When he wrote Rattlesnakes, he didn’t just write pop songs, he infused them with high-brow literary references to Simone de Beauvoir and Norman Mailer. In 1991’s Don’t Get Weird On Me Babe, he graduated to sweeping orchestras of Burt Bacharach proportions well before indie bands grasped the concept; 2001’s Plastic Wood saw a profound departure from singer-songwriter to ambient instrumentalist, while 2010’s Broken Record saw him embrace the sounds of alt-country. Indeed, there’s a sense that Cole has never been entirely sure of his position as a musician; while he has offered these differing versions of himself, he still often returns to his comfort zone, his work as part of The Negatives a case in point.
However, while many Lloyd Cole fans were left non-plussed by 2001’s Plastic Wood, it caught the attention of veteran German electronic and experimental pioneer Hans-Joachim Roedelius – known for his work as part of krautrock trio Cluster and collaborations with Brian Eno – who went on to remix the whole album on his own volition. Cole was allegedly so impressed with the results that the two forged a relationship and on meeting in Vienna some 10 years after Plastic Wood, the idea of collaborating was finally confirmed.
The result of this collaboration is, of sorts, a follow-up of Plastic Wood entitled Selected Studies Vol 1 – a very experimental/Eno/ECM Records sounding album title, and one that does somewhat try to fit that mould: indeed, the album is described as a series of “studies”. To many, all that will sound somewhat off-putting and rather pretentious yet as electronic instrumental albums go, Cole and Roedelius largely get the balance right between the experimental and the accessible.
Opening track Pastoral has a somewhat gentle sense to it, with simple loops underscored by light and slender tones: unthreatening, innocent and rather charming in its own way. Following track Selbstportrait-Reich is somewhat more assured, with wavering theremin-sounds backed by repetitive foot-tapping enducing bongo-sounding drums and similarly understated synth. Surprisingly relaxing.
Yet this doesn’t last long, with Wandelbar bringing the album into more experimental instrumental territory with its droning, occasionally reverberating synth, low-tempo beats and low-pitched tones, interspersed with jarring and surprisingly sharp, piercing notes. Proceeding track Still Life with Kannyu, at over seven-minutes long, does manage to seek a medium between the opening tracks and Wandelbar, bringing with it an Eno-like Music for Airports length and sound, particularly through its sparsity and use of piano, before TangoLargo brings something rather exotic sounding through its broader sound, bird-sounding samples and ticking-like sound loops.
HIQS is the most dense track of the album; while not the longest track on the album, it does bring a sustained expansive sound and intensity the rest of the album lacks through its jagged and cutting harpsichord-like loops, vibrating deep bass and gradually escalating pips and bleeps that, at one point, help create something quite unsettling. Contrastingly, Fehmarn F/O is catchy, playful and rather hyperactive – a cacophony of clashing sounds from high-tempo and wild modulated beats to the mechanical pulse of the base beneath.
Overall, Cole and Roedelius may be onto something as a partnership, with Cole no doubt feeding off Roedelius’ vast experience in this field: compared to Plastic Wood, this is a far more accomplished and consistent record with some real memorable moments. While Cole is by no means the next Brian Eno – and he’d do well trying not to be – one of Britain’s most fondly-loved singer-songwriters may well convince the more avant-garde inclined that he is, actually, a serious musician – a composer, perhaps. A very odd and somewhat unpredictable partnership, but one that is pleasantly surprising in its own way.