Mercury Music Prize 2010 shortlist – Just Played Verdict


I know that convention dictates that I start off with a sizeable rant about the MASSIVE WANKERS who decide on the Mercury shortlist and moan about how safe and, largely, shit the choice of albums is. I whine about how there are so many more deserving titles out there and wonder why they even bother doing this. Well, fuck convention.

It’s not a bad shortlist really. Could be a hell of a lot worse and there are some rather good albums on it. Yes, you can tell that almost nobody on that judging panel is medically allowed to let their blood pressure rise too dramatically and that ‘a nice glass of red’ probably accompanies all of these records rather effectively, but that doesn’t immediately make them all crap records. Just Biffy Clyro, and that was crap long before it got this nomination. Indeed, it has been crap since the hellish day that the group birthed it through the band’s collective arsehole; the result of a blessed constipation that finally subsided only to gift our ears with this limp, fetid dross.

I wasn’t exactly enraptured by the Foals album either, but it certainly has its moments. The vocals are a lot less ‘toddler with a foot stuck in a door’ and a bit more ‘artsy indie band with ridiculous hair’. The sound is a massive leap on from the frankly infuriating debut which started badly with the atrocious cover and didn’t improve much thereafter. This one is bold, adventurous and, at times at least, rather good. Also in the ‘no need to get the bunting out’ category is Corinne Bailey Rae’s ‘The Sea’. This particular record received such astonishingly positive press that it seemed like we were about to witness the second coming, albeit it at No.17 in the Asda album chart. It is quite nice. She’s stopped banging on about putting records on and is now singing about sad things because of the, admittedly tragic, loss of her husband. Musically it’s much less annoying than her MOR stylings of old but, for the life of me, I couldn’t really tell what it was that I was meant to be so overwhelmed by.

Then there’s the folk-pop boy band in waiting, Mumford And Sons. They are, as far as I’m concerned, traitorous bastards for wooing us with lovely limited 10” single releases only to then not put the album out on vinyl. Add into that the fact that they are now so ubiquitous they’re like flying ants or pollen and it’s hard to retain the early love. The songs are undeniably great and Marcus Mumford has a cracking voice. But, the production is oh-so-very polished and somewhere along the line it seemed to lose its soul a little. I’m by no means trying to be all snobby about this record; I still quite like it, but from the very first play it didn’t sound as raw it could have and should have and that’s a great shame. That said, I’m not sure it would be on this list if they’d gone down that route.

Dizzee Rascal, love him or hate him (or just laugh at him for being a bit of a cock), has produced some belting pop songs of late and such a consistent run of hits deserves recognition. Unfortunately, the album doesn’t really offer anything else to match those glorious singles and only serves to confirm that he is best in small doses. When in a good mood. And not especially bothered about what you’re listening to. A plausible choice, a maker of top pop but not an album to yearn for or fall in love with.

I’m genuinely delighted to see the marvellous I Am Kloot on the list with the recently released splendour of ‘Sky At Night’. I recently explained just why this record is deserving of a place in your collection and it is as good an album as the band have released to date. The vocals are quite beautiful and Guy Garvey’s string arrangements are superbly measured and precisely executed. As good a straight indie record as you’ll hear this year. Which briefly brings me to ‘Golden’ by Kit Downes Trio, which is potentially as good a jazz record as I haven’t heard this year. Is that the sound of a token being laid down I hear? Solitary nod to the ‘other’, I hear you cry. Well, yes. It’s not on Spotify, so I’ve not yet had the pleasure but, as I did with The Invisible last year, I’ll endeavour to have a listen. Find out what I end up thinking by following the Just Played Twitter here.

Wild Beasts’ ‘Two Dancers’ feels too old to be on this list, released as it was at the arse end of last summer but, it’s a wonderfully confident listen. By now, I’m sure you’ll know about Hayden Thorpe’s distinctive yelp, like a randy panda after a quick listen to ‘Grace’. It’s quite a voice and, while it might initially irritate, stick at it for there is much to love about ‘Two Dancers’. It took me a while to really get it, hence its absence from last year’s best of list. Unlike ‘xx’ by The xx, which rocketed up to second place in almost no time at all. It’s become a quite popular activity to criticise The xx for being trendy art-school types as a result of all of the hype they’ve received. Now, let’s briefly pause to consider why that is such a fuckwitted brainfart of an approach to this delicately grand music. They didn’t ask for the hype, it just gathered around them and, admittedly not always but sometimes, it happens for a reason. This time it was because of how good they are. The album is perfectly measured, charmingly executed and it offered something a little different towards the end of 2009, sounding quite unlike everything else released at the time. See here for my ‘40 From The Noughties’ piece about this one.

