Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Consequence

And yet more: Woebot and Marcello Carlin on Morley's caper. One particular thing caught my eye: Woebot's remark that "the whole thing about scoring music is this anachronism writ in 20 foot tall neon writing. Who the hell would attempt to do something as inane as scoring music? In the 21st Century it's an utterly nonsensical exercise." Well, perhaps. Who, it's reasonable to ask, would want to spend time rendering music heard in the head into abstract marks on paper for other people to play on acoustic instruments, after rock, graphic scoring, electronic music, free-improv, punk, hip-hop, jungle and laptop composition?

Well, this links into the question of class and 'skill' that was part of the subtext of the programme. It's a question of being either inside or outside of the magic circle of knowledge. Classical music, far more than most disciplines, has always been one dependent on esoteric knowledge acquired by study, kept back by institutional gatekeepers, and, to a certain extent, limited by class - obviously, in previous centuries, only the bourgeoisie could provide their children with musical education, and this remains a spectre hanging over the classical music world. One of the reasons Woebot finds classical musicians so distastefully chirpy and genteel is because they have the confidence that comes with the unconscious knowledge of privilege; at a concert you find yourself looking out on a sea of white, well-polished, non-proletarian faces. So, obviously, the thing to do is opt out, ignore the whole farrago: if scoring and music theory are the preserve of the bourgeoisie, mired as they are in the past, then fuck that. But, sadly, even the most vigorously self-taught can only go so far (there are exceptions, the obvious being Francis Bacon, but then he was a rather limited artist, in terms of range). Most people who write poetry as teenagers (I include myself in this category, although all of my productions have since, thankfully, been burned) scorn meter and form as stuffed-shirt and establishment, and set out boldly to express freely, etc. etc. Almost without exception, what they write will be awful, and bring burning shame to their cheeks in the coming years. It's a ridiculous cliché, but one has to learn the rules before you break them.

And that means coming to a compromise with the establishment: of breaking out of one's safe and cloistered space and interacting with the world on its terms. It's a difficult, complex and, in many ways, painful process, as the fiction of Hardy, Eliot and Lawrence, the later poetry of John Clare, or the sections of memoir in The Country and the City bear witness to, one always laced with the possibility of being finally swallowed and destroyed by the same establishment (as Clare's fellow labourer and poet Stephen Duck was, or, more distantly, Bryan Ferry). This is what education meant to me, that it didn't mean to (many of) my peers at university: a rupture, and a(n attempt at) growing. Maybe.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


An addendum to the Morley post (and also something pertaining to my current writing project) - from Raymond Williams' The Country and the City, in the chapter on Thomas Hardy. By the time of Hardy's birth, Dorset was already being deeply modernised; he was the first person in his family history to receive further education, as an architectural pupil at Dorchester - a mere seven miles from his home, but even that was enough to effect a subtle break from the 'native' culture of village life:

"the separation of the returned native is not only a separation from the standards of the educated and affluent world 'outside'. It is also, to some degree inevitably, a separation from the people who have not made his journey... The complexity of Hardy's fiction shows in nothing more than this: that he runs the whole gamut from an external observation of customs and quaintness, modulated by a distinctly patronising affection (as in Under the Greenwood Tree), through a very positive identification of intuitions of nature and the values of shared work (as in The Woodlanders), to the much more impressive but also much more difficult humane perception of limitations, which cannot be resolved by nostalgia or charm or the simple mysticism of nature, but which are lived through by all the characters, in the real life to which all belong, the limitations of the educated and the affluent beaing an organic relation to the limitations of the ignorant and the poor... [The] real perception of tradition is available only to the man who has read about it, though what he then sees through it is his native country, to which he is already deeply bound by the memory and experience of another kind: a family and a childhood; an intense association of people and places, which has been his own history. To see tradition in both ways is indeed Hardy's special gift: the native place and experience but also the education, the conscious inquiry. Yet then to see living people, within this complicated sense of past and present, is another problem again. He sees as a participant who is also an observer; this is the source of the strain. For the process which allows him to observe is very clearly in Hardy's time one which includes, in its attachments to class feelings and class separations, a decisive alienation."

