There are three types of pleasure to be derived, for me, out of an “The Anatomy Of” post. The first is the joy of shared love. When artists pick albums that I also adore, I get the tingling sensation of kinship and I am left feeling less alone in the world. The second type of joy is that of being correct. When a band pick an album whose influence I had already detected through their music, I feel vindicated in my powers of deduction and critical listening. The last kind of joy though is perhaps the greatest and it’s what comes when I get a submission that lays bare the sheer love for music that most musicians have. Getting to peer through the veil and get a glimmer of how much their lives were shaped by music, how much they adore it, and how much of that adoration goes into their own work is a special kind of feeling because it stands on its own. Sure, I feel kinship and vindication as well, because I also adore music and I assume that all musicians do, but the real thrill is from the thing itself and getting to witness it.

This is definitely the case with HAAST‘s submission. When I first heard their most recent album, Made of Light, I had the instant intimation that it was influenced by Anathema. Beyond the similarities in sound, there’s also a similarity in trajectory: both bands had their early career defined by doom, sludge, and heavier music only to transition later into making melancholic, bright, painfully emotional, and evocative albums. I even asked the band whether this was the case. And they informed me it wasn’t! In fact, they had never even heard Anathema (please fix this guys, seriously)! So, that’s vindication out the window. And if you look at their selections below, you’ll find only one that I share a love for: Manic Street Preachers. So that’s kinship out the window as well.

But then, if you read the actual selections and what and how each band member wrote about them, you’ll find the third, greater kind of joy hiding in there because by God, do these people love these albums! And what a joy it is to read about “lightning songs” (that’s an Anathema reference, by the way), bits of music that comes out of the blue sky of our youth, of our older siblings, of our friends, and of culture and just strike us full on in our face, forever changing our lives. There are fewer things more beautiful than that moment and to get to run four such stories of powerful musical connections is a true privilege. Add to this the references to Welsh, which I had failed to notice on the album itself, to my dismay, the alternative edge to the choices that will inform my relationship with Made of Light in the future, and the sheer brilliance of some of the selected albums (which I can appreciate even if I am not, personally, a fan) and you get one of my favorite entries in this series, ever.

Oh, and listen to Made of Light, will you? It’s one of my favorite albums of 2021. Let’s go!

Adam Wrench – Vocals/guitar 

Manic Street Preachers – Everything Must Go

As a young teen with an older sister who was immersing herself in the so called ‘New Seattle’ scene that was burgeoning in Newport during the early/mid 90s, any music she brought home was instantly set upon by my younger self and studied intently. I was already aware of The ManicsHoly Bible, but as a pre-teen I didn’t really understand its significance, nor the cult following they had already amassed. But when the lead singles from EMG started to appear, they instantly blew my very green mind and with hindsight it’s easy to see why. 

It was in fact the same sister’s guitar that I had played with on and off since I was about 8, but EMG was one of a number of big records of the time that drove my desire to play more, and not just play but work out how to achieve tonalities I could hear too. We were spoiled in the 90s with tonnes of huge guitar-based records. I could easily have picked another album that shook me as much as EMG did back in those halcyon days of alternative music, but there is something that brings out the “Sosban Fach” in me whenever I hear any early MSP. I don’t know if it’s unconscious patriotism or whimsical romanticising of my youth, but hearing that opening shrill lead on “All Surface..” or the waves crashing on Blackpool Beach in “Elvis Impersonator” and I’m right back to those awkward early teen years of terrible fashion decisions, even worse guitar playing, and realising that I wanted to be in bands.

James Dean Bradfield’s vocals are far too often overlooked in my opinion. In a comically poetic contrast, at the same time as I was experiencing the inevitable change in anatomy and voice, here was a full-grown man singing at ridiculously high octaves with ease. How the fuck was I going to do that? It’s taken me many years just to gain the confidence to even attempt that sort of vocal elasticity, so props to JDB for sure.

I was never going to be a Satriani type guitarist, so I became pretty determined to just play what I could correctly and fully, and JDB was a pretty timely influence upon me at that early point in my playing – to just learn those solid chops. But what EMG also probably made me realise was that it had to mean something – the narrative and the play between lyricism and musicality; the light and the dark; and I guess just trying to be a half decent songwriter.

