Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Durutti Column: LC

This second album from Vini Reilly's The Durutti Column takes its name from Lotta Continua (Continuous Struggle), a far right-wing organization in late 1960s Italy and which is a sort of analog to the band name, which is a misspelling of an anarchist group from 1930s Spain.

Recorded on four-track tape at Reilly's home, the album is a stellar one, featuring Reilly's superb guitar and piano, the first appearance of long-time drummer and manager Bruce Reilly, and a slew of great songs.

These start with the relatively up-tempo "Sketch for Dawn (I)," which has a driving drum beat from Mitchell and rhythm guitar from Reilly to anchor this excellent song.  There are many who don't like Reilly's monotonal vocalizations, but this listener finds it better to have the creator sing his own songs, even if his abilities are, technically speaking, lacking.

"Portrait for Frazer" highlights Reilly's uncanny way with achingly beautiful melodies and atmospheric playing, while Mitchell, who is a master at this, plays with great sensitivity and understatement.

"Jacqueline" has one of Reilly's most memorable melodic lines and is another fine example of his playing exactly what needs to be played without overdoing it or relying on flashy solos to show that his gift for simple, spare, but compelling composition is balanced by his talent with the guitar.  Again, Mitchell provides the right time of percussive accompaniment.

"Messidor" has a more aggressive percussive element and Reilly multi-tracks guitars to great effect, with another one of his recognizable melodies.  While it has a stronger rhythmic element and a faster tempo, it contains a contemplative feeling that is typical of so much of what makes The Durutti Column's music compelling.

"Sketch for Dawn (II)" is a darker and more somber affair.  Part of this is Reilly's vocal, but there is a rare bass line, played by him, and a particular percussive feel that contribute to the feeling.  Reilly's piano sounds like it is played on an old, beat-up upright, but it may be the 4-track recording process that is much of the reason why.

"Never Known" uses drum machine percussion, a ghostly atmospheric electronic effect, and one of Reilly's most heart-breaking melodies to create another downcast, but achingly beautiful pieces.  That peculiar flat vocal, which sounds like he recorded it in an echo chamber, again seems perfectly suited to the emotional content of the piece.  That melodic line on the guitar is something else.

"The Act Committed" is brighter and more upbeat, backed by Mitchell's low-key drumming and by a drum machine, with Reilly's bass and more fine multi-tracked guitar, with another excellent set of melodic shapes generated.

"Detail for Paul" has more multi-tracked guitar that utilizes echoed effects and a rising main guitar line almost like a continuous solo, backed by drum programming, that is another absorbing tune, though it ends rather abruptly.

The original album ends with what is undoubtedly Reilly's masterpiece.  The astounding "The Missing Boy" has another excellent melodic guitar line, with accompaniment utilizing Reilly's bass and piano, as well as Mitchell's exemplay drumming and propulsive guitar and piano rhythmic accenting.  The lyric is said to be about the recent death of Ian Curtis, the troubled and tormented singer from Joy Division, the great band that was, like The Durutti Column, one of the early groups to record for Factory Records.  Again, that odd flat, nasally vocal recorded low in the mix seems perfectly suited for the song, which closes out a remarkable record.

Under the Factory Once imprint of remixed and expanded releases from the catalog, the 1996 reissue has several bonus tracks, including the brooding piano piece, "The Sweet Cheat Gone"; the whimsical and strangely affecting "For Mimi" with an angular guitar and Mitchell's simple drumming used to fine effect; "Belgian Friends" which has another strong melody on guitar and piano in a very lo-fi setting, which is only amplified by Mitchell's basic, but perfect, drumming and Reilly's bass, but which makes for a great song; and "Danny," which has another of those great guitar melodic lines that seemed endless in Reilly's long catalog of recordings--this being another exceptional piece.

Rather than throw-aways, the eight additional pieces seem truly more like the "Related Works" that they are described as in the liner notes, with all but one being from the period (1980-81)--the other is "One Christmas for Your Thoughts" from 1988, which is more of the era of The Guitar and Other Machines, which was highlighted here before.

Vini Reilly is truly a remarkable talent and one who doesn't fit the "alternative" "post-punk" environment that surrounded the other groups signed to Factory in 1978.  Label owner Anthony Wilson was a devoted champion of Reilly's music, even as he worked in obscurity for so many years, and remained so even when Factory and its successor labels shut down.

For this blogger, discovering The Durutti Column in 1986, wanting to know who one of New Order's opening acts was, remains one of the most memorable discoveries of an unsung musician of them all.  Reilly, who was always of delicate health, has been inactive in recent years, but his music over thirty-five years remains inspiring and affecting.

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