Reviews Column 59: Art-Rock

You think of Lloyd Cole and you think of literate, compact 80s pop-rock, rhyming ‘Norman Mailer’ with ‘get a new tailor’; of perfect skin and forest fires.

What you don’t think of is weird, Kraut-ish instrumental electronica and quivering synth drones. In 2015 that’s exactly what you get on his splendidly atmospheric new album 1D (Bureau B). Like the title, which might mislead a few One Direction fans, it wrong-foots expectations. He’s worked with Cluster/Harmonia/Eno man Hans-Joachim Roedelius in recent years, but the Eastern leanings of this suggest Ryuichi Sakomoto. The engrossing The Bund has you picturing Cole staring out at the futuristic Shanghai riverside from a very high hotel window, mirroring its mystery in music.

It remains a mystery how 1975’s Kid In A Big World didn’t make John Howard one of that decade’s best-known singer-songwriters. Forty years on, he’s fused with a terrific band on John Howard And The Night Mail (Tapete). This summons a blend of misty psychedelia and glam troubadour tropes, emerging as a wonderful timewarp that’s as much 70s Jimmy Webb as it is cult Canadian Lewis Furey. Witty lyrics, pinpoint vocals and subtle musical twists make this Howard’s true return to form.

One of the most enigmatic records you’ll hear all year is Le Volume Courbe’s I Wish Dee Dee Ramone Was Here With Me (Pickpocket). Firstly, it’s nothing like the Ramones, but the macabre humour of the title track exemplifies the disconnected, wilfully naïve poeticism of the whole affair. Fronted by French-born Charlotte Marionneau, this follows the 2005 debut with a highly original collage of sweet-sinister songs and sounds. My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields guests on a Roky Erickson cover, and Nico’s Le Petit Chevalier is reinterpreted. Best of all is the swaggering Rusty. A unique voice and presence.

There’s no reference more lazily overused than ‘Lynchean’, but David Lynch truly does infuse the spirit of Blue Velvet Revisited (Crammed Discs), a team-up between Tuxedomoon and Cult With No Name. Their soundtrack to Peter Braatz’s documentary on the making of Lynch’s lynchpin is appropriately dark, evocative and off-centre. John Foxx’s Lincoln Street serves as an intermission.

Julia Holter’s Have You In My Wilderness (Domino) essays the twirling surfaces and potent depths of Kate Bush’s earliest albums. Oblique love songs lift the LA singer’s voice through phased, hazed effects. Conversely, Wrapped In Plastic (Saint Marie) from female trio Blindness is an assault of industrial electro-filth, featuring guitarist Debbie Smith (ex-Curve).

And perhaps the ultimate art-rock record of its era, The Sugarcubes’ 1988 debut Life’s Too Good (One Little Indian), is reissued (on green vinyl, naturally). An enduring joy if you like Icelandic absurdity, Björk’s vocals being shouted over by the band, jazz-punk, birthdays and keeping spiders in your pocket.

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has written about music, films, and art for innumerable outlets. His new book The Velvet Underground is out April 4. He has also published books on Lou Reed, Elton John, the Gothic arts, Talk Talk, Kate Moss, Scarlett Johansson, Abba, Tom Jones and others. Among his interviewees over the years have been David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, Debbie Harry, Bryan Ferry, Al Green, Tom Waits & Lou Reed. Born in North Wales, he lives in London.