ABOUT GROUP

 
 

Between The Walls is the third album by About Group, the quartet of John Coxon, Charles Hayward, Alexis Taylor and Pat Thomas.


"The songs appearing unannounced amongst improvisations had been our method for our very first gigs, albeit something of an unspoken and unplanned method", saysTaylor. 'That is the key to About Group in a way - that balance between songwriting and free playing, and a lack of clarity about which mode we will be in for any given amount of time.'


Between The Walls captures the sound of a band 'playing' together, in both senses of the word - experimenting and trying things, being playful, as much as being a group performing as a unit together. Between The Walls is the sound of people pushing towards and pulling against one another simultaneously. It is the sound of buzzing amplifiers, sudden musical non-sequiturs, loud blasts of straight synth lines cutting through melody and structure. And it is also the sound of beautiful and odd electronic textures and brilliantly defined and deliberate drums, underpining fragile but deliberate performances of sad songs and country ballads.


John Coxon: "What Pat, Charles and myself get out of playing with Alexis is really good unpretentious songwriting which gives a context for the playing - something that can be missing from a lot of improvising situations. And it's rare to have someone who can write such structurally straightforward songs but is open to them being destabilised and pushed around.


Also I love that for example in 'I Never Lock That Door' that Pat hears Dandy Livingston , and I hear Hank Williams or something. A group of four music obsessives with radically divergent experiences - Pat with Chuck Berry, Tony Oxley or Derek Bailey, Charles with This Heat or Bill Laswell, me with Spiritualized, Spring Heel Jack or Evan Parker, Alexis with Hot Chip, his solo stuff and DJing in big places - it's a strange combination. And the songs do proceed - they're so explicit compared to instrumental music."


While the push-pull interplay of the four musicians is still the overriding feature of Between The Walls, the additional textures of occasional backing vocals and overdubs creates a record that has an equilibrium pitched between straight ahead freestyle playing/unrehearsed performance, and the dynamics and arrangements of songwriting.


The origins for Between the Walls followed the Group’s usual working methods explainsTaylor:


"After finishing a video shoot at a recording studio, we recorded a 45 minute improvised performance, which forms the basis of about half this album. ‘After Video’, ‘Walk On By’ (originally an improvisation without words which then became ‘Walk On By’), ‘All Is Not Lost’, ‘Nightlife’ and ‘Untitled’ all stem from that session, with little alteration. And most of that was played continuously and none of it involved a set list or any preparation.’


The choice of instruments and sound sources on Between The Walls is as distinct and deliberate as the group’s studio methodology. On 'Make The World Laugh’ and especially ‘Nightlife / Sinking’, the use of a Hammond organ, dry-but-dirty guitar sounds and loose drum shuffles evoke a session in the Hi Records / Stax studios.  By contrast ‘Walk On By’ is as much underpinned as it is led astray by the Juno 60 synthesizer arpeggiating away wildly and and at times leading the song into new keys and directions.


‘I'd never played the Juno 60 before and Pat used the Arp 2600 which was also new to him. We brought things with us like the Prophet 08 synthesizer which brings a much less 'vintage' sound and helps distance you from the warmer more soully sound of Hammonds and drums which remind us of classic records we love but can also keep you in a slightly 'classic' zone.


On ‘Words’ the sound palette is of a wholly different character with the Prophet 08 and an electronic tambura disrupting the tonality of the piece. Given the overall live sound of the record the various synths take on a distinct character in their unmixed form, overwhelming the other instruments before fading away as the pressure on their keys relaxes. The effect is disorienting, as sounds weave in and out with each other creating disparate atmospheres within the space of a few bars.


The sense of the unexpected runs through ‘Between The Walls’. Not  an improvised album and certainly not just a set of songs the record is a document of creative experimentation given free reign.


Alexis Taylor:  "I think the excitement of making music is what I can hear in this record. John's guitars on 'Love Because' make me think of buzzing flies swinging wildly around the musical centre of the situation. That the centre is unstable as no one knows what song I am playing, makes me think of the controlled chaos of Like Flies On Sherbert or a Cramps record, but ours sounds like it is playing at half speed."


If you sit this song next to 'Graph Paper' or 'Words' which both seem to inhabit a peculiarly dead, ambience-less studio space, you hear how this record is one where multiple worlds seem to collide, or maybe collude perhaps, in spite of themselves - and all sounds between the studio walls are treated equally, and captured with such liveliness that you can't escape them.