Old man Weller keeps on churning them out and, deep breath, he’s actually managed two great solo records in row. Indeed, I actually rather liked ‘As Is Now’ too, so that’s at least two and a half really. ‘Wake Up The Nation’ has been lauded as his best solo record in some quarters and has had fifty-something blokes in denim pogoing around like they don’t have mortgages, with their stomachs following soon behind. It is good, mind, and I have enjoyed great chunks of it. Initial plays felt a little like being able to hear a migraine, it was so phenomenally busy, but once you’ve adjusted to the frenetic pace of the thing, it actually shines through as a bloody decent set of songs. It firstly tells us that he has a cracking record collection, featuring plenty of southern and northern soul, and secondly that he has decided that prancing around in the street pissed with a near child on your arm and having one of the world’s shittest haircuts on your bonce doesn’t stop you from reminding people you were in The Jam. Fair play to him, I say.

Which leaves us with two. One of which, ‘Becoming A Jackal’ by Villagers, was recommended by Martin Rossiter (ex-Gene and thoroughly spiffing bloke) on Twitter a while back and I was won over almost instantly. I somehow missed the Later… performance that, apparently, turned most people in this record’s direction. I can see where the Rufus Wainwright comparisons come from, stylistically if not vocally, along with faint echoes of Simon and Garfunkel. It’s clever, melodic, sometimes melancholy singer-songwriter indie and it is executed to perfection. It’s a grower, a charmer and a winner. Though probably not of the Mercury Music Prize.

Not that I actually think that the quite divine Miss Marling will carry off the crown. I can’t help wondering if it will actually go the way of The xx or Mumford in the end, but that doesn’t stop this remarkable record being something to celebrate, shout about and buy in copious quantities for loved ones and friends. I’ve previously explored just what makes this such a mature and beguiling collection of songs, but suffice to say my opinion hasn’t changed, save to like it just a little bit more still. ‘Rambling Man’ is Joni, and Mazzy Star and Laura Veirs and oh so many other magical musicians rolled into one and yet still topped by a unique and stirring voice. She is a rare, rare talent and someone to be truly treasured.

Personally, I’m in a three way split with I Am Kloot, The xx and Laura Marling but, were I required to dish it out myself right now, I’d hand it to Laura. However, when the near paralytic Jools Holland steps up to the microphone in September, don’t be surprised if he utters the words, “and the winner is… The xx.”

2010 inverted

A voyage of disc-overy. And the come down.

Last month, I reflected on the early years of my CD collection and how, as a latecomer in small town Wales, I took a little while to get up to speed. I left the story at the early days of university life, grabbing music from every direction and pouring my student loan away at a genuinely terrifying rate.


Things didn’t improve massively in the immediate months thereafter. By Christmas of the first term, I realised that the food budget probably should have been the priority ahead of the musical free for all. Still, I had a massive pile of CDs to show for it and several weeks to do even less than I had been for the term I’d just completed. A few weeks of parentally sourced food had me back to relative normality and the obsession was well and truly underway. I would never fly quite so perilously close to financial ruin again but, in the same way that I was already figuring out what percentages I needed across my course to get what I wanted, I had taken the time to deduce exactly how far I could push it. The early noughties represented the boom time of the remaindered CD. We’d all spent most of the nineties being robbed blind with prices starting at £12.99, often heading on upwards, and it was time for a change. Shops like the original incarnation of Fopp and the slightly ugly imitation, Music Zone, tapped into this market and took off. We were buying any old shite because it was £3. Ok, so that may not have been you precisely, but enough people were that these shops began to expand across the country. The first Fopp I ever encountered was in Nottingham, one of the most successful stores and, as a result, still open today under HMV ownership. It was genuinely overwhelming. Here was all of that music I’d read about, heard about and had played to me over recent years. And priced at £5 or less. I rarely left without a bag full and the sheer novelty of inflating your record collection without deflating your bank account massively was an addictive thrill which never wore off. Their genius positioning of piles of truly unwanted albums at £2 and £3 all along the front of the tills ensured that you ended up purchasing all kinds of stuff as a result of impulsive grabs whilst waiting to be served. Occasionally this was successful – Neil Finn solo albums, Ron Sexsmith, Pulp – but more often than not it was foolish decision.


