With Black Hearted Brother‘s debut album Stars Are Our Home out this week (review here; track-by-track here), we asked the band – Slowdive and Mojave 3’s Neil Halstead, Coley Park and Holton’s Opulent Oog’s Nick Holton, and Seefeel and Children Of The Stones’ Mark Van Hoen – to tell us about the albums that have most influenced them.
Nick Holton’s influential albums
Tim Buckley – ‘Happy Sad’
Nick Portnell from Coley Park lent me a CD of this before a holiday in 1995. I was so intrigued by the length of songs (12, 7, 2 minutes) and the fact there’s only six of them. I didn’t stop listening and unravelling it that whole trip, and I haven’t really stopped since.
There are only a few instruments on there, but they conjure something magic, hypnotic and brilliantly dynamic for Tim’s vocals to sit upon. When Neil was asked to provide a track for a 1999 tribute album he of course had to invite me along. We ended up covering ‘Love From Room 109 At The Islander (On Pacific Coast Highway)’ which I think I am sadly un-credited for playing the bells and a keyboard. Later, Neil and I were inspired to hire at great expense a vibraphone (which is all over ‘Happy Sad’) when recording ‘Sleeping On Roads’ only to sadly discover we needed David Friedman to play it too!
The Fiery Furnaces – ‘Blueberry Boat’
I am a little alone in my love for this seemingly overlooked album and, in the absence of a chance to discuss it thoroughly with another, I’ll try my best to explain why this self-indulgent album is here. A masterpiece, definitely, but like many beautiful works a hard thing to understand at first (or second or third). What I think The Fiery Furnaces have done on ‘Blueberry Boat’ is almost invented a completely new sound of very heavy, electronic-led music, coupled with massively long, complexly structured songs and strong but baffling lyrics and stories.
The amount of work that must have gone into making this album is unthinkable. It kind of flows almost as one track and is almost eighty minutes in length, with many tracks scraping the ten minute mark which sometimes seem to contain a few songs within themselves! Like I say, with the absence of debate I don’t know if in places there is a form of prog at play, but if there is it does not put you off (depending on your views of the genre) as it really works given time and patience.
Big Star – ‘Third’
It’s such a hard thing to narrow down your many loved albums to just a few, but this one has always featured in any pub top three albums of all time for me. Big Star are a much loved band and many I know prefer their first two albums to ‘Third’. It sounds completely different from the early albums (which I don’t really listen too much at all), it’s like a new band trying to make the perfect rock record embodying all the ramshackle elements that are usually absent and are so important.
In places, on first listen, it really does sound like they are playing different songs, or the drummer has been tipped into a canyon or the song is so minimal it isn’t there. You can be fooled that some songs are little too straightforward, but there is something that brings you back again and again. I guess that is brilliant, novel songwriting of Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens.
Neil Halstead’s influential albums
Various – ‘Nuggets: Original Artyfacts From The First Psychedelic Era, 1965-1968’
This was doing the rounds when Slowdive first got together in 1986… not sure when it first came out… I had a crappy cassette copy of it that I played in my first car forever. In fact, Nick Blackheart had it in his Mini at that time as well I think! The fact that the tape was pretty funky made it sound even more psychedelic! I really hear the influence of this treasure trove on the first few Slowdive EPs.
For me that period was about trying to create interesting, new-sounding psychedelic music and this compilation was the blueprint. A lot of the stuff on here still sounds incredibly fresh and exciting to my ears. The 13 Floor Elevators and The Standells, The Electric Prunes, Todd Rundgren… it’s all there!
My Bloody Valentine – Isn’t Anything
This came out in 1988, and it totally blew my mind. I’d got into the Valentines when they put out ‘Strawberry Wine’ a year earlier on Cherry Red records. I loved the jangly Byrds pop that they were doing then. ‘You Made Me Realise’, released just before the first album, really showed a different band, they suddenly sounded like a beautiful mix of Sonic Youth, Hüsker Dü, Dinosaur Jr… and still The Byrds. I loved it.
I prefer ‘Isn’t Anything’ to ‘Loveless’, I think. Being 18 when it came out, an age when music meant everything to me, it’s hard to get past that. The whole record has great energy and I love how raw it sounds.
Leonard Cohen – ‘Songs From A Room’
I first heard it when I was 22 and I was staying with Chris Hufford working on the second Slowdive album. I picked out the vinyl of this late one night after a very long session. I liked the picture on the back… a beautiful woman sat at a typewriter, laughing, or I don’t know… but I certainly wanted to be in that room. I thought, ‘Hmmm, let’s have a listen.’
I sat down put it on and I was literally entranced. I don’t know why I had never heard the man before, but that night those songs spoke to me and really changed the way I listened to music. It was an epiphany of sorts and I have been in love with Leonard ever since. Indeed, it opened my ears to the possibilities of acoustic music… the crack that let the light in.
Mark Van Hoen’s influential albums
Can – ‘Tago Mago’
It’s hard to choose between this ‘Ege Bamyasi’ and ‘Future Days’, but I have to say this album because it has ‘Oh Yeah’ on it. I’ve been listening to this for over 30 years now, but it still has the ability to make me rush when I hear it… and I can’t say why exactly.
Can were the most incredible band of diverse misfits, who operated in a bubble during their prime years. It just could not happen now. I admire their belief and commitment. All of them are/were genius musicians, and Damo Suzuki’s lyrics are so underestimated, even by himself.
Talk Talk – ‘Laughing Stock’
Of course there is the preceding album ‘Spirit Of Eden’ which is every bit the masterpiece that ‘Laughing Stock’ is… but this record has a marginally more timeless quality. This has everything I love about music: the writing, the performances, the impeccable recording, and the editorial nature of the way the music is assembled.
Something that could not exist as a live performance, but at the same time is unmistakably human and fragile. It’s a spiritual record, and everything converges with the solo in ‘Ascension Day’: a single note sustained for a minute, which sounds… perfect.
Brian Eno – ‘Another Green World’
There are many Eno albums that are truly exceptional, but I am choosing this because it captures almost everything Eno was great for. It’s just at the start of his prime period. There are instrumental pieces, as good as anything on the later ‘Ambient’ LPs.
The quirky, eccentric songs are there, and the sonic innovation is finally here under Eno’s full control and mastery, which would in the not-too-distant future inform the best work by artists like David Bowie and Talking Heads. Also contains one of the best guitar solos of all time from Robert Fripp on ‘St Elmo’s Fire’.
Black Hearted Brother’s album Stars Are Our Home is out now through Sonic Cathedral.