Friday, August 13, 2021

#20 Apartment Life - Ivy

Original release date : October 1997

Once again I don't have much of a clear idea where I ran across Ivy or even what it was that prompted me to buy a physical copy of this album rather than just listen to a few tracks online. I'm very glad I did, though. It's a great album.

On investigation, that's not quite as much of a revelation as I thought and Ivy aren't so much of a personal discovery, either.  As I look into it now for this post, the band turns out to be much more famous and successful than I realised. Also, to my complete consternation, it seems Apartment Life was produced by none other than my own long-time musical obsession, Lloyd Cole.

I've been following Lloyd's career since his first hit back in the '80s. I have his website bookmarked and I visit it fairly often. He's not usually one to avoid self-promotion but I had no idea he'd ever produced anything other than his own stuff. If he had and I'd been listening to it, well, you'd think I would have known.

In the old days, by which I mean the '70s and '80s, I used to read every word on an album sleeve or a CD insert. I had better eyesight then and the print was bigger. These days I don't always bother trying to decipher the gnome-sized heiroglyphs that make up the liner notes on the average CD so I figured maybe that was how I'd missed Lloyd's producer credit.

I have the CD in front of me now and I can tell you that's not the reason. The reason is that Wikipedia is talking bollocks. This is one of the very few times I've actually run into the proverbial unreliability of what I've generally found to be a very accurate resource.

Here's what Wikipedia says, from the lengthy entry Apartment Life gets all to itself. (I told you Ivy were more famous than I realised.)  "...the album was produced by Lloyd Cole and Peter Nashel." And here's what it says on the CD inlay: "Produced by Ivy".

Did someone at Wikipedia just make it up, than? Well, not entirely. There's also this note, buried in the indicia: "Additional production and engineering by Peter Nashel". Okay, so at least that guy did something. Still no sign of Lloyd... oh, wait a moment... "Track 2 additional production by Lloyd Cole".

Aha! There it is! The evidence! The great man did some secondary production work on one track. Now I get why he never mentioned it on his website.

All of this is very fascinating (to me...) but it's taken us somewhat off the point. I was about to explain just why I like this album so much. It has nothing to do with the tenuous, albeit not entirely spurious, Lloyd Cole connection. It's because Apartment Life has become one of my go-to albums to play in the background while I'm writing blog posts. 

There are only certain kinds of music that work for that: electronica and synthwave, most 1970s funk, some post rock but best of all this kind of hard to define, know it when you hear it, polite, drifting, electronica-inflected inter-continental chamber pop.

There's something about singers who are neither British nor American that just makes writing to the sound of their voices easier, even when they're singing in English. I have no idea why. Autour de Lucie, Le Superhommard, the Liminanas... they've all hummed productively behind the tapping of my keyboard over the years. I'm always looking for more like those.

They don't have to be French-inflected. I often let one of Elefant Records' mostly Spanish-language indie-pop playlists run as I try to improvise my way to something but playlists can be fickle. One ill-timed novelty number or blaring rock blaster blows the whole deal. 

I like things to be suave, sophisticated and subtle when I write. Or motorik, metronomic and clinical. It depends. I also don't like the lyrics to intrude too obtrusively, for obvious reasons.

None of this is to say Ivy or any of the bands I've mentioned are only good for having on in the background. They're all much better than that. But being able to inspire thought and expression is no mean achievement. Even if that was all they were, that would still be a lot.

As a sad coda, Ivy's co-founder Adam Schlesinger, better-known as the frontman of Fountains of Wayne, was an early fatality of Covid19 back in April last year. I read about it at the time but since I didn't really know Fountains of Wayne it passed me by in the flurry of famous death notices. He was 52.

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