Not that such logic ever stopped me, you understand. Indeed, the success of these shops encouraged many indie stores to develop their cheapo back catalogue sections in order to compete and the end result was yet more low price music upon which I could binge wilfully. The dear departed Selectadisc did a fine job of locking horns with Fopp and, after a couple of years of taking it on at its own game, appeared to be emerging victorious, offering better stock at even better prices and, for some time, the lure of Fopp was diminished. My time in Selectadisc resulted in a reignited affection for vinyl, the lure of their upstairs department of wax too tempting to resist. And so, to a room barely big enough for me, let alone any actual stuff, was added a cheap turntable from Argos and I was back up and running. Vinyl purchases were few and far between, mainly as a result of cost, and my love for the 5” disc was sustained. This was, at least in part, down to its convenience, used as it was to soundtrack frequent bus and train journeys, along with the fact that I could easily transport my current favourites with me wherever I was planning on being each weekend. I wasn’t yet an audio geek and the loudness wars hadn’t really got going. It was a handy, increasingly cheap format. What was there to dislike? It was destined to be the invincible format, no?


No indeed. Just prior to university, one of the last big releases of my school days was ‘Know Your Enemy’, the Manics album where they temporarily lost it and started loitering about in Cuba and making sweary, so-bad-it’s-good disco songs like ‘Miss Europa Disco Dancer’. As it turned out, it wasn’t worth all the excitement, but it provided me with my first taste of how internet piracy would be a thorn in the side of the bloated music industry. News was circulating amongst what was still a relatively nascent internet community about tracks from the new Manics record being ‘out there’. And so, there I was installing this thing called Napster to try and figure out what was going on. Next thing I know, Sony have had loads of users banned for sharing these leaked tracks and the ‘us and them’ approach becomes reality. From that moment on, I figured that the record companies had no idea what to do about this new opportunity to acquire music without paying or, to sum it up more succinctly, steal stuff. In retrospect, at the risk of sounding a little holier than thou (but fuck it, it’s Sunday), I’m quite glad we had the slowest dial-up connection in the world being run through one of the slowest computers in the world at home, because I never really saw what the fuss was about back then. Now, I don’t have a blemish free record, and I did briefly flirt with SoulSeek but I’ve never really seen the point of downloading day and night in order to have so much music you couldn’t actually listen to most of it even if you wanted to. I don’t get a thrill from a digital file, I don’t enjoy unzipping folders or making massive computer based playlists. It just doesn’t do much for me, despite my music geekery.

However, my mildly pretentious dislike didn’t count for much in a world let off the leash with broadband and a spindle of CD-Rs for company. Cliché though it sounds, I lost count of the number of times I overheard people in record shops saying, “Oh, don’t bother buying it, I’ll download and burn it for you.” There are those who want to say there’s more to the demise of record shops than downloading and, to a certain extent, they’re right. But I refuse to believe that a little box in the corner of people’s rooms, pumping out as much ‘free’ music as they could get their hands on didn’t fundamentally alter the way many thought about the value of music. Add in the bloated gluttony of the supermarkets as they tried to hoover up any remaining areas of possible money making that they didn’t already have under one roof and the increasing prominence of magazine and newspaper freebies and music was no longer something you saved each week for. You didn’t have to wait for Saturday, in fact your barely had to wait at all if you had decent enough bandwidth. I watched as the record shops in Leeds started to suffer, I saw stores around the East Midlands looking truly unwell before taking their final breaths.

fopp closed sign

My habits were changing by now. Forced onto the internet by decreasing local options, I was now lured in by the ‘cheap’ new releases that could be bought via places like CD WOW! and as a result of their geographical locations. And so yet more CDs ended up piling up in every corner of the room. While I never fell for the charms of downloading more music than I could even dream of,  I think it would be fair to say that I had my own, far more expensive, version of that disease. I’m a little ashamed to admit that, for a little while, I think I gloried in the acquisition a little more than the listening. It was just so easy, so tempting and so exciting. Double CD reissues, limited edition digipacks, bonus tracks and bonus discs all kept me coming back for more. And then, ALL of the independent record shops anywhere near me closed. And it ended. The constant flow of ludicrously cheap, and often simply ludicrous, bargains dried up overnight and I was suddenly confronted with the strange experience of my own critical faculties sharpening up in front of me. CDs sounded like shite, looked like shite and were increasingly associated with a time of overindulgence. I’ve written before about the compression and loudness of modern records, apparently in order to make things sound good on iPods and in cars, and how it frequently results in vulgar sounding records and a complete lack of sonic excitement, but it was the final straw.

