One of the many loveable things about John Peel was his tendency, with alarming regularity, to play records at the wrong speed. For the masterful Peel, this was a natural consequence of packing his late-night shows with so much adventurous music that the odd RPM gaffe here and there was to be expected.
Somewhat less excusably, I did exactly the same with the 10” copy of this Richard Hawley single from his Singles Club series which left my music collection forever last week courtesy of a Discogs buyer. Long gone are the days of me sitting down and sticking on an LP in my lounge; in these time-pressed parental days, I often record the vinyl into my laptop with the volume set to mute (pun intended) and then listen to it back on the train to work the next day on my iPod. I know, I know; and to think I call myself a music writer. Don’t trust anything I say.
That’s exactly what I did with ‘Down In The Woods’ when I first received it three years ago, except that I either misread the label or the label didn’t say what the speed was, or I just figured the turntable was set to 45 when it was actually still set to 33, and I never went and recorded it again. As a result, this review is of ‘Down In The Woods’ and its B-side ‘Kindly Rain’ – at the Peel-friendly wrong speed. Read it faster if you want to guess what it really sounds like.
‘Down In The Woods’ is a long, sludgy piece of psychedelic blues wherein a gravel-voiced Hawley does his best impression of a robotic heavy metal vocalist whacked out on tranquillisers. The guitars fizz with astral aspirations and feedback drones reminiscent of something the Jesus And Mary Chain might have developed in a vague homage to The Velvet Underground. The whole thing has an epic, heavy density; a cloying, foggy, slightly threatening stew that Hawley’s demonic vocal does little to dispel, especially on his echoey delivery across the sparse and slowly rebuilding middle eight. This is possibly what it sounds like when you listen to ‘The End’ by The Doors within a lab-controlled LSD experiment.
‘Kindly Rain’ is pure angelic, ethereal texture, with lots of shimmering, mellow grandeur and atmospheric touches, at least until it tries, abortively, to push upwards into another lysergic jam; it just happens to be fronted by someone who sounds a lot like Iggy Pop does these days. Even at the wrong speed I can tell this is Hawley at his ballad-toting best.
(c) 2015 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence