From Nico and Elliott Smith, to Suicide and Scott Walker, Cork-based psych-folk artist Elaine Malone, aka Mantua, selects ten records that have left an indelible imprint on her music and life
Photo by Celeste Burdon
Nothing is Real by Elaine Malone is out now via Pizza Pizza Records
Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood – Nancy and Lee
The triumphant unity of Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra – finding mutual success in each other’s waning stars. Nancy was told by Lee to discard her saccharine pop persona and to “sing like a 14-year-old girl who fucks truck drivers”. Less a svengali and more a sullen-voiced peer, Hazlewood’s partnership with Sinatra outshines the overbearing shadow of her father. Her voice cuts through the swathes of strings and creates classics like ‘Sand,’ ‘Summer Wine’ and ‘Some Velvet Morning’. No one will ever write songs as well as Lee Hazlewood did, and it feels like a fool’s errand to even try. (There’s an excellent television special of his called Cowboy in Sweden, which is equal parts country-psychedelica and Kenneth Anger.)
Elliott Smith – Elliott Smith
I save him for times of great need, his songs unparalleled in their sensitivity. His presence is a salve and choosing one record feels like a betrayal of the others. No one holds such a sacred space in my heart as Elliott Smith does, so I have to use him sparingly. The first three albums in particular with their more modest production and double-tracked vocals and thoughtful, intricate fingerpicking. I recommend listening to the earlier Heatmiser version of ‘Christian Brothers,’ it swells with fuzz and heartache.
Pixies – Come on Pilgrim/Surfer Rosa
I bought this when Plugd was on Washington St. I would go on little sojourns to Cork in my teens and think it was a sprawling metropolis, which in comparison to a farm it was. I’m sure I found Pixies through Nirvana and something about the cover really struck me. The combination of chaotic, excitable Frank Black and the cool solidity of Kim Deal drives a tumultuous set of songs. It moves between fantasy and stark reality. Eroticism and loathing.
Nico – Camera Obscura
Of all Nico’s work, it seems that this is where she truly was herself. Older, more damaged and raw. Her deep, sonorous voice and profound sadness in the opening line of ‘My Heart is Empty’ is a cataclysm. Having read a lot about the making of this record it seems so significant because of its accidental nature. She confronts the rejection of her own beauty and descent into addiction. This record in all its flaws is far more powerful than the soft arrangements she despised on Chelsea Girl. The production sounds hollow and uncomfortably slides into the 80s. It sounds like cement and hard edges.
The Velvet Underground & Nico – Velvet Underground & Nico
This record came to me through the early days of the YouTube algorithm. It started my love affair with Nico’s voice and Lou Reed’s strutting, crude guitar propping up the most delicate expressions of love. There’s nothing about this record that hasn’t been said, except that there’s a genus of underground velvet spider called Loureedia.
Nirvana – In Utero
There’s nothing revolutionary about a teenager liking Nirvana, and I could say that every single one of the records I’ve mentioned so far has had a metamorphic effect on my soft adolescent brain. But the first time I heard Nirvana was on a mixtape my brother had, and it scared the shit out of me. I was a small child, and I realised then that the screaming man on the stereo would fascinate and comfort me for the rest of my life. In Utero has the best collection of their songs and the dynamics of noise and anger, softness and restraint, are enthralling. It’s a strange realisation to be older than he ever was. Twenty-seven seemed so old and far away.
My Bloody Valentine – Isn’t Anything
Loveless is such a remarkable and revolutionary-sounding record. Spatially and sonically it’s perfect and heartbreaking. However, I would trade that entire record for the track ‘Lose My Breath’ and I’d like it to be the last thing I ever hear (or the song that I’m buried to)
Marty Robbins – Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs
Marty is a recent addition to my life and my general weakness for cowboys has led me into a hallowed fandom. In its entirety, the iconography of these songs sets the foundations for the archetypical lovelorn, ill-fortuned gunslinger. He conjures the idea of fate and destiny in simple and unavoidable terms. Cause and effect permeate every well-sung syllable. My love is stronger than my fear of death.
Scott Engel – Scott 4
The thing I like most about Scott Walker is that he never rested on his laurels and stayed a pop star, but instead explored how far he could go regardless of whether it was likeable or not (punching slabs of meat). He’s the prime example of humble evolution and defying stagnation. The arrangements of I have deep admiration for his tradition of only listening to a completed record once, very very loudly and never again. This record has my favourite of all of his lyrics.
“The crowds just gathered, their faces turned away. and they queue all day like dragons of disgust” – The Old Man’s Back Again (Dedicated to the Neo-Stalinist Regime)
Suicide – Suicide
Alan Vega’s yelps are true howls from the abyss. ‘Ghost Rider’ should be held up as the peak of mechanical invention. It marks the sacred point of what came before and after Suicide. There’s a fearless tenacity and fuckyouness that swells between every beat on this record. Frankie Teardrop is a striking look at violence in America of ’77.