It was only a couple of years ago when things started to shift and only within the last twelve months that I’ve actively been reducing the number of CDs I buy quite drastically. I’m very much a vinyl man now. So much new music is now back to being released on the format that it’s far less of a problem to find things than it was only two or three years ago. Pressing quality is often excellent, even if prices are a little on the steep side at times. What was the precise breaking point? Last year, I returned from a holiday with a sturdy ‘bag for life’ from one of the nation’s supermarkets, full of CDs. An entire row of spine-up titles ran along the bottom of the bag, from end to end, with further bits and bobs stacked on top which had been picked up at various record shops I’d sought out across a week. Yes, most of them had been cheap but what was the point now? How many had I wanted beforehand? How many were impulse purchases? How many were simply because I could? How many was I still playing by the time I reached the end of 2009 and was rummaging through the racks? The answer, as I suspect you’ve already guessed, was not all that many. The return of vinyl to my affections, which began to gather pace around five years ago but truly took of in the last eighteen months, has reinvigorated my listening and returned me to fully appreciating the album as an experience, an intentional collection of songs in a particular order. It’s reignited my desire to seek out record shops wherever I am and to support independent retailers as often as I can. It’s put me in touch with music sellers as enthusiastic and passionate about the things I listen to as I am. And it feels very good indeed.

A Chat With… Max Richter – Part Two

In the first part of this sizeable chat with classical composer, producer and generally lovely bloke, we covered recording methods, sound quality, the ringtones inspired ‘24 Postcards In Full Colour’ and his early release, ‘Memoryhouse’. Time to bring things a little more up to date, including some reflections on his new album, ‘infra’, released on July 19th, which features tracks named only ‘infra’ or ‘journey’ along with a number to differentiate between them. Below you can find various additional parts from our conversation, the key parts of which will appear in a feature for Clash Magazine which will arrive at the start of August.

Max Richter 2

How did the original version of ‘infra’ come about?

I got an email from Wayne (McGregor) who’s the in-house choreographer at the Royal Opera House and he’s kind of really into music and he just kind of emailed me and said do you want to do this thing? Which was great, really interesting. There wasn’t really a brief. The brief was it was twenty five minutes, which is kind of ideal. So I just took it from there really.

And what did you set out to do?

It was interesting, because I saw some of the animation (shown above the stage performance, created by Julian Opie) and little bits of choreography. We had one or two conversations about this idea of journeys and also about there being two levels on the stage. That started me thinking about lots of images and there’s lots of things that return in different ways. It’s like turning a bit of sculpture in your hands to get different perspectives on the material.

How does the album relate to the original piece?

When I started recording it, I thought well, this music was originally made to be heard with dance and I just thought well, listening to something is different and I’m allowed to do something different that the music in the performance didn’t have to do. I wanted it to more immersive more complete in a way, so it could stand on its own. In recording it, I started to find new things in the material I wanted to explore and it was kind of nice just to take another trip through it and so this whole other kind of region of music evolved which is the journey pieces.


With the tracks named ‘infra 1’, ‘infra 2’ and the like, what can we read into the order of the tracks?

I kind of employ lots of different ways of thinking about the music, I’ve got forensically detailed plans but sometimes you just have to kill the plan and just go with that kind of weird logic where you don’t know why you’re doing it but you just have to go with it. There was a certain amount of that I wanted to keep ‘infra’ alternating with the ‘journey’ pieces in the order it was. But then I started to make it and it made sense to have these kind of clusters of material.

infra 4’, which closes out the first half of the record, is a hugely emotive piece. Is there a particular message or feeling you’re trying to convey with such an intense track?

