Album of the Week: Felt’s Crumbling the Antiseptic Beauty (1982)

As a relatively recent inductee into the cult of Deadheads, I’ve been listening to a lot of music that puts electric guitar front-and-center. This includes, outside the Dead, some smoking blues albums and a good dose of Hendrix, but something in my memory must have compelled me to revisit Felt’s debut.

I’m glad I did. Crumbling the Antiseptic Beauty isn’t as emo as its cover art would suggest, but it isn’t not lonely. To that end, the reclusive atmosphere gives the lead guitar plenty of room to breathe. I realized the guitar melodies in “Birdman” were still wired in my brain from my hazy college dorm days. Fuck yeah. The overall sound of the band is understated here, with faint drums and instrumental passages, including the entirety of the mood-setting opener “Evergreen Dazed”. Next to Felt’s Forever Breathes the Lonely World, with its swirling organ, Crumbling is comparatively ascetic.

This album is succinct at a tight 30 minutes, but none of it feels rushed. In fact, I wish more bands put out 6-song albums like this. It doesn’t overstay its welcome, but instead leaves you wanting more. Even if you’ve never heard of them, Felt’s influence is pretty massive. According to lead man Lawrence, they were Robin Guthrie’s (Cocteau Twins guitarist) favorite band. They’re also favorites of MGMT, and I can see a direct influence on Galaxie 500. I plan to dive deeper into their discography, and if you’re curious, this debut is a good place to start.

Listen to Crumbling the Antiseptic Beauty here.

Album of the Week: Clear Horizon (2003)

I’ve not delved into much music by the British band Flying Saucer Attack, but I tend to trust anything released by Kranky, the superb American label that delivered masterpieces by Stars of the Lid, Labradford, Windy & Carl and so on.

Clear Horizon was the collaborative project of Flying Saucer Attack’s David Pearce and Kranky recording artist Jessica Bailiff. By all accounts, the artists created the project by sending each other tapes across the Atlantic in the early 2000s, without recording in the same room.

For me, this is one of those albums where the first track is the best. “Watching the Sea” is some ascension type shit, all blissed-out guitar and sweet singing. I love this song.

“I wonder why you haven’t seen the light for days,” Bailiff sings on “For Days”. And there is a hermitic vibe to this album, everything cavernous, moving at a slow pace. The song structure fades into feedback, transitioning into ambient washes that sound more like Fennesz than any singer-songwriter project.

“Sunrise Drift” is the first song to float along with no rhythmic guitar strumming, just vocals and chimes in an ether of white noise. It’s meditative music. This stuff requires patience to be appreciated, and a more critical ear might deride this album for lack of direction. And it’s not all brilliant, of course. “Death’s Dance” in particular seems more unpleasant than enjoyable. But mostly, Clear Horizon is gorgeous and relaxing, and a forgotten gem.

Listen to Clear Horizon here.

Album of the Week: This Mortal Coil’s Blood (1991)

If you love the 4AD sound anywhere near as much as I do, then you truly cannot go wrong with This Mortal Coil. Essentially the label’s in-house cover band, TMC formed in 1983 under the aegis of label president Ivo Watts-Russell (the namesake of Cocteau Twins’ classic “Ivo”).

One of their first songs as This Mortal Coil (and still their most popular) was the Cocteau’s (or 2/3, Liz Fraser and Robin Guthrie) take on Tim Buckley’s “Song to the Siren”. Its popularity is really a no-brainer – a straight-up gorgeous track with one of the inimitable Fraser’s all-time vocal performances, “Siren” was used to great effect in David Lynch’s Lost Highway. He intended to use it even earlier for Blue Velvet, but that proved too expensive.

Although TMC’s “Siren”-containing debut It’ll All End in Tears is their go-to classic, this week I’ll be focusing on their last record, 1991’s double-album Blood, which is nothing to sneeze at. No Cocteau kids to be found here, but there’s no lack of talent: This Vulture article likened TMC to “a dream-pop version of Rick Ross’s Maybach Music Group”. Amazing.

The late Caroline Crawley of Shelleyan Orphan starts things off, breezing through the TMC original “Lacemaker” and owning it on their version of The Apartments’ “Mr. Somewhere”. If you’re going to check out one track from Blood, though, make it “You and Your Sister”. Holy shit this song is good! Written by Chris Bell of Big Star for his excellent solo album I Am the Cosmos (the title-track is also covered on Blood), it is masterfully interpreted by The Breeders’ Kim Deal and Tanya Donelly. With its heart-on-sleeve directness and honey-sweet vocals, this one even eclipses the great original version, and rivals “Song to the Siren” as the best TMC track.

Elsewhere, “Bitter” is a whirlwind mix of guitar solos, Colourbox-like sampling and lush vocals. “Several Times”, a standout from the lost ambient classic Sleeps With the Fishes, is included here with vocals and lyrics, a welcome update to a key 4AD instrumental. Oh, and back to that Colourbox-like sampling I just mentioned. It is very dated and not very good, which is why nobody knows about Colourbox. Take “The Lacemaker II”: why are there samples of a barking dog in it? And “Ruddy & Wretched” is about as good as its title implies. Safe to say the best TMC songs are rarely instrumentals.

On the whole though, the production stands the test of time. I’ve mentioned before (probably too many times) how I love drum-less music, and most of Blood is like this: straight atmosphere. “Late Night” is a Syd Barrett song suspended in air. “Inside me I feel / Alone and unreal”. No doubt. The country classic “Til’ I Gain Control Again” is a deep-cut tearjerker, helping to round out the back half.

Like most-double albums, Blood might be better if you pared it down to its best songs. But If you’re in no hurry, it’s one to get lost in.

Listen to Blood here.

Album of the Week: Love Spirals Downwards’ Idylls (1992)

It’s no big secret that Cocteau Twins are my favorite band, and this has been the case since high school. They have had their share of imitators, contemporaries and comrades over the years, but one album that really struck me in my initial obsessive Cocteau phase was Idylls. The comparisons are too easy: the phaser guitar, the female glossolalia, the drum machines. I’d venture to say it’s less varied than even the simplest Cocteau efforts, and that I think helped me sink into it back then.

Like many teens I smoked a lot of pot and that is the prime association here. I think more than any Cocteau album I paired Idylls with the hazy balm of weed smoke in an effort to, at least temporarily, rise above the bullshit that hounded my 17-year-old existence. And it worked. This is truly one to spark up and bliss out to.

Listening to it today, sober, it’s still outstanding to me. Give me some conga drums, early 90s atmosphere and a woman singing “sayyylaalooohah soooheyyyaahh”. Hell yeah. I imagine a lot of people find it boring. It certainly lacks the melodrama of say, Dead Can Dance, or the emotional heft of The Cure, not to mention the best melodies of Cocteau Twins. I would also call it front-loaded, with “Illusory Me” and “Love’s Labor Lost” as the key standouts – although the closer “And the Wood Comes Into Leaf” is tight too! Those Cocteaus always had killer closing tracks, just to bring up another parallel.

I never made it far past this one (their debut) in the LSD (heh) discography. I remember buying Flux (1998) on CD years ago but not being very moved. It had some electronic influences that in my mind connect with Slowdive’s Pygmalion – a great record! So perhaps it’s worth revisiting. The guy (Ryan Lum) is now a politician in Long Beach, or has at least attempted such a career. He still makes music as Lovespirals. The LSD discog wasn’t streaming for years, but now you can check it out in all its remastered glory. For a fan of shoegaze, dream-pop, and/or especially Cocteau Twins, Idylls is an album worth getting lost in.

Listen to Idylls on Spotify.