Seven Plays VIII

For Seven Plays, each week one of our contributors will keep a personal music diary for seven days, then hand the feature over to another Truant. The idea is to keep sharing great music with our readers, but with a more individual touch than our more objective posts and reviews. Interrupting the feature’s extended hiatus is a new instalment from Robin Smith, delving into moments of devastating lyricism, rambunctious riffs and irresistible jams from the worlds of alt-rock, hardcore and beyond.

Monday: Allman Brothers Band – At Fillmore East

I’ve really taken a backseat with discovering music for myself this year. One thing I’ve really started to miss is the ritual I used to have with exploring albums. Pretty much my only hobby in third year of university was staying up until 1am and aimlessly downloading any album I could think of. Several years on, I’ve completely stopped doing that – I don’t use the late hours to listen and I don’t have the imagination to drum up something new I want to hear. Checking out At Fillmore East was an attempt to recreate a very specific experience I remember having at my desk back in 2013, when I first heard the Grateful Dead’s Reckoning, an album I treasure as much as I do due to the circumstances under which I found it.

Listening to Fillmore East, it felt like this album had been lying in wait for me all this time. The riffs from “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” and “Whipping Post” have been inducted into the back of my brain so quickly, and I’m already talking about them as if they’re old favourites. At the same time I’m grateful I’ve experienced the record so recently; I think if I’d heard this back in the day, the improvisations would have been lost on me, and those momentary snaps of clarity the Allman Brothers find, for seconds at a time, would have been infuriating. As it is, I’ve fallen in love with these long, luxurious jams, and the way the band seem to create new jazz heads of their own as a jumping off point. Those last moments of “You Don’t Love Me”, where the band suddenly slot into this brief organ shuffle, are incredible: it’s such a little moment on such a huge tune, but in cutting it short, they leave some things for our own imagination.

Tuesday: Sons of Abraham – Termites In His Smile

I lifted this album straight out of a great playlist Thou did for self-titled mag. I feel like the good thing about hardcore music is that if you’ve fallen off, it will take a miraculously short amount of time to get back into the genre: a 15-minute album here, an hour-or-less discography there. After thirty minutes, Sons of Abraham are very much a new favourite band; their record Termites In His Smile is heavy and burdensome, a glorious slog with space and consideration buried somewhere underneath.

It’s either mixing or lack thereof, but I love how raw this all sounds. Everything is pretty even, but there are these prominent, protagonistic basslines that offset the blunt, flatlining sound of the record. Frankly, it’s all very weird – sometimes Sons of Abraham have this very angular, metal vibe going for them, and at others I swear I’m hearing something aligned to skate punk. I could be imagining it. It’s all good; I listened to this band because Thou described them as ‘Jewish straight-edge hardcore’ and I feel I got what I wanted. I’m informed by Discogs that there’s some crossover with Glassjaw here, which tracks.

Wednesday: Louis Moholo Octet – Spirits Rejoice!

I used to listen to “You Ain’t Gonna Know Me ‘Cos You Think You Know Me”, the second song from Louis Moholo’s Spirits Rejoice!, every time i was commuting. I’d be bouncing about by the doors of an extremely packed Transpennine Express train as Moholo and his band rinsed that one very merry, ramshackle melody over the course of the song’s seven minutes. Recently I’ve been craving it again, that one vamp: as the song goes on, they bundle euphoria over the top of it, layering fanfare over fanfare. Horns whine and whistle like a chorus of voices, all talking at once in different directions. Spirits Rejoice! is one of the records I feel most blessed to have encountered over the last couple of years. It stays in constant rotation with me now.

Thursday: The Cranberries – To the Faithful Departed

I listened to this for a whole day and I don’t think I came out of it understanding the Cranberries any better. I do know I’m extremely into a lot of their songs, no matter how strange and slapstick To the Faithful Departed becomes. The icy guitars of “Free To Decide” are all well and good, but you want to sit them down with a verse of cowbell? Be my guest, Cranberries.

I’m led to believe I completely misfired by making this my first Cranberries record; from reading around, it sounds like this was their big graduation day, an attempt at capitalising on momentum while beefing up their sound considerably. Maybe it went wrong (I never want to hear alt-rock VR experience “I Shot John Lennon” again), but I love the ambition. I’ve become obsessed with some of these songs, such as the overly expansive “War Child”, which plays like a folk song given cinematography. The first song on the record is my favourite, though: “Hollywood” sounds like the band were trying to come up with their own equivalent of grunge, and blew the roof off. Sorry to bring up Thou again, but I can see why they ended up covering it.

Friday: Suffering Hour – The Cyclic Reckoning

I just want to listen to metal all the time right now and The Cyclic Reckoning is largely responsible. It is an absolutely breakneck speed record and yet there is such an abundance of hooks on this thing, I feel like I could recommend it to anyone, like this is as catchy as you’ll ever hear such a chaotic, dispiriting death metal band be. I’m here for every single one of the trembling guitar lines on this record. Not a single one left behind.

Saturday: Johanna Warren – Chaotic Good

I keep an informal list of songs that are more doom metal than actual doom metal. Johanna Warren’s “Twisted” is very much on it. Like much of Chaotic Good, it involves Warren testing the structural integrity of her own songwriting, taking these simple, compact ideas she’s written and collapsing them with more and more information. It’s all about her lyrics, and the way she delivers them, creating a world where her patter is the only patter.

I see Warren compared to Elliott Smith a lot and that makes sense – she arranges things sparsely, relying on small flurries of acoustic guitar. Where there are drums, they tend to mumble, as if aware they’re an intrusion, which is pretty Either/Or. But Warren’s songwriting is definitely its own thing; she’s to-the-point about things in a way I’ve rarely heard before, singing lines like “doing whatever the hell you want out there / unfortunately affects me in here” as if they were cataclysmic. The way she positions these lines completely reshapes her songs, often strengthening your focus on them. In other places, her words are grotesquely vivid: “To fill my vessels with the nectar/torture/poison,” she laments on the next song, leaving me stunned.

Sunday: Russian Circles – Station

Me and my friend Vasili stumbled into a very specific phase of nostalgia this week when we decided to go through old post-rock albums from the genre’s heyday. Throughout their career, Russian Circles slowly gravitated towards being more of a metal thing (or in any case, they became more adjacent to the metalheads) and it was nice to hear this older record carrying hints of that. “Harper Lewis” goes way harder than many of their peers at the time, embracing a kind of techy swirl of guitars and drums that go ‘round in circles rather than upwards. There’s also stuff like “Verses”, which is more what you want from a second-gen post-rock band: it’s glossy, twinkly and sort-of anonymously anthemic. We had a really good time listening to this again.

Read our previous instalments of Seven Plays here. Photo: Twiggs Lyndon.

Robin Smith