I guess one of the reasons I do work at all is because I’m interested in the intensity of that experience; there’s something kind of very real about it. It’s kind of difficult to analyse why you do things, and I’m probably not the best person to do that, but I guess I’m trying to get the maximum energy out of the material. On ‘infra’ it’s a weird kind of emotional world because it’s got a sort of hallucinogenic quality, some of it’s quite bleak. It’s got a lot of emotional moments so for me, I’m interested in communicating that very powerful feeling.

To what extent does your take on classical music borrow from the more conventional classical artists of the past? You’ve made no secret of borrowing certain phrases previously.

Well, I guess all music is kind of about music. I think there are very few people who make things that have just never been done. We make music because we’re into music; it’s sort of in the back of your head that there’s all these things kicking around all the time. Whether it’s The Kinks in terms of a rock band or some kind of a classical thing for me. It’s kind of under the surface, it’s a sort of background thing. Sometimes I’ve used, deliberately, kind of quotations for specific reasons, like in the ‘Waltz For Bashir’ score there’s a bit of Schubert that floats around quite a bit. I guess it’s just that I’m a music fan so everything kind of feeds in.

Max Richter Blue Notebooks

You also borrowed from the literary world for ‘The Blue Notebooks’, featuring readings from Kafka. What was the thinking behind that?

I just found these texts and thought they were fantastic. I started thinking about storytelling music and a way to present them, like a fan. You find something and you want to tell your friends about it, this is me telling everyone about these texts that I’ve just found. I started thinking about how those words and the music could live together, how they could connect and bounce off each other really. It just kind of evolved like a collage between those two elements, which seemed to make sense to me. That was a voyage of discovery for me.

Then, for ‘Songs From Before’, you brought in Robert Wyatt to read from Murakami…

Obviously, way back, Soft Machine were just an amazing band and he’s an amazing singer who’s done so much great work over the years. Also, the Murakami texts are quite romantic, but I didn’t want any kind of romantic delivery and I knew Robert’s voice and thought he’s so kind of plain and straight ahead and he would be perfect for it because it would go against that maybe quite sweet language and I thought it was fantastic, he did it so well.


In terms of other people’s music, what are you currently enjoying?

I’m always listening to stuff on the classical front, from really old music to experimental things. I’ve been listening to a lot of early electronic music recently, like early Stockholm and all that very weird bleepy music coming out of the radio studios in the fifties and sixties. And then, on a more kind of contemporary side, I’ve been listening to the Eleh records. They’re kind of, they’re deliberately obscure, it’s kind of electronicy, almost like test tapes, but sort of quite trippy. On the pop side, I like the Micachu record, really well made and really great production like an explosion in a sweety factory.

Opportunities to have alternative music selected or curated for you are getting thin on the ground. Having originally released ‘Memoryhouse’ on its label, presumably Late Junction is an important radio show for you?

It always had interesting things going on, along with Mixing It. I got my musical education like everyone did from John Peel. That was an incredible thing, what was amazing about it was that it was THAT place and everyone got it there. The whole media universe has kind of atomised into all these little things. It’s probably out there, it’s just not that easy to find. You haven’t got that one place where you can go and hear everything that’s creative and alt. that’s going on. I don’t know if that whole mainstream marketing thing is worth now than it was – it certainly feels worse.

Although ‘infra’ is only just about to be released, can we expect more releases in the near future?

There’s a possible couple of film scores, including one for a really nice film for David Mackenzie, ‘The Last Word’. Aside from that, I’ve got a project coming out, hopefully next year, it’s kind of a big piece that’s going to be split across three records. That’s called ‘Voices From The Black Sites’ and I’m sort of deep in that at the moment.

2010 inverted

July Reviews – The Coral, Max Richter and more

A perfectly formed four for you this time round. The reviews that is, rather than albums, which were a mixed bag. I was commended for the sulky nature of the Edible Woman review, but if you listen to it, you’ll know what I mean.

july reviews 1

THE CORAL – ‘Butterfly House’ (DELTASONIC)

There was some concern that the departure of Bill-Ryder Jones might mark the decline of The Coral. The good news is you wouldn’t know he’d left. Actually, that’s sort of the bad news too. A perennial singles band, capable of euphoric highs but also rather a lot of chugging jangle when called upon to fill an entire album, there’s little here to suggest a radical rethink. Album opener ‘More Than A Lover’ is the power-pop insulin of old while the title track offers a more malevolent, wonky, psychedelic backdrop. It’s all very ‘nice’ but only sporadically truly vital. 6/10

It is good, honestly. I’m quite a fan of the band and, were I judging it solely against their back catalogue I might have stretched to seven or possibly eight, but in the context of all of the records released this year, it just doesn’t stand head and shoulders above the rest. But, if you like them already, get it, undoubtedly.

