Archive for the Music Category

Spike’s Top Albums of the 00s

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 27, 2009 by Spike Marshall

Seen as I’m getting all reflective about stuff, here’s my top 10 albums of the 00s in Alphabetical Order, because I could never hope to rank them otherwise.

Spike's Albums of the 00s

Spike's Albums of the 00s

Arcade Fire – Neon Bible

The first Arcade Fire I ever heard was their EP, Us Kids Know, and I was a massive, massive, fan of their work from Funeral onwards. But as much as I loved Funeral I think Neon Bible is an album which just ‘clicks’ and works on a completely different level. Whilst Funeral had moments of ramshackle greatness (Rebellion, Power Out, Wake Up) it was an album that felt like an advertisement for their live show more than anything else. Neon Bible felt like a more cohesive piece of work whilst keeping the discordance of their previous work.

Amanda PalmerAmanda Palmer – Who Killed Amanda Palmer

For everything the Dresden Doll’s achieved I found myself drawn to Amanda Palmer’s solo record as ‘their’ definitive. Whilst only one half of the duo is presented on the record, each song carries the base DNA of what the Dresden Dolls had been doing over the course of three albums. Whilst the spiky punk edge was varnished from her record, Palmer was able to craft insidious little pop songs that had all the nasty little barbed lyrics and manic intensity of the Dresden Dolls whilst making her own sound. Runs In The Family and Guitar Hero weren’t a revolutionary step for Amanda Palmer, but they marked the evolution and growth of her previous sound into something truly special.

DeVotchKa – How It Ends

Whilst the plaintive, aching, title track is what drew me to the album in the first place ‘How It Ends’ turned out to be an almost perfect album from a group that had been operating on the periphery of the music scene. Chic balkic rock was all the rage amongst the indie scene throughout the 00s and whilst groups like Beirut and Gogo Bordello received accolades for their appropriation of this Romani/Slavic sound DeVotchKa simply powered on, slowly building up their sound and moving away from straight homage and into a place where the orchestral elements were still their, but they actually served a purpose in creating great, inspiring, music rather than being mere affectations. How it ends with it’s simple pianos and soaring cellos is an obvious stand out of the album, but songs like The Enemy Guns and She Loves Me both show a band who have mastered their sound and are comfortable to experiment within it.

Esbjörn Svensson Trio – Leucocyte

When it comes to Jazz my head is stuck in the 50s and 60s. To me Jazz is Bill Evans and Dave Brubeck and as such it takes a lot for me to embrace less ‘traditional’ Jazz. E.S.T.  were one of the few contemporary Jazz bands who really struck me and it’s because despite the ‘pretension’ of their music and experimentations with form, the band were always concerned with the music and as such you often felt that their albums were three musicians jamming, rather than a bunch of jazz artists trying to deconstruct the form. It’s one of the great musical tragedies that Esbjorn Svensson was killed before his time and just when his group was starting to make some truly accomplished works.

final-fantasy-blogFinal Fantasy – He Poos Cloud

Owen Pallett is the kind of geek that can make other geeks uncomfortably because he approaches his geekish subjects in ways that feel cryptically ironic, but also uncomfortably honesty. As such it’s hard to tell if he’s really geeky or just being wilfully ironic, and songs about his relationship with The Legend of Zelda games do little to help with this problem. The touring violinst with Arcade Fire and collaborator with several other groups from The Hidden Cameras through to The Last Shadow Puppets Pallett’s two solo records have both been minimal affairs, his compositions designed to be played by a solo performer. Yet these limitations never stopped his brand of baroque pop from sounding incredible. His scathing, literary, lyrics fuelled with geek references coupled with quaint, propulsive, insidiously addictive violin compositions helped to craft two albums that were small in stature but still enrapturing.

LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver

Deftly ironic lyrics? Propulsive, ever building beats? Immaculate soundscapes? Yeah, this is an album I was almost designed to love. Everyone’s who played GTA IV is familiar with Get Innocuous! and it’s ability to make even the smallest action seem utterly iconic. To me, Sound of Silver is probably the most ‘of its time’ album on my list. It’s ironically hip and detached, but it’s also got an infectious sense of fun and at it’s core it’s an album which just demands people pay attention and start dancing. Songs like North American Scum, Sound of Silver and All My Friends have so much energy and so much spark that it’s often hard to categorise just what works about them, it’s like trying to quantify fun.

Mark Lanegan and Isobel Campbell – Sunday at Devil Dirt

There’s something about the matching of these two voices, grunge singer Mark Lanegan’s american personified voice and Isobel Campbell’s sweet ethereal tones, which gives me shivers whenever I hear them. As individuals they would be great performers, but together they have the kind of frisson and interplay which made Nick Cave’s duet with Kylie Minogue work so well. It’s a beautiful, soulful, simple album.

The National – Boxer

Alligator has the better singles but in my mind Boxer is the stronger album by the National. As individual pieces many of Boxer’s songs don’t really match up to Alligator (in fact Start A War and Slow Show are the only songs I can listen to outside of the context of the album and REALLY appreciate) but as an expansive whole there’s some kind of audio alchemy going on. The tone of the album is perfect and within its own context the album is almost flawless. The only gripe I possibly have with the album is the cacophony of noise the band seem intent on ending all of Boxer’s songs with when playing them Live which whilst sounding great, often takes away from the sleepy, dreamy qualities of the album I really enjoy.

The National

Of Montreal – Hissing Fauna, You Are The Destroyer

Concept albums are terrifying things, spawning mental images of beardy prog rock bands and half boiled homage to Tolkien. In the case of Hissing Fauna, You Are The Destroyer the concept seems almost accidental, wounded self destruction transposed to music by the albums creator Kevin Barnes. Dealing with Barnes’ deteriorating personal life the album is a spiral of madness and melancholy crescendoing with the horrifically wounded The Past Is A Grotesque Animal before transmorphing into something almost blissfully prog rock. Despite the album being a soundtrack to the disintergration of its creator’s personal life there’s an underlying quality which makes it almost irresistible. The melancholy is constantly balanced against sparkly, almost pop like, music and even the Past Is A Grotesque Animal (a 12 minute long evisceration of his relationship with his wife) is made into something almost beautiful, the embarrassingly painful lyrics backed by a beat that is almost hypnotic.

Queens of the Stone Age – Songs For The Deaf

Josh Homme might be an egotist beyond repute and Nick Oliveri probably was an abusive girl friend beater, but the two of them together with the help of Dave Ghrol and Troy Van Leeuwen would create an album that was a piece of flash in the pan brilliance. I’m not a heavy music sort of guy, I’m not a fan of metal and I prefer my punk to be post, so the fact I adore this album has always been a bit of an enigma. I think personally there is a melody and throughline to the heaviness which allows me to latch onto something, it’s also pretty kick ass.

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Spike’s Top Tracks: May 2008

Posted in Music, Spike's Top Tracks with tags , , , on May 31, 2008 by Spike Marshall

The six or so people who used to read my weekly top tracks feature might have noticed its absence over the last month. To be honest it was kind of draining writing three or four pages about music every week (it’s a subject I’ve never written about) and I actually kind of got bored of it. So I decided to switch it to an expanded monthly slot. So each month I’m going to try and compile a 60 minute mix and give some thoughts on the songs I’ve picked (hopefully avoiding the navel gazing paragraphs of the older features) as one essay rather than separate ruminations.

The Playlist

That’s Not My Name is a great crystallisation of what I love about The Ting Tings. Pared down beats from Jules De Martino and snarling vocals from Katie White really give the song a sort of effortless post punk vibe, and the result is quite infectiously catchy. They are currently the darlings of the alternative scene, getting massive amounts of airtime on NME and MTV2 and it is easy to see why. Their bright and colourful visual style mixed with their aggressive but precise music is nice contrast from the contrasting dourness and high camp of alternative artists at the moment. They’ve certainly been savvy in their marketing and keeping themselves in the alternative market helped raise their profile. In fact you could argue that if White and De Martino had tried a more mainstream approach their energetic, but DIYish, sound may have been lost amidst the pop shuffle.

