Track of the Week – Week Fifty-Two

‘For What Reason’ by Death Cab For Cutie

From the album We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes (2000)

 

 

I decided to finish this mammoth undertaking as I started, with my favourite song by one of my favourite bands, whom I bang on about pretty often, be it good or bad.

 

I don’t know what it is about this song that makes me love it so much, I often think it may be the way that the guitar and vocals undulate in the chorus, or the way that the verses are brought back in with a lovely washy guitar line, or how insane, yet completely controlled, the drums, performed by Ben Gibbard, are all the way throughout the song. There are more that I could mention but I’d be writing this article forever (and I’ve started a bit late). One can always rely on Ben Gibbard to write on-point indie/emo lyrics that really talk to the listener (if they wish to listen that is), and ‘For What Reason’ is no exception. Gibbard is at his acerbic best in this song; lines such as ‘I will hold a candle up to you to singe your skin’ (presumably burning photographs) and describing the subject of the song as ‘so slick with that sarcastic slew’.

 

We Have the Facts… is two out of five in a run of near perfect albums by Death Cab, beginning with the lo-fi Washington emo of Something About Airplanes (1998) and culminating in the sun-soaked, poppish indie of Plans (2005). I’m not going to detract too much from Narrow Stairs, which is a great album in its own right, but not to the same standard as the previous five. I’m also glad to say that Codes and Keys (2011) is growing on me (I even put a song from it on a monthly playlist in November) and I very much enjoyed Kintsugi (2015) as a last hoorah for Chris Walla’s involvement in the band.

 

Death Cab for Cutie mean so much to so many people and I’m very happy to end my year of music with the band that started it all. If I haven’t hammered the point home enough already then I urge you to spend some quality time with their back catalogue and find something special in there.

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Track of the Week – Week Fifty-One

‘A Spaceman Came Travelling’ by Chris de Burgh

It is a truth universally acknowledged that ‘Last Christmas’ by Wham is the best song ever, there is no escaping that, but I’m going to use the festive week to champion an underrated Christmas song. One that is not overtly about Christmas, but one man’s reimagining of the Angel Gabriel as some sort of extraterrestrial being who comes to Earth to spook Mary and Jesus and sing the good folks a song; a man who descends from Plantagenet earldom, is the father of a former Miss World and believes that he can literally heal people with his hands (notice anything there?). Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Mr Lady in Red himself, Chris de Burgh.

Barring all of that insanity, I do genuinely enjoy ‘A Spaceman Came Travelling’ and the way it puts a twist on the Christmas story, kind of like the whole David Icke, royal family are lizards, Illuminati thing, but a bit nicer. de Burgh did a pretty thorough rundown of what the song is about for the BBC a few years back, which you can find here, suffice to say there is a bit of WB Yeats (‘The Second Coming’) and some bizarre pseudoscentific theory.

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The Queen is a bloody lizard! Image from neonnettle.com, where I presume it is copyrighted.

Musically this has what you come to expect from the mid- to late-70s, ethereal pianos, some nice crescendos and what sounds like some lovely Spanish guitars that bring the verse in. The highlight of the song, however, is at the end when de Burgh goes a bit nuts on the vocals and starts shouting, in a good way, beginning with ‘OH THE WHOLE WORLD IS WAITING’. So sit down with some eggnog by an open fire with your family and enjoy the dulcet tones and healing hands of Chris de Burgh.

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Track of the Week – Week Fifty

‘Spinning in Daffodils’ by Them Crooked Vultures

From the album Them Crooked Vultures (2009)

It is six years and a day since I woke up with one of the worst hangovers I’ve ever had.

