13. Marquee Moon – Television [9:58]
Released as: a single from the album Marquee Moon .
What’s it about? Like much of Television’s output, Marquee Moon takes an artsy look at the New York of the late 1970s. It’s grimy, mired in dreamy, amateur poetics and somewhat proggy at heart, despite being so rough and raggedy around the edges. Television may have looked ramshackle, but the ‘jazz-inspired interplay, melodic lines, and counter-melodies’ betray something altogether more ambitious and pretentious, right down to Tom Verlaine’s impressionistic lyrics, which are obtuse and difficult.
Length explored: Marquee Moon is the definitive long song of the New York new wave period. Released in the UK as a 12” single in April 1977, the special limited edition disc (a run of only 25,000) featured a stereo and mono version on its respective sides. I recently acquired a copy, and it’s wonderful. The angular guitars, spitting drums and whimpered vocals sit very neatly alongside the punk scene, but alongside it they very much are: this is ‘punk’ in exactly the same sense as Talking Heads were – inspired but without the aggravation.
Is this the best version? The 12” single and original-issue vinyl LP from 1977 both use a 9:58 take of the song, which fades out just as the song starts back round again. The full 10:40 cut (used on subsequent re-CD releases) isn’t much different, but it does give you a fraction more time to melt around the room… so I’d go for that.
14. Movement 4 – Susanne Sundfør [13:30]
Released as: a song from the album A Night at Salle Pleyel .
What’s it about? Recorded live at Oslo Jazzfestival, on 18th August 2011, Susanne Sundfør’s instrumental album was (according to the artist), written mostly in a Paris hotel room whilst inebriated – but honestly, you can’t tell. A baroque-inspired synthesiser masterwork, the record leans heavily on tropes of European classical masters, resulting in something that sounds a whole lot older than it is. Tonally, …Salle Pleyel recalls Wendy Carlos’ ‘60s experiments with Bach and, to some extent, her work on the soundtrack to Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of A Clockwork Orange.
Length explored: A Night at Salle Pleyel runs for forty-seven minutes across six movements. I’ve included #4 here purely as it’s the longest, but for fans of electronic music and/or those darker, Scandinavian songwriting sensibilities I heartily recommend you digest this in one. The music is spacious, brooding and, in places, sinister. This section in particular relies heavily on traditional keyboard instrument textures – harpsichords, clavinets and organs – and naturally (to my ears at least) this creates a work which toys with religious connotations, concerning hymns and churches specifically.
Is this the best version? It’s the only version! Sundfør has never revisited these compositions, live or in the studio.
15. Aurore – Heldon [18:14]
Released as: a song from the album Third – “It’s Always Rock ‘n’ Roll” .
What’s it about? I was recently in Reckless Records, on Berwick Street in London. I normally expect to be driven out of their store by something totally nauseating screaming through the sound-system – they’re infamous for it. Death metal, industrial drone – you name it. If it hurts, they’ll be playing it. My last visit was different, however. Upon asking at the counter what they were playing, I was handed the sleeve to Heldon’s Third – “it’s not for sale” the guy told me. No wonder. It’s bloody magical – and rare as hen’s teeth.
Length explored: Heldon’s Third varies quite considerably throughout its mammoth eighty minute run-time. So much so that I returned to Reckless Records’ counter two further times to ask if the record had been changed. Aurore – the album’s longest track – spans the entirety of the four-side album’s second side. Mixed with quite violently panning into a stereo swathe, Aurore crawls between your ears, through your brain and into your mind, for the duration of its near twenty minutes. It’s the best and most interesting drone ambience I’ve ever come across – for despite utilising only one chord, it travels a remarkable distance, scaling and modulating hypnotically.
Is this the best version? Heldon’s discography is incredibly hard to come by. The original vinyl is extremely expensive, and the CD reissues are mostly American – so you can expect to pay heavy import duties. It appears that a European label have officially reissued the disc and this is available through Bandcamp, though thanks to that platform’s low-quality preview streams, I can’t tell if the recording is any good. They also seem to have pressed CDs and vinyl, but I’m not sure if this is the same issue… head over to Discogs and check it out.