Air have always been a favourite of mine since their video for Sexy Boy entertained the then 12 year old me with a gigantic monkey. It would take the score to The Virgin Suicides and 2004’s Talkie Walkie to dislodge Kelly Watch The Stars from its coveted spot as my favourite Air song. It’s probably one of Air’s more commercial pieces, but its use of a singular repetitive line and constantly evolving music always enraptured me.

It would be Wong Kar Wai who would make me ultimately appreciate DJ Shadow, his blisteringly brilliant music video for Six Days making me purchase the album Private Press. Upon purchase I realised that a lot of incidental music from British TV shows had been cribbed from the album, the songs Giving Up The Ghost and Blood On The Motorway in particular being used very effectively by the BBC and Film Four. But it would be the gently apocalyptic Six Days which would stick with me. From its laidback back vocals to its muted strings it was a song that was both elegiac and inspiring and would find itself appearing on many of my early morning mixes.

Another mainstay on my early morning mixes, playlists designed to try and rouse me from bed gently, would be the music of Jimmy LaValle aka Album Leaf. An American solo performer, Album Leaf would craft gloriously minimalist and minutely detailed pieces of electronica enabled guitar music. With its shimmering central chords and glitchy backing We Need Help is a perfect example of the Album Leaf sound, light hearted and soulful whilst maintaining a sense of precision.

I was going to write a long post about how I discovered Sébastien Tellier, a French artist whom I first discovered via the soundtrack to Sofia Coppola’s luminous Lost In Translation. The song would be Fantino and would lead to seek out other songs and fall in love with his electronica jazz stylings. However my plan was scuppered when he went and appeared on Eurovision and stopped being a well kept secret.

To those blessed enough to not know about the Eurovision Song Contest it is a yearly event in which every country in Europe submits a singer to compete in an international song contest. It essentially boils down to all kinds of campy excess and ridiculously political voting which ensures that us Brits, with our stiff upper lips and outright loathing of other nations, never win anything. In actuality Tellier’s song Divine was fairly decent for a Eurovision entry, it just means I can’t be all snooty about liking obscure French Electronica/Jazz artists anymore.

Of course it is silly to allow the success of favoured artists to annoy you, despite that feeling of superiority you get when compiling a mixtape full of bands the recipient will never have heard of it is always great to see other people recognise the sheer brilliance of the artists you’re currently enamoured with. There is an occasional downside in that the more successful an artist becomes the harder it is to see them live. It was like this with the Arcade Fire, a band who I was desperate to see but found myself facing the prospect of shows selling out within minutes. When I finally got to see them it was at a massive arena and whilst the performances were still absolutely incredible it lacked that tangible quality you get from smaller performances. So imagine my annoyance when I found out that Fleet Foxes, a Seattle band on the cusp of greatness, were to be playing down the road from me at a tiny venue on the day I was to travel down to London to meet family. Fleet Foxes are an unusual little group their debut EP Sun Giant sounds like a record unearthed from the 1970s, the kind of thing Paul Giovanni would have a hand in. Mixing folk with a dash of blues it’s a beautiful piece of work, if a little precious at times, and apparently the songs are substantially improved by hearing them live.

Another artist who has constantly eluded my attempts to see live is Björk. Whilst my all time favourite by her has to the be the delightfully frosty Vespertine, my favourite individual tracks come from Debut and Homogenic. Debut represents Björk at her messiest, flitting from genre to genre to find her voice, but it also contains one of my favourite songs by the artist, Venus As A Boy. Homogenic would be a conceptually more solid album, but only a handful of songs would create a true emotional connection. One of these would be Bachelorette, with its epic soundscape and brooding lyrics it’s the kind of song that was easy for my teenage self to gravitate towards and whilst its probably a little overblown that emotional connection is still immensely powerful. This is partially aided by Michael Gondry’s incredible video for the song which would be on almost constant play through 1997.

