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William Bates | Days I Knew 1992-2002
Of all the things a magazine editor can slide across a coffee shop table towards an expectant reviewer, a nine-disc, self-made, self-marketed collection by some geezer the writer's not heard of is not the one most likely to bring a smile to a face, or a skip to a heart. But what's this? The early stuff's produced by Mitch Easter at the mythical Drive In Studios? Well maybe we'll set aside preconceptions and give it a go.



But, before I start on the first disc I must say that the key word here is 'prolific'. Nine albums and five bands in ten years? Phew! (And, it seems, only the first two discs date from the '90s and that discs 3-9 were all recorded in the last few years!)



The Parlophones/The Revolvers

This disc contains music by our man's first two bands dating from the early '90s. With band names like the above you'd be excused for expecting a bit of a Beatles influence, and you'd not be wrong, but the Byrds influence is stronger. This is the disc containing the Mitch Easter productions, so it wouldn't be far-fetched to expect some memories of his fine band Let's Active to be evoked - and they are. So, 12-string jangly power-pop and harmonies, but also some fine odd little instrumental breaks featuring, for example, what might be cellos and bongos. And some guitar solos! It's all eminently cute and loveable, with the vocals likeable, boyish and sparse, and sounding a bit like Tom Petty. My favourite on this disc is All Those Things - piano-propelled with some chiming guitar and a strong Let's Active vibe.



Language | Language/Blithe

The first incarnation of Bates' next band is a bit fuller in sound and musically more Byrds-inspired Petty than the early Byrds of the above. Still pretty much power pop, then, and jangly and likeable. But I prefer 'Blithe' for the vocal variety from bringing in one Phyllis Cox to share the vocals and some songwriting. Gave You all of Me is where all this duality comes nicely together. I'll Wait is another standout, with it's strange bell-like backing and lush arrangement. This disc leaves behind the overt sound of influences at work, in favour of some smoother sophistication, with even a bit of a Pretenders tinge.



William Bates | Days I Knew / Falling up the Hill

For his first self-named offering the jangle's back, but with more ambitious arrangements this time. Ms Cox appears now and again, singing back-up to some of our hero's most Dylanish vocal performances. Greeting from the Wilderness is a good example of all these developments. (It also has one of the wilder examples of this disc's tendency towards the one-minute instrumental fade out.) Electronics provide some softly psychedelic textures too, especially on Super Stock Dodge, which sounds like early Beach Boys covered by mid-period REM, and not just because of the mandolin. In fact the REM feel is pretty strong with this one all along. The strongest most confident disc so far, no question. 'Falling up the Hill' starts with a few surprisingly techno-sounding machine-beat backings before reverting more to the feel of its predecessor, with maybe a bit more beef. And just as I'm beginning to wonder, there's the surprise of a track that sounds uncannily (and lovably) like Todd Rundgren, called Ready by Nine, to keep me interested.



Slender Thread

This is a side project with a bassist and drummer which takes the Rundgren weirdness tendency and runs with it into the kind of over-powered prog-y territory our Todd explored with his band Utopia. Not my cup of tea then, or now. Next!



Manneek

Another side project, involving one Joe Jogodka playing the drums and sharing in the electronica, vocals and kitchen items. There's a bit of cello on this one too. But overall it attempts a dirty, loose and funky sound that doesn't convince at all.



Scarlet

Finally there's a disc of instrumentals and backing tracks which in any box-set would be the disc for the committed fans only, so the presumption of including it here is not inconsiderable. But it's pretty pleasant, indeed a breath of fresh air after the musty side projects, but more than a little like listening to backing tracks, when all's said and done.



The set also includes a CD-Rom of live performances etc, but for an introduction to the man, perhaps take a look at his website and download the trio of songs, Waiting For The Spring, a slowy; The Heart Is Still Willing, a jangler; and There's A Way, sounding like early REM and the best of the downloads, being the most like the self-named discs.



So there you have it, a not-unpleasant trawl through one man's career, but too much for most people in one burst, I should think. He's due to bring out a 'best of' collection which should provide a good way in. His sound consistently has that unvarnished demo-tape urgency which I like lots. The fact that the best stuff, the solo stuff, is the most recent is reason to expect more good things from our man. Check him out at www.t21music.com

Jeff Cotton
December 2002

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