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CREATIVE/ARTS/TECHNOLOGY

BRIAN WILLIAMS

UNFINISHED WORK
A WHO-supported interdisciplinary arts project to benefit cancer research

ME ME ME

PROJECTS










Room 
full of Rothkos


Writings on Guthrie-post-Cocteau


The opening track “Imperial” begins in absolutely no hurry to confirm or deny whatever you might have expected from a Guthrie solo record. He gently strums two chords that appear to hopscotch between 1985-era Cocteaus and his more recent and more pointedly bluesy Violet Indiana. The first is more open-ended, the second more pointedly questioning.

Eventually, around the 4:00 minute mark, with only a scant minute remaining in its runtime, a beat appears. At no point did this beat feel necessary or fulfill an accrued tension the way the snare announces the conclusion of “Blue Bell Knoll” or “Pur.” Instead it suggests that two alternating chords, if left long enough on their own, will eventially acquire a beat, the way sharks accumulate remora or felled trees gather moss. As if beats were a naturally occurring consequence of untended chords.

This percussion allows the album to settle a bit after four minutes of lovely stasis, but equally it winds up as an element that dates the record as an early-aughts creation, at a time when delicate, glitchy pre-ASMR-boom percussion, having found voice initially on labels like City Centre Offices, was adhering to music like kudzu, from Xela to Matmos to Bjork.


disappointment with Lisa Gerrard
contrasted with Brendan’s restlessness

Laszlo Krasnahorkhai
Ben Marcus

Artists have no responsibility to even generate new art at all, much less art that meets our arbitratry expectations.

it’s not immediately obvious we’re looking at a naked torso on the cover. sunbathing on the beach seems a sweet, if trite visual for the sonics. But on the other hand there’s a faintly sick green overlay to the picture, perhaps signifying that what you’re about to experience is not so striaghtforwardly balmy





At the time of release, Pitchfork reviewer Chris Ott predictably lamented the absence of Liz in the basest fashion possible, levying undeserved criticisms at Imperial for not being as good as their past glories and yet also paradoxically too tied to them. 

Mitsuo Tate, an added guitar hand and engineer in the Cocteaus’ latter days described their songbuilding as beginning with very simple chord structures that were “borderline boring.” If we pretend for a moment that solo Robin is CT minus vocals, you can hear what he means. By subtracting Liz, you not only remove her compelling delivery but also the harmonic richness of her melodic lines. It’s not just her delivery that makes their songs compelling, but also her choice of melody to nestle into these supposedly boring chord sequences. I disagree that they are boring, 

Guthrie’s beds aren’t boring, they were simply traps that left room for the mouse. He understands that he’s not the sole focus, and so it’s stands to reason that in a solo effort he can elect to richen the arrangement to fill the percieved gap, or not. And he generally does not.

I have no idea how his music sounds to someone who’s never heard Cocteau Twins and is therefore incapable of burdening his solo output with their own expectations.

Some things Robin Guthrie could have done post-Cocteau Twins but didn’t:


Collaborate with a contrasting left-field artist like Anna Meredith or Marina Herlop.

Collaborate with a vocalist similar to Liz in spirit if not sound, like Mari Kvien Brunvoll of Building Instrument, Sidsel Enderesen, or even someone in the ECM post-folk solar system like Amina Alaoui or Savina Yannatou.

Stage a concert backed with the London Symphony Orchestra.

Embrace EDM.

Tour his old songs with a new singer.

Abandon guitar and make a synth record.

Turn his focus to nurturing artists for Bella Union, the label he co-founded in 1999 and run spectacularly today by Cocteau bassist and male Den Mother to his own brilliant segment of the world’s most interesting bands, Simon Raymonde.

Disappear and never return.


The album’s most compelling creation, “Music For Labour,” seems to check few of the typical Guthrie boxes. It’s a simple guitar figure with a not-quite familiar arpeggio. It’s close to the set of siblings “Whales Tails,” “Love’s Easy Tears,”  “Spooning Good Singing Gum,” and “Ice-Pulse.” The marked difference here is that the figure has nowhere to go and nothing to build on, leaving it stranded in startup mode for five compelling minutes. Eventually some pitched harmonics join the effort but to no avail. It never truly begins, and never truly resolves. It’s riveting in a way that Cocteaus never tried to be, and Guthrie would rarely attempt again.

“Falling From Grace” is one very rare occasion where Robin reminds one of another guitarist, in this case Vini Reilly. Both devotees of delay though with contrasting results, this track has The Durutti Column’s quiet resignation running through it, and is too pat to be satisfying as a result.

Interestingly enough, his solo outings fill a room magically at loud volumes better than Cocteaus ever did. This is another argument for beatless pieces over structured songs.

I reccomend:
Thunderbird Road
Music for Labour
It’s helpful to remember that at this point, we have available to us 17 years of Cocteau Twins, among which we can find a few of the most important musical achievements of the 20th C, a handful of Violet Indiana songs that appeared to abandon the Cocteaus’ invention, with Robin partnering with Sibohan De Mare who couldn’t be less similar to Liz much in the same way that Morrissey deliberately never again worked with anyone so distinctive as Marr, and then this record. It’s hard to know what to make of an incomplete career, and I keenly felt that whatever opinions I might have about Imperial were decidedly tentative as I did not know how to situate it with the rest of Guthrie’s oeuvre.

One initial response I had to Imperial that has proven right over the years, is that Guthrie’s post-Cocteau recordings were never going to be instantly satisfying. They did not seek to scratch the Cocteau itch, and he is not afraid to repeat himself. In fact he’s said repeatedly he doesn’t see a fundamental change in his approach over the years. 

While I wouldn’t say Robin’s solo career sounds like a version of Cocteaus where only he turned up to work, I will say he’s made no active attempt to create music of the same size and shape, the same gravity, with same disorienting qualities, dense with unusual filigrees and harmonics.

Guthrie’s post-Cocteau career is repetitive in the same way Thomas Bernhard was repetetive. The same way Jon Fosse is currently repetetive, and the way Mark Rothko was repetitive. They all toyed with the same fundamental ideas, assembled and reassembled, reassessed and redeployed until they died.

So to extend this analogy, in 2003 we are in a substantial gallery with only one Rothko hanging in it. We know there will be more, but all we have now is this one. What do we think of it? How are those feelings informed by Robin’s past achievements? What will come next? How will this room look when it’s full? What will I think of this first piece when it’s full and I can see them all together?







Everlasting /  Waiting for Dawn

lorem



I recommend:
Conquering the Romantic
Amphora
Radiance
Last Exit




Mysterious Skin

lorem
I recommend:
Conquering the Romantic
Amphora
Radiance
Last Exit




Continental

Harold Budd recalls commencing the sessions for The Moon And The Melodies in London, 1985 by saying that the work each of the four brouhgt to the initial sessions fell neatly into two categories: songs and pieces.

Songs have a familiar structure.
Verse, chorus, bridge, in some combination.
Songs have a singer.
Pieces, contrastingly, are less bound by pop forms, or not bound at all.
They bear more resemblance to composed music.
Pieces could also have a singer, but would not feel incomplete without one.

Dividing them up yourself isn’t difficult:



Songs:
Sea, Swallow Me
Eyes Are Mosaics
She Will Destroy You
Ooze Out And Away, Onehow — joins the kinship of Donimo, Ella Megalast, Frou Frou Foxes, Pur & Treasure Hiding

And as an aside, try adding these four into a playlist of CT songs of the era, beginning with Tiny Dynamine, on through Echoes/Bay, Love’s Easy Tears, [insert these four tracks here] “Crushed” and finally Blue Bell Knoll. it is surprisingly seamless and Budd’s presence is barely felt.


Pieces:
Memory Gongs
Why Do You Love Me?
The Ghost Has No Home
Bloody and Blunt — comparison to Imperial?

Unfoirtunately in Guthrie’s case tracks like “Continental” fall more into the category of songs that you woluld expect to have a singer, like Scenic or Lanterna. As opposed to songs that don’t sound like there is space for a singer like those of Dif Juz or Rachel’s.
This distinction is why Continental is my least favourite of Guthrie’s solo material.  Too many of the songs appear to be in need of a singer, back loaded with increasingly predictable drum-fueled crescendos at the end of tracks and so forth.

Cocteau-enjoyers will have noticed that they often closed their albums with a certain type of song with a certain type of structure. Donimo, Ooze Out and Away, Onehow, Ella Megalast Burls Forever, Frou-Frou Foxes in Midsummer Fires, Pur and Treasure Hiding* are all siblings built on the same blueprints, and magically, despite the familiarity from a band that generally doesnt seem familiar to much else, they were all welcome.

Robin carries this structure over into his solo career frequently and those tracks make for the least interesting listening he’s recorded. A full 6 of Continental’s 10 tracks are structured this way, making for a record of numerous similar dramatic peaks, none of which seem earned. The tense stillness of Ooze... before the massive

The dramatic outbursts feel unearned

I recommend:
Conquering the Romantic
Amphora
Radiance
Last Exit
Essentials list:

2003     Imperial
2009     Mirrorball
2007     After the night falls
2007     Before the day breaks
2011       Bordeaux
2011        ...for a better place





After the Night Falls
Before the day breaks



I recommend:
Conquering the Romantic
Amphora
Radiance
Last Exit


Carousel

I recommend:
Conquering the Romantic
Amphora
Radiance
Last Exit


Angel Falls
Songs to Help My Children Sleep
I recommend:
Conquering the Romantic
Amphora
Radiance
Last Exit



MirrorballI recommend:
Conquering the Romantic
Amphora
Radiance
Last Exit



Sunflower Stories / Emeralds

I recommend:
Conquering the Romantic
Amphora
Radiance
Last Exit



Bordeaux

I recommend:
Conquering the Romantic
Amphora
Radiance
Last Exit



...for a better place

I recommend:
Conquering the Romantic
Amphora
Radiance
Last Exit



Fortune

I recommend:
Conquering the Romantic
Amphora
Radiance
Last Exit



White Bird in a Blizzard

I recommend:
Conquering the Romantic
Amphora
Radiance
Last Exit



Another Flower

I recommend:
Conquering the Romantic
Amphora
Radiance
Last Exit



Pearldiving / Mockingbird Love / Riviera / Springtime

I recommend:
Conquering the Romantic
Amphora
Radiance
Last Exit
Starfish Prime is Love’s Easy Tears revisited

M18M