This penchant for overly dramatic songs would unfortunately continue well into the present day, with my attention currently rapt by a group named Tunng and in particularly the cheerily bleak song Bullets. With its lyrics about funerals and self doubt it’s the kind of material which would normally be covered by androgynous guys wearing eyeliners, thankfully a folk undercurrent to the song spared me the ignominy of that association. Harder to explain is my current passion for Martha Wainwright’s current album. I have general reservations about Martha; in particular I find her decision to add odd inflections to her exceptional voice to be quite odd. It pays off on certain songs, but a lot of the time it sounds like she is holding back. The song So Many Friends is one which accommodates these vocal vagaries, the emotional core strong enough to support a technique which seems to be cynically kooky.
Seen as this mix has been dawdling a bit I felt it was time to amp things up, I go by the High Fidelity principal of starting strong then easing down to build up to a big finish. In this case the big finish compromises two up tempo songs and two oddities, so stick with it if you can.

Sonny J is something of a mystery in the British Music scene. Releasing three singles his actual identity hasn’t been ascertained yet. His three singles have however been absolutely fantastic, from the Jackson 5 inspired Can’t Stop Moving to his latest barn stomping hit (complete with unknown Country sample) Handsfree. Enfant Terrible is the middle song so far, and is an oddity in of itself. Handsfree and Can’t Stop Moving are heavily sample led songs, big rousing dance numbers packed with energy. Enfant Terrible seems to be minimally sampled and has the sound of some obscure post punk band, you’ll have to listen yourself to try and draw up a conclusion because I’m kind of drawing a blank myself.

Part of the reason for the current sparseness of What Spike Likes is that Spike has liked GTA 4 very, very, much. I’ve logged about forty hours of playtime on the single player campaign alone and I’ve probably logged just as many hours playing online and trying to run over my friends with ice cream trucks. They’ll hopefully be a review soonish and in that review I’ll make sure to mention the incredible selection of music in the game. Filled with minimalist masters, afro-pop legends, obscure rock hits, classic hip-hop, contemporary Dance, and ambient electronica the GTA4 soundtrack is just incredible and one of the highlights is the Boggs song Arm in Arm. A thudding piece or electro-rock, it’s a piece of music which is just given context and weight by being used in GTA4. Heard on its own it’s a bit of a mess, within the world of Liberty City it’s just evocative as all hell.

Speaking of evocative the Israeli/South African song writer Yoav can, using just a guitar and looping device, create riffs and songs which bring to mind some of the great rock artists. Beautiful Lie is a great example, with its urgent final moments just having the strength and conviction that most men would die for. If you don’t get carried away by the plucked strings and pounding percussion then you’re either dead on the inside or an anti-Semite.

I have no idea what is in the water over in but I’ve heard three groups now which have sought to recreate the aesthetic of Balkan orchestras. Albuquerque has the ever awesome Beirut and the quietly fantastic A Hawk and A Hacksaw and I’ve just been introduced to Colorado’s take on the genre DeVotchKa. Whilst I’m trying to wade through the albums, they definitely feel like a grower mixing the Balkan sound with the rousing anthemic pop/rock of the Arcade Fire. This fucking bizarre cover of Venus In Furs isn’t particularly good at showcasing the band, but it sounds really, really, good.

Spike’s Top Tracks: 6th April – 13th April 2008

Posted in Music, Spike's Top Tracks with tags , , , on April 13, 2008 by Spike Marshall

PLAYLIST

Marble House by The Knife

“I don’t know what to ask for, what has it got for me?”

Swedish Electronica group the knifeIf 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.

Spike’s Top Tracks: 23rd March – 30th March

Posted in Music, Spike's Top Tracks with tags , , , , on March 30, 2008 by Spike Marshall

Playlist 

Hold Tight by Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich

“Hold tight…count of three…gotta stay close by me”

death_proof.jpgQuentin 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”

x_grizzly-bear.jpgA 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.

jeffersonairplane.jpeg

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.

sunset-rubdown.jpg

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.”

mia_kala_release.jpgM.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.

