Day 3 – Saddest you’ve ever heard

This song has to achieve the ultimate in melancholy to earn its position here. It can’t just be a few minor chords thrown together, there must be a poetic sadness in the lyrics, a depressive mood that cannot be defined but is nonetheless existent, and a voice that stretches the meaning of bleak to its very limits. Yesterday was all well and good, but there’s a reason why I call this blog SAD Songs. This is the kind of fare I revel in more than anything.

Hope Of The States – Me Ves Y Sufres

I think the main thing here is the lyrics, though the piano makes a gloriously despondent case also. Never have I heard such depths of self-loating, rarely has anyone so poetically ripped apart their own personality for the listener’s benefit. I think the best course of action is just leave you with a video of the song (sadly not live), the lyrics, and a warning to put away any knives or other dangerous objects before venturing any further.

I’ve got no good in me for anybody
I’ve been ruined by the lies I told to everybody
It’s so desperately sad that my life has come to this
I hope there’s something better than this for me

I used to think I had something to say
But my dumb ideologies gave me away
I keep my mouth shut, but it’s always the same
Over and over and over again

Today I am wrong again, but it’s not surprising
Once more heaven has forgotten me so everybody
Clap your hands together for me, as I watch my world collapse
Don’t waste your sympathy on me, cause I made it all

I used to think I had something to say
But my dumb ideologies gave me away
I keep my mouth shut, but it’s always the same
Over and over and over again

My mistakes happen so much it’s success
But I’ll drag you all down into my sorry mess
I said I was sorry, but it’s always the same
Over and over and over again

I have been doomed from the first time I tried
To find something to save me from all of my lies
I’m always fake, and it’s always the same
Over and over and over and over again

Day 2 – The happiest you’ve ever heard

In essence, this song should be th one that is guaranteed above all others to cheer me up, no matter what my mood is, during the time between this song starting and finishing I must be at my absolute happiest. And when I’m listening to this song, I really am.

Gorillaz – 19-2000

The happiest song I’ve ever heard only reaches its full potential off Happy when accompanied by the anarchic cartoon video, which single-handedly rejects any notion that an animated band can never be successful. The non-sensical lyrics are delivered by Damon Albarn with childlike glee, the danceable keyboards float around Carribean beats, the embodiment of a “Life’s A Beach” philosophy. You can almost hear the waves lapping on the shore.

In my opinion, Gorillaz still haven’t topped this. The constantly revolving door of celebrity cameos has left the old days of simple addictive tracks such as 19-2000 behind and that’s a real shame. Plastic Beach is decent but forgettable, whereas this is a song of pure catchy fun, like a lightning smile a bottle, that Damon Albarn has yet to recapture since.

Day 1 – The best you’ve ever heard

“Best” is probably a difficult term to define, especially when applied to something so subjective as music, but if I were asked to name a single song which I think is perfect, or at least less imperfect than any other song, it would be this one.

Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here

It’s a song about togetherness and love. It’s a song about overcoming pain, and having to overcome it alone, and knowing that if one special person was there with you, you would be infinitely happier. It’s a song about Syd Barrett, but there are Syd Barretts in all of our lives, and sometimes we fail to appreciate them until they’re gone.

Most people who have not listened to Pink Floyd assume them to be pretentious soloists who have spent their entire musical career residing within their own backsides. Most would be surprised to hear such a delicately crafted acoustic ballad, based around a fairly simple chord progression. Its beauty lies in its simplicity, especially when listened to on the album of the same name, following as it does the angry rock of Have A Cigar.

I think this song does everything I want a song to do, from the introductory radio crackle to the simple acoustic guitars to the drum build to the exceptional heatrfelt lyrics. Not necessarily my most listened to song ever, but it is certainly my favourite.

Three-Week Song-A-Day Challenge

So this blog is becoming stale because I never have any idea what to write about, just that I know I like to write. I’m still not very good at album reviews, although I guess I’m better now than I used to be. There’s a lot of albums I love that have been released this year, and maybe I’ll get around to writing reviews of them.

For now, I’ve decided to do something that takes a normal “blog-a-day” concept and apply it to music. I’ve seen a few of these around the Internet, where criteria are given for a certain number of songs over a period of time, so I thought I’d take it up. I intend to make a post about one song per day starting tomorrow and finishing in three weeks time, alongside a video of the song, a short piece of writing about the song and the reason why I chose it for the appropriate category.

