Bill Baird – Spring Break of the Soul

bbThis really is what records are supposed to be, and why the vinyl revival is awesome. It came out a shamefully long time ago, but I still want to write about it because it’s bloody excellent.

What do I mean by ‘what records are supposed to be’, then? I think it’s a load of daft little details. The slightly dreamy, old-fashioned sound helps. The sprawling, double album (buy a copy here) of music which is a light-fingered mixture of experimentalism, soul, pop and psychedelia seems made for this kind of format as well. Even the artwork looks right, with the implied Summer sun rendered rather peculiar by the wonky horizon and semi-submerged television set.

In short, I suppose, it’s the kind of epic, self-indulgent record which dozens of groups try, and almost all end up producing a charmless, sludgy mess which could easily have been trimmed by twenty minutes or so and turned into a normal album. In this case, however, it just works. It’s joyous. You listen to a couple of tracks of dreamy, carefree retro-pop and then suddenly Bow Down to the Brain has you wondering if you’ve got the damn thing on at the right speed.

I suppose the key here is the blend of experimental noodling and tight pop music. Get it wrong and you end up with the sort of spineless, biteless pleasantries which made Jim James’ latest album so disappointing, or alternatively an aimless mess which fudges about so much you just lose the thread of it altogether. If the Flaming Lips played a slightly more humourous, blissed-out and easy-going style of music it might come fairly close to this – and they too struggle with the ‘pop songs vs. noodling’ balance at times.

For someone more used to rattling things out quickly and roughly, this record took an epic two years in the making, which I suppose would account for its prodigious length. To add to the already formidable body of work, there is a whole book’s worth of visual material which comes with the album as well – yet another reason why it seems like the perfect album for this vinyl revival era. This kind of stuff would be mostly lost on CD, and almost entirely pointless as a digital release.

So apologies for taking so long to write about this record, I’ve been too busy actually listening to it.