Spike’s Top Track: 9th March – 16th March
Music by Nineteenth Century can be found on their MySpace here
Cliquot by Beirut
“Yesterday Fever, Tomorrow St. Peter…I’ll beat on my drum til then”
Cliquot presents a quandary of sorts, largely because it is hard to know who to attribute the record to. The song appears on the second album of phenomenal solo artist Beirut (aka Zach Condon) a young American who has crafted two superb orchestral sounding albums. Beirut’s first album Gulag Orkestar was a pounding and vibrant celebration of East European Folk music, a wide array of instruments crafting an album that sounded ancient and yet was the product of a nineteen year old from Albuquerque.
The follow up album would modify the structure a little, the Eastern Bloc stylisation meshing with a more refined continental sound. The messy, drum led, beats of Gulag Orkestar would give way to songs that maintained a semblance of that original sound but were also precise and at times petite. The obvious comparison is that the Gulag Orkestar would be the sound of an eastern European pub, whilst the second album The Flying Cup Club sounds like something you’d hear in a Parisian café. Cliquot is a great example of this, a marching beat powering the song, but dainty strings and an accordion providing the definition.
This is where the problem of authorship comes in. Owen Pallett is a favourite musician of mine, a session violinist who has played with some of the great recent Canadian rock bands. He has also released some solo albums under the name Final Fantasy and is generally just incredible. He provides the defining strings of The Flying Cup Club, and sings the lead in Cliquot. His delicate voice is a good match for Condon (who sings most tracks himself and provides chorus harmonisation on Cliquot) but when combined with the string led orchestrations the lines between Beirut and Final Fantasy are blurred. Whilst the overall tone of the song is strongly Beirut, the lyrics and string sections sound like Final Fantasy. Of course it is not really an issue as such; Condon and Pallet combine their incredible skill sets to create an incredible song and as such trying to pick out who is responsible seems a little silly.
Just Bring the Noise by Patrick Ripoll
“Public Enemy, Number 1”
The term mash-up generally creates connotations of disposal chart fodder, an inept mix of two one songs beat structure and one songs vocal line to create a song cynically designed to recycle old hits. Certain artists take the concept of recycling and cannibalising old songs and create truly amazing things. Anyone who has seen the trailer for Pineapple Express will have heard M.I.A.’s fantastic song Paper Planes which is built on the bedrock of an obscure Clash sample, whilst artists like DJ Shadow would create genuinely amazing and original songs using carefully constructed samples.
The album Disorient from Patrick Ripoll shifts wildly between these two paradigms, offering certain songs which are traditional mash-ups and certain songs which use samples to explore music and sound in a manner similar to Aphex Twin, Squarepusher and 65daysofstatic. The song I’ve picked out from the album isn’t the best piece on the album, but it is probably the easiest introduction to it.
Just Bring The Noise is a mash-up of Radiohead and Public Enemy, combining the riff and chorus of Just with the Public Enemy rapping. It is a smart little song because it uses two samples that would not seem particularly compatible and combines them in a way that they compliment each other. The rap track adds an intensity and urgency to the Radiohead track that works surprisingly well. Disorient is a low-fi album, and as such you’re not getting the best experience by listening to it over PC speakers. Thankfully the whole album is available for download on Patrick Ripoll’s Site.
Where The Wild Roses Grow by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
“for her lips were the colour of the roses that grew down the river all bloody and wild”
There are about a dozen other songs I could feature that would give a better impression of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Whilst Where The Wild Roses Grow is not indicative of The Bad Seeds as a group it is a fantastic piece of music thanks largely to an unexpected element.
If you know who Kylie Minogue is you probably have the image of a Soap actress and Pop Star, her fame coming about because of Stock, Aitken and Waterman and her career resurging in the new millennium following a slew of fantastic pop songs. However between her early pop success of the late 80s/early 90s and her later pop success in the 00s, Kylie would attempt to distance herself from the scene and would work with several artists and produce albums which were at best eclectic and at worst schizophrenic.
It is a shame really that none of this stuff had mass market appeal, because some of the songs from this period are legitimately great pieces of music. In this musical hinterland she’d collaborate with various artists including Japanese producer Towa Tei (of Dee-Lite fame), the Manic Street Preachers and of course Nick Cave.
Where The Wild Roses Grow appears on the Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds album Murder Ballads and is, as you would have guessed, about a murder. The song is a duet, with Nick Cave taking the role of murderer and Kylie taking the role of his beautiful victim. Even on Murder Ballads the song is an oddity, containing a musical scope and sound which conflicts with everything else on the album. Its almost vaudevillian piano and violin arrangements are a million miles away from the claustrophobic minimalism of songs like Henry Lee and it is this epic scope which allowed it to get into the public consciousness so readily. There is a fragile beauty to the song; a genuinely haunting element added by the innocence of Kylie’s voice as Nick Cave spins his yarn of lust and murder.
Death is the Road to Awe by Clint Mansell/ Mogwai and the Kronos String Quartet
“I’m going to die”
If you’ve seen a trailer recently chances are you’ve heard a piece of music by Clint Mansell. One of his pieces from the film Requiem for A Dream has become synonymous as a song to score trailers by. Lux Aeterna, an early collaboration between Mansell and The Kronos String Quartet, was first used as a piece of trailer music for Lord of the Ring: The Two Towers and its urgent strings have been heard in dozens of trailers ever since, most recently in the trailer for Sunshine. Thankfully trailer makers have stopped using that piece of music, before it became completely decontextualised. Unfortunately they’ve started using one of his pieces from the Fountain score; Death is the Road To Awe.
The Fountain is a peculiar kind of movie, brilliant undoubtedly, but peculiar. It was a passion project for director Darren Aronofsky and was essentially a film about acceptance of death, it just happened to be a film about acceptance of death that included three different time zones, Buddhist spacemen and conquistadors. A remarkably beautiful but disparate movie the only thing that held everything together was the immense soundtrack created by Mansell and played by members of Mogwai and The Kronos String Quartet. There is a primal cadence to the score, a simple melancholic beat becoming a lynchpin of the entire soundtrack. Cellos, violins and pianos pluck out this beat that slowly swells and leads on to apocalyptic denouements.
Death is the Road To Awe is no different; it just stretches out every section to fill its nine minute running time. The primal drumming is still their, those shrieking strings are still present, they are just part of a bigger beast which continually swells and evolves until the song gives way to the urgency of its frantic drums and screeching choir. In short it is a song that is thrilling and utterly beautiful.
Shake by Nineteenth Century
“Fake, Shake, Rattlesnake”
I am not a fan of classic rock, the pomp and ceremony of what rock would become always sort of deterred me. That and I have a morbid fear of grown men dressed schoolboys. So what surprised me about Nineteenth Century was that despite them being obviously inspired by classic rock groups I actually liked what they were producing.
The song Shake brings to mind a dozen other bands, with the vocal line in particular evoking Steven Tyler when he was still a viable performer. What Nineteenth Century achieves is taking the sound of classic rock, taking the elements which worked and cutting out everything else to create lean, powerful, and overall fun songs.
There is a power and ferocity to Shake which is almost palpable even over my computer speakers, tight and focused playing giving the song an immense amount of force. Every element in the song is perfectly considered, with each instrument complimenting each other and played with real artistry. It is a song where each subsequent listen brings out another layer of sound, another element in the construction of the song. Like I said I’m not a fan of this type of rock and roll usually, and even I’m kind of overjoyed when this song and anything by Nineteenth Century comes onto winamp.