Spike’s Top Tracks: 30th March – 6th April 2008

Just a note, I’m hosting my playlists elsewhere so they should be easier to play now.

PLAYLIST

Starálfur by Sigur Rós

“Staring Elf”

Writing about Sigur Rós is, for want of a better word, a pain in the arse. For one every song name and use of the bands name requires additional time to input the accents. As such you will have to forgive me for skirting around using actual song names unless I really have to. Like a lot of people I first encountered Sigur Rós through the discovery of one of their videos. My introduction was the post apocalyptic video for Untitled 1 (Vaka) taken from the album ( ) (now do you see where I’m coming from). It is funny really because I can remember my initial reaction to the video, a feeling of intense disquiet, but not my reaction to the song itself. Untitled 1 is a beautiful piece of music but it’s subtly was almost consumed by a video which was just intensely striking. Sigur Rós would have a tradition of making truly beautiful videos but none would ever inspire the kind of primal reaction Untitled 1 did.

The video succeeded in making me want to track down the album, my attempts to find ( ) were met with disappointment but I was able to convince a friend to make me a copy of the older album Ágætis byrjun. I would grow to love this album over numerous listens, each subsequent listen revealing new elements. The song that I would love right from the start, the song that would strike me the most, would be the anthemic second track Starálfur. The song would open with the hiss of feedback before blossoming into the sort of rousing spectacle that would dominate their later albums. Sung in Icelandic (the band would later sing in a fusion of Icelandic and their own made up dialect) the power of the song is that it still has massive amounts of emotional resonance despite the inherent alien aspects of the vocal track.

This emotional core is created more by the instrumental elements, the slow thud of the drums and crescendoing strings creating a swelling sense of euphoria. This emotional core would go on to be used by directors like Wes Anderson, the song scoring one of his films major emotional points.

Swimming In The Swamp by The National Lights

“There was dirt in your mouth on the day we put you down”

The National Lights are a band I was introduced to by an online contact. This person had always had exceptional taste in music, so when he added The National Lights debut album The Dead Will Walk, Dear to his list of top albums of 2007 I had to investigate. It actually took me a while to track down the album, its small American release forcing me to download it. What I would get for my troubles with a small, stripped back, slice of American gothic. A folk album full of church organs, banjos and strumming guitars and laced with lyrics about loss, murder and regret.

These simple songs would carry an innate beauty, a fragile brilliance perfectly underscored by the witheringly paranoid lyrics. The album would largely be dominated by vocalist Jacob Berns, his dulcet tones would become a bedrock for the album. This track however would pair him with a female vocalist, Swimming In The Swamp becoming something of a duet. The second vocal line would give context to Berns performance giving an ethereal, ghostly quality to an album that was already immensely atmospheric.

It is hard to ascertain exactly what the lyrics of the song are about with references to abortions and drowning it is somewhat oblique at times and as such it is difficult to ascertain what the underlying message is. What the song lacks in narrative it makes up for in sheer beauty, the church organ led music providing perfect accompaniment to two incredible vocal performances. Because of this Swimming In The Swamp would become a minute epic, a forlorn story of love and loss and betrayed innocence.

Arms Around Me by Jens Lekman

“I see the tip of my index finger….”

Over the past few months I have had nearly a dozen people urge me to listen to Jens Lekman’s album. Being the combative type I naturally procrastinated on obtaining the album, only securing myself a copy earlier this week. With the intention to listen to and hate the album I found myself slowly becoming enraptured by Night Falls Over Kortedala.

Jens Lekman specialises in a particular type of wry pop song, catchy infectious hooks put to witty lyrics. If that sounds like a really bad of describing the artist then I’m sorry, but I really can’t think of any other way to put it. Arms Around Me is a perfect example of his writing style, a traditional romantic chorus skewed by the context of the verses around it.

The song details Jens slicing off his finger, the chorus not so much a romantic declaration as an explanation as to why he hurt himself. There is a weird sort of urbane quality to Jens voice which invokes Morrisey at times but also keeps relaxed. There is no pomp or grandeur to his vocals, he just tells the story and it makes everything that much funnier.

Willow’s Song by Paul Giovanni

“Our Maid, can milk a bull”

The Wicker Man is easily one of my favourite films, a classic example of 1970s horror filmmaking. The film tells the story of a conservative Christian policeman forced to travel to a remote Scottish island to look for a missing girl. The island, preceded over by Lord Summerisle, has abandoned traditional faith for pagan worship. The key strength of the film is in making the residents of the island different but not particularly creepy.

The way this is achieved is through the use of song and dance, the islanders breaking out into chorus every chance they get. The songs serve two purposes, they showcase the more relaxed atmosphere to sexuality the island has embraced and hint at the pagan undercurrents of the island.

Chief amongst these is Willow’s Song which forms a key scene of the film as one of the islanders attempts to seduce the police officer by singing through and banging on a conjoining wall between their rooms. The song is exceptionally suggestive and has a beautiful simplicity, just a voice and a guitar creating this rapturous piece of music.

Paul Giovanni would provide the soundtrack for the film, recording songs based on classic Scottish poems and folk songs (the opening song using excerpts from Robert Burns). His orchestrations would become a major part of the films tonal success, his playing in the actual film giving the world a palpable sense of reality even at its most extreme moments. It would also make scenes iconic, Britt Ekland’s spirited performance of Willow’s Song famous not only for its nudity but for what it represented within the film.

The song would become iconic in of itself, especially when the Wicker Man had its resurge in popularity in the 1990s. Bands like the Go! Team and the Sneaker Pimps recording their own interpretations of the song.

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