‘Five Albums That Made Me’ is a weekly series written by TCOS’ favourite artists discussing five albums that have shaped their sound, musical outlook and career. There’s no limit on genre or passion – just a firsthand insight into the artists’ influences. This week we’re joined by the members of Bristol-based art-punk group LICE. After a string of singles in 2019 and ’20, they released their debut album ‘WASTELAND: What Ails Our People Is Clear’ (hereby referred to as WASTELAND) in January this year to critical acclaim. Listen to their track ‘R.D.C.’ while you read below…
Hive – The Naturals
Alastair Shuttleworth (Vocals): The debut album Hive by Bristol experimental rock band The Naturals sound-tracked my early experiences in the city’s underground scene: experiences which underpinned my personal artistic ambitions with LICE, my work in journalism and broadcasting, and my love of experimental music itself. They formed in their early teenage years, playing indie indebted to the likes of Bloc Party, and In their late-teens grew increasingly interested in dub and industrial before coming under the wing of experimental circle Young Echo. This not only provided an incubator for the guitarists’ later work as Giant Swan, but anticipated a cross-pollination that defines much of Bristol’s new avant-garde music – the subject of a piece I would eventually write for The Guardian.
Hive is a towering feat of imagination that blew apart all my preconceived notions of what a guitar band could do, and remains a continual source of inspiration to me six years on. It had an important impact on our approach to WASTELAND. Their commitment to achieving cold, alien sounds using conventional instruments and rudimentary effects heavily influenced our pursuits, while their live shows directly inspired my own use of vocal manipulation. Listening to the album again as I write, the developing arpeggio that opens ‘Cold People’ points to our ambitions with our own album to reconcile our interests in minimalism and industrial.
While our album is an extremely different project on all counts – lyrically, aesthetically, conceptually – Hive always stood in my mind as a yardstick by which our debut should be measured, and my personal belief that “WE DID IT” (that a candle can indeed be held to it by our album) fills me with joy beyond any accolade.
Holding Hands With Jamie – Girl Band
Gareth Johnson (Bass): I remember bumping into Girl Band’s KEXP session on YouTube early on during university and, honestly, at the time did not know how to to process the music. I picked up the CD of their debut record Holding Hands With Jamie from Bristol record store RISE shortly after and it absolutely knocked me for six, hearing guitars making noises I didn’t know they could make and seeing the way they played their instruments, It was all wholly new to me. The nearest thing I’d heard was METZ who, while noisy and incredibly abrasive, were still very much rooted in punk music. Girl Band really didn’t fit that mould. They retained those similar abrasive elements but it seemed to come from another place entirely, the arrangements and dynamics were more akin to electronic music than anything I’d heard in ‘guitar music’ at the time.
Bassist Daniel Fox seems to have abandoned typical playing styles, instead adopting a slide for most of his parts, playing chords and harmonics and using a barrage of effects. His experimental attitude was something I admired greatly at the time and I learned massive amounts from, but adopting the more unusual, effect-laden tones and atypical techniques only started to weave it’s way into my playing much further down the line, heard more-so on WASTELAND than our earlier works. The music on Holding Hands With Jamie still resonates with me today as much as it did back then. Every time I listen it sounds fresh and unique. It’s a record totally in it’s own league.
The Desert Music – Steve Reich
Silas Dilkes (Guitar): Reminiscing, there is certainly some juncture in the writing of Wasteland at which Minimalist music started to affect our thinking and approach. At this point my choices were all Steve Reich compositions, including the Third Movement of ‘City Life’, ‘Nagoya Marimbas’ and ‘Different Trains’. But none bewitched me more than The Desert Music. Just before our album writing properly began I had moved to Cambridge for work. As LICE’s hub (and more importantly gear) remained in Bristol, each writing weekend was preluded by a late Friday night drive from my flat down to Gareth’s flat in London, and eventually to the Old England pub in Bristol. While Gareth and I often entertained ourselves on the M4 by listening to a selection of promo CD’s he acquired from the record shop he worked at, I spent the solitary segment of my journey accompanied by The Desert Music.