I remember this because on that day I drove from my home town of Darley Dale, Derbyshire to Blackpool, a journey of nearly a hundred painstaking miles, knowing that, at the end of it, I would be in Blackpool, in December. I undertook this ridiculous endeavour in order to see Them Crooked Vultures; I’m sure sure I would have bothered for many other bands but this I had to see. I’d caught the band’s secret set at Leeds Festival a few months previously, having just lost my phone in a moshpit to Enter Shikari (luckily, I ran into a good friend of mine who knew I’d want to see TCV – cheers Dave!) but due to that incident and the lack of recordings released by the band at that point I didn’t really know what was going on (plus I was super turnt). I remember being blown away by John Paul Jones and Dave Grohl in particular, but not much else and so I knew that I had to see them again. I knew that I could battle the hangover to end them all and I’d even go to Blackpool in the dead of winter whilst doing it. So me and my good friend Richard set off on our epic quest and, predictably, it was brilliant. The Empress Ballroom is also Blackpool’s only redeeming feature. However, I’m not here to review a show from six years ago, nor is this an episode of ‘Grand Designs’. If you are trying to watch an episode of ‘Grand Designs’, please adjust your set.

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The author (r), with friends, clearly having an amazing time in Blackpool.

The song, ‘Spinning in Daffodils’, is the shit. It is one of those ultimate album closers that I wish I had written; from Joshua Homme’s incredible riffs and the millisecond-perfect delay in his tone to Grohl’s thunderous drums but, most of all, John Paul Jones’ bass. His outro really is something special – the little runs underpinned by some serious low string work. It sounds as if the strings (all twelve, yes, a twelve-string bass) were put on the bass moments before they hit ‘record’, did one take (because I assume that’s all JPJ needs) and were instantly discarded, or put into a cryogenic freezing facility to be preserved forever, such is the perfection that they enabled.

Another wonderful facet of the song is Homme’s vocals. They harmonise with a guitar line throughout what you would call the ‘main’ part of the song before breaking loose and delivering one of the most simple yet greatest line of lyrics ever written over the outro – ‘I got so high that I just may never come down’. The whole outro sent shivers down my spine the first time I heard it and continues to do so to this day. Performed live the song is even more atmospheric and mesmerising, with Jones closing out the song with a keyboard solo, as seen here.

Finally, let us take a moment to appreciate that Them Crooked Vultures are made up of Joshua Homme (Kyuss, Queens of the Stone Age), Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters) and John Paul freaking Jones (Led Zeppelin) and they also posted the funniest video ever made on the internet.

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Track of the Week – Week Forty-Nine

‘Drainpipes’ by Joe Man Hater

From the EP Pond Capacity (2007)

JMH logo

Fantastic! Another article that I can use to blow my own trumpet! After seven years of only being available if you asked one of us nicely, Joe Man Hater have put two of their EPs online and available to listen to.

I was first asked to join the band in the capacity of ‘manager’ in the summer of 2006, and quickly graduated from playing egg shaker and tambourine on a cover of ‘Hero’ by Enrique Iglesias at Madison’s Bar in Matlock to joining the band proper as third guitarist, synth player, cornet player, flautist and one-time bassist, with some vocals thrown in for good measure. (As an aside, I, to this day, cannot play the flute or the cornet.)

Cornet

The author, playing in instrument that he cannot play.

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Sturge, at what looks like Madison’s Bar, playing the guitar that was subsequently stolen by bailiffs removing property from Madison’s Bar. Bastards.

I firmly believe that Joe Man Hater are the best band ever to come out of Matlock and now we’re back, with our first gig happening in Matlock early next year. We’ve got a new drummer, a new logo and lots of old songs and we’re ready to put our music penises into your ear vagina, or something like that. I could write the whole long and convoluted history of Joe Man Hater but I’ll save that for the unlicensed kiss-and-tell biography that I will almost certainly never write.

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Andy modelling some drainpipes, nice.

‘Drainpipes’ isn’t a particularly complicated song; the title is stolen from trousers that were all the rage in 2006. We were incredibly lucky to record at Treehouse Studio in Cutthorpe, owned by producer Carl Bown who has worked with bands such as Machine Head and Fightstar (interesting fact – I saw Carl on stage with Fightstar at Leeds Festival once). The second best thing about recording with Carl is that his studio is literally next door to a pub which served buffalo burgers, helping to explain the herd of buffalo we saw on the way to the studio… The sonic landscape of the whole Pond Capacity EP (each track featuring at least eight guitar tracks) is immense and I’m incredibly proud of the outcome.

