So I write stuff. And some people read it. I think. Ordinarily I wouldn’t care, but sometimes a little self-doubt trickles into my coffee cup (*sad trombone*), I wonder whether or not people “get me” and (I) feel the need to explain myself. Here’s the skinny: there are more than a few records I love so damn much it hurts. At times the compulsion to gush about them is overwhelming. It’s like I have to because there’s a slight possibility of a naïve, 18-year-old me somewhere on this big blue marble stumbling over my suggestion one day and having a wherehasthisalbumbeenallmylife? moment. Hear me out.
There is nothing -nothing- like listening to an amazing record for the first time, even if it is a decade old. I want to share that feeling. Sometimes old is boring, that can’t be denied. A lot of the time, however, the opposite holds true, whether we like to admit it or not; musically, listening to an “oldie” is often like holding a mirror up to the edgy here and now. That’s all. Now, on with the show.
This past week I heard a quirky song on the radio that intrigued me, despite its goofy, repetitive lyrics. It was kind of like Teenage Fanclub and a watered-down Dinosaur Jr. had a demon baby – kind of. Just as I had my finger on Shazam, my husband (who was silently working behind his laptop) mumbled, “Hmm. I forgot about these guys.” GAH. Infuriating, as we are a couple of nerds who regularly have heated battles over who can name bands, song titles, release dates and the like, first. It’s a sickness, really. At any rate, the song was entitled “Holidays are Nice,” was released in 2004, is by a band called Sophia and I never ever heard of them though we have 2 of their records in our merged collection not courtesy of me. This will make sense in a second.
Long story short, and I will probably lose some street cred for not knowing this in the first place, after 30 seconds of research I found the band is led by Robin-Proper Sheppard of (The) God Machine fame (fame? OK. I’ll say fame). Moreover, and this is quite confusing and shocking to me because I am a fan of his, Adam Franklin (Swervedriver/Toshack Highway) had also joined Sophia’s ranks at one time. Excited for what I was about to hear, I went to our collection and pulled out the record containing said song aaaannnnd (drum roll) aside from that one tune and a maybe one part of another it was a complete disappointment and waste of my time. Disorganized, long and boring. I hate when that happens.
Things did take a turn for the better, however.
In order to wipe my brain clear of what I had just heard, I returned the dreadful record to the S section and as I was scanning through the Ts, my hands automatically went to an old favorite. Heavy Black Frame by Tram (1999) soon filled the room with warm and drowsy songs from beginning to end.
Slow-fi, low-core, slowcore, call it what you will. This record is a golden fucking blanket just begging to wrap itself around you. Tram is/was Paul Anderson and Nick Avery along with some help from genius folks like Clive Painter (of Broken Dog and, more recently, The 99 Call, again, along with Paul Anderson). I gave it my first listen when it was suggested and sent to me by a trusted friend just after its release in 1999. I was at the height of my GYBE and Mogwai period (I’m still in that period, mind you) and I was absolutely speechless. Tram was able to arouse in me the same emotions that loud, cacophonous post-rock crescendos could but with a mellower edge, maintaining softness throughout each song in an un-boring way. Understated intensity is a good way to describe what it has. Yes. That’ll do.
There really isn’t a standout track as they are all equally easy on the ears for different reasons. I suppose a good start is the first: “Nothing Left To Say.” Its warbling vocals conjure up leaden hearts and watery eyes, even in me. Though I’m not a lyrics girl, Paul Anderson and Tram’s make me shiver. It’s pretty melancholic music. Though current indie material isn’t going down sad-sack road as much as it was 12-15 years ago, HBF holds up. It’s worth the listen, with headphones of course, for sure. And if it’s not your cup of tea just do what I did. Pluck one of your old standbys off the shelf and pretend to listen to it again for the first time. It’s a win-win.
[Abby’s Road is a Knox Road feature published every other Friday.]