Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Endless Endless

I've been delighted by some recent reissues of material by one of my favourite bands from the late 80s/early 90s. I'm reminded, amongst many other things, of one warm, balmy summer evening back in 1987, as I was listening in the front room back at my parents' house to John Peel (surprise surprise) on the radio.

I can easily forget just how frustrating it could be at times, listening to his show. There were frequent "bad"nights in which he played little or nothing which I enjoyed or was amazed by. I would keep listening though, just in case: the other side of the coin was the glut of "good" nights in which there was a whole embarrassment of musical riches.

On this particular summer evening, I recall becoming greatly enthused and excited by a track he was playing: I didn't know who it was by or what it was called, but it demanded my attention more and more. It was all on the same note, a constant, repeating single-note fuzz-guitar line over a more melodic but equally repetitious bass riff, all underpinned by a basic but highly propulsive drum beat. Above this were some vocals, heavily reverbed, alternating with multilayered but gloriously simple lead guitar lines.

As one "verse" ended, the guitars kicked in, then the next verse, then more guitars, and so on, all underpinned by this primal, mono-toned rhythm section. The net effect was that it became more and more mesmeric, gaining momentum by sheer repetition, and I was immediately hooked. Peel subsequently announced (in typical lugubrious style) that it was called Spinning, and was by a band called Loop.

So, right now, I'm in the middle of a marathon session of listening to The World In Your Eyes, a career-spanning 3cd compilation which brings together all of their singles, b-sides and so on.

This compilation, in addition to their three studio albums - also reissued with various extras - seems to be affording Loop a bit of a critical reappraisal: thoroughly deserved, in my opinion.

Early on (and to some extent, throughout their lifespan), they were frequently compared - usually unfavourably - to psychedelic drone merchants, Spacemen 3. It's not hard to see why, since their respective sounds had many elements in common - drones, feedback, elemental and repetitious riffs, fuzzed-out wah-wahed guitars in abundance, and a clear nod to the likes of the Stooges, Velvet Underground, MC5 and many distinctly more esoteric purveyors of spaced-out, hypnotic music.

Spacemen 3 were seen by many as being the more authentically trippy, out-there experience.

In retrospect, I think that's a fair summation, though one which does no disservice to Loop: their sound developed (not entirely smoothly) away from the dense slabs of psychedelic guitar sound of their first album, Heaven's End, into something different and more distinct: refined, darker, and yet more satisfyingly powerful than these earlier efforts.

The second album, Fade Out, is a transitional affair which has greatly improved with age, to my mind: I gave away my vinyl copy at the time, it seemed rather patchy and uneven, though it had clear standout tracks - yet the album makes much more sense in retrospect. It paves the way for their later work, veering in places into more experimental ideas and expanding their sonic palette, whilst still grounded by crunching, monolithic riffs and a minimalist ethic.

By the time of their third and final album, A Gilded Eternity, they had progressed from operating very much within a "rock" template, and more towards using the elements common to "rock" music as a point of departure: a means to explore much more esoteric, textural, but also dissonant and jagged territory. Some of the song titles are telling: Vapour; Afterglow; From Centre to Wave. What remains are the elements which render them hypnotic, mesmeric: the repetitious riffs, rhythms and drones, now sitting within a more finely-considered, almost glacial soundscape. A soundscape which still, somehow, emphatically rocks.

In fact this final album is their strongest work, an excellent album by any standards, and it contains perhaps their most complete moment - the epic melancholy of Be Here Now. Ten minutes of richly evocative music - all interlocking guitars hinged around a haunting central riff, pinned down by drums and bass, but which positively soars.

It makes that first track, I mentioned, Spinning, sound rough and primitive by comparison: but the common thread between them is that insistent, irresistable sense of repetition which serves to propel it ever onwards, spiralling upwards.

That memory of hearing Spinning for the first time remains just as vivid, just as exciting.


Fire Byrd said...

it is good to have powerful musical memories that take you back to when your first connected with a band or piece of music, 'specially whenit'salso connected to a particular time as well.

zhisou said...

I never knew Loop - my trippy period (not that I did the drugs) was mainly with Gong and Daevid Allen and other incarnations of the same.

They were fab.

trousers said...

Definitely, Fire Byrd, one or two of the tracks in particular do this: the track Spinning that I described was (to exaggerate slightly) life-changing when I first heard it.

zhisou, I always steered clear of Gong, based on things I'd read about them - but I did hear a couple of tracks (I couldn't tell you which ones) which I did like. Heard a couple of Steve Hillage lps which didn't do much for me, mind you.

Loop were a different kind of trippy, much more minimal (or much less maximal). If you have Spotify, their final lp A Gilded Eternity is on there - if you ever felt like giving them a listen. Oddly, there's another band listed called LoOp, who are an entirely different beast, certainly not to be confused with the one I'm talking about.

zhisou said...

I hated Steve Hillage - and Gong were patchy, but when they were good, they were great.