November 6: Requests edition: Grant Lee Buffalo, Guided by Voices, Hawkwind, Lloyd Cole and the Commotions, The Monks, Beth Orton, Pere Ubu

This week’s edition is a requests edition, which means that these seven albums, which have nothing immediately pigeonholing them, all get a spin. So let’s see what’s in the requests bag shall we?

Grant Lee Buffalo, ‘Fuzzy’

I was only aware of this band because of nearly-eponymous singer Grant Lee Phillips appearing on a couple of Eels albums in the 90s. This album, from 1993, is somewhere between Husker Du and REM, meaning that it’s American alt-rock which is both wrenching & heartfelt and scuzzy & noisy (although it does stop at piano-based soul for ‘Dixie Drug Store’). Its 48-minute run time seems to fly by; this is worth your time.

Guided by Voices, ‘Alien Lanes’

Like Car Seat Headrest, GBV were a solo home recording project who suddenly found themselves on a major label. While CSH took the opportunity to expand their line-up and songwriting, GBV seem to have remained wilfully obscure, rushing through 28 songs in just 41 minutes (what are they, Napalm Death?) and often using the everything-on-treble production of the lowest of lo-fi. The album occasionally peaks, clips and hisses as if advertising its Tascam roots. There’s echoes of contemporaries The Mountain Goats (who do not appear on the list), and clearly Times New Viking are among those who’ve heard this. If the songs are too short to get much of a grip on – some are under 30 seconds long – the cumulative effect is enjoyable. An act doing what the hell they want.

Hawkwind, ‘Space Ritual’

The live sets that this album is taken from sound like the sort of thing that would have punks rolling their eyes until they went dizzy: an 86-minute concept about space and the music of the spheres, with dancing girls, lasers and Michael Moorcock reading poetry. Mind you, the album has Lemmy on bass, and Johnny Rotten liked Van der Graaf Generator right? So who knows? Anyway the live show sounds amazing and the album finds itself in the unique position of sounding the same all the way through, yet not sounding like anything else: a scuffed-up, distorted take on psychedelia with spacey effects (from an “audio generator”) and saxophone at the front. Lemmy’s presence is most notable on ‘Orgone Generator’, a ten-minute track using the old Bo Diddley/’Jean Genie’ riff. Who knows what the hell is going on here but it’s pretty wonderful.

Lloyd Cole and the Commotions, ‘Rattlesnakes’

Cole was a Glasgow university student who got the Commotions together for this (and two later albums). The album’s most notable factor is its lyrics: references to Simone de Beauvoir, ‘On the Waterfront’ and drafted-in references from Cole’s studies. The music is perfectly fine 80s indie-pop with some similarities to The Go-Betweens: presumably similar influences. ‘Are You Ready to be Heartbroken?’ is a fine outro (of course Spotify glues on superfluous bonus tracks); it also triggered a rare good answer song in Camera Obscura’s ‘Lloyd, I’m Ready to be Heartbroken’.

The Monks, ‘Black Monk Time’

WHY DO YOU KILL ALL THOSE KIDS OVER THERE IN VIETNAM? Like The Cramps if they’d been around ten years earlier, The Monks is an unusually aggressive take on psychedelia, twangy surf and 50s shuffle. They sound almost as if they attempted to write the pop music of their contemporaries, but were on all the bad trips, turning their work into an Arkham Asylum rendering. You know like in ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ where the Hallowe’en band try to play ‘Jingle Bells’? Even their love song ‘That’s My Girl’ comes over creepily possessive! Of course the album’s peculiar rattle, distorted organ and freak-out vocals were an influence on punk, Krautrock and similar weirdos. Worth a listen!

Beth Orton, ‘Central Reservation’

The perpetual Brit Awards nominee and sometime Chemical Brothers collaborator is probably best known for this album, which was highly critically-acclaimed, even if the sales weren’t quite up to it. This late-90s release is very much of its time, and is pleasant enough without being desperately engaging: Orton lacks the distinctive weirdness of a Bjork or a Tori, and this album can feel somewhat anonymous. Opener ‘Stolen Car’ is the highlight.

Pere Ubu, ‘The Modern Dance’

Somewhere between Public Image Ltd and The Cardiacs, ‘The Modern Dance’ oscillates between swishy art punk, boogie piano, avant sax squealing and yelping vocals from David Thomas. As with much post-punk, it’s an album that engages the brain and the feet but perhaps not necessarily the heart; but who cares when the tightness and the cool sound mean that the album flies by, running a mere 36 minutes (although it does slow to a crawl on no-tune atonal dirge ‘Sentimental Journey’). The album came out on Blank, but Chrysalis picked them up for their next album. Nowadays a record as uncompromising as this would stand no chance of attracting a major: the 2016 Pere Ubus would be marooned on Soundcloud and Bandcamp. We will get to hear their major label debut, ‘Dub Housing’, at a later date, as it’s also among the 1001.

Next week, good news for sadists, as it’s time for one of the popular If I Must weeks! Feel free to request anything you know will irritate me, but don’t worry too much as there’s still plenty of material for these weeks.

Progress: 330 of 1001 (33%), 671 remain.

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Author: JT Wilson

Listening to all of the albums in the '1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die' book (2006 edition).

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