Sunday, July 19, 2009

School of Knocks

BBC Four's How To Be A Composer raised some odd thoughts. The premise was that Paul Morley was taken on for a year at the Royal Academy of Music, to learn composition; the only hitch being that he could not read music, play any instrument, or tell a note or chord from hearing it. So far, so rote reality-tv (more specifically, Play It Again). But it was surprisingly sympathetically (and tastefully, but not in a bad way) filmed, with the minimum of grating voiceovers; the lingering shots of Morley's greying countenance, the palatial interior of the Royal Academy, form a counterpoint to almost ever-present music.

And although Morley was not, in any proper sense, the 'presenter' - the central organising intelligence, as he's been in other TV documentaries - the most curious thing was always him. The central crux posited was the fact that Morley, though having written about music for more than 30 years, had never generated any music himself, aside from his time in The Art of Noise (in which his role was more than a little mysterious, being mostly a concept-engineer and propagandist). He had no knowledge of the technical side of music-making; he hadn't, in a sense, paid his dues in the proper and expected manner. But then again, that's very much part of his existence as a writer: the history outlined in Nothing - working-class/lower middle-class background in Stockport, the bleak North (and not even the metropolitan but the provincial North), the crippling shyness and academic ineptitude (except in English), the father suicided whilst in his teens, the dead friends ("I have only seen one dead body in my life"), the redemption through pop music, the democratic media of records, involvement in punk/fanzine/DIY culture, the linguistic arrogance and ambition of the autodidact upstart (and fucking proud of it). And here we have the self-made outcast being finally admitted to the halls of the Establishment, being encouraged to play their game. ("Really intimidating" was how he described it; "it's the Royal Academy".)

And, indeed, that's how it seemed: he had to be led by the hand by his theory teacher through the nature of keys, chords, time signatures, notation (there were several excruciating scenes where he had to identify whether piano chords were major or minor, getting it wrong almost every time); subdued, like the thick boy in the corner aware of his status, he tried to articulate, as stumblingly as imaginable, some idea of what he wanted to compose, and it seemed as if he were merely picking a particular style or mood (one among many possible) just in order to please his teachers, to have some route to travel down - namely, that of slow, intricate drones (in fact, the first piece of his played reminded me of Stars of the Lid). And that's part of the problem: as Words and Music made clear, Morley's instinctual tastes as a music-writer are as widespread as can be, but after all it's impossible to incorporate all these things he loves into the music that is created; music-writers can do this because they are, in a sense, irresponsible - they don't have to make the stuff, they don't have to narrow their playing-field and find their own niche and/or furrow. (Thus, one of the problems of poptimism-as-cultural-condition: its democratisation and lack of negatory pressure in fact paralyses the creative faculty: if everything is as good as everything else, how does one choose a path?) There's a marvellous moment when he asks a young tuba player whether he knows Fripp & Eno's No Pussyfooting, and he declares that he hasn't; through a bit of cajoling though, he gets him to conjure a lovely, slow, rich drone that kind of vaguely resembles it. It was a perfect exemplification of the high art/low art political debate running through the programme: Fripp & Eno's album, using techniques stolen from the then classical avant-garde (Pauline Oliveros' and Steve Reich's feedback and phased tape-loops) in at least a semi-popular context (well, who hadn't heard of Roxy and King Crimson then?) Morley's own writing, which has always relentlessly scrambled such high/low polarities, makes his sensibilities seem bizarre in such a gate-kept high-art establishment as the Royal Academy (correct me if I'm wrong, but I get the feeling New Music doesn't get much of a look-in round those parts, much less pop music...)

(What was also transfixing was the whole presence of Morley: the greying hair, spreading stubble, face made craggy, the omnipresent black clothing; it's almost like seeing a photo of the older Augustus John, when he knew both that his talent had waned and death was slowly coming on. He's a different man even from the writer on the jacket of Words and Music, still cool behind the shades, in raptures over Missy Elliott and Kylie. The last thing I remember reading by him was the article on Monkey in the Observer Music Monthly last year; it was pretty clear, even in comparison to W&M, that he had lost his touch (although some friends consider him to have been boring and pretentious from the beginning) He mentioned, always, in discussion of the kind of elements he wanted running through his music, his "melancholic temperament"; the sad, withdrawn young boy hiding behind the monstrously confident pop seer and huckster).

