The Church Of Me
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Kissing in the churchyard, I know a righteous woman

Thursday, November 14, 2002
MISPLACED NOSTALGIA

I can't stop thinking about Oxford, perhaps even yearning for it. Alan Partridge, of all chimeras, got me thinking about it - not because of him, but because of the "localness" of a Radio Norwich-type community. Oxford is only 52 miles away from London, but its sense of "localness" was very acutely evident. Perhaps it's because I led a double life, incorporating both Oxford and London; the latter was where I practised my profession and made my living, the former was where I retreated to consider and put everything into a shape with form, if not necessarily purpose. So I knew twice as much as anyone confined to just the one city. I had the garguantuan cracked gargoyle of a capital landscape, and the miniature to fit snugly into its centre-left pocket. And it was rather smugly comforting to work in and walk through London yet still be aware of Bill Heine's fibreglass shark and jumble sale cardigans, of floaters in the Mitre and chips from the Carfax chippy, of the Oxford Channel, of Abingdon shopping centre, of the Botley interchange, of Port Meadow (virtually our back garden), of the view from South Park, of the guy in the Virgin Megastore in Cornmarket who I swear ordered in one copy each of particularly peculiar records, in the full knowledge that only I would buy them, of the surprisingly hip CD stock of the Westgate Library, the Covered Market, the Botley allotments, Botley Park (virtually our front garden) which on a nice early summer evening would appear to stretch away forever, the stoned giggling of Gilles Peterson wannabe Sophie Andrews on Oxygen FM as was...

But where is this all going? This is turning into a list; it resolves nothing. Perhaps I should throw in the towel and just list you my top 100 singles as of five minutes ago. What I am trying to ask myself is why I should be overcome by so selective an amnesia and be yearning for a place and a lifestyle which were ultimately oppressive and unhealthy for me? I could no longer fit into Oxford now any more than I could fit into the ILx boards. It served its purpose at a time when it was needed, but that time has passed and it is necessary for me to move away from it. I said this in my Morse piece back in the New Year.

Because the truth is that I cannot get past what happened there last August. I cannot see beyond the Ronald Macbeth Ward (appropriate name) in the Radcliffe Infirmary. Because the umbilical cord, the anchor, which kept me attached to the place no longer exists, or only exists through me. I crave for a life which is no longer available for me. Sometimes - as I may or may not already have said before - Streatham can seem much further away from "London" than Oxford. There is, really, nothing to keep me here, nothing to keep me anywhere. I feel as though I have spent the last 12 months in a waiting room, a lobby, an antechamber. And what is being piped over the speakers as I wait? I'm not sure, but it might resemble Out From Out Where, the new album by Amon Tobin. The Chris Morris collaboration "Bad Sex" notwithstanding, Mr Tobin's previous work has been evident around my orbit but not been drawn into it. I've never been sure about the whole "soundtrack sample/cut-up" business. Barry Adamson, David Holmes, the various Lukes...it all seems like avoidance, an extension of the Camden Town Good Music Society (Soundtrack Sub-Section); let's cobble some easy signifiers together, and whoopee we're ironically appreciative, cool cats, oh beHAVE (even Jay-Z's doing Austin Powers impressions now), roll neck Jonathan Rosses...much easier than actually writing, scoring and performing something which emanates wholly from your own mind.

BUT it has to be said, when it is extremely well done, the listener can forget all the baggage and initiate his own landscape within. Thus it is with OFOW. Most of the snippets here sound tantalisingly near-familiar, just unplaceable. But it doesn't matter because Tobin sculpts the raw material into strikingly striking shapes. In truth it is one continuous piece, divided into 11 sections. The opening track "Back From Space" sets a utopian choir against a tinkling celeste; harmonies unresolved, a definite poignancy - the sort of thing which Mike Paradinas used to be able to conjure up. But the elements are turned convex and concave and echo within a pummelling d&b rhythmic drive which hurtles the listener through whole galaxies (this is definitely another album which needs headphones). The moment at 2:41 where, after a tremulous pause, we are brutally pushed into a 3D warp drive of beats, is phenomenal. "Verbal" does as Gysin and Schwitters did; over an irresistible post-Basement Jaxx acoustic guitar-propelled hook, a sampled rapper ("MC Decimal R" the sleeve jokes) is cut up into pointillistic incomprehensibility. Meaning, "soul" are questioned and buried under the fascination of what effect the sounds themselves are producing on the listener.

For "cinematic" pop (which is what this album fundamentally remains) it would be hard to beat the impact of "Chronic Tronic." The beats here are in a completely different universe to what Tobin has previously offered to us; they pummel, pound, trepanning their way through your earlobes. It's that same effect which you get on a lot of records made in or around '86 (the "watching lorries burn on the M25" soundtrack as I used to call it) - Test Dept, Janet Jackson, Tackhead, Swans, Mel & Kim, even Sigue Sigue Sputnik. Like I said, though, pop remains; another infuriatingly brief but catchy hook makes itself known.

After that "Searchers" goes into a wounded 6/8 stroll, effects still divebombing around the basic groove. "Hey Blondie" and to a lesser extent "Rosies" come across like stumbling post-Britpop rock - the sort of backing tracks with which Oasis should perhaps have come up. "Cosmo Retro Intro Outro" is P-Funk heard from a nightclub in Atlantis; distorted, free of gravity, waterlogged. "Triple Science" does the same for drum 'n' bass, with noticeably treble-accented rhythms. Again we are shoved along the track at top speed. But it is possible to keep up; particularly as, having reached a kind of peak, the music now decelerates back into Dreamland and contemplation. The forlorn post-Morricone stance of "El Wraith" starts to wind things down; the nursery-rhyme harmonic poignancies make themselves known again on "Proper Hoodidge," and the record ends with the comparatively straightforward but still punctum-strewn trip hop of "Mighty Micro People" - sounding weary, ready to lose consciousness and conjure up better dreams.

Others are nostalgic for The Stone Roses and Definitely Maybe. Me? I'm nostalgic for Selected Ambient Works Vol 2 and Bluff Limbo.

Of course I am nostalgic in such a way not for purely musical/aesthetic reasons, not just because their implications were never properly followed up (least of all by the artists who made them), but because they formed part of that perfect - or as perfect as anything could be - life which is now denied to both of us.

You can hear Radio Norwich from Swaffham to Cromer. A stretch of England we knew very well indeed.

4:45 am starts. 112-mile round trips. The expense. The fatigue. The useless buses (for every one bus to Botley, there are 90 buses to Kidlington). What Bill Bryson rightly termed the "busy squalor" of Park End Street. The refusal to embrace the future. Stuffed shirts. Out of the Oxford loop. Tourists. No decent radio. Recruitment adverts for UPS and Nuffield Hospitals. Forever November 1974 in many ways. The fucking Lewknor turnoff.

I should have been so lucky.

Now there's this horrible feeling when the National Express Victoria-Glasgow coach stops in at the Wheatley service station for refuelling SHE'S ONLY BURIED TWO MILES UP THE ROAD THIS COLD FUCKING DARK ROAD.

I need to go out again, but in a different direction.


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