Spike’s Top Tracks: 16th March – 23rd March 2008

Posted in Music, Spike's Top Tracks with tags , , , on March 23, 2008 by Spike Marshall

Playlist

Maps by Yeah Yeah Yeahs

“Wait….they don’t love you like I love”

yeah-yeah-yeahs.jpgThe Yeah Yeah Yeahs debut album Fever to Tell is characterised by its propulsion and brutish punk sensibilities. The opening salvo of the album showcases a modicum of finesse, but it soon gets overtaken by a ferocity which doesn’t really let up until the album has just about reached its end. There is a certain kitchen sink mentality to the album, with discordant elements thrown at every song in a hope of something sticking. That isn’t a criticism as such songs like Date With The Night and Pin are wonderfully frenzied, even Karen O’s vocals take on an air of hysteria as the intensity of the music becomes almost insurmountable.

Amidst all of this lo-fi, screeching, breathless energy is a song that is for want of a better word elegant. Maps is the ninth track of a twelve track album and it bears absolutely no relation to any of its accompanying songs. Yet despite this disparity it becomes a focal point of the entire album, a song that would define the band. Maps is the song that would be covered by other bands, the song that would even appear in the current rash of Guitar Hero games. On an album desperately trying to be destructive and iconoclastic, Maps is an iconic song.

Whereas other songs on the album seem to have the different elements fighting each other for dominance, Karen’s exhausting vocals usually winning, Maps sounds immediately like a collaborative effort. A guitar kicks things off, shrill strings providing an introduction before the almost tribalistic drumming that will underscore the whole song kicks in. Karen is at her most bluesy and most earnest in Maps, her vocal track tempered and mild compared to her usual agitated style. Maps doesn’t go full throttle like the rest of the album, it just pulses into life and invokes an effortless which the rest of the album just can’t sustain.

Leaders of the Free World by Elbow

“The leaders of the free world are just little boys throwing stones”

elbow.jpgElbow are without a doubt the best kept secret in British music, a fantastic, empowering, hook driven band who for whatever obscure reason have always operated on the periphery of the public consciousness. Even with four albums under their belt and a controversial tour of Cuba (becoming the first British band to play outside of Havana) to their name the band has never hit the mainstream in any qualifiable way.

Elbow’s third album Leaders of the Free World would be their most calculated attempt to break the mainstream. The album itself is far poppier than anything they had released previously and the bands unprecedented miserablism had been toned down. There was still an overriding angst to most of the songs, but nothing quite as acutely depressing as their previous songs on abortions and cot death.

The single Leaders of the Free World defines its titular album perfectly mixing angry lyrics about the state of global politics with a thudding guitar led beat. It is almost a marching song in its construction, a percussive rallying call for the disenchanted of the world.

Slow Show by The National

“you know I dreamed about you…..for 29 years”

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Boxer by The National is an unusual sort of album because it sort of sneaks up on you after a few listens. Arcade Fire’s Funeral did the same thing, a few listens opening up every song to me and making me fall rapturously in love with it. Boxer has yet to fully open up to me, there are moments of brilliance which are easily perceived but as a whole the album still feels a little too restrained, a little too run of the mill.

Slow Show is probably my favourite song off of the entire album, a piece of music which is forcing me to try and appreciate the rest of Boxer. There is a simplicity and economy to Slow Show which is fantastic, simple orchestrations forcing attention onto the vocals (which to me invoke Berlin era Lou Reed). If the guitars, accordions and drums of the first section were all that made up Slow Show it would still be a great song, but when the song switches halfway through and becomes a piano led piece it becomes truly special.

There is plaintiveness to the vocal track which is apparent throughout the score, but the interplay of voice and piano in the last half is fantastic. The keys replicate the harmony of the voice completely and in doing so it gives the last repetitious verse a real sort of punch.

The Good Ship Lifestyle by Chumbawumba

“So sail a course, a course for nowhere”

chumbawamba000080975.jpgA brief success can often be the end of a band, the term ‘one hit wonder’ hanging around their neck like a millstone. For the anarchist group Chumbawumba their success would be doubly troubling, their breakout song misinterpreted and decontextualised to the point where a treatise on the ridiculousness of club and pub culture became a full hearted drinking anthem.

