I was, I’ll shamelessly admit, pootling around the Norman Records and Boomkat websites in the hope of finding something good to buy. I was cross-referencing back and forth between their recommended lists and clicking as many audio samples as I could conceivably endure. About five albums in, I happened upon ‘In The Gardens Of The North’. The artwork, the fact it’s on the unimpeachable Bella Union label and the raving hyperbole of both sites drew me in and how glad I am that they did.
You know when one of your ears randomly goes a bit muffled for a while and it sounds like you’ve somehow shoved a pillow down there? Or when you try to put a CD on in the car on the way back from a gig? Or the sound of music early in the morning when your brain is still aligning itself with the concept of being awake? That’s kind of what this record sounds like. It’s almost deliberately ever-so-slightly out of sync with, well, something. The understated, almost mumbled vocals are beguiling and the gentle ebb and flow of much of the music is quite remarkably affecting. I didn’t for a second think that, when I ordered the CD that day, it would become one of my albums of 2009, let alone make it into this list, but it really has won me over in the dying months of the decade.
Each track is notably different and yet comfortably familiar. If you like your acoustic, melancholic indie then this is for you. But then if you like the sparse but minutely crafted soundscapes of Peter Broderick then this is also for you. It may not strike you as something remarkable on your first listen. Or your second. But give it a bit of time and it will get you. I’m sure of it. I can’t imagine not loving this record now and I know I still have many, many months more enjoyment to ring from it.
I can’t actually remember when it was that I first heard him, but I can remember trekking to the Royal Festival Hall in London to see him do one of a spattering on UK shows in September 2004. We had amazing seats – my eyes pretty much directly in front of and directly in line with Rufus himself. Keane were there for the ride, ruddy-faced hay-muncher, Tom Chaplin was stood mere inches from us at one point as he checked his mobile before going back in. He must have been really excited about the concert as he’d gone all red. Oh, wait.
Rufus was in spellbinding form and, from that day, the love affair was truly on. I’d already picked up ‘Want One’ and this album, ‘Poses’, prior to attending the gig but they were played solidly for weeks afterwards, so in thrall was I to this natural performer, gifted entertainer and passionate performer. I’m well aware that many people don’t see the appeal, saying he slurs his words, neglects his melodies and is unbearably smug. On occasion, I’ll grant them the last one, but I even find that endearing. Rufus and his band finished their performance at the Royal Festival Hall that night in full witches costumes, pointy hats and all, swaying around to ‘Oh What A World’ and it was bloody marvellous. I left absolutely beaming and had his songs bouncing round my heard for the duration of the three hour coach ride home.
For a while, ‘Poses’ was my favourite Rufus album and, had I compiled this a year or so ago, it may have appeared higher in the list. Having said that, it’s a beautiful collection of musical endeavour. ‘Greek Song’ and ‘Poses’ are charmingly complex, while ‘One Many Guy’ is a startlingly great cover of one of his father’s songs. ‘Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk’ is the big pop moment and is ludicrously catchy, not unlike ‘California’, a distant cousin of Joni Mitchell’s ‘A Case Of You’. However, ‘Rebel Prince’ just edges the rest of them. It’s a swooning, sensual performance of a masterfully constructed tune and it even has the dubious honour of having been covered by The Beautiful South.
It was my final year of school and I was just starting to realise that you actually had to work in order to get A levels when a friend pushed a certain CD into my hands. It had a crappy little inlay made in Word with a grim little font but that didn’t really matter as it contained eight tracks from ‘Kid A’ which he had downloaded from the internet. We were late adopters of the internet, my family. We’d only just got a computer and it was dial-up all the way. The aforementioned friend – Chris, should he happen to ever read this – was quite the opposite and had been pissing around on the net for years prior to this and this was the first time it had ever impacted upon me. He told me that it wasn’t what I might be expecting and that he didn’t really know what he thought of it. Sounded interesting enough to me.
I remember playing it through a shitty little green Alba CD/cassette player at school and being quite taken aback. I instantly loved ‘Idioteque’ and kept playing ‘Everything In Its Right Place’, trying to decide if that nagging sensation was like or annoyance. A few of the tracks had little messages embedded and little strategic clicks. Where the hell he’d got the songs from, I didn’t know but it was pretty clear that it was all a little dodgy. Still, hearing that music upfront was an absolute joy and it’s one of the last times I can remember an enormous ‘event’ album appearing without any serious internet clamour preceding it.
As a result, the finished album was largely familiar to me – annoying message and clicks removed – and for a little while I played little else. ‘Optimistic’ and ‘The National Anthem’ are glorious beasts, while ‘Morning Bell’ and ‘Motion Picture Soundtrack’ are some of the finest, glacially atmospheric pieces they’ve ever released. I could offer a quick review of the album, but it’s all been said before. Suffice to say, it meant a lot then and means a lot now.
(I’ve mentioned the glorious 2001 Later Special before, but if you’ve still not seen – or even bits of it on the recent deluxe editions of ‘Kid A’ and ‘Amnesiac’ – you can see pretty much all of it in high quality here.)