The denser orchestration mingling with the classic Steve Reich hallmarks resonated with me the most. The piece possesses the typical selection of sweeping pulsations and entwined moments of different melodies, with each slowly revealing more about themselves, but here each motif climaxes in a grander style, underpinned by a constant rattling from a marimba or vibraphone. I recently bought a vinyl copy of a rendition by the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas. The sleeve presents an interview with Reich discussing the piece and its name. He explains that vocal excerpts within are quotes from poetry by the Puerto Rican-American poet William Carlos Williams: “Man has survived hitherto because he was too ignorant to know how to realize his wishes. Now that he can realize them, he must either change them or perish”. Reich relates the title to specific deserts which were subject to various nuclear weapon testing. In doing so, the piece’s atmosphere reflects not the sounds of a desert, but Reich’s paranoia regarding the consequences of Williams’ quote.
Miss Machine – The Dillinger Escape Plan
Bruce Bardsley (Drums): Despite coming back to it occasionally for what must be almost a decade, the Dillinger Escape Plan’s Miss Machine still reminds me where my heart lies musically. It confounds me that people can write and play these songs. It’s obscenely dense and complex, which is impressive but not what makes it memorable. The complexity is never superficial, the rhythms, variations, syncopations never feel technical for the sake of it, they seem perfectly placed to create a cacophonous sound which distorts and jolts. The drum sound is a mix of lo-fi heaviness and clear articulation. Beyond incredible speed, groove, dynamics and precision, drummer Chris Penne incorporates electronic effects and noises which deepen the sound and mood. Despite being a dense wall of noise, it never gets tiring, and the mood changes through the album into more hooky songs. Each individual track has so much variation within them, so I find it continually refreshing.
The switches between sections and tempos, from grindcore to jazzy breaks, is a feature which eliminates any sense of predictability. It’s a playfulness which is incredibly satisfying and still makes me smile. Many other bands can be heavy and technical, but The DEP manage to be both heavier and more technical than almost anyone, but simultaneously the most musically ambitious and captivating. When scrolling through the comments on YouTube for this album, this one summed up my thoughts: “Hello Gorgeous, it’s been a while, yet you’ve not aged a day. So so beautiful”. I find it encouraging that this could be said about a grindcore band’s album 17 years after release.
Landfall – Laurie Anderson and the Kronos Quartet
Alastair Shuttleworth: Laurie Anderson’s album in collaboration with The Kronos Quartet was released around the time we began writing WASTELAND. A shatteringly emotive and expressive album, written and composed by Anderson about her experiences during Hurricane Sandy, it helped inspire our pursuit of greater emotional literacy in our music. I came to Laurie Anderson in the early days of LICE. We were in the van with Spectres driving back from a show in Falmouth, and Joe Hatt (vocalist) put on ‘O Superman’ while he was working on his laptop in the front. I just lay there taking it in for the very first time – I waited until it was over before I asked who it was. I had a similarly powerful experience hearing her performance on ‘Nothing Left But Their Names’ from this album in 2018, to which the down-pitched vocals on our song ‘Serata’ is a tribute of sorts.
One of the things I found fascinating about this album was how Anderson derives emotional heft from unexpected left-turns on the subject matter or mood. ‘Nothing Left But Their Names’ talks about a book on extinct species. When she opens ‘Dreams’ with the line “Don’t you hate it when people tell you their dreams?”, it is hard not to crack a smile. In ‘Everything Is Floating’, she describes seeing personal keepsakes in her flooded basement that she’d “carefully saved all my life, becoming nothing but junk – and I thought: ‘how beautiful'”. If I hadn’t heard this album, I don’t think I’d have had the confidence to pair the saddest songs on the record with vignettes about robots, spiders and evil scientists worthy of a kid’s comic.
Thanks so much to Alastair, Silas, Gareth and Bruce for taking part! Check out their debut album WASTELAND here. Next week we are joined by Nuha Ruby Ra, following the release of her debut EP ‘How To Move’. See you next Sunday!