Get This!, Kraut-y, Six Of The Best

Six Of The Best – James Brooks

Six Of The Best is a semi-regular feature that pokes, prods and persuades your favourite bands, bards and barometers of hip opinion to tell us six of the best tracks they’ve ever heard. The tracks could be mainstream million-sellers or they could be obfuscatingly obscure, it doesn’t matter. The only criteria set is that, aye, they must be Six of the Best. Think of it like a mini, groovier version of Desert Island Discs…

Number 12 in a series:

It’s not often these days that a new album hits me square between the eyes demanding I reach for the repeat button again and again. Normally, by the 2nd listen, I’ve heard all I need to hear and whatever I’m playing is filed away in alphabetical order, unlikely to see the light of day ever again. Sometimes, an album will make it all the way to a week on Wednesday, as I do my best to find some so-far unheard melody or wee bit that grabs me  (Tame Impala, I’m looking at you). But, eventually, the same fate awaits all of them. Well, nearly all of them.

The album that’s got under my skin most in the past few months is unlike anything else I’ve heard this year. That this album features no bass, no drums and no singalong choruses, or, for that matter, no singing at all makes it all the more surprising. Roman Roads IV-XI by Land Observations is that album. With my penchant for old La’s demos and soul tracks recorded before 1975, I could hardly be considered a knowledgeable voice at the forefront of cutting edge new music, but I’m going to stick my neck out just this once. I really think you’d like it. That’s what my old work pal Donald told me before I’d listened, and it turned out he was right. I liked the album so much that I bought it there and then from iTunes. That’s not something I’ve ever done, believe me. iTunes? Gads. But Roman Roads IV-XI made that big an impression on me. I’ve only just got around to ordering the vinyl version, which comes with a CD copy, so I’ve now found myself with all bases covered. I’ve got plenty of albums in multi-format, but the Land Observations one is the first in a long while. It’s a ‘keeper’, as they say. Alongside Lightships’ Electric Cables and Outside In by the Super Furries’ Cian Ciaran, it’s formed an inseperable trio that make up my Best Album(s) of the Year. Like I said earlier, I could hardly be considered a knowledgeable voice at the forefront of cutting edge new music, but I really think you’d like it.

Land-Observations Erika Wall 3

Land Observations is the nom de plume of James Brooks; fine artist, musician and Roman road enthusiast. Previously in Peel favourites Broadcast (they recorded 4 Peel Sessions and 4 albums in all), James has developed a very particular sound. For him it’s all clean, linear and minimal, built around layered and gently effected guitars.

Roman Roads IV-XI is a simple album. In times gone by it would have been labelled a concept album. Eight tracks of quietly pulsing motifs, inspired in part by the remnants of the Roman road at the end of James Brooks’ street, its repetitiveness and motorik Michael Rother-ish chiming guitar bring to mind the work of Vini Reilly and The Durutti Column, Rother’s Neu and all those other mid 70s German bands that the real barometers of hip opinion told you about long before now. I suppose you might call it Kosmische Musik if you were a lazy labeller.

Play it through a set of headphones and the world slows down in front of your very eyes. You lose track of time. You want to stop time. This isn’t an album you can multi-task to. Like many of you reading this, I like watching stuff like Countdown or Pointless with the sound down while I listen to my music, but you can’t do that with Roman Roads IV-XI. It requires you to stop. And listen. Tracks melt into one another. That understated, nagging motorik feel worms its way inside of you. Counter melodies make their way to the fore and new rhythms start to appear. Bits of it sound like mild-mannered drum machines battling with analogue synths. Before long you could be forgiven for thinking you’re listening to some minimal techno album or other, and not one man and his guitar (and, in keeping with the Roman theme, that’s a VI string guitar James is playing). The whole album’s quite sensational, really.

There’s a gentle ebb and flow to the whole thing, which means it’s best listened to as a whole thing. It’s not much longer than half an hour – that makes it ideal commuting and lunch break material. I’ve been cycling a lot with it. There’s no greater feeling than really going for it on a nice flat bit of road with the sun setting behind the Isle of Arran as Appian Way washes over you. So what if you hear the sound of the chain snaking its way through the sprocket and into the mix? That only adds to it.

land obs

I’ve always really admired the fragile emotion in Phil Collins’ voice, and his version of You Can’t Hurry Love is far superior to anything Motown ever put out.” Not an actual quote, but I dread the day when someone tells me something like that. Whenever I do these Six of the Best pieces I’m always a wee bit panicky in case the contributor’s choices are unexpectedly naff and I’m left with a whole different impression of that person. Thankfully, it’s unlikely James will ever need to channel his inner Slash in the quest for inspiration. A look through his Six of the Best choices reveals a set of records that, once you’ve heard Roman Roads IV-XI makes perfect sense. All the music featured is repetitive, emotive and full of soul. Guitar lines are clean and distinctive. There’s space. On one or two tracks, there’s an almost neo-classical thing going on. Much like James’ own work.

James agonised over his choices for a good few weeks before narrowing them down to his final six. For what it’s worth, if you’ve never heard any of the bands on offer, they’re as good an introduction to those artists as you’ll find.

It’s funny how it all pretty much ends up being early influences, rather than things from 2 years ago etc.”

Here y’are’;

james brooks 6 o t b cover

Can – Future Days
There are of course a number of Can songs I could have picked that I hold close, but this one seems to win out because of its mystery. Everytime I listen to it, I’m left wanting more. There is a strong sense of rhythm, yet, it still seems to retain this droney, washed-out enigma.

The Durutti Column – Pauline 

When I first got the Circuses And Bread LP, I so was taken with this track…..and still am – elegance and understatement that is second to none. This might sound over the top, but it calls to mind Bach and Chopin in the same sentence.
Television – Marquee Moon
I recall reading about the album first before hearing it and thinking that this sounds like something I need to find out more about.

