Play One Note

Psychedelic music blog covering psychedelic, folk, drone, metal, and all other forms of out music.

Posts tagged with ‘too pure’

Th’ Faith Healers – Imaginary Friend

January 30, 2011

th faith healers imaginary friendIn a perfect world, Th’ Faith Healers would be as popular as the Pixies.  Critics would gush about the noise-pop perfectionism of the band’s three Too Pure releases, Lido, Imaginary Friend, and L’.  Th’ Faith Healers would be millionaires, or at least hundreds-of-thousands-aires, and they’d go on world tours and tear up the festival circuit as headliners or near-headliners.  Girls would flip.

Alas.

At least we have what we have from them, and that’s three records of nearly peerless aggro drone-pop mastery.

Th’ Faith Healers were part of that mid-90s Too Pure stable that included such lush and luscious bands as Laika, Mouse on Mars, Stereolab, Seefeel, Rothko, and Pram, among others.*  Most of those bands were known for introspection, atmosphere, and texture.  Th’ Faith Healers were one of the few bands that broke that unity of sound, emphasizing concrete crunch over abstracted abstraction, and they arguably did so more than any other labelmate.**

Though I alluded to the Pixies, and though there’s an obvious and undeniable affinity, there’s more to Th’ Faith Healers than aggressive, quirky pop.  The squalls of noise, despite being resolutely lo-fi, are much more abrasive than anything you’re likely to find on anything Black Francis has had a hand in.  The songs themselves owe much more to the chugging, hypnotic repetition of Krautrock than the two-minute sugarbursts the Pixies excelled at.  Perhaps most notably, the sense of bouncy, in-your-face fun that characterizes the Pixies has been swapped out for a foreboding weirdness.  All these changes, I should note, are to the vast betterment of Th’ Faith Healers.

Imaginary Friend is sequenced carefully.  Th’ Faith Healers start off with a muscular brand of amphetamine-fueled pop and then methodically eviscerate it, stretching it out and making it progressively moodier.  Opener “Sparklingly Chime,” with its chunky bassline, spoken vocals, and wailing guitar lead, could conceivably be the quirkiest song on, say, a Breeders record.  Somehow, though, I don’t think anyone is going to mistake the menacing, propulsive, seven-minute-plus “The People,” complete with cathartic caterwauls of noise and murmured falsetto, with “Mr. Grieves.”  (Guess which song I prefer?)  And Black Francis at his absolute ballsiest would have been terrified of the half-hour Kraut-punk jam “Everything, All At Once Forever/Run Out Groove,” which is sort of like the 90s version of “This Dust Makes That Mud”—unapologetically indulgent, meandering, and positively hypnotic.

Though Th’ Faith Healers were, sonically, a bit out of place in comparison with their contemporaries on Too Pure, they really did share a number of aesthetic sensibilities with their labelmates, including a fascination with the possibilities of sound and an emphasis on nontraditional song structure.  Imaginary Friend, in all its threatening, noisy glory, is a testament to that, a nocturnal, creepy, joyfully menacing piece of work.

*Christ almighty!  Every time I look at the Too Pure roster, I get chills.  Too Pure is, pound for pound, my favorite record label.

**Though McClusky comes close.

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Long Fin Killie – Houdini

April 18, 2010

long fin killie houdiniHoudini, Long Fin Killie‘s 1995 debut, is an absolutely relentless display of technical virtuosity grafted onto a typically British post-rock sensibility.  That means elements like spaciness, repetition, attention to texture and mood over melody, and a general disregard of verse/chorus/verse are all in effect.  Those elements, however, are rendered secondary to Long Fin Killie’s demanding barrage of metronomic instrumental interplay.

Witness, for example, the minor-key, vaguely folky acoustic guitar lockstep that is “Corngold.”  It’s got all the hallmarks of a typical British post-rock song from that genre heydey: there’s a circular song structure, semi- or entirely unidentifiable instruments and sounds (I would be shocked if that was a cimbalom panning around in there, but it sure as hell sounds like one), and an extremely strong, well-developed aura of mystery and space, but it’s all detail sprucing up the driving purpose of the thing, which is kept central.  “Corngold” remains hypnotic, but it’s in a decidedly focused, honing way, not in a diffusing, dreamy one.

The same could be said everything on this album, even “How I Blew It With Houdini,” a gorgeous, pristine centerpiece burbling with layer upon layer of complexly intertwined instrumentation.  Though it’s a profoundly mellow, relaxing song, rich with detail that slowly unfolds and unwinds over its nine minutes, it never feels dense or unfocused.  There’s a purpose here, too.

Psychedelia is usually considered “drug music.”  The reasons for this are many and obvious, with the otherworldly moods both psych and drugs evoke being the primary one.  It’s perhaps unusual, then, that Long Fin Killie’s music, undeniably psychedelic, evokes a nearly aggressive sobriety.  Even at its dreamiest moments, of which there are many, songwriter Luke Sutherland’s music maintains an almost inhuman precision.  The same occurs when the band swings the other way, unleashing nearly unhinged blasts of aggression (such as on the dizzyingly busy “Flower Carrier”) that are nevertheless, ultimately, tightly controlled.  Instead of mind-melting, space-expanding solos, the band’s skill is harnessed inward, making repetitive riffs of astonishing intricacy and detail, with the complex, airtight drumming patterns in particular recalling jungle’s surgical exactitude.  (This comparison isn’t a reach on my part; Long Fin Killie’s final album, Amelia, made this connection explicit with live-drumming Amen breaks all over the place.  It’s really kind of breathtaking to listen to.  Sutherland’s subsequent project, Bows, is also indebted to jungle.)

I’m tempted to be lazy here and just quit without explicitly explaining just why/how Houdini is “psychedelic,” but, given my previous paragraph, I must.  Here it is: There’s no druggy feeling, sure, but that reaching-beyond element is absolutely 110% in effect here, not just in the final product itself (the songs), but in the way those songs are constructed, which demonstrates a restless, heady curiosity.  Also, the hypnotic introspection characteristic of so much psychedelia is completely present and dazzlingly effective.  Long Fin Killie in general, and Houdini in particular, demands close listening.  Ultimately, what Houdini is about is a group of musicians taking their considerable instrumental skills, merging them through their synergistic dynamics, and methodically building a platform to stand upon and touch the sky.

Too Pure: A Note About the Record Label

Houdini was released on Too Pure, a UK-based label that had a staggeringly impressive post-rock/electronic run in the mid-90s, releasing classic albums by Moonshake, Pram, Stereolab, Laika, Seefeel, Th’ Faith Healers, and Mouse on Mars.  This lineup, with its fearless approach to experimentation with new sounds and new studio techniques, epitomized what made the era (from roughly 1994-1998, with outliers of a couple years in either direction) my favorite in the history of music.  Houdini is just one brilliant star among many in the Too Pure firmament.  (For the record, Too Pure might have the best, deepest stable of underrated releases, pound for pound, of any record label I’m aware of.  Might be fun to write about…)

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