Sitting around the house listening to records. In many ways, it’s what I like best. And, in many ways, it’s what I do best. With the help of a few discs, I can really whip myself up into a frenzy in almost no time at all. It’s nice when other people are around, sure, but there’s a certain poetry to the innumerable afternoons I’ve spent on my own, pawing through my records the way I used to paw through my baseball cards when I was a kid. Inevitably, on these magical, golden afternoons, I’ll haul out any number of 12”s. They’re not LPs and they’re not 7”s. The format is perfectly tailored to these days when I DJ for myself. I’ll start today with a few of my favorites, and I’ll check back in with more from time to time.
Cupol Like This for Ages (4AD, 1980)
Here’s a real weirdy. I am a fan of all Dome-related projects, and why this isn’t under the Dome moniker makes as much sense as it doesn’t… if that makes any sense. It’s more or less a Dome record, as it’s just Bruce Gilbert & Graham Lewis (they of Wire). And the a-side certainly sounds like moments on the Dome records (“Rolling Upon My Day” or “The Red Tent II” come to mind), but this is also its own special thing, so in the true Dome spirit they switch names and do this. That was always part of their thing, I suppose. There’s P’o, MZUI, the 3R4 LP with Russell Mills, etc. At any rate, “Like this for Ages” is a wonderful clanging, mournful, funky-in-the-least-obvious-way-possible murk with Lewis giving a sensationally dramatic vocal performance. “I salute the new day/It’s natural to be nervous.” My word! If I don’t relate to that line, I don’t relate to anything. A perfect song in every way. Singular, unique, and beautiful. Totally unlike anything else. Why aren’t there dance clubs that play this stuff?
The flip, “Kuba Cupol,” is more reminiscent of the 3R4 record, a swirling, repetitive mantra, with elements slowly accumulating to create a beautifully mysterious pool. Percussive statements loop and repeat against subtle electronic textures (not altogether different from the a-side), gradually gathering momentum and featuring all manner of great atmosphere along the way. And it spins at 33 1/3, whereas “Like this for Ages” travels at 45. Very cool! This is truly brave music, outside of anything as boring as a “genre.” You could say that this was part of what gave way to “techno,” but you could say that about a lot of things with a lot less personality and chutzpah. It was a happy day when this came through my door all those years ago.
Bryan Ferry Windswept (EG, 1985)
Oh, how to choose just one Ferry 12”? This is a strange, one, though, and I always get a kick out of it. “Windswept,” is, of course, from the Boys and Girls LP, and it’s nice enough to have it pulled out and placed on a record of its own, but it’s the accompanying three songs, all outtakes from the Bride Stripped Bare sessions, that are illuminating and strange. After the title track, we are treated to Ferry’s cover of Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love.” Perhaps it seems like an odd choice, but it’s a perfect platform for Ferry’s uneasy crooning. A bewildered and heart-breaking reading, and a nice launching pad for the band to take things briefly into bombastic territory near the end of the track.
Turn it over for “Feel the Need,” a song made popular by The Detroit Emeralds in 1973. Apart from a wonderfully evocative string intro, Ferry sticks fairly close to the original arrangement – a rare move for our hero, to be sure, but one that pays off heartily in this case. Bryan struts and swaggers his way through, boasting and pleading in equal measure. A great song. Rounding things out is that most fantastic of gifts: an unreleased Ferry original. “Broken Wings” be its name, and it’s an excellent slice of Ferry lamentation. These moments Bryan sees through the thin veneer of his faux-playboy lifestyle and into the depth of heartache are always so moving. The highlight of the record, in this reporter’s opinion.
Robert Haigh Juliet of the Spirits (L.A.Y.L.A.H., 1985)
I love Sema-era Haigh without reservation, and this 12” is just a gorgeous snapshot of his work around this time, maybe my favorite record of his. The a-side, “Juliet of the Spirits,” greets us with a familiar melody, one used on Sema’s Three Seasons Only LP and on Haigh’s “Piano Music” contribution to The Fight is On comp. Overlaid pianos and guitars mingle and swirl around each other in a series of increasingly beautiful and dramatic patterns, with strings shimmering through at the piece’s climax. I love Haigh’s overt romanticism, his unabashed use of sentimental melodies and motifs against the intelligent and very modern structure of much of his music. He is, as I am fond of saying, the King of Context. I’ve got an idea for a short film based on this piece that I just might try to make some day.
We flip the record for “The Sitting of the Last Sema,” a much more unsettling piece indeed. A series of small vignettes, micro-pieces, each with its own atmosphere. There are stabbing strings that would make Bernard Hermann wince, oddly pounded pianos, serene drones, and a series of crashes to yank us out of whatever mood we’ve gotten used to, in the style of much early Nurse with Wound or David Jackman’s Fiery Holes CD. Very odd, and the perfect accompaniment to the unabashedly beautiful a-side. What a record!
There are more of these on the horizon, but we’ll leave it at three tonight.