MAX RICHTER – ‘infra’ (130701 RECORDS)

Instrumental pieces are often good, rarely great. The abstract musical vocabulary, conveying feelings without lyrical assistance, requires a delicate touch and ambitious execution. Max Richter does not make background music. All four of his previous albums command your attention and ‘infra’, expanded from the soundtrack to a 2008 ballet of the same name, is no different. At times agitated and claustrophobic, at others mournful and emotive, this is an album which needs time to breathe. While the pace hardly fluctuates wildly, the constant twists and turns create an emotional collage where you’re left contemplative and euphoric in equal measure. 8/10

As you’ve probably gathered from the recent published interview piece, I’m rather fond of Max Richter’s music and this latest offering really is splendid. Try it with headphones and a slightly greying summer evening. You’ll fall in love.

july reviews 2


Ever wondered what it would sound like to actually listen to a migraine? Well, wonder no more, my friends. ‘Everywhere At Once’ is so completely half-arsed it’s a fair old feat of endurance just getting to the end of it. Littered with schizophrenic left turns that are nowhere near as clever as you suspect they’re meant to be, this is an album that skulks along with so little ambition that you wonder if using the skip button on it might actually cause it to self-harm. An interminable swathe of anti-melodic, no wave avant-punk with little more than tired outré posturing. 2/10

Also known as the ‘got asked to review it, didn’t like it’ album. Occasionally, something comes my way which I really struggle to find anything to like about at all. This is pretty much one of those records. I make no apologies for this – it’s my opinion. I’m sure many people love it. Just as I love ‘The Good, The Bad & The Queen’ and many people slag it off. Plus, I quite like the self-harm line.

DONNA REGINA – ‘The Decline Of Female Happiness’ (KARAOKE KALK)

It’s no great surprise to learn that Donna Regina, a duo of some twenty years vintage, are popular in Japan, sounding as they do like delicate quirk-pop masters Pizzicato Five on Ritalin. A sweetly melancholic, analogue warmth pervades this record with Nico-like hushed vocals atop floating acoustic guitar and laconic beats. “So many kinds of loneliness, I’m learning about them all on a lost and lonely Sunday” sings Regina Janssen on one of the album’s standout tracks, ‘Lost Sunday’, and yet the lightness of touch ensures that in these hands even sadness doesn’t sound that sad. 7/10

Also known as the ‘got asked to review, really liked it’ album. Really rather good this and one I keep meaning to go back to. Only received it as a download though, so somewhat disinclined. Anyone want  to send me a physical copy? Anyway, self interest aside, genuinely worth a listen this. Took me by surprise.

2010 inverted

A Chat With… Max Richter – Part One

Last month I had the absolute pleasure of spending the best part of an hour in conversation with the person responsible for some of the most breathtaking releases of the last ten years. ‘The Blue Notebooks’ is regarded as one of the finest modern classical records, occupying a territory somewhere left of centre but by no means fluttering its eyelashes at the avant-garde types. It is, quite simply beautiful music and, beyond that, defies effective categorisation.

Max Richter

Our chat was in order to fashion a piece for Clash, which will run in the August issue, but, as is always the way with these things, there was rather a lot of stuff that hasn’t been used in that article which I thought would still prove interesting to anyone with more than a passing fondness for Max Richter’s music. His very fine new album, ‘infra’, a review of which will appear here in the next couple of days, is released on July 19th and so, in the run up to that, come two sizeable excerpts from that interview, covering his career to date, his recording methods and his views on the industry.

Some readers may not be familiar with your work. Assuming I could find one, I walk into a record shop to buy some of your music. Where is it filed?

That’s interesting isn’t it? Not in the classical department! I’m always in the alt-rock, kind of, where FatCat would be found and that’s the sort of connection really.

You previously commented that “writing music is dreaming out loud.” To me, that suggests that perhaps a lot of what you write is out of your control. Is that the case?

