Before I leave the house and get a dose of this “Autumn” that everyone’s talking so highly of, let me tell you a thing or two about this record.
It’s a killer, it’s a Masterpiece Killer. I called it a Masterpiece in front of a few people the other day, and they balked at the word. “Masterpiece?!” they scoffed. Well screw them and all hail my boundless enthusiasm. Trust me to lay some weird antagonism on Matt Valentine and Erika Elder’s slippery love trip. What did he just say?
“It wasn’t what I meant/and I’ll hold on ‘til the good vibe comes back again”
See! Not only has this record incited me to dance around the house, it’s out to get me too, it’s that good. If there’s a slight hint of flabbergast drooping the periphery of this one way street, let it be explained thus: I’ve never been a huge fan, make that “a fan”, of MV and EE on record. Is that because I hate pronouncing their acronymically cumbersome name? Not just.
I downright dislike much of what I’ve heard and bought. Uranian Ray? People playing around with eclectic instruments and expecting any result to be some kind of divination doesn’t do it for me. I can’t pretend to have a grip on the groups immense discography, and I know little about Valentine’s Tower Recording beginnings, but I know a few.
Their first two records for Ecstatic Peace landed at the nose and tail tip of the dog-eared year of our gourd 2007. My single listen to Green Blues, the first of the twosome to eulogise their Maximum Arousal for the label, was not as captivating as Byron Coley and Thurston Moore suggest in the thirteen minute mini-documentary hosted below this review. Do they suggest that? Or do they just throw out some obscure references and look rather sullen while pretending to be excited…
Fuck me! An interruption: ‘Wandering Nomad’ just skewered my brain. Licked my foot into a stirrup, burst out of the stalls, won the race and didn’t stop running till we reached the Pacific and frolicked ‘midst the seas weeds, drunkenly stumbling in on a Thuja recording session and making love to their hand-lathed conch trumpets. It must be the tenth time I’ve listened to this record straight through, but these things just keep coming.
The over-stuffed Gettin’ Gone, released in the winter of late 2007 clocked in at 65 minutes. Opener ‘Susquehanna’ still has the power to excite me, as do the first thirty seconds of pretty much every track (‘Hammer Down’, ‘Mama My’ and ‘Day and Night’ in particular). But it’s almost universally downhill from there as each track gathers all sorts of boring, brown moss on it’s way down the valley. The band are good, Valentine and Elder included, and the arrangements are occasionally imaginative. But the lyrics, the vocals and the straightforward production make it a drab listen, dull enough to make me wonder if I really do like that new record I just took off…
I’ve got a pretty good idea of what packs and ships my dislike for the album. Byron Coley suggests that Valentine has bought into a ‘New England dumbo-mystic tradition’, I would agree, and on Gettin’ Gone it’s right at the fore. Both he and Elder pin their colours to the mast and repeatedly attempt to articulate their philosophy, a philosophy which (in my not so humble sounding opinion) is essentially inarticulate.
Interestingly Coley points out that many of the musicians in Valentine and Elder’s band name themselves after characters in Tom Robbins novels. I’ve read Jitterbug Perfume and Still Life With Woodpecker but beyond their page turning appeal I found them cavernously hollow, full of smug psycho-spiritual tricks but lacking any true/useful philosophy. They made nothing clearer, but spoke as if they had. Apparently Tom Robbins was at Timothy Leary’s bedside when he died. I heard once that he asked for a bacon sandwich just before he popped his clogs, does anyone know if that’s true? Comments forum below…
Their mutual professions of love are, well, kind of loveable if not engaging, but they regularly sound like stoned people trying to be poignant. Without wishing to cause offence, perhaps that’s just what they were when they were gettin’ gone… I don’t know about you, but I find that kind of pudgy confusion rather boring and at times frustratingly pitiful. Did anyone else get that vibe when Will Oldham’s character explains his Universe-shaped-like-a-teardrop theory around the campfire in the film Old Joy?
So make haste Sancho, let us return to our quest before the readers boredom doth hate become…
On ‘Bedroom Eyes’ Valentine sings “living like a comet, burning bright”, but I still get a giggle from pretending it’s “living like a commie”.
Barn Nova is back on, and so is my green light. Their sprawling Young-funk version of the old spiritual ‘Get Right Church’ was an immediate hook, and it slots in very well after resplendent opener ‘Feelin’ Fine’ (what do these people have against the letter G?). The production is top notch: the electric rhythm guitar is acoustically mic’d, with a nice soft crunch coming from the amp too. Sporadic bursts of bluesy lead are close, punchy and slick without ever being in-your-face, the slide finds a whole forest’s worth of space in the middle distance. The one note bass line, echoey drums, druggy backing vocals and the gorgeous, devotional melody at the heart make a fine a two and a half minutes, eliciting the fine feelin’ in the listener, rather than sellin’ it to ‘em.
‘Wandering Nomad’… I’ve already told you about that, before the tangent. It’s incredible, immense, Elder’s vocals are the best I’ve ever heard them, woozy and determined. The fuzzy guitar chords ring out like giant bearded bells from Maximum Arousal Cathedral. It’s no surprise that Justin Pizzoferrato and J Mascis are involved again, as they were on the label’s other recent shit-kicker, Hush Arbors’ Yankee Reality. Is this Ecstatic Peace’s in house team now? Can I send you people a demo?
So are you wondering where all my dislike got to? So am I… maybe they’re less about explaining how easy they’re livin’ and more about putting it into practice. If you’ve had a similar problem with MV & EE you might be surprised by this record, I’d recommend you take a dip.
‘Bedroom Eyes’ is something of a centrepiece, the only song of the eight to outlast the six and half minute mark by nearly doubling it. Both this song and ‘Summer Magic’ gather all the same ingredients that Gettin’ Gone threw to the cauldron, but here they’ve been marinated, tenderised and simmered long enough to make eleven minutes slide down like five and leave you wanting more. Juice and gravy flows from the very ladle that once doled out a lukewarm, stringy stew. If that slightly embarrassing steak-based metaphor left you feeling a little sickly in the psilocybin style, I might have given you the best hint I can about this album.
As the songs final, doomily downtuned chord fades with a growl, Valentine’s meandering acoustic style rears its head, along with his “fumbling amiably for the melody” falsetto vocal approach. This is often the point where I turn off completely, but ‘Fully Tanked’ is one of my favourite moments.
While Valentine sings “This kind of scene I can understand, searching for you” Elder doubles up, singing in that druggy, flat intonation style through such an elusive effect that you almost forget she’s there. The first burst of slide is so mutilated that it sounds like Johnny Greenwood on an antique string synth. After declaring his love for a couple of minutes the undercurrent takes a slightly dark turn, a distant distortion threatens to turn the whole thing black, another howl chimes in from the right, gets closer, then suddenly the howl is cut dead and it all pulls through, as ragged as it ever was. Rather than implying that a potential, unexplained, “bad trip” could be around the corner, it seems to imbue the sentiment with an almost articulate sincerity…
Maybe that’s going too deep.
There’s little things here and there that don’t do it for me, but even the pouting psych-folk apologies of ‘Snapperhead’ win through when coloured by such vivid production and fat sounds.