Spike’s Top Tracks: 23rd March – 30th March
Hold Tight by Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich
“Hold tight…count of three…gotta stay close by me”
Quentin Tarantino is probably one of my favourite directors. I’ve yet to see a film by him I didn’t adore and the reason for this has nothing to do with his writing or his ever evolving directorial skills, it is about the reverent tone he adopts when approaching his material. Tarantino is a director who is just in love with the stuff he likes and wants everyone else to know about it. He is a director who is desperate to share experience and it makes his films almost odes music, cinema and literature. His latest film Death Proof continues this tradition but I have plans to talk about Grindhouse in the near future so I will try to not prattle on too much here.
The point I will make is that Death Proof is a film in love with music, with radios and jukeboxes maintaining a constant stream of classics as the films soundtrack. Tarantino has the power to make songs iconic, to give them a context beyond their original purpose. Reservoir Dogs gave Stuck In The Middle With You a deadly implication, Pulp Fiction made You Can Never Tell a piece of pop culture, even Kill Bill brought Tomoyasu Hotei and his Battle Without Honor Or Humanity into the public consciousness. In the same way his films revitalised the careers of actors by recontextualising them, his films gave new life to songs that had been lost in the ether.
As stated before Death Proof has a constant stream of music for the first half of its runtime, but the song which has the potential to become iconic is Hold Tight. Not only does the song score one of the key moments of the film, a brutal car crash which the audience has been willing to happen for forty minutes, but it is also offered an introduction by one of the characters. We are told that they are contemporaries of The Who and that Pete Townsend was considering was joining them, and then we’re left to listen as the action takes over. The song itself is a fantastic piece of work, the Death Proof version slightly retooled for the purpose of the film, but its use when building up to the car crash is just inspired. There is an almost hypnotic side to the song, the regimented beat and strong looping bass kind of lulling the viewer into the cadence of the song.
Plans by Grizzly Bear
“such a strange predicament….we find ourselves in”
A few weeks back I wrote about the Beirut song Cliquot. Almost an hour after posting someone who read what I wrote, yes people do actually read this site surprisingly, sent me a link to a performance of Cliquot. This video featured Beirut’s large ensemble of session musicians and Edward Droste taking the place of Owen Pallett on lead vocals. Droste is the founding member of four piece band Grizzly Bear which was originally a solo project that expanded in size and scope over several albums.
The defining aspect of Grizzly Bear is Droste’s voice which carries an unusual kind of plaintive power. His voice is striking enough to pierce the swell and mess of the orchestration, whilst being gentle enough to completely dominate any of the tracks.
Plans is so far one of my favourite tracks by Grizzly Bear, despite it sounding radically different to anything else I’ve got by them. It is really quite hard to explain the fundamentals of the song without making it sound utterly horrid. Dirge is the word that comes to mind, but the negative connotations of that term don’t do justice to a song that is at once both luminous and gloomy, swells of emotions working within the context of the song and maintaining a singular mood.
White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane
“Go ask Alice, when she’s ten feet tall”
Here is the deal with White Rabbit; I’m not going to bother describing the song. The reason is that even if you’re not familiar with Jefferson Airplane you’ll know this song. It is a piece of pop culture now, a song turned into a meme through its use in media. Essentially if you’ve seen a scene of drug taking in a movie you’ve heard this song. As such the song itself is a cliché, even the Simpsons using the song for its ‘drug related freak out’ moments.
The reason I’ve included the song on this list is for a very simple and very geeky reason. The trailer for the videogame Lost Odyssey would use White Rabbit as its score, the minute long TV spot given a sudden surge of intensity and adrenaline by the song. In the same way that Tarantino recontexutalised songs for the masses, this trailer suddenly made me reassess a song I had never paid much heed to. I had always been put off the song by the elements which I viewed as being antiquated, particularly the overt drug referencing and Lewis Carroll iconography. Placed within the context of this trailer my attention was distracted by the detail of the song and instead I became rapt by the sheer scale and grandeur that was achieved.