I think it is a compulsive, obsessive disorder in a way. Writing music is just what happens when I sit in a room, it’s not like I can do anything about it, but I’m quite happy about it. It’s out of my control but I’m quite happy about that, I like it. I think a lot about what I’m trying to do, but ultimately there’s a lot of things that happen that I’m not expecting but, in a way, I’m looking for those accidents and things to go in different directions. For me, that’s part of the fun; it’s kind of exciting developments that I wasn’t expecting. That’s what makes it different from having a plan and executing it. But I like all of that.

Presumably that means that there’s a lot of music you write which doesn’t get used?

It’s the tip of the iceberg, the records. I end up putting on one side an awful lot of stuff. It’s that fine line, if the geometry isn’t right, or it doesn’t lock in. But they all become part of the great compost heap of the future. Some things on the record will be like five years before, but I didn’t know how to use it. So there’s a continual rewriting thing going on.

You take sound quality very seriously. Your albums are released on heavyweight vinyl and recorded on 2” tape – why is it so important to you?

To me, I can’t do one without the other really. Part of the writing of the music is the recording – it’s completely seamless for me. It would be like using rubbish violins. It’s part of the sound world that I love. When I was a kid growing up everything was recorded that way. That’s just what I do.

Does the increasing tendency towards maximising volume and compressing sound – the ‘loudness war’ – frustrate you?

That’s a weird one. That whole loudness thing is kind of a sort mirror of our society generally, just quantity over quality. The louder it gets, it doesn’t really matter what the quality’s like. It’s the ultimate materialism. It doesn’t mean there isn’t some great really loud music being made. That decision’s being made by, I don’t know A&R or marketing people, who just go ‘that mix isn’t loud enough’. It’s just pretty sad when people spend incredible amounts of attention and love on making a beautiful mix and then it gets crushed. It does seem a bit of a waste.

With such attention to detail, do you envisage your records being suited to headphone listening or blasting out of speakers?

Well, they’re made to be listened to, I think. I don’t really know. I listen to records in a lot of different ways, going from having it on the cans when you’re out and about or when you’re at home, sitting down and listening to a vinyl album in a kind of reverent, ‘play the a side, play the b side’ kind of way. It really varies, a thing like ’24 Postcards’, that’s almost environmental in a way, it just fits the landscape. I think there’s many different ways to listen.

max richter 24 postcards

On the subject of ‘24 Postcards In Full Colour’, an album comprising 24 musical shorts intended for use as ringtones, is it a record which you consider to be part of your conventional discography or is it more a one-off, side project in which you tried something different?

It’s one that I’m really fond of. It really surprised me because I made it with this idea in mind but then I thought I’ll make these kind of things and that’ll be it but then I kind of fell in love with them as I was making them and it became more and more consuming. No, for me it’s absolutely a record. And the order, I guess, because of the way a lot of the pieces share material as variations on one another, isn’t that important. And that order is a listening order that I made but it’s made to be shuffled around.

You recently reissued your debut, ‘Memoryhouse’. Was that simply to satisfy demand?

It was really and also we had a chance to remaster it. I wasn’t happy with the original really, and it made more sense to me personally, to sort of complete the album really.

Was it strange listening back to it?

I liked it actually; it was like meeting an old friend. I really hadn’t heard it for a long time, we play it live sometimes, but I hadn’t really sat down and listened to it at all. Yeah, I really enjoyed it actually. It was like meeting someone you hadn’t seen for ages and just checking in.

max richter memoryhouse

Your records seem to feature a lot of noises and sounds from everyday life as samples and patterns. How do you go about finding and choosing those particular moments?

I wander around with those little mics in my ears that look like headphones, but secretly recording the world as I go by. The radio stuff – that’s just scanning the biosphere. On short wave radio, you hear all kinds of things. I just collect sounds all the time. It’s like curating the right sound to tell that kind of story.

And what stories they are. Part 2 of this interview will focus more on the new record ‘infra’, along with some comment on previous releases and what lies ahead. As I said at the start, for the cherry picked best bits, you’ll need to buy the August issue of Clash Magazine, although the thoroughly fabulous July edition has just landed, with M.I.A. on the cover and I’ll furnish you with my reviews from that issue in the coming week.

