The Church Of Me
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Kissing in the churchyard, I know a righteous woman

Sunday, September 28, 2003

I’ll be honest; this story would have been meaningless if I weren’t. The story which The Church Of Me was set up to tell has been told. The Church is built, its existence undeniable, its permanence assured. An ending has been reached, and thus anything which is added further to its structure are for decoration only, to clarify some of its darker corners; as Arthur Miller says, “I’d put it that I feel there’s something I haven’t yet said, rather than I have something to say.” A new life requires a new story, and that will be forthcoming. In the meantime, however, there are still things, innumerable things actually, which I have not yet said, and it’s more than simply pointing out that the treading-water percussion of Andre 3000’s “Prototype” is the missing link between Roy Wood’s “Wake Up” and Badly Drawn Boy’s “Camping Next To Water” giving us a final equation of Robert Sabini’s piano closure of Chic’s “At Last I Am Free,” or indeed that the detuning synth and Ayler-ish tenor appear at the end of “She Lives In My Lap” rather than “Prototype”

because that in turns leads us to Virginia Astley’s From Gardens Where We Feel Secure which last appeared in circulation 20 years ago, just at the point when a previous new life was beginning, and now returns on CD for the first time to perform the same rôle at the inauguration of a newer life. It’s uncanny and astonishingly touching as far as I am concerned; absent from my thoughts for a generation, but never out of my heart, it now reminds me that these 38 minutes of music continue to exist. 38 minutes which deserve so much more than damning with the label proto-Ambient or proto-New Age. Windham Hill’s corporate asininity was already on the rise in 1983; it is hard to think of another record which in its peacefulness went so violently against the grain of 1983 music.

Astley is the daughter of TV theme composer Edwin Astley (“Danger Man,” “Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased)” and, if you will, “Up Pompeii”) and in the early ‘80s was part of the diseased chamber group The Ravishing Beauties. From Gardens is ostensibly an extended impressionistic piece depicting a paradisical summer’s day in the privileged countryside. Performed largely by Astley herself, on piano, woodwinds, occasional bass guitar, vocals and electronics – and utilising field recordings of birdsong, boats on the river, children playing, done in various close parts of Oxfordshire (Moulsford, South Stoke) – it’s subtly and gradually clear that this record isn’t quite what it pretends to be, if pretend is what it does; for titles such as “With My Eyes Wide Open I’m Dreaming” and “A Summer Long Since Passed” indicate that this is a blurred daydream distanced from reality. The plaintive and pleasing waltz-time major chords and gradually multiplying flutes are quietly underscored by strange backward loops, as if the dreamer were resisting being prodded awake. “Out On The Lawn I Lie In Bed” exemplifies the absolute antithesis of the go-for-it, in-your-face ethic of 1983 (if “the past” were to be evoked in 1983 pop, it would only serve as irony, as in the medieval video for Men Without Hats’ “Safety Dance”), though of course it can now also conjure up visions of Frank Bruno nestling insecurely in the boxing ring in his back garden; for the day is wearing on, the shades are gradually becoming more apparent. Hear how on “Out On The Lawn” the sound of a sampled swing-gate hinge serves as the song’s rhythm and can also sound as though it’s crying. Thereafter harmonic dissonance makes itself known, the backward rhythm loops become more prominent until, on the climactic “When The Fields Were On Fire,” they overwhelm and finally become the music’s structure. There is no reassurance here and a lot of palpable pain, a refusal to wake up – in other words, “It’s Too Hot To Sleep,” the closing piece which leads us into night-time with its hooting barn owls and finally comes to rest on the same piano chord which closes “A Day In The Life.” The only sound left is that of a clock ticking – an alarm clock, perhaps, or a warning; a bomb set to explode.

And, even though it only originally existed as a one-off print run of a few thousand copies, and is almost never seen in second-hand stores, Feel Secure has proved quietly influential – not just in what the KLF of Chill Out and the Orb in general did with its constitutional elements, not only in the immense underlying sexuality in the music subsequently uncoiled to stunning effect by the swooning voice of Mimi Goese in Hugo Largo songs like "Turtle Song" and "Hot Day," but in the ambient Aphex Twin, the first two Ultramarine albums, the more quiescent Global Communications, King of Woolworths (very heavily so), the meditative elements of Saint Etienne, and onwards to Mogwai and Godspeed You Black Emperor! – and did I have to mention that Astley has worked with Sylv**n and S*k*m*t*? And of course, despite seeming to be as back to the land as Billy Bragg, Astley was, and is, as futuristic as the Art of Noise.

But it has returned to welcome me back into the world for the second time in both our lives. It is as if Laura has given her blessing.

Other accounts to take in
What there is left to say in The Church Of Me is inevitably going to be less in quantity than before. I say this from the viewpoint of someone typing into a laptop sitting in front of Clarence’s Tower in York, which is where I currently am, as opposed to my usual front room in Streatham, precariously trying to balance it with the Sunday papers and looking forward to a hearty Sunday dinner at Betty’s up the road. There will be more writing, but new stories need new places and new perspectives from which to tell them. And I’m not sure if music is going to play much of a part in it. Increasingly I want to return to listening to music for the pleasure of doing so, and other things need to be written about.

