30 March 2008

I have bought rather a lot of records recently, by which I mean those slabs of vinyl, as opposed to the synonymising many people use between the term ‘record’ and a full-length recording on any format. So far this year I have taken receipt of one hundred and forty-five records. But while my rate of purchase seems not to be reducing any time soon, some favourites are popping their heads out of the melee and making themselves known. At some point I will write on them all, but for now I shall make mention of one particular release.

I have grown to loathe the current trend among music listeners to announce that a certain album is their Album of the Year So Far. I can see no reason why I should care given that, certainly at the time of writing, the majority of albums this year are yet to see release. Granted, I appreciate the possible slippery slope of a blogger mentioning the necessity of anything, but at least if someone tells me that a particular album is their favourite of 2003, I will likely pay attention (depending on whom is saying this).

With this in mind, it is with great trepidation and shame that I inform you that this particular release is my favourite of 2008 thus far. There is a condition to this statement: it is a collected re-release of albums released in 2005 and 2007, so I have both lived with this music and already rate it highly. How highly? I’m afraid that will have to wait until such time as my countdowns resume. (Hopefully not too long now.)

So what is this album that melds two previous ones in such a fashion that I am ridiculously impressed with it?

Long had I waited for a vinyl release of some Shining; indeed that was the sole reason I hadn’t got any of their CDs in. I could feel some twelves on their way: I would never have dared dream that their two Rune Grammafon releases would emerge for the price of one. Sometimes it pays to wait.

I knew Shining were a great band. I ‘knew’ this before I had even heard them, because they appeared inextricably linked to the awesome Jaga Jazzist. It turns out the only real link there is the fact that Shining leader Jørgen Munkeby was in Jaga until 2002. That fact makes the similarity between the two outfits so much more impressive. Munkeby left before Jaga became the organic jazz-rock monster they are now, and a similar description could realistically be used for the music of Shining since he departed the relative security of Jaga.

Of course there are differences, of a very stark yin-yang nature. Where Jaga revel in the euphoric in music, in intricate poly-melody and dense arrangement, hard brass and drums meeting twinkling keys and serene wordless vocals, Shining proffers the dark side of the aesthetic. No less technically skilled, well arranged or clearly produced, Munkeby’s baby (Jaga very much belongs to the insanely talented Lars Horntveth) focuses more on the bombastic, the sense of primal power that rock music brings to the table.

Described by the band itself as ‘art-rock’, the music on these two discs (disc one being the more recent Grindstone and disc two being 2005s In the Kingdom of Kitsch You Will Be a Monster) combines propulsive rock with eerie, almost black metal-inspired, sequences and lush soundtrack-esque arrangements. It sounds darker and a touch less unified than the polished teamwork easily recognisable from the recent Jaga material, but that is probably to its benefit. The music of Shining feels more spontaneous, and liable to surprise. Where Jaga comforts – in the best sense possible – Shining is music of such dynamic nature that the listener cannot know what is around the corner until that corner has been passed by.

I shan’t go on too much about Shining or Jaga quite yet,: they will feature on yearly countdowns as I’m sure you have gathered. But the Shining double pack is something I have been listening to a lot of, and can see myself listening to a lot more in the near (and hopefully distant) future. Adrien Begrand was fortunate enough to see them in Norway recently. I can but hope they will appear soon on these shores; while I attend few gigs nowadays, this would be quite essential musical nourishment.

Another album I have greatly enjoyed listening to, with strangely similar musical intent – has been The Rotters’ Club, the final album from Hatfield and the North, released on Virgin in 1975. I can’t remember exactly when I began wanting it, or why, but I did and I got it in the other week for only thirteen pounds. I thought it might have been Reynolds or Woebot, but Woebot evidently hated it. That’s really odd, because I thought he loved it. Reynolds, as far as I can tell, hasn’t said too much about it on his blog. He did pen an awesome prog-listomania reference thing back in October 2003, in which little was said of H&N. And, though I have navigated pretty well, direct links to his posts seem not to be working. So here, a massive month-archive you’ll have to scroll through. Or just not click on.

Well I don’t know why I wanted it then. Maybe I saw the cover and thought ‘that’s nice’, in a move completely oppo-zoppo to Woebot. But I am glad I did get it, because it’s technically insane but not nobby about it; it’s really really English but not offensive to my largely – let’s face it – un-English tastes. And it’s humorous, but not crap like most ‘humorous’ music. i really want to get more Pip Pyle stuff, as he seemed quite the rock composer. In fact, I’d go as far as to say it is easily one of my favourite records of the seventies. Not that I have heard too many, but of the ones I have heard it is high pon de list. And here’s the sleeve (Woebot’s copy) so you can make your own mind up:


  1. Anonymous9:02 pm

    Now, when folks go about saying things like "The Rotters Club" my thoughts immediately jumpt to Jonathon Coe/Birmingham references. I was due to ask if this album was inspired by the novel, but a quick googlification tells me that the title of the novel was taken from the album. Craziness.

    Also: Hurrah~! for Shining. Even though I've always found everything I've ever heard by Jaga Jazzist to be dull. That's only been odd bits, though - which whole album should I attempt to get a proper idea of the magnificence so many say they have?

  2. I am about to receive the last three Jaga albums on vinyl, and I should be better placed to bang on about them following that. In the meantime, get a nice hot cup of tea brewed and immerse yourself in What We Must. It might be a tad chin-strokey for your taste but, putting myself out there (wherever 'there' may be), I love it.


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