Do you think listening to music should be enjoyable? Do you prefer your music to be challenging? Do you think music can be both?
I listen to all sorts of music, but, at heart, I’m an unashamedly ‘3-minute pop song’ kind of guy. Give me a classic Holland-Dozier-Holland or a B, R and M Gibb or a Goffin & King or a G. Moroder and P. Bellotte and I’m in heaven. There’s a flipside to this of course, because a love of the mainstream and low-brow can be an embarrassing thing to admit, as I found out recently when organising my record collection only to find that I own three copies of Boney M’s 1979 ‘masterpiece’, Oceans of Fantasy.
Of course if you spent your whole life listening to fluffy pop music, no matter how high its quality, then your existence would become mind-numbingly one dimensional. So I intersperse my ABBA with Joy Division and my Fleetwood Mac with Nick Drake. And, like many people recently (and for the saddest of reasons), I’ve spent more than a little bit of time listening to Talk Talk, a band with impressive pop credentials who chose to step spectacularly outside the lines. With Spirit of Eden, Mark and the boys left behind a potential career as purveyors of pop classics, threw their hit parade compass into the waves and headed off into uncharted waters. Spirit of Eden wasn’t universally loved at the time, even though many will now try to convince you otherwise, but it planted seeds that continue to sprout over 30 years later. It gradually became a touchstone album for many of the artists who live in those uncomfortable, challenging and choppy waters outside music’s mainstream. I say uncomfortable because, generally, unless you’re Radiohead or Björk, music in this territory doesn’t shift units (or downloads or streams or however young people are getting their music this week). Ultimately, shifted units pay bills, so most of music’s mavericks are now in it for the love of the game, rather than a desire for fame and fortune.
Twilight Splendour by Housewives is an album that exists outside those lines, out there in music’s long grass, full of atmosphere, jarring sounds and beautiful noises, non-immediate, made for rainy days. There are shouty bits and stunningly beautiful bits, squeaky bits, scratchy bits, jazzy bits, bits you’ll warm to and bits that you might not. At heart, Twilight Splendour is an electronic album, but its unstructured, disjointed grubbiness makes it a very human experience.
‘Speak to Me’ squeaks throughout, like Spike Jones meets Joy Division meets clown car horn, repetitive, mesmerising, about as radio-unfriendly as it’s possible to be. Despite, or maybe because of, all of these things, it’s chaotically magnificent. As is ‘Texu’, where snares, throbbing bass, saxophone and simulated handclaps combined to induce a musical claustrophobia, while ‘Sublimate pt.I and pt. 2’ create menace of Cabaret Voltaire proportions.
Elsewhere, however, there are lighter touches; ‘Dormi’ builds around a series of clicks, with a throbbing bass and what seems to be a gently chiming mantel clock, the kind that’s just about loud enough to let you know what the time is, but isn’t rude enough to rouse you if you’ve dozed off, and the closing track (they’re not tunes or songs by any stretch of the imagination), ‘Hexadecimal Wave/Binary Rock’ has a soothing, church organ foundation underpinning a dark gothic superstructure.
Not an album to be listened to every day, as over-familiarity would be a mistake, but Twilight Splendour is definitely a rewarding late night album. Miles away from safe popular music territory and certainly challenging, but if you like it dark and well outside the lines, then you’ll enjoy Twilight Splendour immensely.