Album Reviews

The Durutti Column – Keep Breathing

(Artful) UK release date: 30 January 2006

The Durutti Column - Keep Breathing Writer Dorian Lynskey recently published a version of the London Underground tube map redrawn as history of popular music. The stations became artists, the lines representing a music genre: the Northern Line is hip-hop, the Central Line is reggae. The Clash sit on the junction of reggae and rock, Björk sits in what is normally Kings Cross, as her work transgresses pop, electronica, jazz and the avant-garde. The Durutti Column are not on the redrawn map, and I’m not really surprised.

Vini Reilly – for he is The Durutti Column – has spent best part of 30 years blending, breaking and reforming musical genres so that it would be impossible to place them. Since their beginnings back in the late 1970s, The Durutti Column have been on their own unique musical voyage.

The band’s sound crystalises around the distinctive and unique guitar playing of Reilly, his lightness of touch and fluid movement making it almost impossible to label his style. There are echos as diverse as the English folk of Bert Jansch via the pure jazz improvisation of Derek Bailey to the chime and awe of Johnny Marr. It was to Vini Reilly that Morrissey turned after the spilt of The Smiths. The guitars that ring out through Viva Hate are the work of Vini with his pop music head on.

Keep Breathing is another diverse release from a band who refuse to be niche marketed. The classical clean guitar textures are here, the vocal samples, electronica, fuzzy power chords, celtic folk and even protest songs. The LP was recorded over 3 month period in a room “not much bigger than a broom cupboard,” using a single microphone. Equipment was borrowed – as was the time of the album’s programmer Ben Roberts.

It’s the clutch of folk styled songs that stand out: Maggie is like a fusion of post-punk spirit and those Davy Graham and Shirley Collins LPs that are the touchstones of ’60s folk. The glistening guitar arpeggios and beautiful unforced vocals by Helen Farley-Jones are bliss. Reilly’s fingers go into overtime on the lighting quick Neil, the guitar refrains bleeding over each other in a shimmering instrumental piece.

Reilly’s own vocals are as fragile as old bones, an acquired taste, but, like Guinness, once you get used to it, it’s wonderful. The very nature of his voice; careworn, aching, tired, suits the music so well. When on Helen he sings; “Remember how we used to dance, like we where in some kind of trance,” the sound of his voice blends perfectly with the chiming, ringing guitars. Like an incoming storm the song builds slowly, a seasick set of strings lurch through as the guitars layer upon each other. It’s My Bloody Valentine playing drunken Twister with Disco Inferno. A shoegazing epic with John Fahey on lead guitar.

Having already blended folk and shoegazing, a strange but beautiful brew of gospel and krautrock is unleashed on Let Me Tell You Something. A soaring gospel vocal sample is floated across a bed of liquid guitars, a drum machine flutters out a motor rhythm. The sample then disappears, replaced by Reilly’s own ghostly vocals. The guitars slash back in for the chorus as the gospel samples returning in a heavenly union.

Reilly then takes the listen further into the realms of religious music. Agnus Dei, latin for Lamb of God, is Arvo Pärt‘s spiritual minimalism re-scored for guitar and sampler. A set of simple chords are taken apart and played like the pealing and tolling of bells of a Catholic Church at day break. Helen Farley-Jones’ vocals intone Latin over the hushed reverence of the backing. The glorious nature of the track is almost enough to convince and atheist like me to believe in God.

I doubt that Keep Breathing will win The Durutti Column a legion of new fans, and I guess that’s not the point. For existing fans there is plenty here to keep them warm and in good spirits. If you only buy one jazz, folk, classical post punk record this year, let it be this one.

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More on The Durutti Column
The Durutti Column – Love In The Time Of Recession
The Durutti Column – Idiot Savants
The Durutti Column – Keep Breathing
The Durutti Column – Someone Else’s Party