Wednesday, July 6, 2016

My Favourite Album: Variations on Swing (Guest Post)

Today's blog was very kindly contributed by Jamie Halliday, founder of a record label called Audio Antihero (the self-proclaimed "specialists in commercial suicide" who released such great albums as Kind of Blah by Frog and There is Nothing More Frightening Than the Passing of Time by The Superman Revenge Squad Band).

I told Jamie to write something about his favourite album and...well, he had a bit of a time deciding what exactly his favourite album is, but he eventually came up with this ace post about Variations on Swing by Meet Me in St Louis. Enjoy!

Music has always been quite a solitary thing for me and more often than not this meant a fixation on just a few artists, rather than a broader enjoyment of many. I think this has shaped how I’ve run my stupid record label

Even still, I'm kind of fickle and I've probably had a lot of 'favourite albums', so it's possible that I never really had one at all. Nirvana, Joy Division, Dr. Dre, (hed) P.E, Jeff Buckley, Deftones, Lacuna Coil, Gary Numan, Bruce Springsteen, Glassjaw, The Smiths, At The Drive-In and others have all made albums that were my 'favourite' at one point or another. Some albums lost their shine and some were tarnished by their creators doing shitty things, but others still feel like heaven.

Since I have no definitive favourite album, I've chosen one that wasn't just influential, but inspiring too. Meet Me In St Louis issued a rough-as-fuck demo in 2005 and I loved it. I might never have heard it were it not for the fact that I vaguely knew their bassist, Lewis, from college and I guess we had some mutual friends. A rare occasion where I actually knew something.

MMISL started to do well and their debut EP, which came out in 2006 on a label called Function Records, was mind-blowing. None of the bands we knew were doing anything like that. MMISL offered hope that if you had something special and it resonated, then there was a real world out there. I listened to that gorgeous EP on a loop. 

Then, in 2007, they released Variations on Swing on Big Scary Monsters.

While I had loved everything that had come before, this was somehow different. These weren't songs that really made sense. It was violently emotional and musically unpredictable. The band themselves swore they didn't understand time signatures, that it was just how stuff was coming out. This kinda sounded like bullshit at the time but it feels true now.

Toby Hayes was a one-of-a-kind vocalist and lyricist. For me, the meaning of his words change every year. The album is uncompromising. It's a near-perfect 10-song album that doesn't sound it like was made for any specific audience, time period, outlet or purpose. Despite its ferociousness, it doesn't feel like a Rock record. Rather, it feels like music for the soul. I don't want bands that sound like MMISL, I want bands that feel like MMISL.

Not long after the album came out, they split up. It was unthinkable at the time, but really, that wasn't the end. The band members individually went on to make lots of music that I ended up loving; in particular, Shoes and Socks Off and Colour led me back to Big Scary Monsters, who delivered heaps more bands for me to love. That Toby continued to make great and creative music post-MMISL was something that I found inspiring too. This proved that one door closing isn't the end of the story, that you can tell your story in different rooms, to different people, as long as you've something worth telling. In a way, MMISL gave me all of this music. I believe that the best music doesn't just claim you as a listener for itself, but instead it gives you more music to listen to. It doesn't mind sharing you.

Variations on Swing may or may not be my favourite album. It's been with me for nine years; it inspired me to try and do more and to try and do it better; it woke me up to the fact that there was independent music happening that really mattered. It inspired me to run my label like it was worth something. It's music that has helped me build friendships. It's one of the first albums I shared with my wife. It's a reminder of how good and important things can feel.

MMISL reformed to play some shows this year. I don't know what that will lead to; the idea of a second album is as exciting as it is terrifying. What I do know is that Variations on Swing is still as surprising as hell. Still unpredictable. In a weird way, it makes me feel I'm watching the fight in the first Rocky film - I've seen it 100 times but every time, in the final round, just for a second, I think: "this time he's gonna fucking win".

Audio Antihero's entire catalogue is available to browse and buy on Bandcamp. Go there now - many wonders await!

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