Release Date: Apr 26, 2011
Record label: Domino
Genre(s): Electronic, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
This second record by the players of About Group is an attempt to form order from chaos, to take the essence of their initial open-ended jam sessions and filter it into perceptible structure. Their first album together was simply recorded under the last names of the four musicians involved-- Charles Hayward of This Heat, Alexis Taylor of Hot Chip, John Coxon of Spiritualized/Spring Heel Jack, and Derek Bailey associate Pat Thomas. That record was recorded in one day, with no prior practice, and released on the Treader label in 2009.
Knowing that Alexis Taylor of Hot Chip and Charles Hayward of legendary avant-rockers This Heat were making an album as a quartet with John Coxon (Spring Heel Jack, Spiritualized) and experimental jazzer Pat Thomas in a single day, you'd be well within your rights to expect a freewheeling, open-ended, improv-oriented outing where electronics, art rock, free jazz, and the avant garde collide in off-kilter instrumental excursions. If you were talking about the foursome's first recording, 2009's About, you'd be right. But upon reconvening as more of a proper "band" under the About Group moniker for Start And Complete, the musicians in question have created another beast entirely.
It’s a marvel in itself that the four musicians that comprise About Group—Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor, This Heat drummer Charles Hayward, erstwhile Spiritualized guitarist John Coxon, and jack-of-all-trades Pat Thomas—managed to successfully record an EP in one day without having previously played together. Their 2009 effort was an intentionally loose jam, a bout of feverish experimentation that found excitement in the unscripted and the unknown rather than seeking comfort in scrupulously calculated songwriting. For their full-length follow-up, Start and Complete, the group—and particularly frontman Taylor—are tasked with channeling their free-flowing frolics into a more sleek and cohesive record.
When I was working as a freelance arts reporter in 1998 within the bowels of the Ottawa Citizen, a major daily newspaper, an item crossed my desk that is worthy of bringing up here. I was to write a brief preview piece about, if I recall correctly, a jazz guitarist who was visiting Ottawa, Canada, to play a show. When I wrote that small article up, I cribbed a line from the press release that gushed about how this artist improvised live in concert, virtually making up new songs as he went along.
A big problem with supergroups is that the big artists' demanding outside schedules often result in songs that feel rushed and thrown together. For Start & Complete, the members of About Group embraced this aspect, deliberately limiting their time together to only a day in the studio and enforcing improvisation. Although much of the material was prewritten, the chief songwriter, Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor, kept the songs from the rest of the band until the morning of the recording session at Abbey Road.
About Group have the sort of mixed bag line-up that could almost only exist as a side-project and won't be called a 'super-group' any time soon. They comprise Hot Chip frontman Alexis Taylor, sometime Spiritualized guitarist John Coxon, keys and electronics journeyman Pat Thomas and, their most senior member, Charles Hayward, drummer in experimental post-punkers This Heat. Other than a general propensity towards tuneful experimentation it isn't the sort of line-up that in itself offers up any specific clues as to the musical fruits of their collaboration, but the relaxed (although never soporific) pseudo-improvisations on Start and Complete share a cohesive sonic vocabulary and exactly the sort of vibe you would expect of an album recorded entirely within one day and with little preparation.
About Group is a supergroup of sorts composed of pieces of Hot Chip (Alexis Taylor), Spiritualized (Tom Coxon), This Heat (Charles Hayward), and the UK improv & avant garde journeyman Pat Thomas. With these impeccable membership credentials, the newest full-length from this motley crew, freshly signed to Domino, promises a lot, but finds it difficult to balance a battling brew of cohesion and improvisation. What do they deliver? The album, Start and Complete, opens with oscilloscope wails that segue none too incongruously into twangy guitar chords, as if Silver Apples (or indeed This Heat) had taken their gear to the dock of the bay at sunset to watch the breakers roll in, and roll back out again.
Jazz/electronic improvisers About Group turn to the unconventional for their music making. Hot Chip lead vocalist Alexis Taylor leads the group, which includes John Coxon from Spiritualized, Charles Hayward from This Heat, and Pat Thomas, who has worked with the likes of Derek Bailey. On their sophomore release, Start and Complete, the band’s out-of-the-ordinary recording style might just be to the detriment of the record.
A marvellous little record where improvisation rubs shoulders with immediacy. Daniel Ross 2011 With a name so infuriatingly clever-clever as About Group, it’d be easy to dismiss this new venture from knowing brainiacs including Alexis Taylor of Hot Chip as being something of an in-joke, an indulgent project to tide its members over. However, it’s equally easy to be pleasantly surprised by what About Group have managed to compose with seemingly miniscule effort.