Apologies in advance if this post rambles a little; I tend to send myself emails with prompts of topics I want to write about, and there are about three backed-up which are all going to feed into here because I can’t be bothered to flesh any of them out into a full-length post on their own terms. Such is life.
Anyway. Last night I popped out in the car and took Valhalla Dancehall by British Sea Power with me. I hadn’t listened to it in a few weeks, having had the PJ Harvey and Radiohead albums arrive in the meantime and thrown a shadow over it. I worried perhaps I’d gone off it after an initial surge of interest and attention; that perhaps it had claimed that January spot where unworthy records curry favour by seizing the context of nothing else new being around.
But, after a break of a few weeks without listening at all, I thoroughly enjoyed it; recognising the contours of songs and enjoying this familiarity, while hearing new details, new emotions, new corners and nuances, and finding the songs easier to identify with, the album’s flow more effective. To be honest, I should have expected this; my favourite BSP album, Open Season, took several months to wind its way into my affections, but once it was there, it stayed. I had worried that perhaps Valhalla Dancehall’s songs and sequencing wouldn’t be able to pull the same trick; it seems I was hasty. I’ll judge it’s longevity in the future.
This got me thinking about the format of Devon Record Club, which the three of us who take part have discussed at some length. DRC requires us to listen to an album blind, soak it in and discuss it there and then. This may be the first time we’ve listened to (or even heard of) a record, or, if we pick something the others know, it might be the thousandth – but I think we’re all making at least some effort to pick things the others wont know, by and large.
Initially we had considered formatting DRC like any typical book club, where we are each assigned a record (or three) to consume in the week(s) prior to our get-togethers, so we can listen together and have educated ears and poised comments. But this seemed to erode from the spirit of discovery a little, from the happenstance of last-minute choices. Also, it requires organisation and planning beyond picking a date and choosing a takeaway; I know at least one of my picks has only been decided on as I was about to walk out of the door.
But listening to a record blind, for the first time, is difficult, especially if there is curry, company, and conversation to distract. And Devon Record Club is nothing if not loquacious. And hungry.
There have been a number of albums in my lifetime that I can remember loving the very first time I listened to them. But it’s a very small number, relatively. I can remember where I was and how I felt with alarming alacrity and detail when I first heard In Sides by Orbital (as I’ve mentioned before), and Up In Flames by Manitoba. I can remember being spellbound the first time I heard Grace by Jeff Buckley (but not where I was – though I can remember where I bought it; Our Price in Newton Abbot).
Other records I have the impression of loving from the off (Spirit Of Eden; Drawn From Memory) but not where I was with any kind of certainty enough to convince me I’m not misremembering. Equally there are records I can remember specific instances of listening to and experiencing epiphanies with, but I’m sure that it wasn’t a first listen.
Most of the records I truly love are ones that I’ve come to be familiar with over time, and I imagine this is true for many, many people. But when does one love a record most? When does one have the best relationship with it? In the first flush of lust, the “getting to know you” phase? When you revisit after that initial rush and lull and familiarity allows you to explore aspects previously unnoticed (as with These New Puritans, perhaps)? When you know its contours and details and the emotions it inspires in you intimately? When you can hum and ride every note and rhythm? I don’t know. I do know that there are times when I’ve wished I could go back to a record I know inside-out and revisit it with fresh ears, as if for the first time. Sadly I suspect this is impossible without the help of dementia.
I’ve tweeted about Devon Record Club a few times; Mark Richardson from Pitchfork has tweeted back at me asking about it, and saying it sounds like great fun. (This would tickle Tom and Rob, I suspect, who are both PFM readers, though maybe not to the extent that they’d recognise bylines) It is fun, tremendously so; I look forward to it for about 10 days of every 14 (the other 4 I’m either attending or putting off writing my blurb, as a rule). It’s a little resurrection for communal listening, for teenage friends sitting in a loft playing each other records. The conversation is a little (but only a little) more sophisticated now, the records played much better (so far; if anyone brings something by The Levellers I may reconsider), and we’re in our 30s and 40s rather than our teens.
My wife laughs at me a little, asks why we need rules and strictures and a blog and a schedule, why we can’t just listen to records with friends off the cuff, but I think boys of any age like forming secret societies, imposing (and not really enforcing) rules. Plus, we’re busy people (a parent in one case), and we need to plan these frivolous things!
I think that’s all the bases I wanted to cover.