Joey

Give it up for Joe Jameson on the bass.

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Track of the Week – Week Forty-Eight

‘River in the Road’ by Queens of the Stone Age

From the album Era Vulgaris (2007)

Continuing on the theme of dark songs for the winter, I’ve picked a deep cut from one of my all-time favourite bands, Queens of the Stone Age. But why, you might ask, an album cut from possibly their weakest album? I’ll admit that Era Vulgaris little impact on my musical journey through life; I was seventeen when it came out and far too enamoured with bands like Broken Social Scene and Stars (In Our Bedroom After the War came out a couple of months after Era Vulgaris and completely changed my life; soundtracking some unforgettable moments) to do anything but buy this album on its release day, listen to it a few times and pretty much let it fall by the wayside whilst still listening to Songs for the Deaf and Rated R on a weekly basis. These days, with QOTSA being one of my favourite bands, I binge on all of their albums regularly and have grown to love the black sheep that is Era Vulgaris, in particular the edgier side of the album. Tracks such as ‘Sick, Sick, Sick’, ‘Era Vulgaris’, ‘Suture Up Your Future’ and ‘River in the Road’ are spiky and angry, especially when put alongside tracks such as ‘Make It Wit Chu’, a very very fun dancey-dancey makin’ love song.

‘River in the Road’ picks up a beacon on a long history of desert rock songs that explore the dark side of the desert; the long drives, the dark nights, empty spaces and long drive. Songs such as Kyuss’ ‘Asteroid’, Masters of Reality’s ‘Third Man on the Moon’, and countless QOTSA tracks, for example ‘Go With the Flow’, ‘I Never Came’, ‘The Bronze’, ‘I Appear Missing’ and so on, exemplify this. One of the understated features of the track which subtlety allow it to stand out from the rest of the album is the Mark Lanegan harmony backing vocals. Lanegan is well known for his work with QOTSA, Screaming Trees and Soulsavers, amongst others, his raspy, cigarette smoke voice is instantly recognisable on Queens tracks such as ‘A Song for the Deaf’ and ‘In the Fade’, however his contribution to ‘River in the Road’ is powerful due to the fact that it isn’t obvious, he carries along Homme’s narrative and gives it a sinister undertone. The vocals, mixed with the layers upon layers of guitar tracks (Homme and Troy van Leeuwen’s ‘crazy delay’ guitar track) swirl around in the listener’s mind; ‘grab what slips your mind and what your memory can’t hold’.

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The scene of the scene, photo courtesy of http://www.palm-desert.org

I could go on for hours and hours describing the minutiae of the history of the Palm Desert scene, and acts associated with, or blended into Queens of the Stone Age but I think somebody already wrote a book about that so there goes my idea.

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Track of the Week – Week Forty-Seven

‘Gouge Away’ by Pixies

From the album Doolittle (1989)

Doing (even more) digging into Steve Albini for last week’s article took me back to Pixies, a band I drop in and out of, become obsessed with, or leave alone for long periods of time, very regularly. Albini famously said about the band that they ‘at their top dollar best are blandly entertaining college rock.’ Albini has since apologised for this remark, and even called Surfer Rosa ‘ok’, but this article isn’t about Steve Albini, it’s about Pixies so I’ll get on with that (but I’m definitely going to come back to Steve).

I chose ‘Gouge Away’ this week as it is by far and away my favourite Pixies song, employing their classic conceit of loud-soft-loud-soft and off-kilter lyrical themes, on this occasion a musical retelling of the story of Samson and his death. Black Francis’ unmistakable vocals create a lot of the atmosphere in the song, from the half-whisper of ‘gouge away, you can gouge away’ in the verse to the final chorus near-scream of ‘I break the walls, and kill us all’ (the way he annunciates ‘walls’ is one of my favourite things on record, ever, full stop.) Kim Deal’s bass is, as ever, reliable and not at all flashy, whilst Joey Santiago’s distorted guitar licks before the choruses again add to the menacing atmosphere of the song.