The punk background I spoke of above, of course, isn't solid; punk's cult of the amateur has a very chequered history, and Morley effectively ceded from it when he became involved in ZTT - Trevor Horn, the consummate professional, confined to the studio for 12-hour shifts, making productions slick as wet soap. His involvement in New Pop was at least in part a reaction to the shrinkage of post-punk's ambitious parameters into Messthetic that'll-do-ism. So there is a tension between the impulse to self-improvement and the wish not to play to the Establishment's rules; as he says in this article about the experience, he didn't want to play at the rebellious scholarship boy refusing to learn the rules, staying in the comfort zone of 'Eno thinking', the non-musician's experimental space: "
it didn't really seem in the spirit of what I had set out to do: learn something new about how music works that would challenge, even threaten, the familiar way I listened to and wrote about music." I myself had the same problem with writing: growing into it; accepting it as a kind of craft, with its own specialist knowledge, rather than the Romantic conception of it as a means of spontaneous outpouring; cooling down, and just getting on with the work (well, sometimes). And I had the same problem with classical music, to which my reaction is very often one of puzzlement: after hearing Beethoven's 'Pathetique' sonata, I was rather like, So what exactly am I meant to think of this? Any attempt to describe, or even think about it, is hilariously off-the-mark. I get the feeling this is a subject area I should know about, and that there's something I'm missing out on; indeed, listening to a performance recently of Chopin's 'Ballad No. 1' (by a Royal Academy student, no less!), I knew exactly what was going on, emotionally.

It begs the question again: whose response is more valuable, more interesting - that of the vivid amateur, or that of the boring technical expert? Is it necessary, possible or even desirable to break down the last barriers to democratisation of music?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Old Deeds

"The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation... A stereotyped but unconscious despair ic concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind. There is no play in them, for this comes after work." Henry David Thoreau, Walden.

Proof that the Situationists nicked their ideas from Thoreau (well, not really), on his 192nd birthday.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Nature Boy

I seem to have spent all of my summer so far reading. Nothing new there, of course: I seem to have spent every summer since the age of 15 doing nothing but reading. This is partially because Bournemouth has to be one of the dullest towns on the south coast - or at least so it appeared to an overactively imaginative teenage boy - and one had to make one's own entertainment. It was also, in a sense, the only possible oppositional activity in a town whose main occupation seemed to be the display of flesh on sand for the purposes of being cooked by the sun. Sheltering in the cool woods or walking through the park, and reading; the least strenuous of all possible activities - during the summer of 2005 I was getting through approximately a book a week. Even that seems shamefully slow now - during the past week and a half I've finished about 4.

It's probably appropriate that the two I finished first were Roger Deakin's Wildwood and Seamus Heaney's Death of a Naturalist. In spite of the praise heaped on it, I thought that Heaney's debut was underdeveloped, bitty, somewhat boring; the compressed lyric forms were straining after a profundity they couldn't grasp. The Heaney project - reading his first 4 books over the course of a couple of weeks - continues apace, and I shall no doubt post some observations here. Wildwood was a far more satisfying read, and one that lingers strangely in the mind in a way I haven't encountered since David Toop's Haunted Weather. And, indeed, although it isn't anywhere near as profound and wonderful, the two are somewhat comparable, both working through fragmentary meditations that seem to hang together in a totality that gathers significance in the juxtapositions of its pieces; the majority of the book consists of narratives about different breeds of tree, different arboreal landscapes, differnet uses and resonances of trees. I first came to Deakin's writing after reading Robert Macfarlane's The Wild Places last year. One of the last journeys Macfarlane takes is with Deakin out to the peninsula of Orford Ness in East Suffolk, just south of the memento mori of the submerged village of Dunwich, and site of the British military's nuclear testing facilities - explosion chambers constructed as pagoda-like bunkers. The site is slowly being reclaimed by vegetation and animal life. East Suffolk was also the backdrop to Matthew Hopkins' witch-hunting campaigns around 1645; in Michael Reeves' 1968 film about Hopkins, Witchfinder General, the flat, windy landscape, coloured in dark greens and browns, smothered in shadow, seems to positively ooze evil; Reeves himself would die of an overdose not soon afterwards. Deakin had been diagnosed with cancer at the time of their journey. We see Macfarlane, at the end of the chapter, sat in his car, weeping, after hearing of Deakin's death.

