Spike’s Top Tracks: 6th April – 13th April 2008
Marble House by The Knife
“I don’t know what to ask for, what has it got for me?”
If you are getting sick of anecdotes about how I first discovered bands by virtue of a striking music video I have some bad news, my reviews for at least two of the tracks in this list are going to be using that anecdote to full force. In actuality the anecdote is almost a misnomer when it comes to The Knife. The band would first come to my attention in late 2005 by virtue of their electro pop anthem Heartbeats (later covered by Jose Gonzalez for world wide acclaim). With its weird mix of sampled steel drums, arched electronic chords and lead vocals that sounded like a weird hybrid of Bjork and Siouxsie Sioux’s post punk sensibilities the song would occasionally be on the radio, the music video would occasionally play on TV, it would even be used in adverts on prime time.
Of course the nature of the song meant that finding it was almost impossible, the lyrics too impenetrable to google search and the airings of its music video coming without the usual band and song information (MTV2’s 120 minutes has a reputation for doing this, leading to immense amounts of irritation when you can’t work out who the awesome band you’ve just seen are). It would be in late 2006 when I would finally learn who the band were, the stop motion video for their song Marble House gathering them enough attention to get decent coverage on music TV.
Marble House would be a song which I would slowly grow to love and as such instead of buying the album Heartbeats belonged to I invested in their latest Silent Shout. Silent Shout would be an immense album, dark and moribund, a sickly fusion of gothic vocalisations and ethereal electronica and Marble House would be the definite stand out. What Marble House benefits from is its vocal track more than anything else; there is a richness and depth to the song which comes about because of how beautiful the central voice is. Karin Dreijer Andersson’s voice would have transmuted into a truly incredible tool by the time Silent Shout came out, the breathy excess of her earlier albums replaced by a clinical precision. The Knife’s previous albums were warm affairs, messy and fun but to unfocused to be anything other than a diversion. Silent Shout would be a move towards darker, colder, areas a move that would help create the bands first few truly iconic songs.
Your Ex-Lover Is Dead by Stars
“This scar is a fleck on my porcelain skin, tried to reach deep but you couldn’t get in”
I’m a member of Last FM, for those not familiar with the site it is essentially an application which transmits data from your media players to an online database. In this case it is a site designed to log what songs you’re listening to and create a database of every artists you like. It is a great service for finding new bands and keeping track of upcoming gigs in your area, although it also has the power to destroy a person’s hardcore music credentials by virtue of it logging EVERYTHING you listen to. Even I, a bastion of good taste and musical learning, have a few things on my profile I’m not proud of (Red Tape by Agent Provocateur seemed AWESOME at the time). Anyways the point of this little introduction was to demonstrate a further peril of Last FM. The site will automatically generate bands you might like based on artists you are listening to, which is great. However the site tends to just give you a name and little else, so you are essentially left with a contextless recommendation for a band. Such a thing led to me starting off in the worst possible way with Stars.
I had a name, and knew they were a Canadian anthemic rock group (which is exactly the kind of anthemic rock group I love) and so I hit Isohunt (yes I’m a scumbag) to find something by them. The first few searches pulled up a bunch of albums, the most obvious one being called Do You Trust Your Friends. A quick investigation revealed that the album seemed to contain a collaboration with one of my favourite artists, Final Fantasy aka Owen Pallett. Naturally I got bittorrenting post haste and discovered an album that was objectively speaking a horrendous mess. It actually took me a week to figure out that Do You Trust Your Friends was actually a remix album and a poor one at that (Pitchfork, though not unaccustomed to being hard reviewers, gave the album a 1.8 out of 10). Still one track had stuck out, Final Fantasy’s remix of Your Ex-Lover Is Dead was an incoherent mess but it showcased enough of the song to pique my interest. So I went back to the source and found the original track.
When There’s Nothing Left To Burn, You Have To Set Yourself On Fire! intones a gravely voice moments before the track swells into life. Your Ex-Lover Is Dead is the opening track to the group’s third album Set Yourself On Fire and this start is almost a declaration of intent. When the song rouses itself it becomes a perfect showcase of Stars manifold talents. You see whilst Stars have a rock tag around their neck their sound is far more pop than anything else, Your Ex-Lover Is Dead invoking Revolver era The Beatles more than the Arcade Fire. With its sensitive dual vocals and plaintive string and horn sections the song is a far gentler work than you would imagine. There is an odd dichotomy at work, the inherent gentleness of the song being underscored by a musical narrative that whilst not quite thrusting is ultimately a lot more forceful than you’d expect. Your Ex-Lover Is Dead is rousing, and impassioned, and beautiful, and fragile and reveals unknowable depths whilst maintaining an almost facile quality. In other words, I really like it.
Also if you’re interested here is the Final Fantasy version of the song.
Nite and Fog by Mercury Rev
“Vampires want darkness, Monsters want souls. Spiders want corners, but you want it all”
When two planes struck the Twin Towers I was sixteen years old. In fact the events of September 11th occurred just as I was starting college, my first lesson looking at the immediate media impact of the terrorist attack. At the time I was just starting to get into music and spent a lot of my time listening to MTV2. Faced with the horror of what had happened in New York MTV kind of curled in on itself for a few weeks and the channels played nothing but upbeat, life affirming music. MTV2 kind of bore the brunt of this, its usual music neither upbeat of life affirming or particularly pleasant, and for about a fortnight the video to Mercury Rev’s Nite and Fog was on almost constant rotation.
A band I had never particularly acknowledged before Mercury Rev became almost spellbinding, the hypnotic aspects of the song amplified by its repetition. It is easy to see why the song was chosen to be played; there is an uplifting, anthemic to Nite and Fog. With its grand string arrangements and sweepingly mythological lyrics it was the kind of life affirming and heart warming song that people needed to hear. Of course like a lot of great pop songs there was a darker undercurrent to the lyrics, in this case Nite and Fog is a song about a man giving up on the woman he loves because of his sudden understanding of how bad they would be for each other.
The swelling, catchy lyrics in actuality plaintive metaphor for a woman whose reach exceeded her grasp. What it gave us was the impression of something grand and epic and beautiful.
Adoration by Isaac Everett
“Humbly I Adore Thee”
Here is another horror story about the wonders of Last FMs artist recommendation system. In this case I was recommended to listen to Isaac Everett and dutifully did, even sampling some of his songs on Last FM itself before actually seeking to find some of them. Here is a thing you should know about me, I’m not particularly perceptive on a first listen, it takes me a few listens of a song before I even attempt to decipher lyrics.
As such I was a little taken aback when I found out the song I’d be really, really, enjoying was actually the godliest godsquad song ever. To be honest the jazzy opening should have been a major clue that what I was listening to was holier than thou, but all I could focus on was the cool ambience and structure of the song. Certainly when divorced from the lyrics the actual soundscape of adoration is adorable, it is just hard to separate that soundscape from vocals which are so overtly god orientated.