Grand Hotel Ibis by SELF-HELP

Release date: February 7, 2020
Label: Tesla Tapes

Yeah I know, Self-Help tapes. I get it, I was hesitant about it myself but who doesn’t need help? Who doesn’t want a few answers for the little voice always asking “Why am I like this?” I got it at a, I guess you’d say, motivational event. Up at the Grand Hotel Ibis. Which isn’t all that grand, a minor country house converted into a hotel and conference rooms. A bucolic setting located a conveniently short drive from the urban grind. Business conferences and self actualization seminars. Crunching on the gravel outside staring at it, “What am I doing here? Why am I like this?” Look I’m not saying this is going to make you a better person or anything but it’s an interesting listen. Try it, I think you might get something out of it. I probably wouldn’t listen to it while driving.

John Doran’s book is forever being recommended to me by people I trust but still languishes on the mental list that lies beyond the physical tottering pile. He offers some observations on a series of violent injuries he has sustained, beginning as an infant and working grimly and repetitively on. The flat drone of his voice soon becomes comforting. The affectless delivery combines with the everyday settings, lulling you. Wilder observations about the cosmos in your blood or the divination powers of healed bone slip through.

The stories may or may not be fictional that’s not really the point, they’re relatable. What is the point? Is it our frailty or our remarkable resilience? Is he suggesting some sort of revelation through mortification of the flesh? Shit. These things always turn cult weird on you. Again and again the pained and bleeding Doran is told by medics you’ll just have to leave it, it’ll heal on its own. This advice eventually culminating in a vivid and hilarious series of descriptions of his poor battered nose.

After that disorienting march the pleasing French tones of Marion Andrau are so mellifluous it’s hard to follow what she says. Almost instantly I’m in a soft drifting trance, curled in the warm blanket of her voice. Even when punctured by the harsh mantra “death, freedom, isolation, meaninglessness” it’s still somehow comforting. At lunch I bump into Mark Dicker who is providing an excellent soundtrack of modular synth contortions. He confides “John said it was going to be an OMD covers band.” I think he’s joking but this chimes with a conversation I had just the previous day about how a record as weird as ‘Maid Of Orleans’ became a hit single. Rough blocks of atonal synth noise. There are no coincidences. I ask if they’d considered being Doran Doran and he gives me an exhausted and pitying look. Why am I like this?

‘EXERCISE NUMBER 1’ finds Doran in gentler mood. Functional title aside it’s a philosophical consideration of guided meditation techniques that warps unexpectedly and melts into a dreamlike memory of childhood and the hot summer of ’76. A summer so hot it has entered national folklore. Lucid and airless, his remembrance hovers in the air dragging me briefly back to my own childhood street. And then we’re back in the room. The tape also has time for a nice remix by none other than Chris Carter. In some way the very idea of it encircles the space for this project.

Self-Help is John Doran’s writing and Mark Dicker’s music but this tape also features an impressive cast of musical guests. Members of Throbbing Gristle, GNOD, The Utopia Strong, Lone Taxidermist, VÄLVĒ, Teeth Of The Sea, Sweet Williams, Body Vice and Melting Hand chip in. Fringe obsessions, harmless cranks with bizarre ideas, submerged cultural currents. I suppose this isn’t for everyone although I don’t think it’s wilfully obtuse. You should try it, I think you might get something out of it. It hasn’t made me a better person yet but if nothing else it’s impressed on me that I really need to read Doran’s book.

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