Wildwood was finished not long before Deakin died; he was still writing it during his journeys with Macfarlane. It was, in effect, his parting gift, and an autobiography, written through the element that defined his life. He reiterates, again and again, what importance wood had in his life on his Suffolk farm: for making crockery, furniture, fruit, barns, for hedging. He spends his time visiting woods in Essex, catching moths, in north Wales, with the artist David Nash, who works almost exclusively in wood, in woods famous for their bluebells, in Kazakhstani forests covered in wild apple trees, in - inevitably - the New Forest. Indeed, the Forest, though not the central concern - there isn't anything quite so obvious in the book - is one of the most important elements. It was where, as he relates in an early chapter, his life as a naturalist began, chronicling the mosses, flora and insect fauna of the bogs and heaths around Beaulieu Road (not far from where my aunt and uncle's farm is). In 'The New Forest Revisited', in which he takes a trip back to that landscape with his old biology tutor, his descriptions of the minutiae of creatures and plants living in the old pools and woods are quite beautiful, luminous and almost poetic in their flat grasp of the world. It is the act of study, intent and enraptured, that brings out the affect in these things, just as, looking harder and harder at a fractal, one sees more and more shapes, multiplying out to infinity. The biologist Edward O. Wilson, writing in Biophilia, states that the central fact of a naturalist's life is that "it is possible to spend a whole lifetime in a magellanic voyage around a single tree... as the exploration is pressed, it will engage more of the things close to the human heart and spirit; the more one looks at the natural, the more familiar one is with it, the more there is to see and know.

Deakin makes it clear that the most intimate way to get to know wood, and landscape, is to work with it, or in it: he spends his time bending ash shoots into bowers (and feels the life within them as they resist his efforts), coppicing groves, hedging with old tools (whose lack of noise, in comparison to chainsaws, allow one to think while working). Though it is largely unstated, it comes back to the question of craft: what is acquired in experience over the course of years, a skill that is also an intimacy with the phenomenal world, a sense of connection with it. (I'm sure Heidegger comes in at some point here - the idea of tools as objects connected to our being-in-the-world? It's been years since I last read about this stuff.) One section deals with the depletion of old skills: the end of thatching, basket-making, the construction of wooden fish-traps. There is no sentimentality about the passing of this 'old world' (note the scare quotes), only the same sense of sadness found in the passing of anything, and a sense that our relationship with the world is harmed by it. The relationship with wood - and with landscape more generally - he slowly reveals in the book is surprisingly uninterested in higher thought or theory; that is at once the book's downfall and its strength - whilst it is refreshing to read a book about nature and agriculture that is far from moralising, judgemental or sentimental, it is annoying that he does not make more of the imaginary resonances of wood: the important part that forests play in the Western imagination; he mentions John and Paul Nash, Edward Thomas and David Jones, and - uh, that's about it. The book is too overburdened with experience, too messy; reading it quickly becomes a difficult experience, you feel squashed with so many descriptions of lovely mountain forests and lovely glades, one after another. Nonetheless, there is, above all else, a sense here of a continuing life - it's one of the most pro-vitalist books I've read in ages. At the end of the book, he bends ash shoots into a spiral around several posts; one day it will have grown into a sculpture of sorts. "When the bower eventually comes of age, long after I am gone, the wooden spinning top might still be going round too." It still lives.

My Alibis #4

Writing about Wilhelm Reich: "many [of his] ideas... have since become wholly, boringly acceptable - the release from the alleged repression and prohibitions on sexuality that marked bourgeois society. And the decline in birth rates, marriages and the acceptability of the genital proselytised here have all become normal features of European late capitalism. However to regard this as a won battle is to ignore Reich's most central point, namely that the freedom is meaningless without freedom from economic, i.e. that sexual freedom is a condition of Communism and vice versa."
--Owen Hatherley, Militant Modernism.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Self-Denunciation Workshop No. 1

"Should the finished text, no matter of what length, arouse even the slightest misgivings, these should be taken inordinately seriously, to a degree out of all proportion to their apparent importance. Affective involvement in the text, and vanity, tend to diminish all scruples. What is let pass as a minute doubt may indicate the objective worthlessness of the whole."
--Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia.


