The Church of Me / The Naked Maja Album of the Year 2003   (Read)

PLURAMON Dreams Top RockThis is the recycled future of everything. Julee Cruise returns to my world, and in a very obvious way the spirit of Loveless returns to my world. A great and passionate 39 minutes; disturbing but finally flying above the strings which tether us to the old world. Keith Rowe comes in at the exact point when he’s needed. And, as with my reissue of the year, it was a record which wasn’t just sent to me; I had to go out and get wet to find it. And, as in 1991, I find that actually I don’t want to spoil it by writing yet more words about it; I just want to listen to the music, to love to the music, to live with the music, to return to the way I used to experience music; with an audience of just one other. So, if you don’t mind, I plan to do that for a while.

If you need an explanation, Dreams Top Rock is my album of the year because listening to it is like having my entire life returned to me.

PLURAMON
And this might just be the most vital record this year, if not the most vital record in a dozen years. “Shoegazing through and through!” says (approvingly) the chap behind the counter in Shoreditch’s Smallfish Records who sold it to me; “the best avant/pop noise album since Isn’t Anything” says Rob Young at The Wire. And, you know, readers, it is actually even better than that.What am I talking about? Dreams Top Rock, the new album by Cologne’s Marcus Schmickler, a.k.a. Pluramon. His past history is summed up in Mr Young’s Wire review, but on this album he has singlehandedly endeavoured to continue and develop the work which Kevin Shields has let stand since 1991. It is, let us make no bones about it, a pop record in the vein of Loveless. It is the record which most of us were hoping MBV would go on to produce after Loveless. It is the record which the well-meaning but hapless likes of Chapterhouse and Slowdive unsuccessfully tried to make. And…did I say “singlehandedly”? Not quite. For on Dreams Top Rock (how easily that title could read as “Dream Stop Rock”) he collaborates with, I kid you not, the long-lost muse of David Lynch – Julee Cruise. And this record therefore also serves as the record which most of us were hoping Cruise would go on to produce after Floating Into The Night (and incidentally, on the same recent round robin of London record shops, I note with some incredulity, when looking for the Julee Cruise browser marker, that there was no such thing; that Floating Into The Night has in fact been allowed to float into the world of deleted albums). So we are essentially talking about Loveless with Julee Cruise on vocals. And it has knocked this writer flat.

Right from the beginning, you realise how special this record is going to be. Following all four seconds of guitar glitch which constitutes the opening track “oo4,” Julee Cruise and Schmickler suddenly cut into your headphones, as if an old C90 tape hadn’t quite been taped over entirely, seemingly halfway through the song. But the song itself, “Time For A Lie,” is awesome, one of the few songs of 2003 to which that adjective can be fairly applied. The same ineluctable mixture of electronica and guitar, the midline between seduction and attack, and at the dead (or living) centre of this sonic labyrinth is the unchanged voice of Ms Cruise: “We’re walking in the sunshine/There’s no worries/It’s just playtime” – or as unchanged as you can distinguish from the surrounding caves of music. She stays steadfast and stable as the music winds its way around her. But this isn’t the tonight-Matthew-I’m-going-to-be-Bilinda-Butcher presentation so familiar to patrons of the Camden Underworld/Dublin Castle/Kentish Town Forum between 1989-92 – see how, at 3:36, the fuzz and guitars cut out to leave a placid string synth backdrop, accompanied by careful acoustic guitar and piano (stylistically, if momentarily, not that far removed from Lambchop).

Towards the end Schmickler picks out the main tune of the song; there is a nod towards ABC’s “Be Near Me,” but I’m not sure if it was intentional. No matter – the crucial difference between Pluramon and MBV’s ideas of avant pop is that Schmickler doesn’t go for Shields’ characteristic undulating wow-and-flutter, although there’s the same spectre of the “body-less” or “player-less” guitar. Nonetheless, notice how right at the end of “Time For A Lie,” the final synth chord gradually wavers out of tonality, even though in fact it’s only been modulated by half a tone. But the unrest that causes is enough to continue engaging our interest.

“Noise Academy” (visions suddenly materialise of Richard Park tutoring the Jason Pierces of tomorrow!) continues in the same vein, Cruise’s voice still recognisable but not especially decipherable, lost in the ecstasy of Schmickler’s trellises. For those to whom it matters, it still manages to “rock like hell” – but it rocks like a vaguely unstable cradle rather than the easy (Darkness) option. In the brief “PS” (which is a PS to “Noise Academy”) is Cruise singing “be sad”?“Flageolea,” conversely, succeeds brilliantly in updating the template which Lynch and Badalamenti constructed so perfectly for Cruise back in 1989; the track eases its way in with its ‘50s Santo and Johnny tremelo guitars (courtesy of guest guitarist Kevin Drumm), brushes and bass clarinet. Gradually, though, electronic static starts to permeate the body of the piece, and eventually – almost imperceptibly – it becomes a post-Aphex Twin lullaby, the familiar subtly turning into the alien. When Cruise’s disembodied voice enters at 2:25, intoning “I’m not gonna stay,” it really does threaten to stop one’s heart (it’s as sinister as Sarah Cracknell’s late vocal entry in Saint Etienne’s “The Way We Live Now”). As with Joss Stone, Schmickler and Cruise have pulled off the feat of reviving a corner of music which most people seemed to have ceased being bothered about, and making it new and profound again.

