Graham Lambkin – Amateur DoublesMarch 15, 2012
Well today was pretty frustrating. A day off of work spent trying to get Cathnor activities back up and running fully but ending up annoyed at incompetent printers, delayed deliveries and my own ineptitudes. Never mind. I had a nice wander around Oxford bookshops to calm down afterwards. This evening I have been listening to another instalment of my week of vinyl reviews, a disc that I actually went into a record shop and bought off of the shelves quite recently… Yes I know, it can still be done! The record shop was Kristina which is situated on Stoke Newington Road in Dalston, a five minute walk from Café Oto, and while they only stock vinyl, and a lot of their space is taken up with second hand discs the place has a feel a bit like the old Rough Trade shops, mostly full of techno, indie and jazz material but with a couple of sections labelled Avant Garde, from one of which I pulled Graham Lambkin’s newest album Amateur Doubles, the sleeve of which attracted me to buy it. Now, I am somewhat unusual amongst the readership of these pages in that I have never really clicked with Lambkin’s music, not particularly understanding the clamour that his Salmon Run disc brought about (I enjoyed it, but no more than that) and finding his two collaborations with Jason Lescalleet not really my cup of tea. So I didn’t actually pick up his last solo, and wouldn’t have gone in search of this new release either if it hadn’t jumped out at me from Kristina’s shelves. Who said that record shops don’t (didn’t) offer something different?
So the clear vinyl disc comes in a gatefold sleeve that carries no more than the artist name and title on the outside but opens up to a large single photo of what I take to be Lambkin, his partner and son sat in a Honda Civic car, accompanied by either serious or distracted expressions and a couple of CDs. The few liner notes on the inside then reveal that the music here was recorded inside the same car throughout 2010 and 11. This in itself is a nice idea, and certainly you can never find Lambkin short on interesting ideas, I just haven’t always clicked with their execution. When side one begins we hear a second or three of some kind of humming and whistling and some kind of folky pipe playing before an abrupt cut that sounds like a slice through a tape rather than a clean digital edit takes us to the roar of the road, some momentary grabs of voices, including an annoyed male, presumably Lambkin getting galway through and expletive outburst before a further cut takes us to the core of the content here, a recording of a really bad seventies prog rock album, full of ambient synth keyboard warbling and ridiculously clichéd flute. This then is what we hear for the length of side one, apart from one or two cuts away- different sections of this bad piece of music played through the car’s stereo as the family drive about, with voices, often Lambkin’s son, here and there heard, indecipherably above the music.
The second side follows suit, this time with twinkly, highly irritating synth noodling and dreamy swathes of ambient wistfulness combining with the barely audible chatter, the wind on the microphone (perhaps the car window was opened?) and the occasional cut away to a different section of the CD playing in the car / another journey for the family. That then, is how it goes. The bulk of what we hear is actually the content of the prog CDs, heard a little muddily maybe, but with the sounds of the family in the car reduced mainly to tiny incidental interference. Its a great idea for a record, really quite original and with much potential, but in the end I have just found myself getting more and more angry at having to listen to the awful post-Cluster, post-Tangerine Dream garbage while in search of other bits and pieces that made their way in to the recordings. Like so many of Mattin’s recordings, I have found myself with this one much more enamoured with the idea than with the actual execution. Listening through the forty minutes or so feels like twice as long to me as the dreary music goes on and on. Doubtless this record will be enjoyed by many then, and conceptually I think its great, it just isn’t something I particularly want to hear, and the person I feel sorry for the most, given that presumably he doesn’t have a choice in the matter, is Lambkin junior in the back seat!!