Chad Parkhill

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The Quietus

Unspeakably Beautiful and Impossibly Valuable

Vashti Bunyan’s Heartleap

Published by The Quietus, 20 October 2014. Original post. Vashti Bunyan by kDamo (Creative Commons).

Vashti Bunyan’s voice, equal parts fragile and beautiful, might well function as a metaphor for her two-part career. First, the fragile: after being discovered at a young age by The Rolling Stones’ manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, Bunyan embarked on a failed attempt at pop stardom. She later broke her contract with Loog Oldham, travelled the length of Britain in a horse-drawn cart in a quixotic attempt to find an artist’s colony set up by Donovan, and wrote an album’s worth of material on the way. The result and her debut, Just Another Diamond Day (1970), was a commercial flop. A dispirited Bunyan consequently quit the music industry. Then, the beautiful: thirty or so years later, after searching for her own name on the internet as a lark, she discovered that Diamond Day had found an appreciative audience in the then-burgeoning ‘freak folk’ scene and that original copies were changing hands for absurd sums on eBay. The album was given an official re-release, and she used the royalties to buy a basic home studio setup that would record her second album, 2005’s critically acclaimed Lookaftering. Now, she has released what will apparently be her third and last album, Heartleap.

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Beyond Tragedy

HTRK’s Psychic 9–5 Club

Published by The Quietus, 22 April 2014. Original post. HTRK by Gareth Jones (Creative Commons).

It’s impossible to talk about Psychic 9–5 Club without talking about tragedy. The press release accompanying advance copies of the album makes this explicit: this is, after all, the first HTRK album without any input from founding member Sean Stewart, who took his own life as the band were working on their second album, 2011’s Work (Work, Work). Even in their original three-piece incarnation, HTRK were no strangers to tragedy, having worked closely with Australian post-punk legend Rowland S. Howard—on both their own debut, Marry Me Tonight, and Howard’s final solo album Pop Crimes—before his untimely passing in 2009. You can therefore forgive Ghostly International’s publicists for pushing the band-marked-by-tragedy-makes-record-about-hope narrative, because in one sense it’s absolutely true: HTRK absolutely have known a great deal of tragedy—far more than their fair share of it—and Psychic 9–5 Club is indeed a record with a sunnier disposition than the claustrophobic Work (Work, Work).

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An Unspoken Pact

Festival Report: Golden Plains Eight

Published by The Quietus, 27 March 2014. Original post. Golden Plains festival by Ty Johnson.

What makes a music festival not merely good, but positively special? You can examine the various facets that come together to create a festival—lineup, production, logistics, performances—and assess each separately, but no amount of dispassionate dissection will render the secret alchemy visible. There’s something irreducible at the core of it. At least it feels this way while I’m at Golden Plains—held annually just outside of the quaintly bucolic town of Meredith, 122 km or so from Melbourne—which is arguably Australia’s finest music festival.

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Uncanny Beauty

Metronomy’s Love Letters

Published by The Quietus, 14 March 2014. Original post.   Metronomy by Mike Mantin (Creative Commons).

For all that Metronomy’s 2011 album The English Riviera was compared with Steely Dan and Fleetwood Mac on its release—the critical idée reçu being that it channeled both of these heavyweights of 70s AOR—the truth is that it actually sounds nothing like either of these bands (who don’t sound all that much like each other in any case). Go on, crack open your streaming service of choice and compare ‘The Look’ with, say, ‘Peg’ or ‘Go Your Own Way’. While it’s clear that The English Riviera has taken a few hints from the aforementioned, it’s also clear that there’s nothing derivative about it—it disregards the cruisy pleasures of Fleetwood Mac and Steely Dan for something nervier, reedier.

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Direct and Artless

Planningtorock’s All Love’s Legal

Published by The Quietus, 26 February 2014. Original post. Planningtorock by Bang On PR.

Planningtorock—the solo project of Bolton-born, Berlin-based Jam (formerly Janine) Rostron—has long been dogged by comparisons to the work of her friends and collaborators The Knife. These haven’t always been accurate or fair; contra Pitchfork, I can’t see all that much in common between the musical exuberance and mad funfair atmosphere of Planningtorock’s 2006 debut Have It All and The Knife’s taut, dark techno masterpiece of the same year, Silent Shout. Yet as her career has progressed, Rostron seems to have acquiesced to those comparisons. She worked more closely with The Knife on the magisterial soundtrack to Hotel Pro Forma’s opera Tomorrow, in a Year (2010); and her second album, 2011’s W, contains a good few tricks taken from Karin Dreijer Andersson’s playbook, including pitch-bending vocals as a form of gender-bending.

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Uncomfortable Complicity

St. Vincent’s St. Vincent

Published by The Quietus, 25 February 2014. Original post. St. Vincent by Jason Persse (Creative Commons).

