Spike’s Top Tracks: 24th Feb – 2nd Mar
Here’s a new idea, I’m going to attempt mini reviews of the five songs that are currently getting the most love from me each week. This isn’t intended to be an insight into new bands, and I have fairly terrible taste. More than anything else it’s an easy way for me to update at least once a week. I’m also providing a multiply playlist with the songs, which means you should be able to stream the songs without the ability to download. Although I’m sure smarter people than me will already have work arounds for that.
Seesaw by Cocoon
“I used to be…..a son of a bitch”
Intones the male vocalist of French folk duo Cocoon. Specialising in harmonised vocals with pared down backing music; the duo’s debut album All My Friends Died In A Plane Crash has half a dozen songs which could be on this list. Despite their youth (both members are barely in their twenties) Cocoon creates soundscapes defined by a languid and almost moribund tone. There is a dreamy introspection to Seesaw which plays against the ethereal and pared down instrumentation. It is this innate sadness which propels and defines Cocoon and allows them to carve out their own niche in a genre becoming increasingly oversaturated.
The neo-folk stylisation they’ve adopted put them as contemporaries of Andrew Bird and Sufjan Stevens. Their particular sound style also happens to bring to mind the late great Elliot Smith. Despite this there strength in harmonising and building pared down orchestrations ultimately allows them their own context. When you listen to songs like Seesaw you’re swept away by the drama and theatricality of the piece which helps distance them from their contemporaries.
(Antichrist Television Blues) by Arcade Fire
“If my little mockingbird don’t sing, well then daddy won’t buy no diamond ring”
Thrust and momentum aren’t words you’d commonly associate with Arcade Fire, there legendary live shows and hectic debut album conveying a sense of joyous musical chaos. Certainly you listen to Funeral and there’s a sense of musical narrative but it is barely a means to an end, a springboard for turbulent, discordant, enthralling and layered musicianship, a platform for the sheer joy of music. The 2007 follow up Neon Bible would be a far more forceful beast, pushing narrative and structure to the forefront whilst maintaining the rapturous musical pandemonium.
Filled with thoughts of impending war and loaded with neurotic fascinations with the way America is currently working Neon Bible is filled with narrative songs. (Antichrist Television Blues) is one such thing, with its narrative about a father forcing his daughter onto fortune and glory she has no interest in. Lead singer Win takes the role of the father and the song is essentially him begging his daughter to continue her performing and imploring god for answers to the problems which he haunts him. It’s a cynical and bitter song, spat out with punchy style and almost lost beneath wailing strings. Like a demented Johnny Cash cover the song spits out its message whilst maintaining a consistent narrative, all whilst mixed with typical Arcade Fire tropes.
Trophy by Bat for Lashes
“Heaven is a feeling I get in your…arms”
Bat for Lashes is the fancy name for British solo artist Natasha Khan, and Trophy is the second track off of her debut album Fur and Gold. She’s currently building up her reputation in Britain after a Mercury Music Nomination brought a lot of attention to her album. As such she’s in that wonderful moment just before she becomes annoyingly ubiquitous. If you’re lazy you’ll bring up Kate Bush as a nice and easy comparison, and it fits (albeit a little uncomfortably) fairly well. There’s an easy connection between the idiosyncrasies of both performers and the ethereal quality of the records they make.
Trophy is a great example of this, a brooding and stormy song about the most sacred of chalices. There’s a wonderful sparseness to the song, instruments used to provide context more than content. It is largely propelled by Natasha’s vocals, mixed with quite creepy male backing vocals. Favouring percussion and bass over anything else the most notable elements of the song are the strong bass line, hand claps and a set of maracas. This percussive rhythm forces focus onto the lyrics which are certainly Bat for Lashes strong point. Natasha Khan possesses a voice which is quite remarkable, clear, powerful, and striking and almost every song on Fur and Gold serves to highlight her dulcet tones.
Cassius by Foals
“Cassius it’s over, you’re second best”
If you’re British and have interest in music you’ll know about Foals, they’re scheduled to be the next big thing and as such by the time I write this their previous fans may already be riding the hate train to ‘totally sold out central’. It is the price you pay for being a new band aimed at a more ‘discerning’ crowd. I’m told Foals are part of the ‘Math Rock’ movement, the term ‘Math Rock’ itself makes me want to punch people in the neck but who am I to argue against the zeitgeist. Here’s what you need to know about Foals, they place fast and intense indie rock music with idiosyncratic musical diversions occurring usually halfway through a song.
Current single Balloons has a quite awesome drum section which kicks in at the halfway point and Cassius has a horn section (which sounds like it was ripped from the Nuns on the Run soundtrack) which kicks in halfway through.
It is quite hard to be objective about groups whose only rationale seems to be to get people to dance. Certainly Foals are remarkable at crafting fantastic hooks and making great, danceable beats. Seeing them live brings their more technical aspects to the fore, the band going in for jazz style jamming sessions above all else. The singles though certainly showcase a band that can play extremely well, have a great amount of energy, and can write absolutely fantastic fun songs.
M79 by Vampire Weekend
“Sing in praise of Jackson Crowther”
If you want a band who are all about fun then Vampire Weekend might be the band for you. The New York quartet’s self titled debut album fuses afro-beat with the pop punk and in doing so it creates an album which can just totally brighten up a person’s day. M79 isn’t a song that appears on Vampire Weekend, I was sent the track by an MSN contact after wittering on about how much I loved the album. As such I have no idea where it comes from, I’d guess it was a b-side to a released single, but it perfectly encapsulates what I love about the band.
The album itself trades in the kind of afro-beat that was showcased by Paul Simon’s album Graceland. The dynamics of the album however go beyond Paul Simon’s interpretation and actually seem to be homages to original afro beat bands like Fela Kuti. There is a westernised edge to the group with certain riffs and lyrical themes coming straight from their home city. M79 is perhaps the most displaced of their songs, at least in terms of instrumentation. Whilst the lyrics are lovingly about their hometown (sing in praise of Jackson Crowther being a reference to a local baseball player), the sound itself mixes so many different styles that it becomes increasingly difficult to spot influences. Led by strings (which only make an appearance on the album on the track Walcott) and using a repeated rhythm played by different instruments M79 is the sort of joyous and exuberant track which you’d use to showcase the group.