Music

Klute: No One's Listening Anymore

Tim O'Neil

The album is a revealing statement in a scene that often prides itself on conformity.


Klute

No One's Listening Anymore

Label: Breakbeat Science
US Release Date: 2005-02-22
UK Release Date: 2005-02-14
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It would probably be erroneous to read the title of Klute's latest release as any sort of political statement on the current state of drum & bass. Perhaps there was a time when the future of the genre may have seemed doubtful, but for now the music has settled into a leisurely second wind, a creative renaissance typified by artists such as High Contrast, London Elektricity and Klute. Will it ever achieve the critical momentum it enjoyed in the late 90s, when overenthusiastic pop critics rushed to crown it the "new jazz"? Probably not, but that was just asking for trouble.

Such a label is uselessly reductive, offensive to both jazz and drum & bass. The purists can hem and haw all day, but jazz seems to periodically renew itself just fine -- thanks to the infusion of new modes such as rock, hip-hop and drum & bass, but in no way dependent on them. Similarly, while some drum & bass may celebrate a cerebral musicianship similar to certain types of jazz, it would be foolhardy to mistake this kind of intellectual response for the sole epitome of the genre. As with all dance music, the cerebral response is inextricably tied to the physical -- an involuntary reaction to the whoosing and whirring of a rolling bassline.

The dichotomy between the body and the mind is very much at the heart of No One's Listening Anymore. The album is actually two discs, each a separate and distinct statement. The second disc is pure drum & bass, but the first disc is anything but. Tom Withers, the man behind Klute, grew up on acid house and straight techno, and the first disc is a tribute to those sounds. The tempo is more restrained, and some of the hooks are downright poppy. It's a revealing statement in a scene that often prides itself on conformity.

The problem is that the disc is not, perhaps, as distinctive a statement as could be wished for. Shorn of the ironclad support of a brisk tempo, Withers' beats can sometimes seem less than compelling. The disc gets off to a strong start with "Torrential Plain", a melancholy trip-hop track slightly redolent of late Everything But The Girl or Lamb, albeit with the type of rolling, organic bassline you would expect from Layo & Bushwacka. "Torrential Plain" is followed by "Al Kinda", which despite the underwhelming name, is perhaps the best track on the disc. It's got the power of the best drum & bass strapped to a Detroit techno rhythm, a monstrous bassline and a stuttering techno beat. It's the kind of music that first-generation trip-hop groups like Smith & Mighty used to make, with the best parts of dub reggae transposed onto a violent electronic context.

The major weakness of No One's Listening Anymore are its vocals. Klute has scoured the globe to find just the right vocalists for this project, but unfortunately they all seem to sound the same, with similarly breathy baby-girl voices. Vocal credits are somewhat haphazard, so I don't know who sings on either "Torrential Plain" or "Al Kinda". While neither voice ruins the tracks in question, they certainly don't add a lot.

"Al Kinda" is followed by "Adult", a rousing attempt at 1980s-era electro, definitely reminiscent of Afrika Baambaataa and Cybotron. "No Return" is the album's most uncharacteristic track, a feint into the realms of conventional pop that would perhaps have been more effective with a more convincing vocalist. "Off Out Up and Under" the first disc's only drum & bass track, but it's unusual -- an exercise in mood that reminds me slightly of LTJ Bukem.

The album finishes on a strong foot. "Does the Darkness make you Feel Sad?" is a breakbeat track in the vein of a slightly more funky Orbital, with a rhythmic bed that builds to a majestically coruscating climax. "Coconut Teaser" is a strange track that vaguely reminds me of some of Herbie Hancock's electronic work, simply by nature of the Hammond-esque melodic bassline he employs. "I'll Do Anything (you want me to)" finishes the first disc on an optimistic note, with swooshing, orchestral synthesizer melodies offset against another rock-solid techno template. Again, while it's hardly the most unique template, it is consistently effective.

The second disc kicks into motion with the sinister, rolling "Time 4 Change", featuring a pulsating and dark bassline reminiscent of disc one's "Al Kinda". "Make a Stand", a collaboration with Marcus Intalex, introduces a more cinematic element into the mix, with sweeping strings placed against hardcore breaks for an endearingly emotional charge. "Stuck on You" continues the emotional mood, with a lilting minor-key synth element and soul vocal sample set on top of a crunching jungle break.

"Acid Rain" is a carryover from the first disc, complete with useless vocals. The song is interesting, however, for its application of traditional techno sounds to a jungle template. "Finger in the Hole" takes a turn towards the ominous, with an imposing, hostile bassline and implacable beats floating in an ether of distorted voices and anomalous computer noises. "Crosby" is a turn back towards more stridently emotional territory. Ghostly voices are heard, faintly, in the background of a rolling breakbeat, sad and plaintive moaning against the mechanistic foreground.

The mood continues with "Second Skin" and "Silently", the latter of which is a romantic ballad slightly reminiscent of a drum & bass Bjork (although Kiyomi's vocals are nowhere near as muscular as those of Bjork). The last two tracks on the disc are among the best of the album -- continuing the air of romantic attachment while ramping up the implicit emotional tension. "Saviour" sounds almost as if it were built around a particularly sad Supertramp sample. It segues nicely into "Hidden Hand, the album's musical and emotional climax. A great deal of the genre's power comes from the dichotomy between the relentless power of the jungle breakbeat and the sparse melodic elements placed alongside it. "Hidden Hand", perhaps the most aggressive track on the album, acts as a dark counterpoint to the melancholy and romantic narrative throughout the bulk of the first two discs.

No One's Listening Anymore suffers for its length. Double albums are notoriously tricky to pull off, and no less in world of drum & bass. The most damning thing I can say about the first disc is that if Withers intends to produce more work outside of the drum & bass template he needs to learn to focus his intensity as effectively when he can't rely on a rolling jungle bassline underneath. Tracks like "Al Kinda" point to an effective stylistic marriage. The second disc may also drag a bit over the course of eleven tracks, but there is no doubt that it seems a far more cohesive and comfortable statement. Perhaps the future will see Withers finally blending these disparate elements into a cohesive whole. It's been a while since drum & bass had anything resembling a rapprochement with the "mainstream" of electronic music -- maybe this is a future that Klute could work towards.

7

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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