Unpopular advent 2021 – day 9

The Attendant – ‘Teenage’ from Audit
David Christian And The Pinecone Orchestra – ‘Goodbye Teenage Blue’ from For Those We Met On The Way

Back in May I wrote about The Attendant’s ‘Audit’ for IT and Unpopular. Here’s what I said back then:

Perhaps the ongoing onslaught of interminable winter has coloured my thoughts, but there is something marvellously apposite in experiencing the steely grey aesthetic of The Attendant’s ‘Audit’ collection in the midst of a bleak and chilly May. From the industrial glass grey of the 10″ vinyl, through the utilitarian plastic liner (neatly, subtly embossed with the Faux-Lux label logo in one corner) to the slim A5 booklet of poetry and photographs, the whole package is a magnificent Modernist/Brutalist homage to the (sub)urban experience. Originally released on a series of lathe cut singles, the sounds assembled here are the work of Pete Astor and Ian Button, two quietly iconic monuments in the landscape whose varied works with the likes of The Loft, Weather Prophets, Thrashing Doves, Death In Vegas and Papernut Cambridge have surely populated any number of Unpopular record collections in the past three or four decades.

There is something marvellously post-industrial about the act of making and distributing essentially hand-crafted artefacts that simultaneously embrace and reject the Pop prerogative. In this respect the recent resurgent fashion for lathe cut singles is to be applauded. For me they seem to exist in the exquisite void created by digital musical distribution and consumption, a void that Pop rightly insists be filled with Product. You don’t actually PLAY lathe cut singles after all, do you? And even if you do, they pay you back with a louche grin and disintegrate before your very ears like Dorian Gray rapidly decomposing the instant his painting is unveiled. There is also something rather appealing about artists making lathe cut releases in an era when The Vinyl has returned to a position of exalted worship. So, when Major Labels muscle in on the remaining pressing plants with their absurd Anniversary Reissue demands, bullying the tiny independents into the gutter in the process, perhaps the lathe-cut is simply an act borne of necessity. Either way, they are cult collectibles, anti-Pop Pop Art sculptures and political conversation pieces in one delicious package.

‘Audit’ of course is not a lathe-cut artefact but an industrially pressed 10″ vinyl treat for those of us who were too slow and/or insufficiently hip to scoop up the ‘originals’. Those originals were born to an extent in the early semi-apocalyptic haze of the 2020 COVID lockdown, The Attendant appearing disembodied and blinking into the light of eerily emptied city streets, an excuse and a reason to assemble some of Astor’s poetry into a form perhaps more easily consumed in the realms of mediated culture we like to inhabit. Responding instinctively to the (post) Punk edict of do-it-fast and do-it-now (also, do it clean), Astor and Button reacted to their environments and impulses, crafting Astor’s words into concrete form. The end result is not unlike listening to Lou Reed with a soft English accent recounting gently surreal tales of marginal members of extended families (‘Magnificent Aunt Mary’), the hidden complexities of people we think we might know (‘Music On’) and, my own personal favourite, “The hyper-intense banality of those years when everything is achingly, mind-blowingly significant.” (‘Teenage).

‘Audit’ reminds me too of the great suburban surrealism of Animals That Swim; of Robin Hitchcock’s psychedelic urbanity with the humour dialled back to a shade above zero; of Gravenhurst daydreams rotating under a disco ball at midnight; of The Kinks slow dancing with Saint Etienne illuminated in the flickering glow of an 8mm film projector showing a James Fox screen test; of Blue Aeroplanes in sleep mode given a blood transfusion of funk and electronica; of Stephen Duffy living on a hill with Wire as house guests, taking the world apart and reassembling it beatifically off-kilter, just so. A barrage of imagery. A slow burn of reference and illusion. The sound of “Film stock oxidising below” as Astor himself might say.

There is also something neatly cyclical in the idea of ‘Audit’ collecting together collectibles into a slightly more accessible form, in that there is a mirror held up to those inexpensive early Creation compilations where we were encouraged not to scrabble around collector’s zips for 7″s and where perhaps we first heard The Loft and The Weather Prophets. It was always good advice, and I’d certainly suggest snapping up a copy of ‘Audit’ before it too attains the patina of desirable rarity.

