When BBC Radio 6, the British channel for cutting edge music, recently celebrated the best music of 2017 so far by showcasing 20 essential albums, it was no surprise to see Jane Weaver’s Modern Kosmology prominently placed on the list. Described as an album that “masterfully darts from avant-pop to euphoric kraut via what can be best described as psychy party music,” the listing is just another addition to what has become one of this year’s universally critically lauded albums, and will more than likely appear on numerous year-end lists in six months’ time.
Modern Kosmology is Jane Weaver’s eight full-length as a solo artist, but despite her voluminous creative output and strong critical standing, she’s still considered mostly as an unknown star outside of a circle of devoted music lovers. Weaver’s career is actually traceable back to the early 1990s to indie/folktronica bands Kill Laura and Misty Dixon. When the former demised towards the end of the decade, Weaver began working under her own name, quickly establishing her identity and unique voice (as heard when Coldplay sampled her on their “Another’s Arms” for Ghost Stories), but she never kept in one particular direction. Rather, she’s always been eager to experiment with new sounds, including psychedelic folk, synth-pop, library music, experimental avant-garde and beyond, finding a near perfect balance between pastoral bliss and retro-futuristic electronica on more recent albums like The Silver Globe (2014) and this year’s Modern Kosmology.
Modern Kosmology is a mesmerizing listening experience. Rarely can an album capture such a musical breadth and emotional depth. Mojo magazine compared her kraut-ish repetition, analogue synths and beguiling vocal melodies to Hawkwind, Sandy Denny, Neu! and Velvet Underground, but added that “in lesser hands, such building-blocks might suggest hipster tedium of the kind that now clogs up so many record racks. Weaver is light years beyond that, using motorik rhythms and ancient technology to create music that brims with urgency, and originality.”
We asked Jane Weaver to write about five albums that touched her life and music. It’s wonderful read that helps fills the puzzle that is the musical enigma of Jane Weaver.
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Kate Bush: The Kick Inside
I was 5 or 6 when I first saw Kate Bush on TV. I’d never been so captivated by a singer before; her originality struck me like a bolt of lightning and it was at this precise moment I said to myself, “This is what I want to do! I want to be her!” I spent a lot of time dancing around the living room with Kate Bush on TV, and my parents bought me The Kick Inside for Christmas on tape. It’s such a strange record: mystical, mature and musically expansive in sound. I would listen to pop music primarily, and disco (around that time I was also in love with the Bee Gees), but this was different, more other worldly; a mixture of fairy tale and melody. I love the whole story of the record, it’s such a joy to me that David Gilmour from Pink Floyd was instrumental in her success and gave her a chance, and that serendipity played a part in her music being heard, because he was on downtime between albums and tours, which led to her being signed by EMI. The string arrangements and production is pretty sublime, the words are evocative and sensual, although I didn’t obviously understand what she was alluding to at the time. I can barely believe she was so young.
Hawkwind: Church of Hawkwind
I grew up in a small industrial town between Liverpool and Manchester. As a teenager my friends and I started hanging around with bikers and hippies, anyone who looked a bit different and was into music and counterculture. This record for me represents this time… me as a 17-year-old hanging around in someones flat, having fun, spending time listening to lots of rock albums and psychedelic stuff I’d never heard of, like Gong and The Pink Fairies. There was also the [Windsor] Free Festival scene, which Hawkwind were pioneers of. I knew Hawkwind’s more popular stuff, but this record represents a musical awakening, not only because of some of the expansive sound, production-wise – its the perfect three-way marriage of rock, krautrock and electronic – but there’s also TV commentary of the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald – so it’s a rich soup!
I think Dave Brock is an absolute legend. as a songwriter and producer. I think this record shows how good he is. It’s really experimental, but melodic too. I sampled “Star Cannibal” as the backing for “Electric Mountain” on my last album. I was able to forge a new pop melody on top of it; the music is such a great loop, I had to ring Dave and ask him for permission. He was cool about it, which I was glad about because it was important for me to have his blessing. I think most artists who have historical record deals and publishing are flexible about sampling, but the red tape involved can be ludicrous. Publishers are sometimes renowned for wanting to charge ridiculous “corporate” usage fees, even on an indie release, so it was a nerve wracking time. If I can share some of the joy that Church of Hawkwind gives me to other people then I’m happy.
The Electric Prunes: Release of an Oath
I didn’t really know much about this album, other than hearing “Holy Are You” as the lead track, and being a fan of David Axelrod. I love “Earth Rot” and the tape echo female vocal on the warnings, for instance. I love the sleeve and it’s been in the house for years.
This record gives me the shivers and makes my feel like crying (in a good way). It’s as if it’s so evocative it belongs to some higher astral plane. It’s connective and spiritual in equal measure; it’s almost not enough but when you hear some of the string arrangements it makes you want to burst. I have no idea about Axelrod’s spiritual beliefs but as a raised Catholic it has the powerful nostalgia and presence of choraled church vocals and brooding emotive passages like the crescendo of a hymn.
My string reference points are normally Axelrod and [French composer] Jean Claude Vannier; I think those are probably the best. Production-wise this has clarity, but also seems unstructured – for instance if you listen to the drums, they sound like the patterns change within the song like someone is still working it out – and yet it’s totally perfect. The fuzz guitar lines and bass sound; sonically there’s a definite link for me when it comes to Vannier and Axelrod. Maybe it’s because it’s got everything I love about the beginnings of symphonic rock, and I never tire of it.
Serge Gainsbourg: Histoire de Melody Nelson
It’s a record that everyone nods to as a masterpiece. When it was initially released it took a while to gain momentum, but it’s now regarded as a cult classic. Although the subject matter is provocative and uncomfortable (in the book Melody Nelson by Gainsbourg he is obsessed with an underage girl, played by his then-girlfriend Jane Birkin) music-wise it’s Jean Claude Vannier and Serge Gainsbourg at their best. Gainsbourg’s reputation outside of France was based on his pop hits, not much was known about his artistic genius as an innovative songwriter and lyricist. His delivery always so matter of fact… part narration, part melody.
The beauty of “Ah Melody” when it starts and then the groove of the bass and drums, and then later “En Melody” is so original, there’s almost too many good points. My only complaint is that, its all just not long enough. It’s like these amazing snippets of perfection that make you sad when they finish, but maybe that’s why its so good.
Some years ago now, I was lucky enough to see Jean Claude Vannier perform these songs with some of the original and associated library musicians at The Barbican in the UK and The Hollywood Bowl. It was an emotional experience, a testament to its genius.
Broadcast: Work and Non-work
Even though this is a compilation of early singles, it was the first Broadcast “album” I heard and loved. Its a mixture of melancholy and joy for me. When I first heard it I was going through a breakup and then realized that my newfound freedom was to be short-lived, as I fell for someone else. It’s funny, when you are emotionally charged, how you interpret lyrics, and I was lucky that [singer Trish Keenan’s] poetry found me.
Initially I didn’t realize it was a modern record because the instrumentation sounded to me like Silver Apples or 50 Foot Hose. The drum pattern rolls and electronics but vocal-wise always so melodic. Even when Trish is sounding sad it’s uplifting because she has the gift of drawing you into her voice and story.
I was pretty devastated when she passed away; such a tragedy. Broadcast’s music still gives me so much joy, and later albums prove the weight of their artistry and writing, how they were flourishing sonically and becoming more expansive, but this is the one that initially stopped me in my tracks.