Tubthumping would become the anthem of the late 90s, lunk headed masses adopting it without any realisation of the scorn the lyrics of song contained. It would also propel Chumbawumba into the spotlight, the groups becoming the ‘comedy anarchists’ of the charts a point exemplified by reaction to a band member throwing a bucket of water over John Prescott. With one song Chumbawumba had become a complete and utter joke in the public eye, which is a shame as the album Tubthumper was actually legitimately great.

Interspersed with vox pops of union members, striking miners and the general people, Tubthumper was an album which masked its deeper messages and meanings with acceptable pop rock. The Good Ship Lifestyle is a great example of this, its tale of urban alienation underscored by a riotous and explosive chorus. It is a song that is desperately trying to tell its listener a deeper truth, but it works against itself by virtue of how well produced it all is.

Spike’s Top Track: 9th March – 16th March

Posted in Music, Spike's Top Tracks with tags , , , , , on March 16, 2008 by Spike Marshall

Playlist

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”

beirut.jpgCliquot 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.

 

disorient.jpgJust 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.

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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.

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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”

 

nineteenth.jpgI 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.

Spike’s Top Tracks: 2nd March – 9th March 2008

Posted in Music, Spike's Top Tracks with tags , , , , , , on March 9, 2008 by Spike Marshall

The Playlist

Just a quick note before we get going, from now I’m going to link to relevant stuff, so if you see a link in these articles it is my doing so go ahead and click (I’ve set it to open in new windows).

La Mer by Django Reinhardt

“No Gods, No Masters, Only Man”

Django ReinhardtWe’re going back to Rapture for a moment I’m afraid. When you play BioShock one of the first definitive moments comes early on. After surviving a plane crash and swimming through a sea of fire, you find yourself on the outside of a strange installation. Entering this massive lighthouse you find yourself in a vestibule, a bathysphere pod in the middle and the faint sound of La Mer playing. Whilst the 1960s retooling of the song, Beyond the Sea by Bobby Darin, would become the general theme of BioShock it is this first encounter with the tune which sets the tone for the whole game.

Django Reinhardt is an artist who I’d heard of but never really appreciated properly, I’d hear one of his pieces be used in an advert or in a movie and I’d resolve to research and find out who had recorded it. It was only when I was sent a best of album by an MSN contact that I realised a lot of the songs I’d truly adored were created by a singular artist.

Operating from the late 1920s through to the early 1950s Django would create a vast musical library, fusing his own European style with the flourishing Jazz scene he encountered in the United States. La Mer is a perfect example of Django Reinhardt, employing a wide range of backing musicians whilst allowing his own improvisational guitar playing to take centre stage. There is clarity and elegance to Django’s playing which is still stunning to this day.

The General Specific by Band of Horses

“We’re on an island on the fourth of July….looks like the tide is going home”

band-of-hores.jpgFrom an artist who I spent many months enthralled by, to a group I only heard for the first time this week. I was sent a mix by someone on Monday which contained this song by Band of Horses. At first I was surprised by the folk rock stylings of The General Specific, this is because like an idiot I had got the group confused with Horse The Band who specialised in some truly off the wall stuff. Even when writing this post, with the song playing and LastFM providing a little biography for my convenience I was confusing them with Horse the Band.

Back to The General Specific, one of the first problems I had writing this post was isolating some lyrics to use up top. I’d locate a line I’d like, but the natural cadence of the singer would mean that the lyric would trail off into obscurity before I had something worth using. His vocals actually bring to mind The Flaming Lips, although the group lack the discipline which makes the Flaming Lips so truly great.

There is an antiquated quality to the song, which is led by a simple and repetitious piano melody bolstered by handclaps and heavy drumming. Whilst I wouldn’t go as far as to say the group are truly great, there is something deeply enjoyable and generally chirpy about this song. It is a great song kick the cobwebs out of your head on a Sunday morning, I just wish I could write their name down properly.