Below is the list of criteria I’ll be using.

Day 1  –  The best you’ve ever heard
Day 2  –  The happiest you’ve ever heard
Day 3  –  The saddest you’ve ever heard
Day 4  –  From your current favorite band
Day 5  –   From your favourite ever band
Day 6  –  You know the lyrics like the back of your hand
Day 7  –  That perfectly opens an album
Day 8  –  That perfectly closes an album
Day 9  –  Describes your life better than you ever could
Day 10 –  Makes you think of a certain event
Day 11 –  Impresses you with its crazy guitar
Day 12 –  Impresses you with its technical skill
Day 13 –  You used to love but now hate
Day 14 –  You used to hate but now love
Day 15 –  Makes you want to dance
Day 16 –  No one would expect you to love
Day 17 –  From your favourite 90s album
Day 18 –  From your favourite 00s album
Day 19 –  You want played at your funeral
Day 20 –  You wish you could play on guitar
Day 21 –  You play all the time on guitar

See you tomorrow, I hope, with the best song I’ve ever heard

Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

How much can you read into an opening line? The Suburbs opens with “In the suburbs I learn to drive”. What does this mean? Is it setting up a bildungsroman, the adolescent learning to do manly, responsible things? Is it speaking of the character’s yearn to escape, spending his life in the suburbs trying desperately to leave it?

Personally, I like to read it as a statement from the band themselves. On Funeral’s final track, Regine Chassagne mournfully weeps “I’ve been learning to drive, my whole life” using a car as a metaphor for a family, the youngsters graduating from the backseat to the drivers as they become head of the herd. In my mind, what is being said here is “Hey, remember Neon Bible? That album where we tried too hard to be grandiose and came off alienating people? Where we tried to save the world and forgot to save the people in it? Let’s pretend that didn’t happen. This is the real sequel to Funeral”.

And it is. It really is. Everything you loved about Funeral is here, with the added assistance of repeated phrases and explicitly mentioned themes. Maybe it’s lacking in outright riffs that will stay with you for years (go on, humm the intros to Tunnels or Wake Up, I know you can), but the blend of instruments is perhaps more impressive when there isn’t a strong single phrase to fall back on. It is reminiscent initially of The Decemberists’ The Hazards Of Love, being as it is a theatrical and dense concept album complete with handy reminders of what has come before. Some might get bored with the number of times they hear the words “modern”, “kids” or “suburbs” (as we speak I’m developing a drinking game which involves taking a shot every time one of these three words is mentioned, and is guaranteed to hospitalise even the hardiest of drinkers by about track 8), but it certainly succeeds in making the album seem to be a singular vision.

The songs are not consumed by strings or keyboards, and guitars are a constant fixture, Arcade Fire seem closer to The White Stripes or The Strokes than many of their fans might care to admit. Of course, the inventiveness, complexity and lyricism is ten-fold that of most garage rock bands, but when the album does delve into that sort of territory, it comes up with Month Of May, which, quite simply, rocks, and I will fight anyone to the death who claims it has no place on this album. Its irregularity is it’s advantage, the juxtaposition between it and its predecessor on the album, the lilting but a tad dull Suburban War, is one of the highlights of the album, heightened gloriously by a callous cry of “1, 2, 3, 4” by Win Butler, whose voice sounds as beautiful and anthemic (although maybe not as pained or delicate) as it ever has. It is superb that the track came from the same people that made the classically-infused, death-obsessed Funeral, and yet somehow, when you listen to it, the progression makes sense. And finally, a touch of humour from Arcade Fire. How often have they played with urgency and momentum to crowds full of “kids all standing with their arms folded tight”? Month Of May is a hell of a rebuttal to that culture, regardless of it being the one that hails them as Gods.

The opening two tracks, make a fine introduction into what Arcade Fire are trying to do with this album, although after that there is something of a letdown. Rococo is almost cringe-worthy in its patronising lyricism, “lets go down and talk to the modern kids, they will eat right out of your hand, using great big words that they don’t understand” and definitely seems like a dud. It’s followed up by Empty Room, which is akin to a piece of fluff, seeming to take up less space than it actually does. Is it really a whole 3 minutes? It seems to come and go with barely a whisper, possibly due to the use of Regine instead of Win on vocals. City With No Children picks it back up, built around a single riff in a way that does not quite suit the rest of the album, but along with the hand claps and fist-punching vocals it grants the album a real sense of occasion after something of a purple patch.

