JESU + SUN KIL MOON
Concorde 2, Brighton, 19th Sept
After the last Sun Kil Moon outing my response see-sawed between gig and CD review. Please expect the same here. Only this time over the eponymously titled collaborative album given away in the title...
News of this meeting of minds between Sun Kil Moon (aka Mark Koselek) and Jesu (known to his mother as Justin Broadrick) was received in Lucid Frenzy Towers the way others responded to the recent team-up of Scott Walker and Sunn0))). As the record shows, I greatly enjoyed both Sun Kil Moon's last visit to Brighton and Broadrick being back with his original sparring partner in Godflesh. But those gigs had little to nothing in common with each other. Would the two talents get together to serve up a tasty sweet and sour, or wind up with a chalk and cheese?
The subject matter of the earlier album 'Benji' was death, death and more death – roughly in that order. When an old man faces unjust incarceration it comes as virtual light relief. And Death gets a look-in on the new album too. But overall, just as the music gets heavier, the lyrics get less so. The line from the opening song “the sun's gonna come out and shine,” referring to a storm passing, seems emblematic. Which works well. Broadrick serves up riffs which double as fuzzy, numinous drones. And as noted here numerous times, very heavy music segues into the very sublime strangely easily.
The collaboration often comes across as a kind of a sensory overload, like you're getting it from both barrels. Koselek outpours his torrents of words as Broadrick unleashes his beats. Music is normally turned down to magnify the words, like it's relegated to sidekick status. Here it's turned up to match them. It's the same trick as the insistent lyrical loghorrea of the Velvet's 'Black Angel's Death Song', even if the effect is quite different.
Koselek often sings in a breathless semi-mumble, the very opposite of an actor in-to-na-ting his woo-o-ords. While the lyrics recount details, often trivial in themselves, in a way that's somewhere between diary entry and stream-of-consciousness – three lines in and he's visited his bank. 'America's Most Wanted' contains the refrain “that's an account of my last few days”, but it's a line which could describe almost every song. Perhaps significantly, the lyric sheet has no line breaks but presents the whole album as one free-flowing screed.
Let's go back to that opening track, 'Good Morning My Love', as a key to how the thing fits together. It follows Koselek going about his daily tasks, while his mind constantly drifts back to a line from the documentary he watched the night before “that played over and over in my head all night/ What does 'rekindle' mean?” Koselek's a direct songwriter. If there's snow on the ground, he tells you there's snow on the ground. If a sweet tastes... well, sweet, he tells you that. I don't think he's posing us a philosophical question, or setting us up to see rekindling as the theme of the album or anything of that kind. The songs don't make points or try to construct an argument so much as convey a perspective or an experience.
What does rekindle mean? It probably says on Wkitionary, but it's irrelevant. He talks of the line “playing”, like the phrase is a tune that's earwormed you. He even refers to it as “that line in my head, it just keeps going in a ring”. And it's that experience, not the phrase itself, which he's reliving. The phrase becomes more like a mantra, something the mind focuses on irrespective of it's content.
And when the music's placed over these words, it acts as a kind of filter. Place psychedelic music over words and everyday terms start to sound strange and surreal. (Lennon singing about “Blackburn, Lancashire”.) While Broadrick's fuzzy drones make a stray line from a documentary feel numinous. The often dry details of Koselek's life become like one of those dreams where everyday events somehow seem significant. The mantras get magnified.
And once you have that filter, you can take it and place it over what you did yesterday. I am about the last person who'd ever sign up for one of those hideous New Ages courses in “mindfulness”. But if we were to start treating our lives as if the details of them matter, then those details might start to matter. As a letter from a fan, read out on the album says, “it inspired me, as only good music can do.”
For accuracy's sake the music veers away from this sound as the album goes on, closing on a long track that's virtually easy listening. But anyway, there was also a gig...
Last time Koselek played in a Church with the evening sun in the windows, in what felt like a solo set which happened to have a couple of extra guys involved. This time it's a rock venue, and they're very much a band with Koselek as the frontman. He cheerily boasts of the sheer Spinal Tappery of having a bassist with six strings and a guitarist with eight, while not touching an instrument himself.
The band play laconic, hypnotic riffs while Koselek unleashes all those words over the top. (So many he often needs a crib sheet to hand.) Every now and then this misfires, the words and music don't quite synch. ('Song of Shadows', my absolute favourite song from the album, alas isn't served well by the version here.) Koselek's songs are so unmediated, so in the moment, that live many be the best way to hear them. But they may spill out better when he can have his fluidity, where there's less of a band unit sticking to a set list. However, when it does work it becomes as mesmerising as the album.