What is amazing about the song is that I’d never heard more than the opening forty seconds of the track. As such I was only aware of this introduction, assuming the entire song had this same pared down sound. So when the song started to pick up intensity as it progressed, more and more elements being brought to the forefront as the vocals became more urgent, I was taken by surprise. What I assumed was a languid piece of music actually had a lot of power to it. Of course I still have a problem if I pay attention to the lyrics, but as a piece of music I sort of started to love White Rabbit.
The Taming Of The Hands That Came Back To Life by Sunset Rubdown
“now do you think the second movement has too many violins?”
I have an immediate disadvantage when it comes to Sunset Rubdown, the disadvantage being that I know absolutely nothing about the group. Well that is a lie; I know that it is a product of Spencer Krug who was a head honcho in Wolf Parade. But aside from that I’ve maintained an information blackout on this band. This is largely because I was so awe struck by the album I obtained Random Spirit Lover that I deemed it necessary to try and not ruin my enjoyment by delving too deep into the artists involved. As such they are one of the few bands I listen to where I don’t have at least a little knowledge of their history and recording career.
I picked up the album after some people who I held in great esteem started to talk openly about their love for it. Certainly when a person you respect greatly is saying that an album is the best of 2007 you tend to take notice, this is something that happened with The National as well.
On first listen to the album I was almost overwhelmed by the sound of it, the intensity and lunacy of early tracks like Up On Your Leopard, Upon The End Of Your Feral Days. As I listened to the album more and more I’d gravitate towards different tracks, but one constant song that I loved was The Taming Of The Hands. This track about the passion of making music at the exclusion of all others would sort of take root in my brain and never ever leave. Little asides in the song like ‘Enough About Me’ and “I Know, Can I Use That Too?” would ruminate constantly; in short it was a song that enraptured me.
The key factor in the song for me is the sense of controlled mania; earlier pieces on the album were just breathtaking in their intensity but got to the point where the tracks were almost exhausting in their madness. Taming Of The Hands has that same sense of chaos but binds it to a more regimented sound, the stoic music framing the fevered lyrics almost perfectly. It really is quite hard to describe my thoughts on the song coherently; even listening to it now just kind of makes me giddy, its disparate elements bringing to mind, for some obscure reason, the original Wicker Man soundtrack by Paul Giovanni. There is a similar energy to it, a similar sort of playful darkness, although Taming Of The Hands is far more accomplished than most things off of the Wicker Man soundtrack.
Paper Planes by M.I.A.
“Yeah, I got more records than the K.G.B.”
M.I.A.’s debut album Arular would be one of the more pleasant surprises of 2005, a vibrant and brilliant piece of British music. The follow up Kala would become one of my favourite albums of 2007, expanding the cacophony of sounds found in Arular with various collaborations.
Kala would be a global sounding record with musical sources from Africa, India, Australia, the Far East and collaborations with American Producer Timbaland. With songs that homage Bollywood, incorporates Aboriginal singing, and use various types of unusual percussion it seems kind of silly to favour a track as conventional as Paper Planes.
Most of Kala’s samples are cribbed from all over the world, some even recorded during M.I.A.’s global tour. Paper Planes however takes it sample from a mainstay of British music, The Clash. The roaring circular riff which serves as the backbone of the song is straight from their song ‘Straight To Hell’. M.I.A. uses this sample and then completely takes ownership of it, distorting the original sample to make it almost ethereal in a song that is alarmingly brash.
What is most striking about the song is of course the chorus. Children’s singing cut off by the sound effects of gunshots and a till opening. A large element of this song seems, to me at least, to be about young children who’ve been forced onto the corner lifestyle of drug running and robbery. Lyrics like ‘catch me on my burner, pre paid wireless’ bring to mind shows like The Wire, in which drug runners would use special burner mobile phones which were discarded after a few days, whilst the chorus brings to mind robbery. Of course that is just the observation of a white, middle class guy, so take it with a grain of salt. It is kind of amusing to see trailers using the song and actually synching up gunshots with the gunshots on the record though.