There are many kinds of album releases, the slow-burning success of a Fleet Foxes or a Bon Iver, the excitement driven surprise of the secret album perfected by Radiohead and Beyonce, but perhaps most pleasing of all, is the lost album.
There’s plenty of reasons an album can get lost, some people like Greenday and Calvin Harris, have been careless enough to genuinely lose albums, both having the only copy of their album stolen, which is frankly more stupid than it is sad. Although it seems to be less popular than it used to be, a classic way of losing an album is getting yourself into a record label dispute, a master of both the lost album and the record label dispute, it will probably come as a surprise to nobody that Ryan Adams appears here, but 1997’s Whiskeytown effort, Forever Valentine, is one of the most sadly lost, how it managed to breach a record contract we’re not at all sure, but apparently it did, and it has never seen the light of day. The Kinks also fell foul of record label politics, Four More Respected Gentlemen was set to be a US only release, released at the same time the band were putting out the quintessentially British classic, The Village Green Preservation Society. The release was shelved and Village Green put out on both sides of the Atlantic, and Four More Respected Gentlemen has never released; a great shame as Ray Davies has suggested it’s a song cycle about table manners, which sounds oddly brilliant.
Plenty of other albums went missing following either band in-fighting, or band break-uping. Paul McCartney, noticing The Beatles were having creative trouble, planned to get them back to their roots. He plotted to make the album Get Back, an album recorded without studio trickery and overdubs; sadly the sessions ground to a halt, and whilst Phil Spector was able to cobble together Let It Be out of the tapes, it was an entirely different record to the one Macca had in mind. In 1982, The Clash released their most commercially successful and final album, Combat Rock, however it was originally planned to be an adventurous multi-record album in the mould of the ambitious Sandinista, entitled Rat Patrol From Fort Bragg. Band bickering (at one point Joe Strummer and Mick Jones were recording simultaneously in studios next to one another) and Strummer’s desire to make a commercially successful album, led to the tracks being cut down, and some dropped entirely, the result was Combat Rock and Mick Jones leaving the band feeling his artistic vision had been compromised.
Other albums have been lost due to the sheer ambition of the people making the album, Brian Wilson’s record Smile, is possibly the most famous lost LP, and it was largely lost because Wilson just couldn’t work out how to produce the music that matched his ambition, even when it was finally released back in 2004, many people noted it was far more stripped back and straight forward than the original session tapes has suggested. Pete Townsend’s idea for the follow up to Tommy was equally ambitious, and equally flawed, Townsend planned to make an elaborate multi-dimensional project incorporating film, album, and live shows. The project was set to make use of the audience’s bio-rhythms, and a science fiction story about underground rock ‘n’ roll temples in a dystopian future. For better or for worse, the rest of The Who talked Townsend out of his slightly bonkers sounding project, and they set about using some of the tracks to make the hugely acclaimed Who’s Next. Townsend’s project still remains an un-realized dream, it should quite possible stay that way.
There’s plenty of reasons why an album can get lost, perhaps the most tragic of all is when they just fail to find an audience; who knows how many lost gems are out there on the hard-drives and master tapes around the world just waiting to be discovered, albums by the likes of Normil Hawaiians and LOST LEFT might have been lost, but hopefully now, some years later, the world might just be ready to find them.
LOST LEFT were a South-London based trio, fronted by the ambitious songwriting of Benjamin Pritchard. Back in 2012, when the band had been going for around two years, Benjamin wrote the tracks that would go on to become their debut album Levollinen. They were tracks that came from a world of solitude, inspired more by the literature he was reading and thoughts in Ben’s head, than they were by any real human interaction.
The album was recorded in and around South London, where Ben was living, over the course of a year, and eventually finished off in the Glasgow studio of Marcus Mackay, a converted coach-house, where previously the likes of Frightened Rabbit, Trembling Bells and Kathryn Joseph have cut their musical teeth. Following the completion of the album, the band self-released the record in 2012, and despite radio support from the likes of Jarvis Cocker and Gideon Coe, not much more came of it. As the band put it, life happened, and they disbanded, that for most bands would be where the story ends.
