Mega City Four
My first favourite band, because they were my older brother’s favourite band. His name is in the thank yous on one of their albums. He went to the guitarist’s stag do recently. My favourite song might be “Shivering Sand” or possibly “Shadow” or maybe “Vague” or perhaps “Anne Bancroft”. But it’s probably “Storms To Come”, which sounds like a storm, the grinding bassline and the sudden eruptions into maelstrom. It’s about being caught in blackness, trying to find your way out, waiting for the lightening to illuminate your path and realising… well, here’s how Wiz put it, more than fifteen years ago, in the song itself; “The lightening is too far away / And I can’t wait that long / Regardless of the light I’ll carry on”. Wiz died suddenly almost a year ago. I pitched a piece at The Guardian about how Myspace had brought together a network of past fans of the band. People who’d gigged and ligged together but lost touch as they got laugh lines and mortgages and children, but it was too late and they didn’t bite. My brother is one of those people who’d gigged and ligged.

4. Embrace – The Fireworks EP
I wrote another Final Seconds about “Blind” from this EP, because… oh fuck it.

“Blue and streaming, screaming even; the guitars in the centre of ‘Blind’ slip and slide from channel to channel, rip it apart from the inside; not a mixing board trick, but swinging a microphone around their head in the studio, rattling the sound up inside it. It snarls, it strides, it hides a battered heart. ‘Next time I run I’m gonna open my eyes’. Those guitars; my favourite guitars, ever.”

Really that was a makeweight though; what I should have done, months ago, years ago maybe, was write about the whole of the EP, every contour and note. How it starts with a strident, violent blast, a punch in the face, and then dips into the most beautiful song ever. How it then rises up again into “Blind” and pulverises. How it then dips back again, even more beautiful and ethereal. My relationship with Embrace is all kinds of fucking weird, as you know, and it all, every second of it, stems from this EP.

3. The Beta Band – “Push It Out”
The first Beta Band song I heard, and still my favourite; is that a gong that opens things or just an intrusively close cymbal? The rolling bassline; the distracted hum of the vocals, calling together from east and west; the lazy, jazzy piano breaks that bring things close to a head. Even after a decade I still can’t fathom what Steve Mason is pushing out, I just know it’s important to me. Every day in every way, like I say somewhere underneath in a blurb on his solo album, I love Steve Mason more and more.

2. M/A/R/R/S – “Pump Up The Volume”
Just because.

1. Talk Talk – Laughing Stock / The Colour Of Spring
Aside from a paragraph in the Postrock Top Ten, I’ve never really written about Laughing Stock, and I’ve never written about The Colour Of Spring at all. I wrote the following for the Final Seconds piece, too;

“The preceding four songs on Laughing Stock give ‘New Grass’ its power, its beauty, its bizarre amalgam of joy and desolation. ‘Taphead’ climaxes half an hour of emotional tumult in complete and utter crawling, isolated darkness, sin and death… and then ‘New Grass’ is the rebirth, dawn sunlight breaking through heavy clouds. Those skittish, distant drums, those hesitant guitar chords, faltering in perfection, falling from the sky. Sublime.”

That’s about half of one percent of what I’d want to say. Marcello Carlin once suggested on ILM that I ought to pitch at the 33 1/3 people about writing a book on Laughing Stock. Maybe one day I will.


Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Blogger Sylvie - 7:38 pm

Please do write a book about LS. I look forward to it. Just make sure you track Mark Hollis down and ask why he refuses to give us another album. And don't be satisfied with any crap about silence. We've heard that.

Blogger Ian - 7:19 am

Christ, one of the few old reviews I did that I'm still legitimately proud of. Cheers.


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Nick Southall was born in southwest England at the tail end of the 70s, and is the youngest of three brothers. He has a degree in popular culture and philosophy and has written about music for Stylus Magazine, The Guardian and Drowned In Sound, amongst others. He likes red wine, expensive headphones, spicy food, and the Hungarian national football team of the 1950s. His favourite record is the last one he listened to. You can contact him by email via sickmouthy @ gmail dot com should you so wish.

All material copyright Nick Southall 2006/2007/2008

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