Friday, June 18, 2010

Flaming Tunes - Flaming Tunes (1985)

What exactly did Gareth Williams bring to the table during his tenure as a member of This Heat? For people who try to talk about that band, his presence provides a great amount of convenience, allowing for a binary to be established with Williams on one end and Charles and Charles on the other. Two formally trained musicians finding their voices within the British prog scene team up with a "non-musician" who serves as their foil. Take away Williams and they could have been Steely Dan. Throw him into the mix and shit gets totally crazy like if Brian Eno had been around to overdub his squishy farts all over Avalon.

But no, that's probably not actually the case. This Heat was just a band of wild and crazy guys, music theory scholars or not. The free improv faceshredding of "Rainforest" was probably born more out of Bullen and Hayward's desires to infuse their prog-rock pedigrees with genuine nihilism than whatever Williams was all about. They must have been thrilled to have him along for the ride, dicking around with keyboard sounds and tape loops and what have you, coming with a background in untainted primitivism that helped his more inescapably cerebral bandmates arrive at something more purely visceral.

To nobody's surprise, Gareth Williams's post-This Heat work isn't some kind of brainily orchestrated Univers Zero recalling RIO odyssey. Not that Charles Hayward's recordings made under the Camberwell Now name were either, but you did kind of get the sense that one of the main draws was the band element, three or however many individuals hammering away all workmanlike at those sexy mathematical grooves. Collaborating as Flaming Tunes, Gareth and friend Mary Currie created music that truly feels "assembled," as if they started by laying down four minutes of one sound and then adding another and another, resulting in music that depends on the ability of its repetitive, simple melodies to be honestly transfixing. I can't say whether or not that accurately describes how Williams and Currie worked, but it's a method that I've often fallen into as a musician, partly due to laziness and partly due to a natural curiosity to see respectable work built up from nothing.

This is the sort of composition style that I get a sense of whilst listening to the recorded output of Flaming Tunes, originally released on cassette 25 years ago. They were often misinterpreted by people as being "This Heat's final demo tapes" and the recordings are awfully crude sounding, but in terms of composition as well as sonics. There are vocal melodies but the closest thing to pop that the songs might resemble are very rough demos for some of the Another Green World vocal numbers, being more about how the drum machine rhythms and plinkety plonkety piano lines and whatever sounds are lurking behind them all manage to just kind of hang in the air as long as they need to, doing what they need to do, which isn't much. Mix that in with the arcane Britishness of it all (something I can't even begin to properly articulate) and I can't help but be reminded of other deconstructions of UK art rock like D.I. Go Pop, early Shadow Ring, Position Normal... yet rather than utilizing "found sounds" (even though they constitute a significant chunk of "Raindrops From Heaven" and probably pop up elsewhere, too), it's the music itself that ends up having a certain "found" aura about it. Maybe that's just the shitty recording quality, though, who the fuck knows. What I'm trying to say is that this CD is pretty all right.

Rating: I enjoy it. Bought it out of This Heat fandom and was kind of underwhelmed at first but it's a grower! I was always under the impression that Gareth's duties in This Heat did not cross over into the realms of the singing/writing of the vocal melodies but the tone of his voice and the things that he sings with it kind of suggest otherwise. Flaming Tunes doesn't quite reveal to the listener who brought what to This Heat but it does provide some fuel for speculation.

Download Link: "Beguiling The Hours"... maybe it's an okay example of what I've talked about so far, maybe it isn't quite that, but the melody is nice and coupled with the vocals it sort of reminds me of Syd Barrett's solo work. Which is a good thing.

1 comment:

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