Although this album came out in 2003 as a Paddy McAloon solo album, it was re-mastered and re-released this year under his more famous moniker “Prefab Sprout”.
I battled long and hard with my conscience over putting this in my top five. Last year I was perfectly comfortable making “Car Seat Headrest”s remake of his 2011 album “Twin Fantasy” my album of the year. But for “I Trawl The Megahertz” I felt differently. Eventually I decided where my line in the sand was for records that qualified and unfortunately “I Trawl The Megahertz” just didn’t make it.
That difference was re-master vs remake. Although a remaster does use new creative vision and makes the work sound different, it doesn’t re-record the instrumentation of the album. And with that I concluded that It just didn’t qualify for my albums of the year list.
However I had to mention it before my albums of the year, because when it comes to the albums I’ve listened to and enjoyed the most this year. “I Trawl The Megahertz” has featured highly.
There are a handful of records this year that instantly stood out in a playlist. The lush sound stage of strings, whistling, and some sort of ideophone drift into the opening track. This creates not just the mood for the album, but a feeling of a modern orchestra.
The collection of instruments used on this album are so well suited that they could be used to make countless records of incredible music. It demonstrates the talented ear of Paddy McAloon and his ability think about instrumentation and composition in a way that creates a new sonic landscape that doesn’t rest in traditions or conventions.
In turn, this makes the record sit somewhere between genres; cast into an opaque world, with dreamlike flexibility. Moments hint at classical, jazz, and more experimental areas, but it never sits there long enough to become them. Instead it drifts off into new realms and possibilities.
This has a unique effect on you as the listener. It massages you with a collection of different stimuli and ideas. It gave me the same feeling I get when walking round a gallery in a daydream and multiple emotions are stirred in me but then let go as I move onto the next idea and artwork. The effect it creates is a calming, almost meditative state that is easy to relax into.
On the majority of the album the vocals also adhere to this feeling of perusing. Mostly spoken word, they drift between subject matters every few sentences; occasionally hitting on incredibly poignant and thought provoking sections before falling into different feelings and subject matter entirely.
The story behind the album’s creation is interesting in its own right. After surgery to fix detached retinas, Paddy McAloon had to spend his recovery with little visibility . Over this time period he became interested in radio, including documentaries and phone in shows, which he would record. These recordings then became the inspiration for many ideas in the album. It’s more obvious on tracks like “I’m 49” but its always there in its composition.
The weight of this albums history would always give it a special place for music fans like myself. But even if you take it at entirely face value, you are still left with a record that is both a visionary portrayal of an artist’s thoughts and a unique emotional experience for the listener. For me, there’s no higher praise I could give to a record.
Even though “I trawl the Magahertz” didn’t fit my standards for an album of the year 2019, I know it will stay with me, and grow on me for many years to come, as I approach the age Paddy McAloon was when he made it. There are very few records I would hold in this high an esteem and this exquisite remaster allowed me to hear it for the first time and find something truly special no matter what year it was released.