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Thursday, 31 March 2011

Listening to Music and Silence

Album review: M.C.T.U - Listening to Music and Silence
RCA, 2011
CD, Download, Vinyl, pianola roll, braille



Alt-folk punk art rock collective M.C.T.U are reticent even by the standards of their beardy, duffle-coated skinny jeans and trendy shoes wearing genre. Early in their careers, they were known for playing with their backs turned to the audience, such was their disdain. Later they took to playing in another room from the audience altogether, and then in another room and with their backs turned, just for good measure.

Their first album – Owls (Murk) – was a critical hit in 2005, but largely ignored by the public, much to the band's relief. Their second album – 2006's Jeff's Nuthatch (Murk) – reached number 79 in the charts over the summer, and the band were signed by RCA. However, the band's creative powerhouse, Graham Sibley was still unhappy with their direction, and told NME in 2007 that recording and writing music was limiting to the band's musical potential.

This signalled the beginning of a hugely experimental period for the band beginning with their controversial Silent Album (RCA), released in the spring of 2008. While critics were initially unsure how to take the album, the public embraced it, helped along by the DJ Shadow remix of the track “Track Six”.

The follow-up - Second Silent Album (RCA) - was a product of the same sessions as Silent Album and is in many ways a companion piece, embracing the themes of lack of communication, alienation and stillness. The agony behind these tracks betrayed the creative rivalries that would finally destroy the band.

Saxophone player Doug Roper left the group and put out a solo album – Dreams of a Reed Player (Geffen) – of recordings of him asleep dreaming about playing the songs. It was a commercial hit, but critics and hardcore fans claimed that Doug had betrayed the M.C.T.U. ethos by snoring on several of the tracks, and at one stage loudly shouting “Not me Rover!” several times in his sleep.

Third Silent Album was recognised by critics and the record buying public alike as a failure, as if what had initially seemed such a deep and vibrant sound was suddenly just a blank CD or empty space on your iPod. For all his creative fire, Sibley somehow needed Roper's popular instincts to keep the music on track. The group fianlly disbanded in 2010 and Sibley is now rumoured to be a children's TV presenter in Canada or Australia (or perhaps an Australian/Canadian co-production).

This live recording captures them at their mercurial best, during their campus tour of the US in 2008 when they played in entirely different venues from the audience. The rocking energy of Sibley, Roper and the others resonates against the apathy and murmuring boredom of the crowds. This catches one of the most innovative bands of the noughties in their full, silent glory!

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