While it might sound counterintuitive, Alexis Taylor likes the idea that “you could have a song you know inside out but make up on the spot.” Listening to Start and Complete, the Hot Chip singer’s new improvisational project with his band About Group, that type of wide-open paradox seems fitting. The song’s skeletal chord changes and warm vocals are paired with fleshy chunks of lush organs, keyboard and electronics draped over them.
Taylor formed the band with John Coxon of Spiritualized in 2009 to play a series of improvised shows as part of the “Back in Your Town” concert series in London. It was initially a brainstorm session between friends, a collaboration away from the confines of everyone’s respective bands (About Group’s members also include Charles Hayward of venerated post-punk band This Heat and Pat Thomas, a noted fixture on Britain’s improv scene). After playing shows supporting Ornette Coleman and Gang Gang Dance, they recorded their first album in Hayward’s basement studio. One night on stage, Taylor got the idea to start singing one of his own songs over the band’s wanderings. “I didn’t know if putting the emphasis on songs was going to ruin things for the group,” Taylor says, “but if a song has affected me in some way, if a song is in my head, I like to try it out.”
To that end, Taylor had the idea to cover “You’re No Good,” a clipped burst of raucous Latin soul originally recorded in 1968 by the Harvey Averne Dozen, and used to infamous effect by Terry Riley in his own “You’re No Good.” In Riley’s piece, the Averne song is played on dual reel-to-reels, flashing back and forth, almost disintegrating into complete incoherence. About Group’s cover is somewhere between the two, the song’s simple refrain stretched into rejoinders of tender melody, the deep rattle of Hayward’s drums echoing through a blanket of bubbling electronics. “We were sort of trying to understand structure,” Hayward says, “feeling that it could expand out somewhere, end, and return to itself.” The successful bridge of inspiration from both structure and the unknown, is About Group’s greatest strength. Keeping things willfully unconscious and finding comfort in the vagueness of the whole project is the key to the record’s friendliness. “I never stopped and thought, What is it we’re doing?” Taylor says. “I just wanted to get it all on tape before everyone got too familiar with anything.”