Reuben are my favourite band. I reckon they always will be too; in my relatively short-lived music obsession Reuben are the longest standing favourites – I got into them in late 2006, shortly before their split and I’ve literally just fallen deeper in love with them as the years go on. The band’s story begins in the late 90s, and several name changes and lineup switches later, in 2004, Reuben released their debut album Racecar Is Racecar Backwards. Criminally underappreciated, the record had two singles, “Moving To Blackwater” and “Freddy Kreuger” which charted decently for a band of their credo and allowed them to be nominated for Kerrang’s Best British Newcomer Award.
The record is in my opinion, a British classic. We open with the blistering "No-One Wins The War", a blasting drum intro into one of Reuben’s trademark discordant riffs, and lyrics discussing vocalist Jamie Lenman’s approach to life as well as their contemporaries: “Hell is for heroes/They got another single out/They’re my contemporaries/A top 40 smash no doubt”. For the rest of the 48 minutes of the album, you’re hooked. Reuben’s literally perfect balance between heavy and melody (which literally every band you listen to will talk about when discussing their newest albums) was struck in their debut, and is so fascinating, particularly in combination with the ambitious spectrum of songs – the fact that "Missing Fingers" and “Horror Show” are on the same record is astonishing. With Horror Show’s ambling drum beat and alt-rock guitar work, it seems like the record would be just another British indie disaster – but Horror Show’s got these nuances to it that makes it far and above better than any other British rock band around at the time.
Guy Davis’ complex drumming is present in every song, from the truly insane "Fall Of The Bastille" to the simple, but effective "Parties Break Hearts", his off-kilter brand of drumming is consistent – making even the simplest, cleanest riffs sound heavy if he wants them to. Few drummers can actually build atmosphere on top of rhythm. Jon Pearce’s bass is just as worthy of the classic status I impose on Reuben – with beautiful interpolations when the guitar stops, and a healthy thickness to every guitar riff that we hear, the bass feels like a rhythm guitar. Jamie Lenman’s guitar work is incredible, playing in a variety of tunings and styles to produce really nice, quilted guitar sounds that are at once warm and sharp – the closer, Dusk’s transition from bluesy strumming to a heavy as fuck riff that doesn’t at any point sacrifice the melancholy note of the song.
The lyrics are amazing, finding a suitable line to represent the album’s mastery is a task in itself, but I chose Dusk’s upset, bitter tones: “So you are beginning to choke/How can you not see the joke?/The sound of your voice still rings in my ears/it’s tired and angry/and quiet all these years/the situation/it tears us apart/we joke about it/make jokes of ourselves”. My love for this album spans seas, cities, space. If you do one thing today, have a listen to at least a couple of tracks from this simply amazing album.
Eminem - The Way I Am
It started the longest and most fruitful love affair I’ve had in music – hip hop. As far as I can tell, Eminem was instrumental in drawing a lot of ’90-’95 born kids into the hip hop world and I was no exception.
Slipknot - Duality
Yes it’s corny but it just so happens that just at the turn of my teens I was trying to get a girl to like me and she listened to all this heavy metal so I asked her for some good metal tunes and she recommended this. I mean, yeah, I wouldn’t listen to it very much now just because I’m not into Slipknot but it’s still a pretty big deal in terms of what happened after.
Pendulum - Fasten Your Seatbelt
The song that taught me that all electronic music wasn’t the kind that chavs played out of their Sony Ericssons at 3:20 on a Friday afternoon. It was the first “drum and bass” song I jammed to and it started a long and fruitful relationship.
Reuben - Suffocation Of The Soul
The band that I would call my all time favourite, Reuben took a while to grow on me but I think they’re just the perfect band. “Suffocation of the Soul” was the turning point, when I heard that epic minute-long scream from frontman Jamie Lenman.
Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosuars - Household Goods
This is the song that made me want to produce music in the style that I do now, the song that made me realise where electronic music was going and that woke me up to TEED.
