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Music Review: Stuart Moxham – Personal Best

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Back in 1980, Cardiff’s Young Marble Giants released their one and only album, Colossal Youth. It was the faintest shot heard ‘round the world. At the time, the post-punk world was moving in any number of directions. Everything was fair game, but the loudest and most abrasive forms generally got all of the ink.

YMG changed that, and in the process single-handedly launched nearly every K Records artist who ever lived, not to mention the later twee, indie pop, and shambling genres. The revolution YMG led was a simple one. By turning down the volume and singing gentle pop tunes backed by acoustic guitars and primitive drum machines, they were the arbiters of a whole new sound.

Stuart Moxham was the driving force behind YMG, and since the split he has recorded under a variety of circumstances. Personal Best is a generous 20 track compilation of his favorite post-YMG material. Moxham made an interesting choice in the sequencing of the disc. Rather than progressing chronologically from the earliest (1981) to the present, he chose to group the tracks at random, like his very own mix-tape.

It is an inviting way to present the songs, although accusations of front-loading the disc could be leveled. But who cares? If putting the best pop song of his career first in hopes of people listening all the way through for more gems, then so be it. That opener would be “Vampire Of Love,” from The Huddle House (2007), and it features the catchiest Spanish guitar this side of Roddy Frame.

From there, Stuart reaches back 14 years, to the great instrumental “Golden Childhood.” Recorded with his brother Andrew, this pleasant ditty first appeared on Random Rules in 1993. Moxham was busy that year, as he also worked on a collaboration with vocalist Barbara Manning titled Barbara Manning Sings With The Original Artists. Both “My First Gun,” and the gorgeous “Untitled #2” hail from those sessions.

There was a third Stuart Moxham LP recorded in ‘93, called Cars In The Grass. Both the title track and “God Knows” from it are present, bringing the grand total of cuts from that memorable year to eight.

As is often the case, the funnest stuff is the earliest. “Settled Hash” is from 1981 and consists of random synthesized swooshes and treated vocals. It sounds as if it were picked up short-wave from Mars, which I am certain was the intention.

Rounding out Personal Best are two tracks “From the forthcoming mini-album Six Winter Mornings.” The first, “Autumn Song” is a family affair, with Melody and Terence Moxham joining Stuart. The second, “Warning Signs 2” is an acoustic ballad, it highlights the tasteful violin work of Charlie Rose.

As leader of the Young Marble Giants, Stuart Moxham’s legacy in the alternative music universe is certain. But he has made a lot of worthwhile music since then, and Personal Best is a very good way to hear some of it.

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About Greg Barbrick