Thursday, October 27, 2005

Those lovely people (probably just person: James Nice, appropriately named) just reissued a late-period Ultramarine album . And yunno, 'spretty good, but I think they, like a lot of people by the mid-to-late 90s ,had gotten a bit lost in their gear and all the capabilities and options it presented.

1991's Every Man And Woman Is A Star , though--which LTM also reissued in wondrously glistening remastered form and I blogged about at almost the very start of this blog--sounds as timeless as ever. I dug it out the other week, actually, and you know what, I actually teared up at a couple of points. It was those samples that did, the ones they took from god-knows-what BBC 2 or Radio 4 documentary and detourned into commentaries on rave (despite Ian and Paul never being ravers or even clubbers themselves). You know the ones, “they’re looking for spiritual reasons, they’re looking for something more than this world has to offer” (I forget the tune that one's in) and of course that New Agey dance-therapy woman on “Stella” talking about her quest to find an emptiness "where I could begin again", about how she achieved spiritual rebirth through dancing: “I wanted it in this life, in this body, not tomorrow, not some other day, some other lifetime, I wanted it now, and I... I had to dance.” Swear to God, my eyes misted up. See, I’d clean forgotten that there was that whole transcendental, oceanic aspect to rave. That whole "cosmic dancer", ‘danced my way back into the womb" impulse. Oh yes, not forgetting those Kevin Ayers samples on "Weird Gear", “everyone is high until something makes them blue” and other fine sentiments.....

Yknow, Ultramarine were into this Brit-folk revival thing way WAY ahead of the pack. Before Every Man and Woman they did an album called Folk (although it had some inspiration to do with Wyndham Lewis, who wasn't exactly a nature boy). And as A Primary Industry, their pre-Ultramarine band, they did all this kind of wispy pastoral-tinged third-wave industrial meets On Land-y dark ambient to be honest quite unclassifiable stuff, somewhere between Dif Juz and Strafe Fur Rebellion. Joy has all the records; she interviewed Ian and Paul when they were API (lovely guys, apparently). Always meant to listen to those records. And her Dif Juz ones for that matter.

Ultramarine makes me think of Ultramarina, an excellent group I know nothing about. (In fact I got it real garbled, 'cos that's actually a record by someone else, now I think of it). Anyway, it came in a bunch of stuff from Mr. Jonathan Dale down under (whose blog is sorely missed) and what I did, for a change, was just listen to all it blind, knowing absolutely nothing about any of them. I could have just gone on the web but I was working on something else so opted to pop them in and play them. It was refreshing because it's the opposite of how I hear anything these days. There's usually a heap of context. This is a side effect of the web. Even doing a record review, the temptation is irresistible to do research. It's too easy. And with longer pieces, there's always the temptation to over-research. More than anything, it's a not-so-subtle form of procrastination (you feel like you are actually working but you're actually putting off the dread moment of writing!). But listening in this more pure-sound way was almost like a throwback to being at Melody Maker and stuff coming through the mail. In those days, I wouldn’t even read press releases (totally opposite to the cliche of the journalist who just rewrites the press release!). Often these were records that hadn't been written about elsewhere yet because they had only just come out or I'd got the white label or the tape. Or perhaps there was advance buzz in fanzines, which I hardly ever read. Either way, there was an element of an un-preconceived listening experience, the music existing purely as a blank slate, a Rorsasch blot for your projections. Well, I can see the advantages of both approaches. With context and research, the writing is more informed and "authoritative"; you know what the band is trying to do, maybe, or where they fit in. On the downside, it's a far less unmediated encounter between self and sound. Anyway, as an exercise I might try and see if I can write a whole review knowing nothing at all about the record or group, in a completely insulated bubble. Most likely, that's totally impossible.

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