About Group | WIG271 | Released: 17/04/11
There are many surprising things indeed to be discovered in the course of listening to Start and Complete, the new album from About Group, but perhaps none more so than the beautifully unorthodox genesis of the band itself.
Comprising Alexis Taylor (Hot Chip), Charles Hayward (This Heat), John Coxon (Spring Heel Jack, Spiritualized) and Pat Thomas, who has played with the likes of Derek Bailey, Tony Oxley and others, the band originally formed to make a record of improvised music for the Treader label in 2009, having never played together as a whole before the day it took them to make their first album. After a clutch of live performances (supporting Gang Gang Dance, playing Ornette Coleman’s Meltdown Festival and even Glastonbury, among others) they regrouped to record this album.
Start And Complete is the highly engaging result; recorded in one day at Abbey Road, Studio 2, and mixed over three days on Conny Plank’s old desk, at Mark Ralph’s London studio. The songs were written by Taylor over the last few years and some, but not all of them, were given out as a CD in piano/vocal demo form for the other members of the group to hear a few days before the studio date. The idea was that no one band member would know the songs well enough to have specific parts, or be prevented from playing something like the first ideas that came into their head.
What followed was a collection of songs created in an atmosphere of close listening and instinctive group interplay. The instruments used are a rotating line up of drums, Wurlitzer, organ, piano, electric guitar and electronic textures, ensuring About Group combine a live-in-the-studio band feel around Taylor’s yearning vocal lines. The band’s instincts for experimentation make for subtle shifts in direction and tone, particularly when Thomas’ electronic flourishes move centre stage, blurring the line between improvisation and songwriting structure.
On "Don’t Worry" and "Lay Me Down", Taylor’s keyboard vamps, along with Coxon and Taylor's wah guitars and the shuffling beat, suggest what a vintage Muscle Shoals session might sound like in the abstract. And on their re-interpretation of Harvey Averne/Terry Riley’s "You’re No Good", the band stretch out over ten minutes. Locking into a groove they cut loose into a sustained Kosmiche workout, propelled by one of Hayward’s signature and unique drum parts and Coxon’s almost-soloing on the guitar – showing they are as adept at a head-nodding jam as the elegant constructions of the album’s shorter pieces. Taken in total, Start and Complete is a richly rewarding and constantly fascinating listening experience, not to mention an inspired act of musicianship which pays off with handsome dividends.