There’s such accomplishment, with the twin guitars and band playing as a cohesive force. Marquee Moon (the song) is such a constructivist opus in its arrangement and structure.

Listen to Marquee Moon by Television

Nick Drake – Road
I had to select a Nick Drake song. Through whatever musical exploring I have done, his music has stayed consistent ever since hearing him as a teenage art student. I do remember very vividly standing at my bedroom window and having an epiphany of how good guitars could be. Again I could have chosen a number of songs. For such a small output, there’s a lot of quality…
The Cure – A Forest 
Just a magnificent indie guitar song. What can I say…Robert Smith is a lucky man to have written this. The space that is left within the track and on Seventeen Seconds is something else.
Neu – Hallogallo
I had to pick this track. It was the one that got me initially… Drive, attitude, propulsion, yet never rock. It just rolls along… A real bench-mark moment.

Every Six Of the Best compilation comes in a handy RAR download file. Get James Brooks’ here. New Link!

Land Observations: Roman Roads IV - XI (180g Clear Vinyl + CD)

Now! Click on the album cover and go and buy a copy of Roman Roads IV-XI by Land Observations. Then tell all your friends. Go! Go! Go!

All photos courtesy of and copyright by Erika Wall

Get This!, Hard-to-find, Kraut-y, New! Now!

Skeletal Family

Vini Reilly is the public face of The Durutti Column, the first signing to Tony Wilson’s nascent Factory Records way back in 1978. Forever pasty-faced and ill-looking, he’s as wiry and fragile as the high ‘e’ string on his guitar, and on the rare occasion when this Wythenshaw will o’ the wisp pops his head out in public, he’s quietly spoken and totally intense. Clearly, he prefers his music to do the talking.

The Durutti Column’s first album, The Return of the Durutti Column was produced by Factory in-house knob-twiddling hedonist Martin Hannett on clear instruction from Reilly that he didn’t want ‘the usual, horrible distorted guitar sound.‘ What followed was a heady mix of chiming beauty, pastoral fragility and neo-classical intensity. All instrumental, and almost all featuring only layers of Reilly guitar, with the odd rudimentary skittering drum machine or piano part, the music is almost as revolutionary as the Spanish Situationists from whence Tony Wilson christened Vini’s band’s name. The music isn’t ‘rock’ or ‘post-punk’ or ‘jazz’ or any other obvious genre. It would be a huge disservice to lump it as (gads) ‘chill-out music’, but to these ears, in the same way that you could categorise someone like the Cocteau Twins, that is essentially what the music of The Durutti Column is. In later years, Tony Wilson would tell anyone who listened that at the end of a night at the Hacienda, he’d spark up a large one and mellow the wee hours away with The Durutti Column playing in the background. Vini’s music is perfect for this.

In one of the first great Factory marketing moments, The Return of the Durutti Column came packaged in a sandpaper-covered outer sleeve, intentionally designed to destroy any record sleeves you might have been careless enough to file besides it. If you happen to have one of those original LPs you may be interested to know that it was the four members of Joy Division who stuck the sandpaper onto each and every cardboard sleeve. I’m sure any decent policeman worth his salt could do some sort of DNA test to it if you asked- you might be sitting on a Curtis there! Or a Hook. (No luck).

Reilly was asked to produce Happy Mondays’ Freaky Dancing single, a choice that may have made sense musically, but personality-wise was a disaster. As Shaun Ryder says in his autobiography, “We initially tried recording with Vini Reilly but that only lasted about two hours before he decided he couldn’t handle us. I like Vini, and he’s a great guitarist, but he’s a bit of a weird one and everyone knows he’s a bit fragile. He once told everyone that I’d spiked him at the Hacienda, and the next morning I got phone calls from Wilson and other people at Factory having a go at me, saying stuff like, ‘Why did you do that to poor Vini? You know what he’s like,’ when I hadn’t even fucking done anything. It was all in his mind.

To quote Reilly – “I simply couldn’t work with them.”

A real musicians’ musician, he’s perhaps best-known for filling the substantial (desert) boots of Johnny Marr when The Smiths imploded. For the briefest of very brief moments, The Smiths looked like carrying on, until Morrissey decided otherwise. He instead roped Reilly in to play guitar on Viva Hate and, by chanelling his inner Marr, helped Morrissey’s solo career off to a flying start. But that’s a story for another day.

Durutti ColumnSketch For Summer

Durutti ColumnSketch For Winter

MorrisseyMargaret on the Guillotine

This post was all ready to go and then…

…my old pal DW put me onto Land Observations. “You’ll like them,” he said. “It’s just one guy and his guitar. No singing. It’s a bit motorik, a bit Krauty, with that sort of Michael Rother feel to it.” I quick listen on iTunes and I bought it….and I never buy anything from iTunes. But I had to have it there and then. And for the past week or so it’s been something of a constant on  the iPod. Motorik, krauty and sort of Michael Rother-ish, just as I was told. (A Soundcloud player should appear below. Please let me know if it doesn’t. It’s been a major headache trying to install it for some reason.)

It’s a concept album of sorts (hippies! prog-rock!), but stick with it. Loosely based on the journeys made along the Roman Roads of Britain, it’s the companion piece to an EP released last year. Unbelievably, given my instant love of the LP, I’ve still to buy the EP, but I will. The album, Roman Roads IV – XI, reminds me greatly of The Durutti Column – one guy who lets his guitar do the talking, no fancy pants widdly solos, just layered, textured, skeletal music that you can listen to, that makes you want to listen to it. And it sounds great through headphones. It’s currently at Number 3 in my ‘Favourite LPs of the Year’ list and climbing. Land Observations, folks. You’ll like them.