Pink Floyd - Comfortably Numb
Prior to the age of eleven, music with neither an important nor a pleasant phenomena in my life; it had not become the all-pervading, omnipresent God it is to me now, and was still very much a minor deity, only manifesting itself in my life in the guise of gimmicky bubblegum pop at Primary School Disco Jelly And Cake Binge-fests, or the Shania Twain-stained car rides to which I was subjected whenever travelling anywhere with my mother (even at that tender age, such experiences made me pray for psychokinetic abilities, if only so it would enable me to make the car swerve off the road, taking my mother, and her pick-up truck-eulogizing country-pop music with it). Besides the feelings I had towards the lyrics of the Pokemon theme tune at that age, treating it almost as a national anthem, I cannot boast having felt passionately about any one piece of music till I heard Comfortably Numb by Pink Floyd, the live version, from the Is There Anybody Out There? album (otherwise known as The Wall: Live); a rock opera about a troubled musician known as Pink, who in response to all the pain, trauma, and disaffection of his life, constructs a metaphorical wall around himself, wherein he goes insane, imagines himself a great dictator, engages in all the violent frolic dictators commonly engage in to pass the time, before eventually being held on trial by all the people who caused him to build a wall around himself in the first place, all of whom find him guilty, and, as a punishment, sentence this self-same wall to be torn down, leaving him naked, vulnerable and bleeding once again. The pinnacle of the album, Comfortably Numb describes the part of Pink’s career in which, almost hebephrenically unresponsive to those around him, he becomes enamoured with his feverish isolation and dictatorial delusions and is loathe to leave his comfortably benumbed state, despite the exhortations of the doctor attempting to revive him for the show he is about to perform. From the haunting, invidious voice of Roger Waters portraying the Doctor, who all but climbs in your ear and seductively dismembers your synapses, to the piercing, chorus-marinated guitar solo by David Gilmour at the song’s climax — which led me to pick up a guitar myself — the song is a visceral and febrile piece of music, as beautiful as it is flagellating, and, on the first listen, had an effect on me like a fever dream, like catching meningitis in Toys ‘R‘ Us: infecting my everyday life with fear and phantasmagoria, but, in the aftermath, always looked on with vehement fondness, adoration and nostalgia. Not only did this song lead me to become the multi-instrumentalist and composer I am today, it gave me a passport to a world of music and soundscapes I have been illegally smuggling myself back into ever since.
Soft Machine - Facelift
Before the age of Spotify and YouTube when you didn’t have the luxury of listening to an album before you’d bought it and then just illegally downloading it anyway, you had to find new music the old fashioned way: by going into a music store other than HMV, finding the CD with the most surrealistic album cover or absurd/sexually allusive track listing, handing over the £10 or so it cost to a bearded guru all but levitating above the cash register and sweating incense, taking said CD home, and hoping, that when placed in the CD drive, what came out of the speakers would not be the audio equivalent of a pigeon caught in a lawnmower being manned by a pre-emptive taxidermist. I bought the album Third by Soft Machine in just this fashion, imploring my mother to let me order it off Amazon without having heard any of the music first, solely because I’d heard the band’s name mentioned in conjunction with Pink Floyd and because the album was extolled for its ‘weirdness’. At that age, the phrase ‘this is weird and unlistenable’ was almost always readily translatable as ’BUY ME AND THUS EXPAND THE PARAMETERS OF YOUR OWN WEIRDNESS, REUBEN, YOU DETESTABLY ECCENTRIC FUCK’, so buy the album I did, and I did not regret it. From the very first moment I placed Third in the disc drive and started listening to the opening track, Facelift, a twenty minute, experimental, Jazz Fusion and Noise composition — (small-fry for a person whose most recent listening material has consisted of hour long Drone Metal songs) — I felt intensely nauseated. It made me feel sick. I felt both car sick and seasick at the same time, when, in actuality, I was moving nowhere but in the maelstrom of the strange, upsetting music assailing my ears. A tour de force of fusion-driven atonality, I couldn’t even recognise the sounds I was hearing. The track begins with a drone over which screeches what sounds like a vacuum cleaner attempting to play an alto saxophone, which, becoming increasingly frustrated with its efforts, decides to take out its anger on the listener. What follows is no less abrasive, progressing through unmapped terrains of out of tune Indian music, bitchin’ 5/4 bass grooves played over no less bitchin’ 5/4 alto sax riffs, flute interludes, what sounds like two different sections of the song being played at the same time, culminating in a return to one of the opening themes being abused by studio effects and played in reverse. After having weathered all twenty minutes of this, I felt as though I’d actually undergone a Facelift, and, in a manner of speaking, I had, for the Face I had when I came out the other end was not one of the deformed, horror movie faces of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Elephant Man, or Peter Bogdanovich’s Mask, but the happy, enlightened face of one of who has just had a conversation with god and discovered he wears a beret.