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Here’s Samson, breaking some walls to kill loads of Philistines. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Gil Norton’s ‘clean’ production of Doolittle stands in sharp contrast to Albini’s work on Surfer Rosa. It allows for the contrasts between the loud and the quiet to be more clearly defined, but one cannot help but wonder what the track (and album) would be like with the Albini treatment. Would the album rank higher in countless ‘Best Albums Ever’ list? Would it even feature at all? There’s another interesting interplay in the Albini-Pixies relationship; he didn’t produce another Pixies album after Surfer Rosa, yet he worked with Kim Deal on three out of four of The Breeders’ albums, including the seminal Pod. Black Francis probably doesn’t like him, to be fair.

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Track of the Week – Week Forty-Six

‘Steak and Black Onions’ by Rapeman

From the album Two Nuns and a Pack Mule (1988)

It’s an inescapable fact that every album that you like was produced by either Rick Rubin, Timbaland or Steve Albini. It is the latter, who can list a résumé in the thousands of records with small highlights such as Nirvana’s ‘In Utero’, ‘Surfer Rosa’ by Pixies, ‘Pod’ by the Breeders, ‘Mclusky Do Dallas’, Jawbreaker’s ‘24 Hour Revenge Therapy’ and ‘Goat’ by The Jesus Lizard, who is the subject of this week’s Track of the Week. But why do many people who know Steve Albini’s name not know that he has been the frontman (guitar, vocals) for three exceptionally good bands? A perfectly valid answer to this question is ‘listen to the track above’. It is difficult, raking and abrasive, not to mention the fact that the artist is… yep… that’s not a typo, Rapeman, named after an obscure Japanese manga character.

Steve Albini has built a career around being fucking difficult, but fucking brilliant, and valuing the integrity and rights of artists over his own gain. His opinions on certain bands, the music industry (and again), dance music, and many more are legendary, eminently quotable and, mostly, right on the mark. Albini is famed for his analogue-only approach to recording at his Electrical Audio studios in Chicago (the studio has a digital room that Albini ‘doesn’t know how to use’) and he once wrote a letter to Nirvana, at the time one of the biggest bands in the world after the success of Nevermind, outlining his policy on recording.

Steve Albini, telling you what he thinks of you (photo from somewhere in the Tumblrverse)

Steve Albini, telling you what he thinks of you (photo from somewhere in the Tumblrverse)

‘Steak and Black Onions’, the first track on Rapeman’s only full-length, displays most, if not all, of the characteristics of Albini’s bands; abrasive, metallic guitars, pounding and relentless drums (human in Shellac and Rapeman; electronic in Big Black) and Albini’s confrontational lyrics; opening the song with ‘why don’t you snuff it then? You plant-eating pussy.’ The song lurches from one distorted passage to the next, like several thousand copies of the Sex Pistols’ Never Mind the Bollocks.. being systematically fed through a circular saw, and ends as abruptly as it started after just over three minutes of midwestern anger and brilliance.

I sense that I’m going to get a bit of flak for featuring a band with the name Rapeman, however I will leave you with two quotes from Steve Albini regarding the issue –

You know, I can’t defend that choice [of the name]. The thought processes I went through at the time, I thought, were valid. At the time both Ray [Washam, drums] and I were the only people in the band. Both of us sort of caught onto the idea of the band and the band name, and that was all it took. So I still think that’s a valid process, and that’s the result we have to live with. I can’t defend that name, especially to someone who has a personal history that makes them particularly sensitive to it. But you know, I’m proud of the band, I’m proud of the music we made. I can’t defend the name, but I’m also not willing to apologize for it.

http://www.rollingstone.com/music/features/steve-albini-looks-back-on-three-decades-of-defiance-20141106?page=3

[N]o one except for a total dork is pro-rape.

http://louderthanwar.com/steve-albini/

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