Posts Tagged ‘Steve Albini’

Happy Happy Birthday To Me Records – 18th November 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

I’ve been a fan of The Wedding Present for a long time. That said, I did rather lose track of their output at some point. It happens. For some reason, I felt that they’d somehow become mired in a template-based middle-ground. Nevertheless, one of the things I always admired about the band was their ability to constantly reinvent themselves while still sounding like The Wedding Present. Going, Going… released in Europe in September and now receiving a US release, is a perfect exemplar of the way in which they achieve this: it’s an immense 20-track double album, full of overtly Wedding Present songs and songs that explore a host of different forms.

The dense guitar trudge which drives the post-rock instrumental of ‘Kittery’, the opening track on Going, Going… does not sound like The Wedding Present to my ears. But it is compelling. ‘Greenland’ features a female radio voice reading out co-ordinates over a thundering drum beat and very little else. It sounds more like Shellac than The Wedding Present. And yet, as a slow-building rumble of noise builds in the background before the track fades out slowly without anything actually happening, it shouldn’t come as a surprise: The Wedding Present called in Steve Albini to rework breakthrough single ‘Brassneck’ from their 1989 album Bizarro¸ and he ‘recorded’ one of their biggest albums, Seamonsters in 1991. The Wedding Present also covered Pavement long before Pavement were cool – before anyone had even heard of them, in fact.

In some respects, given David Gedge’s longstanding interest in the obscure and his impressively long career spent cultivating a distinctive sound has paved the way for tis radical departure. Because, while words like ‘workmanlike’ and ‘jangling’ have long been associated with the band, they’ve always been more than their critical reception, and have long gone out of their way to do something outlandish or perverse – like a single a month for a year. Put another way, The Wedding Present have always espoused the indie aesthetic on the absolute sense, in that they’ve always indulged their contrary side because, well, simply, they can.

With a haunting, wordless, female vocal and soaring post-rock guitar sound, ‘Marblehead’ is a far cry from the twangy, three-chord thrashabouts that are the band’s trademark, and the string-soaked, piano-led chamber orchestra piece that is ‘Sprague’ finds Gedge lead his crew – not to mention their fans – further from familiar territory.

It’s not until the fifth track, ‘Two Bridges’ that we get a song that showcases Gedge’s familiar gruff northern tones amidst a choppy guitar attack. It’s a thick, rough and ready and in many ways primitive indie tune that could only come from one band, even when it lumbers off on an extended riffy workout after a couple of minutes. What we can take from this is that while The Wedding Present can sound like pretty much anything, no-one else can make songs that sound like The Wedding Present. There are plenty of thumping guitar tunes – more carved from the hefty riff-driven template of Seamonsters and beyond than their jangly indie early years – and they’re decent tunes. ‘Bear’ is one of several classic examples of the Pixies-like grungers which exploit the quiet/loud dynamic. Lumbering riffs about, driving the lurching alt-pop of ‘Fifty-six’ and the all-out stomp of ‘Emporia’, which is pretty heavy and fires up a roaring guitar racket while retaining a keen sense of melody.

‘Secretary’ brings some jangle, but also a fuckload of noise all bound up with a post-punk sensibility and a jarring angularity that’s unexpectedly exhilarating, while ‘Bells’ is a standout by virtue of simply being a great song with a cracking melodic hook.

Who would have thought that some 30 years into their career, The Wedding Present of all bands, would produce something as ambitious and as impressive as this? If anything, rather than being an exercise in indulgence for the band and a drag for the listener, Going, Going… is as strong as anything The Wedding Present have ever released, and the longer format finds Gedge really going all-out to try new sounds and shapes. It’s also an album which reveals a band really concentrating on tight and varied songwriting, and when paired with a focus on tone and dynamics it makes for an unexpectedly great record.

 

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