St. Vincent’s eponymous title, coming as it does after Annie Clark’s three prior solo albums and her collaboration with David Byrne, implies that the record will be a clear statement of intent. Fittingly enough for an artist with near-legendary creative control over her output, the title was a very deliberate decision. “I was reading Miles Davis’ autobiography,” she recently told Paste, “and he talks about how the hardest thing for any musician to do is to sound like himself … and that’s why I decided to self-title this record because I feel like I sound like myself.” It’s an uncannily good time for Clark to sound like herself, too: the Byrne collaboration, the ever-so-slightly disappointing Love This Giant, may not have sold by the bucketload, but it certainly has introduced her work to a much wider audience. Good thing, then, that St. Vincent is the best kind of statement album: it’s a sharp, laser-focused collection designed to show off Clark’s ample virtues as a songwriter and performer.

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Dream River’s Ghost

Bill Callahan’s Have Fun With God

Published by The Quietus, 7 February 2014. Original post. Detail from cover, Bill Callahan, Have Fun With God (2014).

If the world needed any further proof that Bill Callahan has an almost pathological contrarian streak, he delivered it last year when he promoted his then-forthcoming album, Dream River, by releasing a dub version of one of its highlights, ‘Javelin Unlanding’. Aside from the perversity of promoting an album by way of music that would not appear on it, Callahan’s choice to release ‘Expanding Dub’ as Dream River’s lead single revealed the artist’s heretofore unknown love for dub music. As he explained in an interview with the Quietus last year, “Dub is a spiritual, abstract, visceral, mystical thing. Finite and infinite at the same time. Deeply rooted in the earth and in outer space. It was invented in Jamaica and no one else really messes with it as it is greatly abetted when the original song has a reggae rhythm, which my songs largely do not.” Despite the caveat that his songs are seemingly not suited to dub treatment, Callahan has produced not only a dub version of ‘Javelin Unlanding’ but also dub versions of each of the other seven songs that appear on Dream River, all of which have been collected on Have Fun With God.

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“‘Beer’ and ‘Thank You'”

An Interview with Bill Callahan

Published by The Quietus, 8 October 2013. Original post. Bill Callahan by Guillaume Sautereau (Creative Commons).

Bill Callahan’s latest album, Dream River, is as luscious as the title implies—full of warm analogue tones, flutes and fiddles, and softly-tapped hand drums. But it’s not all smooth sailing: like dreams themselves, Dream River has deep undercurrents, some of them quite disturbing. In many ways it is a continuation of his 2011 album Apocalypse, whose second side focused on a mellow American folk sound indebted to Willie Nelson’s Stardust and Fred Neil. In Dream River, however, there’s a faint whiff of decay in the sumptuousness—something that presages both the inevitability of death and its necessity for rebirth (a dynamic captured beautifully on ‘Spring’).

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Cold, Methodical, and Deadly

Fuck Buttons’ Slow Focus

Published by The Quietus, 26 July 2013. Original post.   Fuck Buttons by Makinations (Creative Commons).

Among the litany of horrible music journalism clichés that ought to be stricken from any album review is the phrase “the album so-and-so was born to make”. It’s not only lazy writing, but it has some pretty dodgy metaphysical baggage, since it implies that every artist or band has a telos towards which they will naturally, almost effortlessly, work. Of course, this isn’t the case: artists make albums through consciously directed hard work, and sometimes their gambles turn out to be failures—David Bowie was not only born to make Low, but also to make albums as forgettable as Never Let Me Down. Despite its readily apparent incoherence, though, music writers still cling to the “born to make” phrase, which indicates that it serves a purpose as a shorthand for something a little more complex. After all, how else can you describe an album that simultaneously transcends an artist or band’s previous work while sounding so characteristically them that it could be the work of no other? How else can you express the wonderment of hearing a record that retrospectively alters your opinion of a back catalogue, that brings together and synthesises the disparate parts of a latent greatness—an album that, in short, unbreaks the circle of an artist or group’s own narrative?

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What’s in a Name?

Talking Heads’ Speaking in Tongues Revisited

Published by The Quietus, 22 July 2013. Original post. David Byrne by alterna2 (Creative Commons).

When Annie Clark, better known as St. Vincent, took to the stage for an encore with David Byrne at Hobart’s MONA FOMA festival on January 20 of this year, she began by recounting her first encounter with Byrne’s music. At a tender young age she had watched Jeff Kanew’s 1984 film Revenge of the Nerds—a film released when Clark herself was only one year old—and heard the Talking Heads song ‘Burning Down the House’, cleverly synced with a scene where jock fraternity the Alpha Betas accidentally burn down their own lodgings. Byrne’s music—and Talking Heads’—was, she continued, already part of the fabric of American popular culture by that stage, and her now thirty-year-old self can still barely believe she has the honour of recording and touring with him.

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