Way back in the murky mists of time I recall the post bringing a cassette tape in a white 7″ cardboard sleeve with the word ‘Plankton’ inked from a rubber stamp on one side and a photo roughly snipped from a magazine glued to the other. ‘Comet Gain’ was written in blue and red biro beneath. The sleeve may still be in a 7″ flightcase somewhere in the attic, next to those bubble-wrapped Batman comics and record player, but the beloved tape itself is long-gone, worn out, lost down the back of a sofa one drunken night when wallowing in angry self-pity no doubt.

Nearly thirty years later and there may not be a new Comet Gain record to get lost in, but there is a solo album from David Christian and the Pinecone Orchestra and when I close my eyes it’s like nothing and everything has changed. This is kind of the point of the record though, for it finds Christian in his wooded post-Brexit retreat on the southern French coast, coming to terms with some of the ugly disappointments of modern life. Naturally it is the artists’ way of coping with such things. A daydream to believe in; an inward eye on the world around us; a stream of consciousness retreat to the wilderness of broken memories and the warmth of undying love. It is an acknowledgement and a refusal; a tender kiss and a punch to the gut. There is still a degree of fraught, idealistic righteousness, but the vivid anger and revolutionary spirit of ‘Fireraisers Forever’ is tempered with an autumnal pragmatism that is often filled with heartache and breathtaking in its deeply personal yet universal observation.

The press release for the album reminds me of the letters that Richey Edwards used to write. The kind of letters that Kevin said had to be carried close to the heart and that were better than any of the records the Manics might have been making at that time. Well, ‘For Those We Met On The Way’ is every bit as good as its press release and together they form a whirlpool vision of passionate devotion. Of the Pinecone Orchestra, Christian says that “James Horsey and Alasdair MacLean (The Clientele), Ben Phillipson (18th Day Of May/Trimdon Grange Explosion/Comet Gain), Gerard Love (Teenage Fanclub/Lightships), Anne-Lauren Guillain (Comet Gain/Cinema Red And Blue) and Joe-Harvey Whyte (Hanging Stars) coloured everything in with guitars, vocals, bass, pedal steel etc.” and you get the nod to those Felt records where Lawrence’s songs were coloured in by the band, and hey, there’s Christian’s own ‘Ballad…’, this one ‘For The Button Downs’. And it might be a call to arms of a kind, but it’s one that accepts (and perversely celebrates, because what else is there to do?) the limitations of its own Unpopularity. We are the heathens, indeed.

Christian has pointed out that the songs on the record are certainly a means of softly resuscitating memories, of sweetly laying them to rest and of moving upwards and onwards. You can’t keep climbing if you insist on weighing yourself down, after all. Nowhere is this more aptly captured than on the fabulous ‘Goodbye Teenage Blue’. A song that fearlessly confronts the inherently self-destructive nature of Pop/Rock’s roots in the essence of teenage kicks, it both celebrates the necessary obsessional nature of the form whilst acknowledging that it needs to be left behind, banished to fading hallucinations. “You’ve got to break the taboo before it breaks you…” indeed.

It feels fitting therefore that ‘Goodbye Teenage Blue’ is essentially a list song, reference and reverence being so essential to the spirit of Pop after all. So we have “37 Mary Chain boots”, “6 copies of ‘Crocodiles’ and 10 ‘Kilimajaro’s” as well as “a million beers in only ten years” (remember that point about losing the Comet Gain tape down the back of the sofa?). Then there’s the line that goes “I’ve got 12 Kerouacs, but I’ve only read 6. I guess after 4 you get the gist”, and if there a finer way for capturing that feeling of looking at one’s younger self and recognising the intense need to project and belong in spite and because of everything, then frankly I’ve not heard it.

A long time ago I wrote a line myself about how trying to lose some memories is like trying to hack off your own limbs, and I like to think Christian echoes that sentiment in this song as he concludes by encouraging us/himself to “exorcise those gold dust days, amputate your flashback ways”. The pleasure is in the pain.

As that aforementioned press release says “When a record has just YOUR name on it you try to make it good. No shadows to hide in, even your mum might hear it. Solo records are (technically) written by songwriters, so might as well try and write some songs. So that’s what David tried and he thinks he did ok. “

I think it’s safe to say that he did more than okay.

2 thoughts on “Unpopular advent 2021 – day 9

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