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Vinyl

Vinyl love: Spiritualized “Ladies and gentlemen we are floating in space”

(Vinyl Love is a series of posts that quite simply lists, describes, and displays the pieces in my growing vinyl collection. You can bet that each record was given a spin during the drafting of each corresponding post.)

Artist: Spiritualized
Album Title: Ladies and gentlemen we are floating in space
Year released: 1997
Year reissued: 2010
Details: 2 x 180 gram

The skinny: Big fans of Jason Pierce’s space rock outfit, Spiritualized, that might be following along as I’ve been travelling backwards through my collection of their records will likely have been watching out for this one. The third record, “Ladies and gentlemen we are floating in space” is largely and widely considered their best and I am definitely not one to disagree. It came in at number one when I counted down my favourite albums of 1997, a stacked year that also included seminal albums by Radiohead and The Verve. This double album of gospel, noise rock, and free jazz, tells the dual and intertwining tales of a breakup and a psychedelic trip and it is near perfection in its beautiful and pain. The 180 gram reissue I have from 2010 faithfully reproduces original album art that was modelled after medicinal packaging, right down to the wrapper-like album sleeves, instructional insert that includes Qs & As, and the expiry date and storage instructions on the back cover. This was a must have for my album collection and the first one from this particular ‘Vinyl love’ series that I purchased.

Standout track: “Ladies and gentlemen we are floating in space”

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Albums

Best albums of 2022: #1 Spiritualized “Everything was beautiful”

In 2018, Jason Pierce released his eighth studio album as Spiritualized, “And nothing hurt”. I remember hearing in advance of its release of how great it was, how it was a return to the sound and scope of their masterpiece, 1997’s “Ladies and gentlemen, we are floating in space”, and how it might very well be his last album. I was so excited I jumped on it right away, downloading the digital version that was granted me with the pre-order of it on vinyl. Of course, I fell in love with it and it ended up landing at number four on my end of year list for that year, but what struck me the most was how different the album sounded when I dropped the needle to the disc on my turntable.

When “Everything was beautiful” was announced, I was first of all relieved that the fear of Pierce packing it in was unwarranted and secondly, I was determined to wait for my pre-ordered physical copy to arrive before giving any of it a listen. And so I held off on release day, even as I heard once again that this album was the man’s best work since that aforementioned masterpiece, and I was duly rewarded to brilliance and beauty when I gave it a spin the very night the record arrived. It was like a perfect synergy between my ears and my earphones, music and emotion and (forgive me here) spirituality.

Billed by Pierce as a companion album to its predecessor, the two titles taken together form a quote from the Kurt Vonnegut novel, “Slaughterhouse five”, apt considering the songs from both albums were all written and demoed around the same time. This second album, however, has had more time to steep and has the experience of many other lifetimes, these felt even more deeply with all that we have collectively been through in the interim. As great as “And nothing hurts” was and as much as was put into it*, “Everything was beautiful” feels just more complete, more a sum of all of Pierce’s ideas and work, like you can hear pieces of all his career on this album. But this is more a revisit than a rehash, retracing his footsteps in a different set of shoes.

At surface, one might surmise that this album was a throwaway, given that it’s only seven tracks in length. However, it uses every millimeter of space on the record, filling out the forty-five minutes and colouring in the skies in a mass of sound, his sound, space rock. If you’ve never heard Spiritualized’s particular brew of psychedelic noise, gospel, and free jazz, “Everything was beautiful” is just as great a starting point as any of his works. And yes, I would say this is definitely the best Spiritualized record in more than two decades.

The best way to listen to “Everything was beautiful” is end-to-end, all the way through on vinyl but I’m willing here to offer up three picks to lead you by the nose to the prize.


“The mainline song“: When I first saw the title of this track, I immediately thought back to Spiritualized’s second record, “Pure phase”, and the instrumental track that picked up on a theme that coursed through that whole album. This one is different though, more about trains than heroin, and though about half of the track’s six minutes is purely instrumental, we do get into some words. “Sweet heart, sweet light. Oh babe, it’s a beautiful night, and I wanted to know if you wanted to go tell the city tonight.” It’s a track inspired by lockdowns and protests about lockdowns and about finally getting things right. Setting things right.

“Let it bleed (For Iggy)”: “Laboured over these words too long / And nothing to behold / Wanted it to be special for you / But it’s just a song.” Pierce’s ode to his hero Iggy Pop certainly starts off mellow and ventures into delicate balladry, but in his hands, a song is never just a song. The choirs sing and horns call and guitars vibrate. It is about putting everything into it and having faith, perhaps blind fatih, that the efforts will be appreciated. This is about Jason Pierce as much as it is Iggy Pop.