And anyone who isn’t in floods of tears by the end of “Have You Seen” isn’t human. “Have you seen Jill?” entreats Cruise’s vulnerable voice, as if she knows she may have met the same fate as Laura Palmer. Again, not all the words are easily caught, but there are snatches which spring out here and there – “You left too soon,” “I’m all alone, you’re never home,” “Have you flown to another galaxy?” “Are you happy now and in a better life?” Yet as Cruise realises the extent of her loss – “Do you see Jill? ‘Cos I don’t?” – Schmickler’s guitar starts to cry along with her as synths cascade and recede regretfully all around her like failed fireworks.“Hello Shadow” again buries Cruise deep in Schmickler’s post-MBV mix (those distantly placed synths which can sound like orchestras), but words such as “I wanna hold you again” and “I don’t know why I’m here, or where I am” continue to stab the unwary listener. Her voice is much clearer, but now Hawking-processed, as she itemises the benign diktats of corporate annihilation of the individual in “Difference Machine,” a track which suggests Radiohead’s “Fitter, Healthier” with the U2 filtered out and the MBV (or maybe even Merzbow) filtered in – look how Schmickler’s wall of guitars gatecrash the song at 3:05 and wail uncontrollably.

And then, almost finally (for this is another admirably old-style album, lasting a concise 39 minutes) Schmickler and Cruise revisit “Time For A Lie” and recast it as “Time (Catharsia Mix),” and this track in itself might be one of the most remarkable tracks of the last dozen years. Here, Lynch and MBV are joined in disturbed union. There is now a clear plateau of synthesiser over which Cruise explains precisely the “lie” of the title. Even here, words and meanings are never quite clear; the song begins “We’re walking in the sunshine” but two lines later we find that “the stars are out/The moonlight shines…Everything’s lovely tonight/It’s a wonderful time in our lives.” But then the twist: “We’re peaceful, we’re restful/The people stare and wish they were us/They’ll never know that there’s no trust/And everything is all fucked up/It’s a beautiful time for a lie.” And later still: “You never know/I’ll make it so/But he’s around/I can’t let go/I’ll never leave with you/I’ll stay…He doesn’t want me anyway.” It’s as profoundly disturbed a “love” song as 10cc’s “I’m Not In Love,” and the crowning musical moment occurs at 2:15 when, of all people, AMM’s Keith Rowe nudges in with his “tabletop guitar” and proceeds to take an aural chainsaw to the song’s presumed bliss, almost obliterating it at one point (with the same unalloyed grief which he applied to the emotional midpeak of his “Cathnor” duet with John Tilbury earlier this year) before bowing out at 4:00 to leave the same gradually modulating synth coda as the original. It is perhaps the most startling intervention in pop music since Evan Parker’s multiple saxes exploded behind Scott Walker’s “And the ceilings are rising and falling” in 1983’s “Track 6.”Schmickler then proceeds to bring the record to a close with “Log.” More guitar/electronic static is sprayed over a lugubrious piano ballad refrain which could almost be an Elton John backing track. Soon an echoing Ultravox synth line is added to give gravity to the mourning (melodically it’s the same damaged grandeur as ?-Ziq’s “London Fog”). Cruise laments in the distance. The song ends on a sustained “A Day In The Life” final chord/tonality. The only possible end to this astonishing, and I suspect potentially very important, record. It is not easy to find, but if there are mountains standing awkwardly in your path I would politely recommend that you move them to get a copy. It is that great.

(The record is released on the Karaoke label – cat. no. Kalk cd 23 – and as with so many other important records of this year, the major chains do not seem to have condescended to stock it (it’s listed on the HMV and Tower websites, but seemingly not stocked in the actual shops), but Smallfish definitely do have copies in stock at the moment, and Rough Trade should be able to order one for you – tell Judy I sent you! Otherwise visit the label’s website (www.karaokekalk.de) or email the label (kalkfee@netcologne.de). Or just try your luck with Amazon. To paraphrase the Pet Shop Boys, I normally wouldn’t do this kind of thing, but this record really has to be heard)
// posted by Marcello 

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