2010 inverted

A Week With… 19. I Am Kloot – Sky At Night

Oh, the aching sound of melancholy. Some voices just have it. Think Nick Drake, Jason Molina and Morrissey. To that list, let’s add John Bramwell, I Am Kloot’s songwriter and vocalist, who has found his form in the nick of time. Have drifted a little with ‘Gods And Monsters’ and ‘I Am Kloot Play Moolah Rouge’, good albums but lacking somehow, ‘Sky At Night’ is the exemplar record for this band. It’s the one you’d give to others to show why you liked them, it’s the one you’ll end up reaching for first from the shelf or scrolling to on the iPod. It’s accomplished, it’s precise and it sounds beautiful.


While Bramwell’s voice is imbued with that melancholic charm, be careful not to write this lot of as miserablists. In a recent review, the frequently sniffy and awkward Andy Gill, suggested in The Independent that the pace of this record “rarely rises above funereal” which is, at best, disingenuous and, at worst, a plain lie, suggesting no great deal of time was spent with ‘Sky At Night’. Yup, some of these songs are slow but they are luxurious, meticulous and engrossing rather than sombre and plodding as that description might suggest.

Opening track and current single, ‘Northern Skies’, is perhaps not as magical as its near namesake, but it’s a clear sign that the wilderness years are over. Bramwell has always had a way with words and, following on from the charming “Where shall we go on that big black night? Shall we take the coast road back through our life?” in ‘Northern Skies’, we are given the cracking opening couplet of “Do you fancy a drink? I know a place called the brink” for second track ‘To The Brink’. The truly heartbreaking strings that follow underscore the tone of world-weary despair and it’s an enjoyably brave decision to deploy this quite magnificent song so early on.

There is a not un-Elbow like swell of unsettling and tense backing vocals during ‘Fingerprints’, further demonstrating that not a note will be wasted on ‘Sky At Night’. The whole record exudes a sense of being ‘just so’, a confidence borne of knowing you’ve made the best record of your career, both in terms of the songs themselves and the beguiling sonics. This is, in no small part down to Elbow’s Guy Garvey and Craig Potter, the man responsible for the sublime production of ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’, who both oversaw proceedings. ‘Lately’ is another accomplished gear-shifting piece, lurching between serene calm and all out theatrics, while ‘The Moon Is A Blind Eye’ is a fine example of a relatively sparse soundscape being slowly manipulated to great effect, angelic harmonies sweeping in accompanied by echoing drum rolls towards the song’s end. ‘It’s Just The Night’ is one of their very finest songs, sounding like a ludicrously indulgent cross between Richard Hawley, Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan. You’ll need to play it a few times just to absorb its majesty. The swoonsome gloss of ‘Coles Corner’ perfectly suits Bramwell’s languid yet emotive croon, its slow, raggedy delivery hinting at ‘Time Out Of Mind’ and ‘Love And Theft’ era Bobness.

2003 track ‘Proof’ makes a reappearance in a move that has confused a few people and, as part of an album of only ten tracks, it does seem a little cheeky although this new rendering sounds sublime. Furthermore, if this is to be the album which sells people on the band, offering a creative re-birth, then there’s no harm in having one of their best songs on it. But, tellingly, on this occasion it doesn’t stand out as a peak. Their game has been raised, their sound has been found and I Am Kloot are now playing for the win. It’s bloody heartening for those who were ensnared back in the days of 2001’s ‘Natural History’. I remember reviewing ‘B’, their outtakes and extra tracks collection from last year, and wondering what the hell was going on. Momentum having ebbed substantially with ‘Moolah Rouge’, I just couldn’t see how foisting odds and sods into the public arena made much sense. On reflection, it seems to have been a clearing of the decks, an end of a chapter and a metaphorical funeral for the old times. Momentum had faded, but it would seem it was only temporary.

Radiation’ seems to build towards an epic, Sixties-sounding conclusion but, rather cleverly, it hasn’t been sequenced at the end of the record, even if there is a not inconsiderable pause before ‘Same Shoes’, the actual closing track, shimmers into life. With wistful brass and a muted drum sound it’s a perfect way to end ‘Sky At Night’. It’s delicately crafted, beautifully sung and leaves you wanting more. This album may not suddenly elevate I Am Kloot to headline status but it’s a mission statement that deserves to be heard, a proud, defiant blast against general indifference and Bramwell’s best work to date.

2010 inverted