Embrace – Drawn From Memory / Out of Nothing (2000 / 2004)

embracegif“Bands, those funny little plans, that never turn out right.” So sang Mercury Rev’s Jonathan Donohue in 1998, presumably about his own relationship with his band, their problems over the years, and then their ascent to critical and crossover success at the close of a tumultuous decade. Danny from Embrace once said, of Deserter’s Songs, that he couldn’t work out if it was genius or not, but that he was obsessed with “Holes”, the song that lyric comes from. 15 years on, with the benefit of hindsight, it could very easily be about his own band.

In case you don’t know, I have a relationship with Embrace. I wrote about them in my fanzine back in 1997, and their reciprocation, and my affection for them and their music, soon made that fanzine predominantly about them. In 2000 I followed them around the country as they toured, partying backstage and getting my name on the guestlist. In 2001 I was ‘Nick Southall, Embrace fan’ on a Channel 4 documentary about the recording and release of their third album. In 2005 I wrote the sleevenotes to their b-sides compilation. In 2006 I was thanked in the sleeve of their fourth album, not for anything specific, just for being enthusiastic and helping out and emailing them a bootleg MP3 of a song they’d performed live but forgotten how to play in the studio.

In that documentary I described Drawn From Memory as “schizophrenically eclectic”, and it is, from the cartoon Technicolor of the sleeve to the kazoo solo on “Hooligan” to the spiralling riffs of “New Adam New Eve” and the crazy keyboards lashed across almost every track like Day-Glo graffiti.

For a band often maligned as Oasis-lite or lumped in with Coldplay and Snow Patrol there’s a hell of a lot of love for a hell of a lot of music evident in this record (and it’s accompanying b-sides, where many of my favourite songs by them lived); when you’ve listened as closely as I have, read the interviews, conducted the interviews, spoken with band members in depth about what they were listening to in the studio, then it seems obvious, but for some reason the press and public never quite seemed to give them the credit for the eclecticism that seemed so obvious to me. “The Love It Takes” takes moves and ideas from Frank Zappa and David Axelrod; “Hooligan” tried to tie up Jimi Hendrix to Delakota; “Yeah You” is aiming for Shudder To Think; “Save Me” wants to be Happy Mondays playing Sly & The Family Stone. There is a pair of b-sides, called “Brothers And Sisters” and “Come On And Smile”, which somehow crunch up “Gratitude” by Beastie Boys. “I Wouldn’t Wanna Happen To You” pitches itself at the same weightless pop territory as “The Only Living Boy In New York” by Simon & Garfunkel. There’s another b-side (“With The One Who Got Me Here”) which completely deconstructs its own sound-palette and ends up feeling like “Kangaroo” by Big Star as recreated with Pro Tools and a Casio. This album and its next of kin are all over the shop. Psychedelic, you could say.

Out of Nothing is a more straightforward, linear rock beast by far, but no other record has ever made me cry like it. Granted, I was in odd emotional territory for a bunch of reasons in 2004, but songs like “Keeping”, as much as I’ve barely listened to them in the last six or more years, would have me in floods of tears on a regular basis during my train commute that summer, it seemed. I recognise a little, after last year’s Olympics, that the sensation is partly one of seeing people who have struggled to follow their passion suddenly, emphatically knock it out of the park, so to speak. These days I have issues with the mixing, the sequencing, the choices that got left off (b-sides that ripped from Manitoba, Fugazi, “Thriller”, Eno), but the huge emotional resonance this record had at the time was extraordinary. I’ll never forget the comeback gig at Shepherd’s Bush Empire, which I watched mostly from the wings where I could see the crowd’s reaction as much as the band’s. I’ve never really experienced anything else quite like that euphoria.

I had expectations, and ambitions, and dreams, for Embrace when I was 18. I wanted them to somehow both conquer the world, and be the most exciting, innovative, expressive band there had ever been. That weight of unrealistic adolescent fantasy can never, ever be brought to life, not really. Embrace had plans, too. They wanted to be My Bloody Valentine with strings, Ride playing Curtis Mayfield songs, Al Green and Pixies and Otis Redding and Screamadelica and PJ Harvey and The Beach Boys. The Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band on acid. Why wouldn’t you?

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2 responses to “Embrace – Drawn From Memory / Out of Nothing (2000 / 2004)

  1. Hi Nick,

    You know, what happened to me today is amazing. I’m a 31-year-old guy from Argentina who mostly dislikes the today world. So, what to do about it? There’s almost nothing to be done, but my nostalgy pushed me into going back to the start, and I remembered the days, I’d say 15 years ago, when I used to go once or twice a week to that magical music store whose owner would put in my hands almost unknown records (totally unknown in this part of the world) which I’d grow to love: The Seahorses, Unbelievable Truth, Hurricane #1, Papas Fritas, Travis (long before their success) and, of course, Embrace. Those were really amazing days, buying one or two albums each month, instead of downloading in a couple minutes the entire discography of a band you won’t take the time to listen apart from the song you like in the beggining).

    So I felt like listening The Good Will Out and almost could feel the sweetness of those days. So, to push it a little more, I decided I’d spend the time it took to read their story. I kinda already knew what I’d read, but something sounded weird to me: wikipedia (well…) said their second album was not a selling success, but was much acclaimed by reviewers. “Is that so – I thought, frowning -, let’s find out if that’s true.” The first review was kinda dull, too short for an album I considered that big; the second… the second was your review, and it was such a delight to read it, I felt so identified, that from the second paragraph the words “please, let this review be signed” started ringing unceasingly inside my head.

    Well, it was signed, and the tools of nowadays led me here after 10 minutes of investigation. Your review was truly amazing. Most of it is exactly what I think and it was a real joy for me to read a more personal review, full of your life experiences rather than a technical explanation of what music is. As I said, I don’t like today’s world. I’d live forever in those days were music was more difficult to get, because it’d be more appreciated, it’d last longer.

    Another amazing thing is the fact that this is to the day your last post on this blog. I got to you by reading a 2005 review of yours about Embrace (by the way, it’s just amazing that you’d review that album on 2005!), I come to your blog and I find a post published a couple days ago about Embrace! Unbelievable…

    Well Nick, I just needed to thank you for your amazing article; I feel like I’m feeling the world in a different way now (yes, it hit me that hard), there’s something left of the good old days. I’m sure there are more treasures like that one expecting for me here, so I’ll be reading.

    Cheers,

    Hora

    PS: english is not my mother tongue, forgive the many mistakes that I’m sure this reply contains.

  2. Excellent read! Was captured by embrace after a drunken night sitting watching the music channels, gravity came on and wow I was hooked ever since! Really hope they release the new album it’s been way to long.
    Ps keeping is my favourite song, gets me everytime!

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