University Albums 101 with special guest lecturer the Bedroom Philosopher
University isn’t just a time of experimenting with alcohol and paraphrasing Wikipedia – it’s also about expanding your music collection. Chances are you’ll start the academic year with an ipod as questionable as your haircut. Counting Crows, Jamiroquai & Lenny Kravitz aren’t going to cut it here. You’ll come across fellow students older and wiser than you with dazzlingly eclectic tastes. These people will most likely bore you to tears with references to late 70’s New York punk bands and/or Joni Mitchell, but bare with them, they may adorn your Glee pocked memory stick with some life changing albums. Here are four that I only discovered after leaving school.
NICK DRAKE – BRYTER LATER (1970)
In 2003 I dated a mentally interesting girl ten years older than me. She had a friend who was in a Beatles tribute band and nine times my age. At a party he showed me a simple album cover of a lavender background with a long-haired, leggy recluse posing on a chair. I can’t remember his exact words but “before Nick Drake / after Nick Drake” was the sentiment.
Drake suffered a whole lot of depression, barely performed or gave interviews and left behind a three album legacy of guitar tunings and arrangements that are the musical equivalent of crop circles. Bryter Later is his happy album. Happy in the ‘I’ve taken my Prozac and enjoyed a nice bowl of jelly’ way – his voice softer than the ghost of a cartoon butterfly.
Hazey Jane II is a smooth, rollicking journey through late 60’s musical countryside, while At The Chime of a City Clock is a swift acoustic jazz number. It unfortunately falls victim to a disease of the time – Sax Crimes! (Same thing that kills Lennon’s Whatever Gets You Through The Night and Bowie’s Young Americans.) It is a fine example of the glorious string arrangements and subtle backbeats provided by producer Joe Boyd.
There are two types of people. Those that find Nick Drake hopelessly depressing – and those who see him as a profound comfort. A graceful woodland nymph whispering pretty truths about pain and beauty.
Please give me a second grace
Please give me a second face
I’ve fallen far down
The first time around
Now I just sit on the ground in your way
This from a man who ‘accidentally’ took an overdose and slipped softly into the ether. A folk messenger far too sensitive for the harsh exteriors of the people scene.
BOARDS OF CANADA – MUSIC HAS THE RIGHT TO CHILDREN (1998)
I attempted a relationship with a Manic Pixie Dream Girl musician who had this in her collection. The morbidly haunting synth chords of An Eagle In Your Mind, like slowed down panpipes, evoked such cavernous woe that I had to turn it off. Even though I was fascinated by electronic music, I wasn’t quite old enough to enter this haunted house.
Boards of Canada, a duo from Scotland, are now pretty much my favourite band. They build downbeat soundscapes using warbly synths that resemble early 80’s educational shows. The results evoke a majestic sense of nostalgia and longing. To me, they are the natural evolution of electronic music – from Popcorn through to Guru Josh, Fat Boy Slim and the Chemical Brothers. While these artists feel dated, BoC are maestros of emotionally intelligent retro futurism.
Sharp, rhythmic beats drive past like highway lines. The synth bed is a holographic backdrop of green screen glow. The fuzzy blue atmosphere of harmonisers, glitches and bleeps draws your third eye toward the sonic horizon and beyond. The precipice between consciousness and dreams, where logic turns abstract. An emotional kaleidoscope.
Telephasic Workshop sounds like an audio tour of a comatose brain, where electro pulses have been turned into vector diagrams and fed back into a laboratory Moog. Vocal samples are spliced with precise silences, creating an eerie strobing effect, as a chugging beat pounds rhythmically over a lava phaser of minor pulses. At the height of the intensity they drop a robotic voice pronouncing “Boards of Canada.” For a band who have since refused to tour or do interviews it’s an oddly self-serving DJ watermark, reminding us who is responsible for this atomic deconstruction of melody and sounds.
It’s not all queasy-listening. Roygbiv is the closest thing to a single. There’s something instantly recognisable about it, like the themesong to an children’s sitcom about a crime solving robot and her wizard apprentice. The thick, ominous synth is dusted with a naïve, warbly jingle and 80’s hyper-cheese jazz piano. It’s like audio déjí vu, your brain is sure you’ve heard it before but has no record of it. While The Campfire Headphase is my favourite album, Music Has The Right To Children heralded a decade of ‘80s fascination.