Guest Blog: Simon Bookish on His Favorite Album of the Decade

Best of the Decade: Tarwater's Animals, Suns and Atoms

Feb 16, 2010 Web Exclusive By Leo Chadburn (aka Simon Bookish) Photography by Andy Willsher Bookmark and Share

Leo Chadburn is a classically-trained composer, vocalist, arranger, who goes under the name Simon Bookish and whose most recent album is 2008's Everything / Everything. Here he writes about one of his favorite albums of the last decade.

I think that numerology has become a cultural cliché in our Da Vinci Code/illuminati-obsessed/conspiracy-theory-riddled times. So, although I'm not 100% in accord with the significance of one decade rolling into the next, I would say that the years since 2000 have been a relatively well-defined journey for me, personally.

To begin with, I left college in 2001, so this decade has been concerned with finding my path (with varying success) as a professional musician. My priorities have completely changed during those nine years: I was a "classical composer" back then. In the intervening years I've strayed away into experimental music and pop, but funnily enough feel that I've been returning to a "classical" sensibility more and more in the last few years of the decade: my 2008 album was scored out in it's entirety before the recording began.

In 2000-2001, I was working in a record shop. I still feel that the experience of working there was a finer musical education than all the time I spent at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. I listened to more music (and a greater variety of music) in those two years than I have during the remainder of the decade. That shop was the (semi) legendary Reckless Records in Islington, North London (alleged inspiration behind Nick Hornby's novel High Fidelity). The shop itself stands as a marker of the passage of time, having ceased trading in 2007.

The staff at the time included members of long-since defunct, but brilliant bands Bridge and Tunnel and Klang, as well as ex-members of Stereolab, and several DJs who have since moved on to "proper" jobs. The clientele featured Irvine Welsh and MP Mo Mowlem, who has herself passed away since. I met Bob Stanley over the counter (he was a regular), which is how I ended up playing on the brilliant 2002 Saint Etienne album, Finisterre.

For many of us in London at the time, all the most exciting music was electronic. There seemed to be an amazingly vigorous, creative new world opening up, centered around some prolific labels such as Tigerbeat 6 and Planet Mu. This music was colorful, intelligent, open-minded, futuristic and uncompromising... and fun. I cleared the shop one afternoon by playing Lesser's album Gearhound and we all went home early.

London club promoter Matthew Glamorre started a night called Freezing Point (which morphed into the dressing-up box tomfoolery of Kash Point), whose brave music policy was "nothing before 2000." And musicians like Bishi and Patrick Wolf, Leafcutter John, Capitol K and Jo Apps started doing events together, whilst Knifehandchop and Kid 606 stayed on our sofa.

One record which really reminds me of those times is Tarwater's Animals, Suns and Atoms (2000), which we played in Reckless whenever we couldn't agree on what else to play. It had that combination of modern technology and pop aesthetics, humor and something a little sinister. Synthesizers sounded good (and new) again and the weird, dead-pan vocals didn't seem to refer to anything from the immediate past.

Tracks like the lurching, dissonant "The Trees," with its spiky synth strings loop and chanting, and the touching, preternaturally buoyant (thus creepy) pop song "Seven Ways to Fake a Perfect Skin," were incredibly timely. A very organic fusion of hip-hop, pop and what we've since stopped calling "Intelligent Dance Music."

Listening to it now, it doesn't sound quite so fresh, because a thousand people have sat at home with Reson and made a lo-fi/hi-fi pop album with wiggling electronic worms over the melodies and grainy samples, but it is still one of my favorite albums of the decade, since it really inspired me to get on with making some music of my own. It probably goes without saying that Tarwater ended up being increasingly overlooked, like a lot of the more innovative bands from that time.

The latter half of the decade hasn't been so inspirational, really, since a lot of musicians seem to have sank back into making something which resembles an escapist pastiche of the past, rather than something which looks to the future. It seems to me there's a disturbing rash of "genuine" rock bands around at the moment and colorless music which protests and self-identifies as "folk," without actually being "folk." Folk-ish and Jazz-ish and worst of all, Soul-ish are all around.

I'm much, much more looking forward to the amazing albums which I know are in the pipeline for this year now: Owen Pallett's Heartland, which is an inspired blast of creativity and musician-ly graft, scored for full orchestra, and the Irrepressible's Mirror, Mirror, which will be the first full-length by this extraordinary, theatrical, genuinely soulful band. I'm also hoping that new albums by my amazing friends Max de Wardener, Serafina Steer and Alice Grant (Normal Gimbel) will happen soon: intelligent, inspired people for an inspired new decade. Not that I believe in that sort of flaccid numerology, of course.


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March 29th 2010

it is still one of my favorite albums of the decade, since it really inspired me to get on with making some music of my own. It probably goes without saying that Tarwater ended up being increasingly overlooked, like a lot of the more innovative bands from that time.

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