Somnambule - Writing About Music

Spring Heel Jack ~ Oddities

The patent and copyright on the cd’s back cover is 2000. It’s released by Thirsty Ear, but it’s not a part of the Blue Series. The six titles look a bit of a ragbag (a 2nd piece, a version 4). The distributor claims it’s a companion piece to Masses, but there’s not actually much evidence of that. The typography on the front cover looks like somebody did it with a felt tip pen on a barmat and the image doesn’t appear to bear relation to anything much. Oh and remember - the cd’s called Oddities. Must be a hodgepodge, outtakes affair – something you might spot, lift out of the cd racks because you like Spring Heel Jack’s stuff, but then maybe think better of and put back. Big mistake.

‘Root’ starts off with guitar figures heard through and increasingly submerged by layers of near-orchestral and electronic sound like a stormtide engulfs a beach.

‘The Road to the Western Lands’ appears to employ exactly the same recording of William Burroughs as used by Bill Laswell for his Material album Seven Souls. Spring Heel Jack eschew the rhythmic patterns of the Material production in favour of a sympathetically eery ambience threaded with saxophone notes, stately piano chord and occasional vibes in a sympathetic treatment.

‘Trouble’ continues the dark atmosphere with what sounds like threatening fireworks in a dark night. This almost 12 minute track sounds like a parallel to Eno’s On Land where musical instruments are used to produce non-musical ambience, though in this case the result is generally a lot noisier, with the exception of an interlude of almost humorous lightness towards the end.

Shine a Light’ (a Jason Pierce composition) is a beatless, beatific humalong of a melody.

‘2nd Piece for LaMonte Young’ is a rich tectonic movement which begins groaning and shrieking and ends in a high beautiful place in the rafters, tones singing, long slow sirens sounding.

‘Piece for Six Turntables, version 4’ is a BBC Festival Commission clocks in at over 16 minutes. This, as with the preceding pieces betrays a strong sense of severe drama recalling orchestral modernism. Coxon’s guitarwork here is graphic, tactile.

Oddities reveals a rich, dark seam of possibilities. It’s dark, gorgeous music and makes me wonder how deep this seam penetrates – is there more or is the cupboard bare now? It’s difficult but accessible (if that’s not too much of an oxymoron for you). Don’t pass this one by.
Colin Buttimer
February 2003
Published by the BBC