We've only just got used to this found-Jesu sound and already there's many new songs which take another direction. After my only just telling you Koselek doesn't normally write songs to make points, here's a clutch of numbers which do precisely that. Rather than fuzzy and drone-based they're tighter and sharper, more strident. Lyrics are much more political and on the nose, covering gun control, our great friend Donald Trump (Koselek insists if he came as a surprise we weren't paying attention) and the general state of America. We may come to see this forthcoming album, yet to be titled, as his protest album, perhaps his version of Lou Reed's 'New York'.
My favourite point in the whole thing, though, is when on 'Last Night I Rocked the Room' he reads a fan's letter warning him against listening to the hipsters who “like you only because of 'Benji'.” Which was of course my jumping-on point. Craft beer, anyone?
'America's Most Wanted' and 'Exodus' from Paris...
Prince Albert, Brighton, Sun 9th Oct
From unexpected team-ups to unexpected solo sets. Ben Ottewell of the great Gomez going alone... It was one of these events which piqued my curiosity, but about which I had no expectations whatsoever. Ottewell's songs do tend to be my favourite of the band's. But while I was dimly aware they inhabited separate bodies, and didn't necessarily all living together in one big house like the Monkees, I very much thought of the band as a band. Like their playing, their songs complemented one another.
The gig turned out to herald a forthcoming solo album (as I was to discover, his second) and he was armed only with a solo guitar and – befitting his fledgeling singer-songwriter status – the shaggy beard of the folkie. It's bizarre to recall that, on first seeing Gomez, I couldn't conceive how such young shavers, looking like they were in town for Fresher's week, could be playing such timeless music. Slowly but surely, Ottewell is starting to resemble someone from one of his songs.
With Gomez still a going concern, Ottewell's solo songs present quite a different face. And this was accentuated by his playing not only old but almost entirely early Gomez numbers. The new songs are... well... more songy, less based around anthemic chorus lines and with less of the soulful baritone vocals that might seem his trademark.
A contrast which did make the new songs seem more 'hard centres' than those of yore, a taste that needed a little more chewing on. The new songs are strong, they're just more in the strong and silent vein. Which is unavoidably exacerbated by the more familiar songs being also the more immediate. The Gomez songs would quickly lead to audience singalongs, the new songs not.
Yet what they do have in common is their unhurriedness, their willingness to proceed at their own pace. Early on he played the classic 'Free To Run', a song about walking places sung at a walking pace. And in the sound-bite instant-fix world we inhabit, that's a cure for what ails yer.
Not from Brighton, not actually from a gig but a sofa. But a new song...
DAMO SUZUKI'S NETWORK
The Hope & Ruin, Brighton, Tues 11th Oct
For those not already in the loop... ex-Can frontman Damo Suzuki has embarked on a never-ending world tour, playing entirely improvised sets with local musicians wherever he might land, and I have been much taken by his previous visits to Brighton.
One cool thing is the way that each time not just the players but the instrumentation changes. Beyond Damo's vocals this line-up consisted of guitar, keyboards, cello, violin, drums, congas (by the inimitable E-da of Drum Eyes and Adrena Adrena). Plus a hippy girl sat on the floor, whose remit seemed to be “do hippy stuff”. She'd dong bells, hit gongs, play various bits and pieces of percussion but at other times waft incense or do precisely nothing at all. When she stood up to blow bubbles from a pipe, it was a veritable bubble solo.
And what might seem the most superfluous role, the Bez of the band, came to epitomise the whole thing. Despite looking like she was doing her own thing in her own time, she somehow always worked with the other players.
At one point, a melodic line was split between cello, violin and keyboards, each playing their snatch of it in quick succession. It's the sort of thing you'd imagine requiring not just a composer but an arranger, painstakingly transposing the parts to the players in rehearsal. And yet they just fell into the thing spontaneously on the night. It's a testament to the power of collective effort that such a thing can be done.
Perhaps with there being more players, or with the higher proportion of non-rock instruments, there was less of everyone finding a riff to climb aboard. Instead the set was more varied and dynamic, slipping into lyrical quietude before rising up into great flurreys, then abandoning them for the next thing out there.
Back in the day, Damo must have been the youngster of Can. And I'm not sure if this pans out quite so exactly, but I think he might have played with younger and younger players each time I've seen him. It's like he's become our tribal shaman, drawing new generations into his sound world then moving on once the ritual's complete. At the end he left the stage to let the others come to a climax, as if to say “my work here is done”.
And in a way, there's more of a DIY spirit to the enterprise than there was with punk. It exudes the sense that all you really need to do to make this music is to surrender yourself to it. Of course that might be something of a romaticisation on my part, and if I start to tell you I'm reforming my student band based on his example please slap me back to my senses. But at the same time it's precisely the right attitude to take.
This live clip includes the bubbles solo...
Postscript! After writing about Swans twice over, I figure I've little to add after the most recent gig. But the good news is that, after rumours the band was winding up, they played a couple of new tracks. Here's one. (NB It starts with audio only...)
Coming soon: Tis the season for gig-going adventures...