The two Half Lights are too meandering to be classics but are definitely progressive enough to maintain interest. The tempo is a little slow and at this point of the album you begin to wonder how it will sustain 16 tracks and over it an hour. In all honesty, it can’t, tracks 3-5 could go without losing much of the album’s drive or purpose, if anything it would help it, and have TWO Half Lights seems excessive, even if they do separate jobs. If I were being picky, I would give Half Light I the chop due to how weak Regine’s vocals sound and how resistant it is to any change of style over its 4 minutes. I was waiting for a sudden Wake Up-esque breakdown to lighten the tone, but it never came.

Suburban War is pleasant enough, a mid-album track that is enough of a placeholder to not disrupt the album, but it doesn’t seem to warrant its own existence, as a singular piece, much like a few of the previously mentioned tracks. And this point it all felt that Arcade Fire were building up to something that wasn’t happening. When Month Of May hit, I realised they were just taking their sweet time about it. And then the rest of the album happened, and I was gob-smacked.

Perhaps the intention was to make a bottom-heavy album, which is slightly strange but this is Arcade Fire after all, but, for me at least, every track from Month Of May to the end is astonishing (accepting the fact that The Suburbs (Continued) is something of an epilogue), each one a powerful and detailed individual track that adds to the surrounding tracks as well as being plain brilliant in their own right. Wasted Hours spins a perfect tale of being a youth in a boring town, wanting to get out and see the world, and then looking back on these days of yearning with fond nostalgia. Deep Blue is another track I have heard people talk ill of because of it seeming out of place (re: Month Of May) but this unpredictability underpins what makes the second half of this album so special. The lyrics are intriguing in their strangeness but are addictive, as is the more upbeat nature of the instruments.

We Used To Wait is a masterpiece that many will fail to understand due to it being so self-referential. Again, Arcade Fire pull out a little comedy as they recall a time where patience was a virtue, where waiting days to hear via letter about an old friend was a worthy wait. The tension built up in the minute-long outro as the words “wait for it” are chanted intermittently in the background is an equal to the tension of that letter. Wait for an envelope to drop, wait for a chorus to drop. But, as in this case, “sometimes in never came”. A masterpiece in bringing the listener into the story and a gorgeous exercise in restraint.

Sprawl is a good word to use for many things, the concept of a suburban area, the album format as a whole with a sprawl of songs making it up, even Arcade Fire themselves, anyone whose seen them play live would agree that a sprawl of multi-instrumentalists is exactly what they are. We hear the two very distinct sides of Arcade Fire in the two Sprawl tracks, from a doom-laden, potently gothic tale of despair to a synth-drenched track I’d have to describe as Regine’s best ever, and suiting her relatively limited talents as a vocalist superbly. It is the longest on the album, but it does not outstay its welcome, and it shows quite how capable this band are at throwing everything into the mix and making it gel together and work. Even though the album is an hour old by this stage, a point at which bands would normally be accepting the need for two-minute filler to get the album done, the extravagance is not unwelcome.

And then, all of a sudden, the album is over, returning to where it begun, merging with the first track to create a perfect circle. If there’s one thing, one little lesson to learn from this album, Win Butler urges that it is to move past the feeling. Maybe we can all go there together, band, listener, the sprawling suburbs that are craved and yet disposed of so easily. All of us, moving past the feeling.

(Rating: 18/20)

The Video Bin 6: A Fahrenheit 55 Special

For my first Video Bin since the prolonged hiatus, I have decided to dip into a particularly limited pool of videos, artists whom I have seen live at Guildford’s Fahrenheit 55. I thought this would make a nice celebration/appreciation of the Wednesday acoustic night that is run there, and a note of the quality of act that plays. Alas, they have yet to book The National for an intimate performance, but I am convinced that it won’t be long until they play the hallowed Strangers On A Train night.

If you’re in Guildford on a Wednesday don’t you dare miss it. And get yourself 3 for 2 on cocktails while you’re at it. Fahrenheit 55.

