Regular readers may recall that I’ve got a bit out of step. You can blame the travails of British summer and a stressful few weeks at work for getting me back in kilter.
We skipped June’s Album of the Month in the midst of a heatwave. Well – that feels like a lifetime ago. The central heating even went on briefly at the weekend. The holiday season is well underway at work so we are covering two people’s workloads. Bring back full scale industrial shut downs, I say.
So now feels the right to go backwards to Max Richter’s “Behind The Counter” compilation. This is the first of what looks likely to be a series from Rough Trade of artist curated work, inspirations and influences, you know the sort of thing. My first listen revealed it to be an icy but beautiful connection, far removed from the mercury hitting the upper limits of an enjoyable June period of prolonged sunshine.
The selection from Richter is very much in keeping with his own music, such as “Sleep” which was a Rough Trade AOM back in 2015 (Reviewed here). The 36 tracks fall into a number of broad categories:
- Old classical – There is a Bach piano piece, some Rachmaninoff, a Handel choral work
- Modern classical – We have some of Max’s own work (including a “Dream 3” from “Sleep”, excerpts from a Philip Glass opera, a Kronos Quarter string work
- The outer extremes of electronica and rock – Boards of Canada, Aphex Twin and Let’s Eat Grandma all pop up.
The work is described as “mixed”, in so much as the tracks flow from one to another. Much of it is beatless though, so it doesn’t feel like a traditional DJ mix set. It hangs together very well though, nothing jars even when Mogwai and Godspeed You Black Emperor bring a few electric guitars to the party. Things even get upbeat in relative terms with the introduction of Low’s “What Part of Me”. This isn’t chill out music by any stretch of the imagination. The dissonance provided by the Godspeed track and the intricate rhythms of the Philip Glass and Steve Reich pieces prevent you drifting off in a state of blissed out reverie.
I’m a big fan of Mogwai and Richter has chosen the opening track from last year’s soundtrack to the Atomic movie (which I wrote about here). The cinematic quality of the song sit well between the preceding piano and cello duet, written by Nadia Boulanger (a teacher of Philip Glass amongst others) and the following modern classical piece by Thomas Adès.
The physical format versus the digital is complicated. The vinyl edition comes on three green LPs, in a trifold sleeve with informative notes on the track selection. This places the tracks in a different order to the mixed version available on CD and download but does introduce the options for longer versions. For example, whilst the Godspeed You track is just over four minutes long on the digital version and opens the second CD, on the vinyl version it clocks in at over twenty minutes and is the last track on the album. The AOM edition also has a bonus CD of unmixed tracks plus a 7″ single too. It is a thing of great heft.
I’m enjoying listening to the album as a background, a soothing balm for soul. It is mostly gentle but the choice of tracks maintains the interest levels without being gimmicky. This is some achievement given that the music spans a period of some 650 years, starting with “Hoquetus David” by Guillaume de Machaut.
Max has suggested that the selection was informed by his wanderings around the store. I’m sure this has informed the newer (i.e. 20th and 21st century selections) but my recent visits to Rough Trade haven’t included much Handel and Purcell in the racks. I’m guessing that Richter started with the classical content and added the more typical content. That doesn’t detract from the compilation though, and provides the juxtaposition between the classical and modern without any unseemly jolts. It also potentially introduces other musical genres to the consciousness of Rough Trade shoppers who, without doing them too much of a disservice, may not be as familiar with classical music as they are with Rough Trade’s usual musical stock.
The difference in formats is significant though. With something that relies on a continuous musical sequence over two eighty minute mixes, changing an LP every twenty minutes is a unnecessary disturbance. It is an Album Of the Month selection that really doesn’t lend itself to vinyl to get the best out of it.
I can see this being an album I come back to when the mood takes me. It just won’t be the vinyl version that I’ll be listening to.
If nothing else though, the “Behind The Counter” series gives me an excuse to revisit this gem:
From 1994’s “Middle Class Revolt” LP, this was classic invigorating and accessible Fall. Reminiscent of the Brix Smith years, this was one of the highlight of an approachable but uneven album. It was one of the last Fall LPs I bought, the fifty plus minute CD could have benefited from a little culling. I see the Fall have a new album out this month, their 32nd “New Facts Emerge”. I’ve lost touch with them in recent years.
The new album is recorded as a four piece and includes song titles that could have only been generated by Mark E Smith or possibly Pavement – try “Couples vs Jobless mid 30s” or “O! ZZTRRK Man” for size. Whoever is supporting Smith, the LPs remains identifiable and uniquely as the work of the Fall. More of a guitar/bass/drums album, it has an amount of gusto that are a tribute to Smith as he turns sixty. There was a scare recently when the BBC tweeted his death but rumours were well and truly exagerrated.
I really think they are into completely uncharted territory. We are 38 years beyond their first LP “Live At The Witch Trials”. In terms of passage of time and frequency of output, there are no other bands that come close in terms of maintaining a consistently high standard of work, which is a hell of an achievement, given the fragile make up of the band beyond Smith and his challenging personality and idiosyncratic working methods.