This wind that blows, blows me nay guid…

james-printYou’ll have noticed a certain amount of Krautrock freebasing going on over these pages of recent, but I’m over all that for the moment. You’ll be glad to know I’ve weaned myself off the German experimental stuff, with the help of a strict Fall-only diet over the last week; and started off on something diametrically (almost macrobiotically) different.

Alasdair Roberts

Great news! The miserable old curmudgeon is headed this way next month, with a date in Stroud and another in Cheltenham. I shall certainly be there at one or both of those soirees. And now I’m back on to thinking about him, I find out belatedly he’s released another superb record to general muted flourish and the excitement and acclaim  of virtually no one.

And God knows why, Plaint of the Lapwing is another beautiful, nuggety affair, released with the support of Sheffield keyboard-player James Green. I’d be disappointed if a Roberts album wasn’t set firmly in the soil and cripplingly steeped in natural imagery. And Plaint certainly is that – winged  and crawling things feature heavily; seas, rocks, famines and sundry meteorological terms too. We’re also treated to a humble parade of blacksmiths, vine-pruners and cordwainers (I had to look this one up – cobblers, as you’re asking). There are other miscellaneous hapless characters who inexorably descend to the clay (if they’re lucky – the Left Hand Man ends up swinging from a tree, “free as air”). All, much as you’d expect, the stuff we know and love about Alasdair Roberts.

What makes this record a little more than just another standard AR disk is, I think, the contribution of Mr Green ar(hitherto unfamiliar to this punter), who manages to colour Roberts’ obdurate monochrome landscapes with all sorts of warm hues and sensitive and sensible contributions. Piano and organ parts appear and even, I think – incredible though it sounds – the odd reedy-sounding synth too – all to great effect. Even Roberts’ wilfully archaic language doesn’t sound quite so out of-time with the aid of a gentle sprucing from Green.

Claypipemusic has an interesting piece about the record, including an account from Roberts of how he and Green started collaborating. It’s here and it’s a good read.

I’d love to include a video of the pair of them playing from the video, preferably with Green on his outlandishly fabulous harmoniflute, but alas, there seems to be absolutely nothing around.

Do have a listen to this, though, the organ line on it is gorgeous…

21:32

 

 

cluster-moebius-and-roedelius-seventiesI think I may have passed some sort of rock-ist milestone this evening. I’m now about 2 minutes away from listening to Cluster ’71 all the way through. If this means nothing to you at all then, you’re alright…

No problem, you can move on, nothing to see here…

But if you are aware of Cluster’s first record since the departure of Conrad Schnitzler and the exchange of the “K” for a “C”, you’ll possibly be raising an eyebrow quizzically (most cases), snorting dismissively into your Friday evening glass of red (probably quite a few), or possibly wandering trance-like over to your CD / vinyl collection, scratching your chin and chuckling to yourself.

Cluster

Cluster ’71 is made up of 3 tracks, all of which you’d have to say are pretty “investigational” – long shapeless feedback and reverb-drenched explorations that occasionally use conventional tools like rhythm and tunefulness, but are generally only on the briefest of nodding terms with such orthodoxies. There are no vocals, no instruments you can identify and nothing you’d call a “song”. There aren’t even any song titles as such – the two tracks that made up side one of the record are called “7:42”, “15:43” and I’m currently listening to “21:32” which made up the second side and is … well, you’re smart, you get the idea…

My younger self would of course be turning in his grave at this news and would no doubt be lobbying for some sort of sci-fi divorce from his later self. I remember gleefully chuckling away to myself when a friend admitted he often dozed off listening to Tangerine Dream and Eno. This was not what I felt music was for – dancing and leaping, yeah; arguing and studying, for sure; impressing girls with, given a chance; but sleeping? An admission of boredom, surely. Music needs rhythm, words, chords and above all guitars, as loud and as demented as possible.

Cluster ’71 has no actual guitars that I can recognise, almost no drumming that fits my definition, certainly no chords. It is shapeless and has no structure. It would stretch the patience of many listener. And yet, it really is compelling, you’re drawn in surprisingly easily to what on the face of it is just a racket.

I guess the only grudging concession my former self would give it is that it is certainly loud and definitely abrasive –r-766860-1156671425-jpegpretty much impossible to sleep to. Jarring shafts of metallic synth parade up and down stage, awkward loops of futuristic sound bounce from one speaker to the next, great fuzzy waves of electronic noise throb across and behind the synthesisers creating a sort of rhythm (the best we’re going to get). You’re really a long way from home here…

If we’re looking for touchstones to compare this strange, uncompromising record to, you could probably think about Florian Fricke and the early drone-driven Popol Vuh stuff, only a fair bit harsher and not at all “ambient”. And without any native percussion. Or you could perhaps compare it to the echo-y relentlessness of Neu!’s “Negativeland”, in the sense that waves of unforgiving sound stagger back and forth through your headphones. But again, without the drums. Or the bass.

There’s certainly no “motorik” elements here – you wouldn’t play it in the car, or when you’re jogging. You’d definitely not play it with friends round (maybe friends you’d really fallen out with) and I’d not be expecting to see it on the jukebox of any of the pubs I go to. I’m currently struggling with a dizzying head-cold at the moment, which may well be significant. Maybe this is a record you listen to with a mug of honey and lemon, your senses already cack-handed and askew. Maybe when you are kind of OK hearing the world bounce and twitch in what would normally be an alarming fashion, the opening murmurs of “15:43” slinking into your unsuspecting headphones.

Cluster were Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius, (and for the purposes of this record only, Conny Plank) who went on to make a whole bunch of other records, some of which are far less challenging (although Cluster II, which I’m yet to hear, is by all accounts more of the same). Other records include Zuckerzeit, a gentler, more melodic affair which appears on various “Greatest of the Seventies” lists and is generally considered their best. They also worked intermittently with Michael Rother as Harmonia, and went on to record with Eno, releasing the much-delayed Tracks and Traces which I wrote about a couple of years ago.

As far as YouTube or anything else is concerned, there’s predictably nothing out there at all, apart from whole album posts (hard to see Moebius and Roedelius doing a cheery KEXP session, although the between songs banter would’ve been an awkward joy…). But how about a tap dripping onto a spoon and cereal bowl in the sink (to the strains of “Caramel” from the Zuckerzeit album)? That oughta do it…

 

(As long as you realise, I’m not giving you the real shit here, I love and respect you all too much…)