Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A Chaotic Wall of Noise Assailed My Lugholes

Manitoba - Every Time She Turns Round It's Her Birthday
Manitoba - Cherrybomb Part II

‘Up in Flames’ was one of those albums that took me completely by surprise. So much so, that after a single listen, I didn’t go back to it again for a couple of weeks. I’d been expecting more of what Snaith delivered on his debut ‘Start Breaking My Heart’. I’d enjoyed the brief mashed breaks detour, but as far as I was concerned, it was time for a return to the warm, pastoral electronica with which he’d made his name.

I slotted ‘Up in Flames’ into the CD player, pressed play and a chaotic wall of noise immediately assailed my lugholes. It wasn’t even an electronic mess - it was layered acoustic guitars, organs, flutes, sun-kissed double-tracked vocal harmonies, clattering drums – all mashed together like potatoes in a giant pot. Pitchfork described it as “unified sound”, where every single instrument is tied so tightly to the next that it is impossible to prise them all apart again. It threw me completely. It felt a bit like opening a Christmas present that’s a really distinctive shape, like a bike, and finding that it’s in fact a series of completely unrelated objects, put together in such a way that it resembled the bike you really wanted it to be. Mind thoroughly blown, I consigned it to the shelf.

Stupid, stupid me. The really ridiculous thing was that if Snaith had released it under a pseudonym or if it had been his debut album, I’m sure I would have loved it straight away. It was just my initial expectations that held me back from full enjoyment of an album that has since become one of my favourites of the decade. I don’t know what happened to Snaith between the recording of the two albums, and if I didn’t know better, I’d suspect he’d ingested a lorry load of psychedelics and borrowed Brain Wilson’s brain for a bit. How else can you explain such a staggering transformation in sound? Sonically, it’s up there with ‘Loveless’. First, consider that Shields spent years and god knows how much of Creation’s money in state of the art studios to create what is undoubtedly a sonic masterpiece. Then balance that against the fact that Snaith recorded ‘Up in Flames’ in a bedroom studio, on a laptop, for a few thousand quid, in about 18 months, playing every single instrument himself, and you’ll see that the two albums do deserve to be spoken of in the same breath. And Snaith was only 24 when he made ‘Up in Flames’. Having made that bold comparison, Spiritualized and Mercury Rev are probably better reference points – the adventurous, psychedelic grandeur of the whole album recalls the Rev’s ‘Boces’ and the more chaotic moments from ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space’.

Unlike me, most reviewers got it first time, though Q magazine didn’t share the love, saying, “Most tracks follow a simple formula: the vocal from Don't Stop by the Stone Roses + layers of chimes + dog barks + crashing drums = mess.” Which is actually a rather succinct way of summing up the album without resorting to the kind of flowery language I oft indulge in. Playlouder decided Snaith must be, “a lunatic and a fool” (yes, but in a GOOD way), whereas Stylus Magazine deduced “‘Up In Flames’ is a record in love with music made by a music lover.” Of this there is no doubt.

I don’t really have a favourite song on the album. Like all the truly great records, it works best when you listen to the whole thing from beginning to end. 10 songs, under 40 minutes. It blows you mind and then fucks off again. Perfect.

Final word to the man himself – “There's all this lazy, complacent shitty electronic music where everyone uses the same keyboard sounds and shit drum sounds. Fuck that! Electronic music can sound like anything you want it to so why does it all sound the same? People aren't very ambitious. Why be an imitation? Why not try be on some next level shit? Some Brian Wilson/Timbaland type shit?”

I’m posting the epic album closer ‘Every Time She Turns Round It’s Her Birthday’ as if you don’t already own ‘Up in Flames’, it should persuade you to part with your hard earned dosh to own a copy. The phenomenal drum outro is worth the cover price alone, but the whole song is an incredible psychedelic space rock odyssey. As a bonus, I’ve also put up ‘Cherrybomb Part II’, a previously unreleased track which surfaced on the 2CD Special Edition of the album. It’s a beautiful, simple song, and acts a bit like those palate cleansing dishes you sometimes get between the courses of a properly good meal – clearing the mind in readiness for more intensely flavoured songs.

NB: If you want to hear more songs from ‘Up in Flames’ there’s a few on the TWNR Ghetto over on the right-hand sidebar.

Tomorrow – an enforced name change means packaging headaches for the Leaf label, and sends Snaith into creative overdrive…

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