A marvellous little record where improvisation rubs shoulders with immediacy.
Daniel Ross 2011-04-07
With a name so infuriatingly clever-clever as About Group, it’d be easy to dismiss this new venture from knowing brainiacs including Alexis Taylor of Hot Chip as being something of an in-joke, an indulgent project to tide its members over. However, it’s equally easy to be pleasantly surprised by what About Group have managed to compose with seemingly miniscule effort. This is a totally different group to Hot Chip and, indeed, different to Charles Hayward (This Heat), John Coxon (Spiritualized) and Pat Thomas’ (Derek Bailey) previous work also. Recorded in just one day and with minimal preparation (to maintain spontaneity), it’s a marvellous little record that shows what can be done with simplicity as your bedfellow.
The (original) songs are all Taylor’s, but they show a notably more subdued and, pleasingly, far more melodically inventive than anything he’s recorded with Hot Chip. Granted, it won’t necessarily endear itself to fans of any of the group’s day-job engagements, but you’d go a long way before finding another record that sounded so natural. Gently galloping drums on A Sinking Song are kept in check by a loved-up vocal, while the funk-wah guitar of Nothing But Words is borderline-indecently cheesy, but again tempered by the atmosphere of languorous collaboration. It seems that the no-rehearsal approach has engendered some surprising dynamic elements.
Being made up of 13 vignettes and an 11-minute re-imagining of Harvey Averne and Terry Riley’s You’re No Good tucked in before the end, it’s constructed with little attention to flow, possibly indicating even further that this is a record made for its creators. But a little patience with it goes a long way, and gradually even the noodly incessancy of the Averne/Riley track is on the way to becoming loveable. Of course, the shorter numbers work much better and are more immediately satisfying, and perhaps just a little extra preparation on this epic would’ve made a positive difference.
It’s largely due to the sense of loose, casual but involved musical fellowship that Start & Complete is successful, along with Taylor’s beautiful songlets. Tripping, reactionary piano solos delightfully clutter his attempts at balladry, letting us know that no matter how much these songs might’ve been thought about and pored over, they’re ultimately subservient to the impish tendencies of the musicians playing them. In an age where most pop and rock is borne of precision engineering and attention to detail, that’s rather heartening.