~

Mark Aaron James – Goths Of Summer

To kick things off, here is the first artist I saw headline at Fahrenheit, Mark Aaron James, aka The American With The Permanent Smile. You would think that his desire to dip into unusual subjects to fuel his lyrics (see Kleptomaniac Girlfriend, Aquaman’s Lament) would grate, but it never does. MAJ is too joyous and constantly surprising with his choice of subject matter for it to seem gimmicky. Alas, much of his time is spent in America, so Guildford does not host him too often, but when they do it is always a special night. Happy to perform an acoustic cover of “Don’t Stop Believing”, no matter how drunkenly it is requested.

~

Kid Adrift – Oxytocin (Chemical Soup)

So admittedly it is only keyboardist Becky Woolls that has appeared at Fahrenheit, armed with the kind of keyboard skills, unhinged vocals and unique lyrical content that bares comparison to Joanna Newsom, but I would feel badly about myself if I didn’t share this particular tune. Having just headlined the BBC Introducing stage at Glastonbury, Kid Adrift very much have upward momentum at the moment, their spectacular mixture of estranged electronics and angered vocals can be found on the Oxytocin EP, released July 12th. For now, just enjoy the title track from that EP, and try not to get as addicted to it as I am.

~

Byron Johnston – Mia Rumba

Aside from being perhaps the most skilled guitarist I have ever seen, Byron Johnston also helps out as sound engineer at Fahrenheit, even offering to fill half-hour gaps if people have dropped out at the last moment. His skill is mesmerising, moving fluidly between pop covers, flamenco and world music, and slide blues as and when appropriate. He recently, for the first time, played the headline at Fahrenheit, along with the astounding vocals of Randolph Matthews (see below). This is the only video I have of an artist actually playing at Fahrenheit, and it’s a truly astounding performance, as always.

~

Randolph Matthews

An album between Randolph Matthews and Byron Johnston is in the works, purpotedly coming out “soon” (see, never say I don’t bring you exculsives). Their collabaration, which unfortunately there seem to be no videos of, is perhaps my favourite set I’ve seen at Fahrenheit. The day a hard copy of their song “Light The Flame” becomes available will be the day I am truly happy. Here I’ve decided to put an intervie which contains clips of Matthews’ music, because it’s rare for me to find a video where an artist is so welcome to give an insight into their music.

~

Love.Stop.Repeat – Pillow

Bringing a special aura to Fahrenheit, Love.Stop.Repeat’s magical performances must surely be put down to the amazing Lindsay West, whose vocals could best be described as a soothing combination of Feist and Beth Gibbons.

~

I have to, finally, give a massive thanks to Andy “Panpipe” Vale, who as far as I’m aware makes the majority of this possible. If you told me there’s a harder working guy with a better taste in music than Andy in Guildford, I wouldn’t believe you, because there isn’t. Check out the website, check out the Facebook Group, and if you’re in Guildford on a Wednesday night and don’t go, then I’m afraid you’re going to have to the consider the possibility that you fail at life.

The Wednesday Countdown: 2010 Update

A nice relaxed return to my Wednesday Countdowns, this is my favourite twenty songs from albums released in 2010. As I’m sure you’re aware, this is a very important and noble endeavour. No limitations on number of tracks per artist/album, so expect a tad of High Violet appearing around the nether regions of this list (or, y’know, the top 12 tracks being High Violet. Whatever).

Tracks of 2010 (as of June):

20. LCD Soundsystem – Dance Yrself Clean

19. Joanna Newsom – Easy

18. The Tallest Man On Earth – Love Is All

17. Beach House – Zebra

16. The National – Bloodbuzz Ohio

15. Owen Pallett – Midnight Directives

14. Frightened Rabbit – The Loneliness And The Scream

13. Yeasayer – Ambling Alp

12. Laura Marling – I Speak Because I Can

11. Broken Social Scene – Forced To Love

10. The Tallest Man On Earth – King Of Spain

9. Broken Bells – October

8. The National – Afraid Of Everyone

7. Beach House – Silver Soul

6. Laura Marling – Goodbye England

5. Owen Pallett – Lewis Takes Off His Shirt

4. Massive Attack – Atlas Air

3. LCD Soundsystem – All I Want

2. The National – Runaway

1. Joanna Newsom – Good Intentions Paving Co.