Crafting a believable narrative and then sound-tracking it has always been the ultimate goal but I never achieved anything before like the standard we have as a band with Made of Light. Whenever a recording project concludes, I can’t help but think about those early records 25 odd years ago that are so evocative of the time and place. 25 years is a long time for memories and ideas of music to ferment and Made of Light is the ultimate realisation and expression of that journey so far. And on to the next…

Recommended songs: “No Surface All Feeling”, “Interiors”, “Small Black Flowers”

Hywel Williams – Drums/Vocals

The Smashing Pumpkins – Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness

In 1995 the “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” video was played on TOTP. It seemed an odd fit both at the time and even now looking back. I distinctly remember ironically head banging at the kitchen table, affecting some hilarious imitation of the reaction I thought heavy guitars were meant to elicit – probably just to make my mum laugh. But at some point, during those 4 minutes of people rolling around in the dust and mud, the irony was replaced by a genuine connection to something new and strange. It might be the first time I’d felt that music had been made for me. That this was going to be my thing now. 26 years later and Mellon Collie is still on my personal Mount Rushmore of albums, and its influence has been etched into pretty much everything I’ve done musically. 

Not so much Jimmy Chamberlain’s drumming. Don’t get me wrong, I’d kick a panda cub to death to be able to play like that dude, but it’s just not going to happen. He’s such a unique force of nature, I never saw much point in trying to emulate him. Dave Lombardo, Vinnie Paul, Igor Cavalera…they were my guys. 

It was more Corgan’s songwriting. The thing I remember hitting me most acutely in my mid-teens when I really started exploring the depths of this record was the sonic and thematic versatility. It was the first time I’d heard such a ludicrous breadth of different styles and tones meshed together on a single collection of songs. And what’s more, that it worked so seamlessly well. 

The frenzied fuzz and vocal rasp of “Ode To No One”; the tenderness and lush strings of “Galapagos”; the dreamy poppy nostalgia of “1979”. They could all be the sonic foundation for 3 different bands, but no. They were all distinctly Corgan/Pumpkins. That had a lasting impact on how I would aim to shape and balance albums I was part of. Why wouldn’t you want diverse textures on a record? 

“Couldn’t Give You Everything”, for example, wasn’t in Adam’s original rough demo or his initial plan for the album…until he played it for me in the practice room just him and his guitar and I was like “Are you high? Of course that’s going on the record.” And what better set up could there be for the granite slab of “Diweddglo” being dropped on your bonce than the exposed softness at the end of CGYE?  

Giving up vocal duties on the title track – which also happened to be the most personal lyrically for Adam – was something else that he wouldn’t necessarily have been minded to do…until he heard the raw power of Leanne’s demo version. I’d say the confidence to abandon a baseline sound and aim for that kind of tonal variety on an album links directly back to Mellon Collie. I’d never have it any other way. 

I should also shout out Corgan for being a prime example of someone who wasn’t gifted with a naturally great singing voice but found a way of making it work for him regardless. In that respect, Adam is definitely more a Chris Cornell to my Billy Corgan! 

The rest of HAAST might also say I’ve been more than a tad influenced by Corgan’s controlling egotism, but I couldn’t possibly comment on that…

(P.S Shyamalan Twist: I actually don’t care for pandas in the least and would probably kick one to death for a lot less than the promise of Jimmy Chamberlain’s drumming abilities.)

Recommended songs: “An Ode To No One”, “Muzzle”, “Thru The Eyes of Ruby”

James Tottle – Lead guitar/ice sculpting

A Perfect Circle – Mer de Noms 

These days I spend most of my music-listening time hunting down new bands and artists that satisfy my inner prog/math/alt/tech nerd tendencies (I’m currently loving Perehelion by Sungazer for example). I find few things better in life than having my tiny mind blown by something that feels truly new and original. Those moments where art cuts through and reveals there’s more to music than you could grasp, and that you were a fool to think you’d never be surprised again. 

Mer de Noms was probably the first instance of that for me. I’m sat in my kitchen, a literal child whose music loves up to that point are entirely centred on 90’s hip hop. My older brother excitedly throws on the album and – as I remember it – skips straight to “3 Libras”. For a few seconds I remember thinking “what the fuck? This sounds like a Christmas song or something” wondering why the hell my brother looks so excited. I’m fully expecting/hoping Busta Rhymes is about to start spitting bars over it. Then before I know it, I’m completely surrendering to a brand-new world of music. One that can destroy you and tell you exactly how it wants you to feel. And it’s non-negotiable. 