In the case of LOST LEFT though, as perhaps you’ve realised by now, there was a twist. Hits The Fan Records originally formed back in 2006 to release the debut album by Frightened Rabbit, Sing The Greys; then as with LOST LEFT, life happened. It would be nine years before the next record on Hits The Fan; at the beginning of 2015 they released another remarkable Scottish album, Kathryn Joseph’s critically acclaimed, Bones You Have Thrown Me And Blood I’ve Spilled. It was a huge success, winning the Scottish Album Of The Year award and generally propelling Kathryn way beyond anything she would have expected. Hits The Fans may not release many records, but they sure have a knack of putting out good ones.
In intervening period between 2006 and 2015, Hits The Fan admit that music got lost, but having rediscovered a passion, and relaunched a record label. The label looked back upon the intervening years and realised that, as they themselves put it, “music was definitely lost and left and possible left unheard.” And amongst that lost and left music, was the music of LOST LEFT, and with little thought for the commercial aspect of releasing an album by a band who no longer exist, the label decided to re-release Levollinen, as they put it, “I want to share this record before it gets lost in time and left behind.” Which after just second of the opening track, Thank You For The Lung, anyone with a pair of ears would realise would be very sad indeed.
The album starts with a wash of background noise and static, a crackling vocal sample, a female voice, sounding somewhat elderly, perhaps a little frail, croaks in; she reflects on all the aspects of parenting, and producing fully formed human beings, but ultimately concludes, “what is the good of all of this if at any moment somebody could press a bomb just to obliterate them all.” It’s the sort of instant atmospheric you associate with the grand, expansive post rock of acts like Godspeed You! Black Emperor, it’s the sort of hairs on the back of your arm, uneasy feeling that everything in the world might not be okay after all. It’s arguably the most arresting forty second of music we’ve heard this year. From there Bobby Crawford’s drums roll in, alongside multiple layers of guitar and Benjamin’s vocal, pitched somewhere between a more Anglicised Horse Thief and British Sea Power. Chris Pollock’s bass playing throughout the track is exquisite, it’s defiantly in the foreground, prominent often carrying much of the melody and delivered with a deftness not normally associated with the instrument. Lyrically it seems to be delightfully dark, hinting at a Burke & Hare-like Bodysnatchers situation, as Benjamin notes, “they’ll take you apart and earn their gold from your body parts.” Although with perhaps a slight touch more interpretation the potential links to privatisation become apparent, it is the lungs of a person, or the lungs of a country that are being sold in front of our eyes.
Why the band used Thank You For The Lung as the album’s lead single is obvious, it’s the most immediate, and stand-alone piece on the record. The rest of the record is perhaps better digested as a whole rather than picked apart track by track. It’s a slowly unfurling piece of work; long, slow moving and in some ways difficult to digest in a single sitting. Perseverance is the key here though, with repeat listens the charms of the record come into the foreground and slowly become impossible to ignore. The shimmering ten minute long-epic Purdah, named after the practice in certain Muslim and Hindu societies of screening women from men or strangers by means of a curtain, is inaccessible and arguably pretentious on first listen. On returning though you discover the beauty in it’s pulses and dips, the rolls of the drums and the atmospheric swoops of guitar; the way it builds to a rapid yelping crescendo, collapses to nothing then returns as a rush of swaying bar-room melancholy.
Caves pulses with the anguished post-Americana of Lift To Experience, the vocal at times becoming less a vehicle for transmitting words and more an anguished instrumental howl. The title track Levollinen, a Finnish word meaning calm and peaceful, add’s a kraut-rock like feeling, even at times hinting at the more expansive end of Stereolab’s output. Whilst the excellent Young Without Loss, moves into more acoustic-folky territory recalling the Leisure Society or another sadly forgotten band from a similar-era Pengilly’s.
This is complex music; sometimes it tries a little too hard to be clever and different, but surely that’s better than lacking ambition. It marks LOFT LEFT out as a band you really wanted to hear progress, they had such potential, and you are left to wonder what might have been. As a parting gift to the world, this remains a very special one, and one that’s well worth rediscovering, and who knows with Benjamin Pritchard set to embark on solo releases of his own, this might not be the last we hear of this rare musical talent.
Levollinen is out now via Hits The Fan Records.