Frank Zappa - Catholic Girls
On the eve before the morning of my very first week-long whiskey hangover, I met a man who was to change my life forever. The father of a girl I was inexplicably smitten with at the time, we had a brief, though epoch-making chat about music after he’d dropped her off, in which he promised to burn some CDs for me, and, true to his word, did just that, amongst them a copy of the Cheap Thrills compilation by Frank Zappa. Having heard Zappa’s name invoked often but having never heard any of his music, I had no idea what to expect. I was immediately bamboozled by the manic eclecticism of the opening track, Catholic Girls [live], with its cartoon character vocals, funk bass, sudden unexpected mergings into big band music lauding the singularity of oral sex delivered by the titular subject of the song, two note guitar solo, unbelievable passages of tossed-off syncopation and sax solos. I didn’t understand the music at all. I couldn’t understand what it was trying to do. It didn’t seem to be aspiring to be beautiful or psychologically transportive like the Prog Rock to which I was accustomed; in fact, it seemed like it was trying to do the exact opposite — as though it was trying to piss me off, to be ugly, to make me annoyed, or lose my patience — I couldn’t make sense of it all. But, alas, like many things in my life that I meet with initial confusion or hostility, I came to love it, and became a frantic devotee of Frank Zappa and proud owner of most of his albums: no mean feat considering he had upward of eighty of them. The most important thing that Zappa taught me is that ‘The Emperor isn’t wearing any clothes, and never has been.’ Life is not a trial or a race for survival but an endless joke for which we are forever postponing the punchline; and if anyone gets offended by this, or takes it all too seriously, be sure you have a whoopee cushion poised at the ready for when the nincompoop sits downs.
Captain Beefheart - Frownland
Getting into the music of Captain Beefheart is like deliberately deciding to stick your head up a cow’s rear end: most people lack the temerity to try it in the first place, and those who do, shocked by the stench and appalling interior decor, quickly remove themselves, and expunge all memories of the incident from their minds. Those who stay do not do so by choice; they find themselves caught in the fetid shackles of the cow’s constricting sphincter, unwilling tenant to a room in which the wallpaper consists of the best of what four stomachs and a diet of grass have to offer. Unpleasant at the offing, but, after a prolonged tenancy, the anally-bound prisoner finds themselves perceiving a strange beauty and spasmodic artistry in the malodorous barrage of the cow’s bowel movements, and, succumbing to this Stockholm Syndrome, refuses to leave, even when the paramedics arrive with The Jaws of Life and a novelty-cheque-sized tube of Anusol in tow. Such was my reaction when I first heard Frownland by Captain Beefheart from the Troutmaskreplica album. Anticipating an album of colourful Jazz, I was bewildered to hear an opening track only 1 minute and forty-five seconds long, in which each member of the band seemed to be allowing themselves to play whatever they wanted, so long as it AT NO POINT, corresponded with what the other band members were doing, while Beefheart himself, in his proto-Tom Waits voice, roared abstract poetry over the top: but the band were not just making it up as they went along; they knew every note, could play it backwards and forwards if they wanted to, had spend over a year in prison camp-like confinement ensuring that they could do so: I was the small-minded one for not being able to see the discipline and composition in their chaos, not they for making music above my limited comprehension. Beefheart taught me to always have the patience to find the patterns in madness, even if you go mad yourself in the process, for it is much better to go mad and be enlightened, than to be trapped in the thralls of a rigidified sanity that thinks itself above such things; such a boxed-in perspective is a more terrible place to be than even the most flatulent of cow’s anuses, and not a fate I would wish on anyone.