Rightly, or wrongly I feel very sophisticated and urbane for owning copies of Rachel’s Handwriting and the 12″ remixes of Full on Night. A far hipper friend had taped this LP for me when it came out in 1995 and it was not until 2008 that I tracked down a copy on Ebay and I was very glad I did. This is a sumptuously packaged LP, the slightly dopey looking angel on the front is a rubbing from a gravestone, the sleeve is printed on Fox River Evergreen Cord Chestnut 80lb (oh yes!) and drop of the band’s blood was added to each colour ‘for authenticity’. There is a small CD booklet in the LP full of enigmatic pictures and lines of poetry. Yes folks, we’re in serious art country here.
Handwriting is like nothing else I own, it is closer to modern classical music than anything else, although that doesn’t tell the whole story because the best bits also make use of tape loops, distortion and electric guitar. Mrs 1537, a more knowledgeable soul than I on such topics, tells me they sound like Michael Nyman in places. That’s not to say that this music is laid back, or of a uniform nature at all, it isn’t. ‘Frida Kahlo’ is a delicate piano piece, ‘M Daguerre’ is a slightly, off-centre, woozy strolling jazz/classical hybrid, whereas ‘Saccharin’ is a desperately sad, comparatively straight-forward semi-classical piece – a more restrained cousin and forerunner of, my favourites, Godspeed You! Black Emperor. The purposeful ‘Southbound to Marion’ is also a favourite of mine.
The key track on Handwriting for me is ‘Full on Night’ which at just shy of 14 minutes is an epic in length and scope. Starting off as a piece for band and strings it evolves at the 6-minute mark into an extraordinary collage of ghostly train noises, snippets of dialogue and distorted effects. Listening to it last night in a darkened room – surely always the best way of listening to instrumental music? it sounded to me like the soundtrack to an impossibly bleak noir thriller. I can see the last 8 minutes pushing some people’s tolerance levels but I absolutely love it. The final, short, track of chamber music ‘Handwriting’ is a great way of finishing the LP after ‘Full on Night’.
As always when we cruise down Music-as-serious-art boulevard we run the risk of turning down Pretentious-humourless-shit Street and sometimes this can just depend on the listener’s mood and state of mind. I think Rachel’s swerve this because of the sheer quality on display here, this is headily inventive, emotive stuff.
I also forked out for Full on Night which is billed as ‘Rachel’s and Matmos decompose, invert, chop, splice, reconstruct and re-write the song ‘Full on Night”. With a gorgeous moody cover, moon, trees, water and beautiful thick vinyl, there is another CD-style booklet with even more enigmatic pictures and writings. It is interesting to hear what the band do to this track, 5 years after they made it. Rachel’s ‘Recension’ mix stops and starts a bit, gets a bit clangy late on and rocks out a bit at the close; I prefer the original – more train noises. The Matmos ‘Full on Night – The Precise Temperature of darkness mix’ just frightens me, there is a real sense of foreboding carried along by its skittering, glitching beats and then after a further 8 minutes of dread it all ends with a sound like the end of the world recorded in a music shop. I can appreciate it as a piece of work, but I don’t subject myself to it very often. I would imagine that the sort of life events it might soundtrack particularly well, such as being chased through the forests of the Pacific Northwest by bow-armed cannibals, or drowning in a swamp, are not those where you have easy access to your vinyl. Fact.
I would heartily recommend Handwriting to anyone with the need for a bit more soundtrack in their lives, or just sad vinyl fetishists like myself.