The Magic Position by Patrick Wolf

“who is the one who leads me on through….it’s YOU!”

Patrick WolfIn the coming years the musical elite will determine their authority by insisting they liked Patrick Wolf back when he was miserable. Certainly it is hard to reconcile the sullen nuance of his first two albums (Lycanthropy and Wind in the Wires) with the pomp and grandeur of his last album The Magic Position. Always a consummate multi-instrumentalist his first albums were far more angsty affairs, powered by nervousness and anguish. Some people have been put off by the exuberance of his new album, but even The Magic Position with its swelling strings and overindulgent pop sensibilities has moments of darkness.

What The Magic Position as an album does is sugar coat the bitter pill of his lyrics, and in doing so he allows the message of his songs to worm their way under the skin and into the brain. Titular track The Magic Position swells with strings, horns and handclaps, almost drowning out Wolf’s vocals. Whilst other tracks on the album contain slithers of darkness, The Magic Position is a soaring song about the highs of being in love. But even in this ode to the excess of love he has time for moments of doubt and introspection, and that’

Death to Los Campesinos! by Los Campesinos!

“If you catch me with my hands in the till….I promise…SHUT UP…I wasn’t trying to steal!”

I have an unusual relationship with Los Campesinos, on one hand I hate them on a conceptual level, and on the other hand I hate them on a technical level. Yet I still found myself seeking out their debut album and I’ve listened to the thing far too many times to say that I don’t like the band. Everything about the band just irks me, I think they’re too cute and also too cynical in how they’ve been marketed, but there is something so infectious about their music that I forget my intellectualised grumblings. Essentially I am a scab to my minds picket line against this band.

los-campenios.jpgI probably didn’t have the best introduction to the band; the first thing I ever saw by them was the video to their single ‘The International Tweecore Underground’ the day after seeing Arcade Fire play live at Newcastle. Even the song title is enough to get my spleen all engorged with bile, but the video itself attempts to steal the aesthetics of Arcade Fire and in doing the earned my ire. So what made me change my mind on the band, well people who are far more knowledgeable than me started to get excited by the band and by the album in general. I like to give everything a fair shot so I obtained a copy of the album and a few songs jumped out at me.

Death to Los Campesinos! was always going to capture my attention, simply because of how much I agreed with the title. The track itself is bursting with energy, duelling vocals pitted against a musical backdrop which is so vast and deep that it is actually hard to pick out individual instruments. The song itself is exceptionally infectious simply because of how much energy and urgency it has, the interplay of the male and female vocals combined with shouty chorus and frantic music make it almost impossible to intellectualise It is a song designed to be danced to or drunkenly shouted along to, or to be used in indie films as music for a wacky montage, but it is most certainly not music to be taken seriously.

Out At The Pictures by Hot Chip

“It’s on every street, it’s funky, cheap”

hot-chip.jpgIt is almost upsetting that my favourite song off of the new Hot Chip album is an ode to the popular chain of pubs/bars Wetherspoons (check the album inlay if you don’t believe me). When Hot Chip released their breakout album The Warning I didn’t really pay much attention, I could stand listening to them on the radio but I never had a burning desire to own anything by them. It just seemed a little quaint and cute, disposable and meaningless. Then the first single from their new album hit and I had to dramatically reassess my opinion of the London based electronica outfit.

Single Ready for the Floor was a fantastically catchy and really brilliant piece of pop music and it made me realise that the first album was almost a demo tape. A proof of concept rather than a fully formed musical offering. So I obtained the latest album Made in the Dark as quickly as I could and was subsequently shocked by a collection of songs that weren’t just good pop songs, but were great songs in general. Whilst there are still moments of cheesiness which turned me off the bands debut, the album as a whole is lean and powerful and forceful.

It is a completely different beast to what you’d expect and opening track Out at the Pictures is a perfect example of this. Once again it is a song better appreciated on a primal level, designed for reaction rather than review. What it sounds like is a proto rap song, hard edged electronica put to ethereal and minimalist vocals designed to create a reaction and it is just absolutely fantastic.