“Always together with you”: Echoes of the title track of “Ladies and gentlemen”, the first track of the album opens with a female breathing the title of the album over space echoes but this time the voice is provided by his daughter, Poppy, instead of his ex-lover, Kate Radley. The similarities don’t end there, indeed, this feels like a sequel, a revisit, but the object is the future and not the past. It is just as epic and beautiful and heartrending. It is six and a half minutes of hope and love, strings and choirs and horns and angels. “If you want a silver moon, I would be a silver moon for you. If you want a unicorn, I would be a unicorn for you. If you want a satellite, I would be a satellite for you. If you want a universe, I would be a universe for you.” The universe would be pleased.


*I remember writing about it at the time that it sounded to me like Pierce was putting his all into it.

In case you missed the previous five posts, here is the rest of the list:

10. Blushing “Possessions”
9. Just Mustard “Heart under”
8. Jeanines “Don’t wait for a sign”
7. The Reds, Pinks and Purples “Summer at land’s end”
6. Tallies “Patina”
5. Suede “Autofiction”
4. Wet Leg “Wet Leg”
3. Beach House “Once twice melody”
2. Alvvays “Blue rev”

You can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.

Categories
Albums

Best albums of 2022: #2 Alvvays “Blue rev”

Much has been made about the length of time that has passed between the second album by Alvvays (pronounced ‘Always’) and this new one. Indeed, five years is an eternity in the music world in this day and age, what with trends whipping by at a torrid pace and viral videos and music streaming. And yet one can’t help but refrain from laying blame, what with the events of the past few years, and those being especially pronounced for the Toronto-based indie pop band. In addition to plagues, they’ve had to overcome thefts and floods and changes in personnel, but luckily for all of us, they seem to have come out of this period of quiet all the better for it.

I’ve been following the group led by long-time friends Molly Rankin and Kerri MacLellan, as well as Alec O’Hanley, since the appearance of their self-titled debut back in 2014. I loved the dreamy bursts of sunshine indie pop on the album, the jangly nostalgia, and the youthful maturity of songcraft therein. The follow up was more of the same in taste and texture but showed a progression worth following. Much of this third record, which takes its name from a beverage favoured by the two lead protagonists in their even younger youth, was written shortly after the original touring cycle for “Antisocialites”, around the time that Sheridan Riley joined them on drums and long before Abbey Blackwell replaced founding bassist Brian Murphy. With all the delays, they really did have a fully formed idea of the album when they finally convened to record it in the fall of 2021. My understanding is that it was recorded in much the way you can hear it on the record, front to back, twice through, in one day, but that the mixing and perfectionist refining afterwards took much, much longer.

“Blue rev” is quickly becoming my favourite by the group, if it hasn’t yet achieved that honour. It goes far beyond the borders of their original pigeon-holed territory of light and jangly indie pop and at the same time, doesn’t betray it’s long-time fans. It’s noisier, louder, longer, smarter, more assured, and lots of fun. Like the previous album on this list, I have a new favourite track on the album every day and I expect that to continue as each listen reveals new layers and textures and lyrical gems to behold. The three tracks I’ve picked for your perusal were almost selected at random. Really, you could do no wrong with any track here.


“After the earthquake“: Track three on “Blue Rev” was inspired by a short story collection by excellent Japanese writer Haruki Murakami. It is three-minutes reminiscent of The Smiths but with sharper teeth, spikier hair, and more anger than mopery. It’s a remembering of good times before disaster struck and nothing was the same. And just before the two-minute mark, time stands still and Rankin murmurs and wonders aloud wrapped in a gentle synth wash: “Those days, I’d never let you fall apart. But things fade like the scent of a brand new car. Why would I ever fall in love again when every detail is over the guardrail?” It’s heartbreaking.

“Pharmacist”: The opening track and first single has been called their My Bloody Valentine song. At just over two minutes, it’s shorter than anything (save for maybe “Touched”) on “Loveless” but it’s not any less immediate. The moment the heavy layer of guitars are plopped down in the lap of the otherwise jangly palette, you feel that nervous anxiety put forth by Rankin’s  meeting up with the sister of her ex. “I hear it happens all the time. It’s alright (it’s alright). I know I never crossed your mind.” She sounds reliable and reassuring and then, any questions are put to rest by a flailing guitar solo, as if to say, pay attention, we’re not done with you yet!

“Very online guy”: One of these songs is not like the others. Where the other two were more aggressive and heavy on the noisy guitars, this last pick mines the impersonal and cold tones of 80s synth pop. It’s almost a perfect backdrop to which to set a calling out on reply guy culture and the nastiness of hiding behind the anonymity of ones and zeroes. “He’s only one flicker away. He’s only one photo, one filter away.” Even Rankins’ vocals are obscured and filtered through technological trickery, adding more fun to the chugging beat and sentient synthetic ambience. Brilliant stuff.


We’ll back in two more sleeps with album #1. In the meantime, here are the previous albums in this list:

10. Blushing “Possessions”
9. Just Mustard “Heart under”
8. Jeanines “Don’t wait for a sign”
7. The Reds, Pinks and Purples “Summer at land’s end”
6. Tallies “Patina”
5. Suede “Autofiction”
4. Wet Leg “Wet Leg”
3. Beach House “Once twice melody”

You can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.