Post-punk outfit’s ambitious second LP of 1981 should be considered a classic.
Chris Power 2011
If The Raincoats’ beautifully scrappy self-titled debut seemed to hail from a different territory than most of its post-punk peers, then its follow-up, 1981’s Odyshape, was from an entirely different planet. While the first album had employed a traditional guitar/bass/drums set-up bolstered by the plaintive and dissonant violin of Vicky Aspinall, Odyshape added instruments such as balophone, shruti box and kalimba to the band’s panoply.
More than the exotic instrumentation, though, it’s the extraordinary structures of Odyshape’s songs that distinguish it. They don’t so much begin and end as ebb and flow in a way that, historically, seems to have bewildered at least as many listeners as it’s beguiled. Take album opener Shouting Out Loud, which begins as an aching mid-tempo ballad carried along on an intricately picked bassline. Aspinall’s torrid violin shifts it into more uneasy territory before the song recedes into an extended instrumental outro of pattering drums, harshly plucked strings and spidery guitar work of the sort Marc Ribot would employ a few years later on Tom Waits’ Rain Dogs.
Such freeform song structures are typical of Odyshape. The doomy folk of Dancing in My Head develops into dub reggae via Kashmir, Kadir Durvesh’s shehnai (an Indian oboe) curling above a robust skank generated, remarkably, by the cello of Georgie Born. The title-track is tense, dishevelled art-rock drenched in splashing cymbals. Family Treet proceeds from breathy sorrow into desperation. Only Loved at Night, Odyshape’s most immediately engaging song, might depend on a powerful guitar hook but it regularly shifts into sparse breaks outlined only by the plucked tones of a thumb piano and clock-like percussion. Wherever these songs start, they never go where you expect them to.
Palmolive, who had drummed in The Slits before joining The Raincoats, left the band after their debut album. Robert Wyatt, Charles Hayward (of This Heat), Richard Dudanski and short-lived band member Ingrid Weiss (mother of Kitty, Daisy & Lewis) play on various tracks, but the percussive elements of a given song are as likely to be produced by Aspinall’s violin, Born’s cello or a pair of claves as by anything approaching a traditional trap set. The band’s lack of a permanent drummer during the writing and recording of Odyshape might explain the fluid dynamics coursing through all these songs. Another possibility is that, drummer or no drummer, this was simply one of those moments when some very talented songwriters, influenced by the right things at the right time, produced a unique album. It should be considered a classic.