Very pleased to see that Philip Hoare has won the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction for this year. I first came across his work last year, in the form of England's Lost Eden, which forms a major source for a current work-in-progress, and finished reading Leviathan earlier this year. To call his books 'baroque' would be something of an understatement: his latest is 453 pages long in the hardback, and his prose is... well, I'd call it mesmerising - long, slowly drifting sentences choked with adjectives and sub-clauses - while others would call it overegged (they would, of course, be wrong.) It's deeply strange that Hoare should win such recognition now: he's produced some stunning stuff already, and Leviathan has to be his least typical work. It's the most wide-ranging piece he's written: his previous books, from the biographies of Noel Coward and Stephen Tennant to ELE, have been focused on single subjects (although they took in lots of peripheral material), this is a panoptic cultural history in the vein of Richard Mabey's magnificent Beechcombings; there has also been a thread of obsession with the submerged narratives of queer history (Coward, Tennant, the 'Black Book' case, Wilfred Owen being treated at Netley hospital, the glamourous sexual ambiguity of the Girlingites) which this largely departs from - although he can't help mentioning the strange, obsessional friendship between Melville and Hawthorne, and the slightly obvious sexual symbolism of Moby Dick.

At some points - particularly during his exhaustive recounting of his own whale-watching expeditions off Cape Cod and the Canary Islands - the book becomes a bit of a slog, and Hoare isn't nearly so magnetic a writer about the natural world as proper naturalists like Mabey, Mark Cocker and Robert McFarlane. But what he can do, and does, is to re-estrange the whale - Leviathan is a science fiction story in the most literal sense. His explorations of the cultural resonances of the whale - the biographical background and strange, reckless narrative of Moby Dick and its astonishing Cold War adaptation are absolutely brilliant, and deserve reading, matching standards for pop-culture writing like Michael Bracewell's Remake/Remodel. It's these connections that linger in the mind long after the book is ended.

Remade Horizon

It's the artwork first. On the front, Angel Deradoorian and Amber Coffman, as suitably divine as ever, heads joined in blobs of colour; on the back, Dave Longstreth in similar pose (complete with trademark baggy college jumper) with the robust profile of Nietzsche. Whether to characterise this as arrogance or wit depends on your opinion of contents herein. Personally…

Although they had created some 4 releases (if you include the ‘New Attitude’ EP) beforehand, it was only with Rise Above (released close to the end of 2007 – it felt like a 2008 record) that they really came into public view. Indeed, it was Plan B who were most forward and enthusiastic in promoting them, including a front-cover feature in the January 2008 issue – and who were most prophetic in expecting great things from them. Rise Above transcended its tongue-in-cheek premise – who really believed Longstreth’s guff about recreating Damaged “from memory”? – to create a record of real delicacy and obliquely cathartic suffering: the most anthemically shredding of hardcore punk songs (“We are tired of your abuse/Try to stop us, it’s no use”) transformed into a hammering, mid-paced ensemble cry, the wounded regaining their voices…. Its emotional logic didn’t betray what was, on the face of it, a deeply original record; as Emily Bick put it at the time, most of it was stuff you really have never heard of before. To repeat such a trick – or, rather, not to repeat anything – would have been something of an achievement. Would it be giving the game away to say… perhaps it would.

The first thing to note is that the whole ambience of Bitte Orca feels different from its predecessor: sunnier, more lush (having two extra members on board helps somewhat in this aspect) and more thickly orchestrated, its surfaces and sections tessellating with a perfectly consistent logic of their own, falling into coherency like the sides of a Rubik’s cube gradually going homogeneous, and, in a sense, less… conceptual than any preceding Projectors album. Not to say it is less smart than any of its predecessors. But the unifying threads of narrative (2005 ‘glitch-opera’ The Getty Address) or conceit (the Black Flag covers in Rise Above) are absent here. What holds it together is nothing more than its sense of invention, of adventure, its thrusting, democratic aesthetic.