It wouldn’t be until many years after this that I decided to start playing guitar. When I eventually got there, I must admit I initially just wanted to be technically great. I guess that’s what seemed like the most important thing about it at the time. Once I settled into playing though, I began focusing my efforts more on searching for individual moments instead of trying to play well above my station in order to seem “impressive”. In a band scenario I wanted to focus on how I could help elevate what’s naturally forming, not just wank over everything to stand out. I suppose if you look at A Perfect Circle, that’s kind of in their DNA. They’re a super-group of insanely talented musicians and yet the arrangements on Mer de Noms feel so damn natural and complementary to each other. 

It’s an album that I think was initially conceived by Billy Howerdel but every musician that plays on it seemed to be the perfect fit both technically and artistically. I was the last to join the HAAST line-up and most of the songs had all already been loosely outlined by Adam before any of us came onboard. I thought I was joining a stinking stoner doom band so I was fully expecting to leave my lead playing behind and just bring my dirtiest fuzz pedal. But once I heard what those original rough demos were morphing into in the practice room as the direction shifted, I quickly realised that’s not what was required of me at all. As a guy who always searches for the ‘mood’, I happily started looking for those subtle lifts, to fill any gaps that felt wanting, but to let it breathe when it needed to.

I think the quite juddering experience of hearing Mer de Noms for the first time planted a seed in my unconscious, and the lessons it later taught me in dynamics and musical camaraderie really come out when I’m writing. There are a lot of tonal textures and guitar lines on Made Of Light that I would say came out of that seed.

Recommended songs: “The Hollow”, “3 Libras”, “Judith”

Elliot Blake – Bass

Nirvana – In Utero

I was 12 when it all happened, and it happened quickly. Being handed a battered cassette I placed in my Walkman and played the opening 26 seconds of an album that changed not just my world, but seemingly the entire music world. I immediately pushed stop “What the fuck just happened?” I rewound and repeated several times over, no other record has really made me do this since. That was the now infamous first track off Nevermind, but this isn’t the album I revisit the most. 

I fucking love In Utero. It’s noisy – even when it’s not; scrappy, yet still tight; and when you listen to it loud it sounds like you’re in the room with them. I think that latter point is what was most compelling about this album – though my continued playing of it at volume led to my mother sitting me down and asking me if I was “alright” (she was worried the lyrics were dark and depressing). 

Which brings me into a couple of my go-to moments on the album: “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter” and “Scentless Apprentice”. The bass is gritty and relentlessly pounds the same riff for most of those two songs, with the exception of the pre chorus instrumental of ‘Scentless’ which has this downward looping riff on bass as the guitars ascend a scale. Working with the drums to add dynamics from verse to choruses, which allows for all the glorious screaming chaos that the guitar creates. I think this taught me that ‘hooks’ and ‘structures’ don’t need to sound pretty or be overly complicated and ultimately how it feels is the most important. The bass still really grooves with the drums, even if it’s a groove that smashing your skull into a wall, and this is something I’ve tried to consider when writing my bass lines: always slave to what the song needs and work with the beat. This album also reinforced how amazing cellos sound in songs that allows them the space to breathe. It was no doubt one source of inspiration for placing this sort of instrumentation in “Couldn’t Give You Everything”. 

Just as a brief sidebar, although he didn’t mix In Utero, Andy Wallace’s bass mix for Nevermind had a huge influence on me, and has a direct through-line to the heavier parts of Made Of Light. The stereo chorus trickery (that he didn’t even really try to hide) gave the bass a floating quality that just filled the space so much more effectively. My contribution to the mix notes back to Tom (Hill) for Made Of Light usually consisted of: “More Andy Wallace!”

What In Utero eventually taught me was to never compromise: make music the way that you want to. Make it sound as close to what is inside your collective minds. Experiment with sounds, create noise and capture that lightning in a bottle. I think this is what Albini ultimately did with Nirvana and captured it incredibly well. In Utero is tragically immortalised by the events that shook the world shortly after its release. It affected me profoundly as a young teenager, but even now at my ripe old age I still weirdly take comfort in a little dash of melancholy with my music.   

Recommended songs: “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter”, “Scentless Apprentice”, “Frances Farmer”

Comments