And things were clearer

Tagged by Rob:

List seven songs you are into right now. No matter what the genre, whether they have words, or even if they’re not any good, but they must be songs you’re really enjoying now, shaping your spring. Post these instructions in your blog along with your 7 songs. Then tag 7 other people to see what they’re listening to.

(Parenthetically, seven’s rather a lot, isn’t it? One of the reasons I haven’t been blogging much recently is that I can’t seem to get a blog post finished in less than an hour – and the thought that I’m going to be working on a blog post for the next hour doesn’t often lift the spirits. But let’s see how it goes.)

(Five minutes already. Damn!)

(Update 6/6/08 The other thing I dislike about blogging – at least, the way I do it – is the amount of time I end up spending on edits and updates after a post is published. I hate that.)

Shirley Collins, Fare thee well my dearest dear
I’m immersed in Amaranth at the moment; it’s a late-70s album by Shirley Collins which I bought for my mother a long time ago, and it’s quite wonderful. Side one consists of traditional material recorded with the Albion Band; mostly fairly conventional stuff from the folkier end of seventies folk-rock, with a few odd-sounding instruments thrown in. Side two was recorded eight years earlier and features Dolly Collins on pipe organ and what I think is an earlier, or prototype, Albion Band; the instrumentation’s heavy on recorders and sackbuts. Shirley Collins’ voice is thin and wavery, and on this track in particular (which opens side one) she’s battling with a fiddly arrangement over a big lumbering rock 4:4, but still: there’s something utterly unencumbered and direct about the songs themselves, and about the joys and sorrows they describe. It’s unforgettably moving, this music; it’ll give you emotional earworms. Incidentally, this song was collected in 1904 by Vaughan Williams; a very similar song was a popular broadside ballad in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It makes me slightly dizzy thinking about it.

Scott Walker, The old man’s back again
An extraordinary song from Scott Four, which I was introduced to recently by the medium of the Earlies’ “Secret Broadcast” mix series. This song stops time: over a relentless, quietly urgent drumbeat there’s a film-score orchestral backing so sparse it hardly seems to be there, and over it all Scott’s immense voice hangs like banners. I’m not sure what’s more remarkable – that he should have been inspired to write about Brezhnev replacing Khrushchev, or that he should have done it in this bizarre, hyperreal way, outdoing “Blues for Ceausescu” 25 years early: And ‘entrez vie!’ he cries, with eyes that ring like chimes/His anti-worlds go spinning through his head. A strange, still track.

John Kelly, Spencer the Rover
More folk, but this time from a contemporary album. John’s been performing for 40 years and has got quite good at it – as well as singing he plays harmonium, guitar, cittern, whistle and (I’ve been told) fiddle. This album (his first, bizarrely enough) is mainly John with harmonium and guitar. His voice is expressive and flexible enough to carry a traditional song unaccompanied – the words don’t just hang on the tune like washing on a line; on the songs he plays on harmonium, in particular, the accompaniment adds a whole extra dimension. But judge for yourself – you can here this song here.

the Dandy Warhols, Love is the new feel awful
I loved Welcome to the monkey house, but fought shy of Odditorium… when I saw what bad reviews it was getting. I finally got it (reduced) a few weeks back, and I can see why people didn’t like it. Give it time, though, and it gets through to you. The thing to remember about the Dandys is that they are the coolest band in the world – at least, that’s the principle they work on, and it makes it easier to get into their music if you give them the benefit of the doubt. The concept for this album is essentially “the coolest band in the world jam aimlessly in the studio, and it still works!” – and it nearly does. What’s interesting about this song is what happens when a band start playing, and become so convinced they’re doing something amazing that they just keep on at it. What you end up with, among other things, is a lot of feedback – it becomes an instrument in its own right by the end of the track. In other words, it’s not so much rock’n’roll as the noise of rock’n’roll – the sound rock’n’roll makes. It’s actually quite radical stuff – with the right editing it could be on the Faust tapes. Speaking of which…

Faust, J’ai mal aux dents
What can I say, my son was practising his French vocab the other day, I taught him how to say “My teeth ache and so do my feet”, and then I thought I should just check the source… Just wonderful. It’s a driving rock track, only with these words that don’t seem to make any sense and don’t quite seem to be in English and they repeat oddly, and they don’t seem to make any sense and they repeat oddly, and the drummer doesn’t quite sound like a rock drummer and there’s this odd little synthesised bzzzt! on every other third beat, and after seven minutes or so the keyboard player holds the bzzzt until it swamps the entire song, and then, and then… It’s wonderful stuff – deeply experimental and viscerally accessible at the same time. I got this album when I was 12, would you believe. (My son’s into Scouting for Girls. Where’s the young Richard Branson when you need him?)

Nic Jones, the Outlandish Knight
More folk. One man, his guitar and a Child ballad. A strange tune (mostly traditional), that seems to go off somewhere unexpected and loop back on itself, and some very strange lyrics (boy meets girl, boy attempts to kill girl, girl kills boy, girl meets parrot…) The singing’s strong and melodic, although the voicing is rather of its time (early 1970s) – ve-ry ex-press-ive in a bloke-y sort of way – and the guitar playing’s terrific. Nic Jones’s accident was a dreadful blow for music as well as for Nic himself.

Flying Saucer Attack, At night
Update Off with you. Last night I forgot about a much more suitable candidate:
Beth Orton, Heartland truckstop
I loved Beth Orton’s first album, liked the second and was very bored by the third, so it took a record shop sale (see under Dandy Warhols) to get me to buy her fourth, Comfort of Strangers. I’m glad I did, and glad I persisted with it – musically and lyrically it’s easily the best thing she’s done since that first album. For that I think we can thank Jim O’Rourke, who worked with her on the album (at the time of the third album she was working with Ryan Adams). On the other hand, O’Rourke has to take some of the blame for the inconsequential, second-runthrough arrangements – these are short songs, often because they get to the end of the lyrics and then stop – and in particular the awful, murky production. It’s the opposite of a Kieran Hebden production, where you feel like everything’s playing at once about two inches from your head – it sounds like real instruments being played in real time, but in another room. Even the titles seem designed to repel boarders – Beth Orton’s written some terrific lines in these songs, but almost none of them make it into a song title (or a chorus). From this song:

We’re all bridgebuilders’ daughters, with incestuous dreams
Confidentially speaking, things are as they seem

It’s good stuff – murky and refrain-free, but good stuff.

Seven songs, then. (66 minutes – I knew it.) I won’t nominate anyone – tig me in comments if you want to do it next.


One Comment

  1. Posted 9 June 2008 at 18:13 | Permalink | Reply

    Ah, I see Pingback has already done it for me, but just to let you know that I’ve taken this 7-song meme and run with it over at my place.

2 Trackbacks

  1. By Pingback: Splintered Sunrise on 10 June 2008 at 10:19

    […] it’s back to the music theme. I’ve been tagged by Madam Miaow, and Phil has also been running this, both showing rather more presentable taste than me. The remit is: List […]

  2. By Seven songs - Chicken Yoghurt on 10 June 2008 at 14:32

    […] venerable Jim Bliss has tagged me with a music meme. I’m to, via Phil… List seven songs you are into right now. No matter what the genre, whether they have words, […]

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