If those conglomerations of adjectives make little sense, let’s consider the single, ‘Stillness Is The Move’. Percussion as finely tweaked as any Timbaland percussion track, over which a three-chord riff halfway, in texture, between 1970s Nigerian pop and a sped-up sitar, loopingly bursts like slow-falling fireworks. The vocals – three-part, at least one multi-tracked, threading through the entire work, interchanging and transforming into each other (the inseparability of lover and loved) – explode into being, bubbling melisma framing Amber’s central stand, currents of ‘oohs’, ‘aahs’, ‘bahs’ moving in from random angles, looped machine cut-ups hovering between words and vocalese drifting in from somewhere around the floor. Longstreth has repeatedly mentioned in interviews the influence of contemporary R&B – or at least, pop that has followed in the wake of Timb: Cassie, Rihanna, Danja’s productions for Britney Spears, and particularly Mariah Carey (Amber’s long, floating “ah-ah-aah-ah-aaaaah” towards the end could easily have come from Ms. Carey’s ten-gallon lungs). Here, the cyber-libido and overegged emotion of R&B are redirected into a hymn to persistence – to the support engendered by love – on the scale of Rihanna’s ‘Umbrella’: “After all that we’ve been through/I know that we’ll make it… There is nothing that we can’t do”. The old workaday scenario of Detroit soul remains – the knowledge that they’ll be “waiting tables in a diner”, but they will have each other: “I know that I’ll always have you/Oh, on a mountain forever baby/I can’t imagine anything better”. And yet, it is about nothing so mundane as a real situation – or at least not only; it seems to take that bond and raise it to a metaphysical level – just as Keats took a mere jar (“Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness!”) and made it a carrier of eternity. The video features Amber, Angel and Haley Dekle busting moves straight out of a TLC video in the cowls of priestesses from some forest religion, singing earnestly to camera. As the string section slowly glides past through the song’s second half, counterpointing the constant pinball thump of the rhythm section, Amber erupts into melisma that suggests nothing so much as the throes of an ecstatic love-rite. One senses, at once, the sheer care and thought with which it has the song has been constructed, and are completely pulled along, no thought going to the labour of the writer or arranger. There is nothing here resembling any tiresome meta-musical jokes; the R&B and electro-pop references (as in the languid theremin that opens ‘Useful Chamber’) are completely earnest, perfectly integrated into the structure of the songs with nary a stain of irony.

To say that the soundworld of R&B is ‘inhuman’ is hardly much of a stain, but here it is repurposed – with just as much beauty – as something utterly human: those breaths, cries and pre-verbal phonemes that drive the songs so relentlessly – that are, as Petra Davis says in her Plan B review, “this record’s inner logic… its loping gait, hungrily gaining ground” – are all testament to the gasping entities that originate them – caught, as always, in the rapture of Song, or love, or both, being indistinguishable. Longstreth, whose decidedly un-Rollinsian vocals were very much to the fore in Rise Above – circling back and forth on syllables, dragging the lyrics into baroque curlicues of cracked falsetto, counterpointed by the girls’ own flourishes – are driven into the background; consequently, it feels like a lighter, more Technicolor album than its predecessor – even, when on ‘Useful Chamber’, the guitars and drums break into the kind of attacks that punctuated Rise Above, it feels more joyous. On ‘Two Doves’, Angel’s vocal threads between sinuous and gentle acoustic guitar and strings that break from syrupy sweeps to cubist bursts. ‘Temecula Sunrise’ – a love song to abandoned desert towns – although sporting a lead vocal from Longstreth, is driven as much as anything by sustained explosions of “aaaaaahs” from Angel and Amber, alongside the constant thump of the drums, holding together its jump-cutting fractures. They signal, just as much as the harrowed 70s guitar solo that suddenly bursts out in the middle, sheer jouissance: the imagined desert utopia of Buckminster Fuller’s hippy progeny, the joy of another day of sun and company, “hittin’ the spot, like Gatorade, whoa”.

It all flows into the closer, ‘Fluorescent Half Dome’, which sounds like a love-song from inside a reluctant super-villain’s mountain lair: Longstreth explained in an interview with Plan B that “A half dome is a really unique rock face in Yosemite Park in California, and the idea of a fluorescent half dome…” Sighing synth is punctuated by explosions of drum and snapping percussion as Longstreth croons of the loved-one he searches for to retire with from the world: “And when I, finally find, you/Will I know?” With nary a breath he jumps into the title phrase, drawing it out into an orgasmic string of gulps and utterances. As it builds up through each verse, the girls’ vocal abstractions join, sculpting themselves onto this central thread, bows and pizzicato passages from the strings meeting the unending flow of percussion at strange angles, drawing out into an end-passage where the three voices tumble about each other, weaving back-and-forth around the phrase, synth and strings moving according to their own strange logic, the drums undergoing periodic time-travels back to the volleying outros of the 70s. I’m surprised that Longstreth is not himself a music-writer (like John Darnielle): the old jibe about ‘dancing to architecture’ is seriously twisted here, in another song about buildings and love (rather than food) that is itself so self-consciously architectural, so aware of its songness. When it drops to a coda of just synth, it’s almost a relief: that something so complex can at least be brought to a conclusion.

It’s nice to know we were right all along.