Unpopular Advent 2018 – Day 13

Alison Statton & Spike – Bimini Twist

In the Unpopular universe (a vasty superior alternative to the ‘real’ one) Alison Statton is a household name. So famous in fact that the renowned Pants Yell named an entire album after her. Such things are more important than most people can ever grasp.

I have mentioned in the past, notably in that piece about the importance of ‘A Distant Shore‘ how invaluable the sounds of Weekend and Young Marble Giants were to the mythic construction of my teenage years. In my Higher Art exam I fell into making chalk drawings inspired by Wendy Smith and further similar illustrations documented the fleeting summers of momentous awakenings that we all experience when we are 16, 17, 18 whatever. Those drawings are all long lost, burned on the various pyres of self-erasure but not so long ago I discovered a photograph of my old bedroom and there, on the wall, is that drawing I’m sure I called Weekend Stroll. In my head it was better than it looks in the photograph but that’s the pleasure of memory I suppose.

Statton’s voice was such a key part of the Weekend and YMG sound but I admit that I was enthralled by the jazz inflections on ‘La Varieté’. Earnest fellow architecture students saw the sleeve next to my drawing board and sneered, telling me this was faux-jazz and that I should be listening to Bird or Mingus. In later years I did (and still do on occasion) but they have never moved me as much as Weekend did. And much as I dig Peggy Lee, it’s Statton I keep going back to.

What delight then to see a new record in 2018 by Statton and Weekend partner in crime Spike Williams. ‘Bimini Twist’ is in many ways just what you would expect/hope for in a Statton and Spike record, which is to say that it is a small, intimate record where space is as valuable as sound. This notion of emptiness, of negative space within a record is one that was so critical to the genius of Young Marble Giants, and didn’t Kevin Pearce once so presciently say that ‘Colossal Youth’ was directly connected to minimalist techno? Hard to argue with that. Hard not to argue too that the value of leaving void in a recording is a thread weaving directly through all of Statton’s records from ‘La Varieté’ through the terrific Divine & Statton albums and all her collaborations with Spike to the present day.

So ‘Bimini Twist’ is a record of minimalism; a record of comfortable but never complacent isolation. Songs like the opening ‘Just Us Two’ and ‘Alone Together’ most explicitly refer to the pleasure and tension of relationships but this cool semi-detachment is always tempered by a genuine warmth in both Statton’s voice and the accompanying instrumentation. Mostly this is a guitar picked and simply strummed just so but there are also some strange strings burying into the mix in places, whilst on ‘Just us Two’ there is the a faintly terrifying tinkle of electronic droplets falling like icy rain alongside a squeaking techno itch. It is a fascinating texture next to Statton’s voice and is certainly one of the highlights of the set. Oddly (or perhaps not oddly at all) another highlight closes out the album. ‘Sleepless’ is the song where the sound seems to most obviously shift into another realm, moving towards the kind of deeply shaded folk environments currently being explored by the likes of Alison Cotton and The Left Outsides. This, and bonus track ‘Cecilia Freeny’s Mind’ are songs I see perhaps as sketches for a next record, one I could easily see sitting neatly on the Clay Pipe Music label and wouldn’t it be as lovely to see a Statton and Spike record sleeved by Francis Castle as by Wendy Smith?

If pressed to pick one track from ‘Bimini Twist’, however, I would likely opt for ‘Sixty Second Window’. It is a song about separation, a song about forgetting and remembering, about regret and determination. Perhaps it is simply the context of the times we find ourselves living through but the song also feels to touch on a broader, deeper theme of separation and the negative elements of isolationism. To say it is a song about the Brexit debacle may be going a step too far, but perhaps not. Sonically it is a song that slips along on the back of a gently dripping guitar and a softly oscillating lower tone as textural backing. It is certainly the song where you can most easily re-imagine the instrumentation as one of those minimalist techno cuts we made connections to earlier and there is also a gorgeous symbiosis between the sonic separation and the lyrical meaning.

‘Sixty Second Window’, like all of ‘Bimini Twist’, leaves space to breathe, space to dream, space to escape into, enveloped by the cool warmth of Statton’s voice. As we said at the start, it is a universe vastly superior to the ‘real’ one.

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