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Inside Steven Alan

For Your Ears Only

  • Nate Landry shares a “musical secret”. And we always like to share secrets (don’t worry, we won’t tell that one about you in elementary school and your Cross Colors).

    Young Marble Giants – Colossal Youth LP (Rough Trade, 1980)

    I present to you the greatest Welsh export since John Cale. Or, if you prefer, Dylan Thomas. Or Richard Burton. Or Tom Jones (really, though?) You get the point. Young Marble Giants are the quintessential bedroom band (I hereby declare this a musicological term, rather than something my old roommate and I may well have made up while discussing this very band), exuding a quiet, melancholic Cardiffian genius that makes up in scrupulous beauty what it lacks in volume. Doing the Blonde Redhead thing—composed of brothers Philip and Stuart Moxham, plus Philip’s girlfriend Alison Statton—almost fifteen years before the fact, YMG released one LP and two EPs between 1979 and 1981.

    It’s hard to underestimate just how bizarre YMG must have sounded when they first set out nearly thirty years ago, against the English backdrop of the racket kicked up by the likes of The Fall, This Heat, and Throbbing Gristle. YMG were contemporaries of those bands, yet seem vastly separate from them in terms of sensibility and aims. “When you write music, you write the gaps in between as much as you write the music. There’s ways of making a sound full without having lots of instruments playing,” remarked Stuart Moxham, his general knack for understatement fully intact. Stuart’s trebly Rickenbacker (sometimes replaced by a synthesizer or homemade rhythm generator) is the fabric through which Philip’s bass—which he never seems to play below, like, the tenth fret—weaves in and out. And then there’s the matter of Ms. Statton. In an interview with Sounds’ Dave McCullough, Stuart Moxham summed up Alison Statton thus: “a disinterested voice singing about something that’s emotional,” and it’s precisely that—the un-self-aware, almost impossibly succinct and vaguely clinical description—that hints at what YMG got up to in their brief time as a group. Directness without the pretense of brashness or confrontation. Without any pretense at all, really. Music that could almost be called delicate if it wasn’t so coolly economical and deliberate. “Nature intended the abstract for you and me,” Allison sings on “N.I.T.A.,” and that pretty well sums up any attempt to write, or even think, about YMG. Listen to them and breathe in a rarefied air.

    When I first heard YMG, I felt like I had been let in on one of the greatest musical secrets of the twentieth century. Like being Stravinsky’s tailor, or the guy who sold Iggy his first pair of silver leather pants. Highly recommended listening.

    This entry was posted on Friday, December 5th, 2008 at 12:29 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

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