There wouldn’t be much point, for example, in my saying anything about the new Bubba Sparxxx record, because I don’t have much to say about it apart from utilising words like “Buffalo,” “Gals” and “21 years ago.” Perhaps Timbaland has clicked on something genuinely new in his fusion of his Eastern sway with Western swing on “Comin’ Round” and the Ryan Tedder-assisted “She Tried,” and maybe the quarterflash windscreen wipers of crisp cymbals which slash across “Warrant” (R Dean Taylor reborn!) raise the proceedings above bog-metal, but really this architecture is so timid, so unfelt in comparison with something like the IPen-recommended 28-year-old Red Haired Stranger by Willie Nelson – nothing slaughters the soul like the bass harmonica which creeps in to underscore the “panther” on Nelson’s “he screamed like a panther in the night,” the strings which quietly sneak under the curtains to weep with Willie on “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain,” the noble subliminal sublimeness of how, on side two, words are increasingly felt superficial and the most painful words are those unsung over the long instrumental passages, which make the five inordinately moving minutes of “Remember Me (When The Candle Lights Are Gleaming)” (cut to Wyngarde: “no the lights haven’t fused, it’s candlelight”) all the more shattering. And of course, with “Hands On The Wheel,” the betrayed murdering preacher redeems himself by dreaming a highway back to…an ideal someone. Compared to this generous openness and real musical subversion, you just know that the knife which Sparxxx threatens to plunge into his right thigh on the sleeve is made of rubber through and through. Nothing here as startlingly fused as the Missy E-meets-Ali Farka Touré Kenwood mix of “Bubba Talk” from Dark Days, Bright Nights. And next to anything by Johnny Cash…weeeelllll, or is that something which Nick Hornby, or Ian MacDonald, or Dr David Kelly, would too easily have said? Best to confine oneself to pointing out that, as with Speakerboxxx the triple X does not generally lead to enlightenment or entertaining bafflement (or even The Darkness – and for pity’s sake don’t turn them into The Future; they are fine for a laugh, but more hype and magnification will end up making everyone cry).

Not much to say about the new Peaches record either - Fatherfucker it is called, on the narrow spine at least, if nowhere else – except that it’s smart electrorap minimalism, slightly more mainlined than Teaches, nothing really that Salt-n-Pepa didn’t achieve with Hot Cool N’ Vicious 16 years ago, but there there again, that’s something Hornby or Dale Winton or David Aaronovitch might say. They certainly wouldn’t see how the opening “I Don’t Give A…” (those dots; into such timidity does the art school disco eventually peter) takes a bite out of Joan Jett (“Bad Reputation”) but has the same paroxysmal glee in its screams of not giving anything about nothing in particular as if, say, Caroline Kraabel had discovered a third pane of glass. “I’m The Kinda” has the nice post-Poltergeist ominous children’s music box lullaby strolling against the inflexible strut of the rhythm – “Der Rauber Und Der Prinz” immediately comes into my mind. “I U She” talks about you-know-what, but not as stunningly as David Crosby did it on “Triad” or as sexily as Lynsey de Paul denied it on “Sugar Me” (those whipcrack rhythm tracks! Fred Frith on viola!). “Kick It” sees her trading amicable blows with Iggy Pop, though it would be more pleasingly unsettling to see the Ig do his act with someone who wasn’t quite expecting him – Robbie Williams, say, or Ward 21. Still, note the musical paraphrasing of “Trans-Europe Express” with the line “make your way to Berlin.” And it would be churlish to deny that “Operate” affirms life with its repeated “He’s not dead! He’s gonna live!” though it will be seldom bought. “Rock ‘N’ Roll” with Gonzales on drums, is of course truer to “rock ‘n’ roll” than any bands in custom-built garages with names beginning “The”

(The The! Note the electro chord changes in Andre 3000’s “Hey Ya” which could have come straight off Soul Mining!)

(Gossip, of whom more another time, are the exception, and how toweringly so. So glad must they be not to be crippled by a “The”!)

and naturally there is a lyric of the year (don’t know which year yet) in “Shake Yer Dix” wherein she claims “You make my panties go ping!”

Does it matter? It’s there, there are about 3000 albums you need to buy ahead of it if you don’t have any albums, but if you know and if you want then she exists for you.


Are they still needed, though? I ought to have put a codicil to that promise; the piece, as it stood, would have been written as an epitaph, and I have rarely felt less like writing an epitaph than I do now. Life is changing rather than ending, so I might need to find a couple of thousand different words – or even a couple of words – for it. Certainly Transfiguration Of Vincent is the most important record of the year which has not been spoken about in depth here; but terms like “important” end up working against, and maybe even nullifying, the quietude which this record offers, how it deals with loss and the path to a new life at an emotional and aesthetic level which is exactly equivalent to that of Red Haired Stranger. And yet there is other music to be taken into account, the sort of account which leaves no room for accounting – I cannot simply list the records and musicians about whom I could have written, but as yet haven’t. Priorities are different now, and life has rightly and beautifully taken me over again. Think of this, then, as a bridge from the Church to the Coulds. The Church stands, and will continue to do so; meanwhile, the new story will begin writing itself soon.

posted by Marcello Carlin Permalink
. . .

. . .