Hello! It has been a long while since I’ve posted anything on this here blog. My games writing has moved to Gaming Daily and The Reticule leaving MVH a little quiet. Meanwhile I figure this frees this site up to let me write about other stuff that occupies me from day to day. This is a bit of a mammoth post about a Spotify Playlist I’ve been obsessing over for the past couple of days. I took a song from each of the artists I’ve listened to over the past year and added them, and then arranged them into an order that made some sort of odd sense when listening to it. Descriptions of each track lie below. There were a load of artists I couldn’t find on Spotify, but many are on there. Feel free to suggest music you’ve been into in the comments thread, I’m always looking for new stuff to listen to. Here’s the link for your audio pleasure:
Right, let’s get started.
Everything is Alright by Four Tet
Four Tet can normally be heard chopping acoustic samples into beautiful and complex arrangements, but of all Kieron Hebden’s laptop born arrangements this one is the simplest. The groove is there before the acoustic guitar comes in, it arrives, the plinky synth devlops it and then poof, it’s gone. Like the Keyser Soze of cool grooves, but with less manipulation and murder and more head bopping.
Lovely Allen by Holy Fuck
It’s a joyous noise. A synth string riff can go a long way when you’ve got Holy Fuck’s drummer and bassist smashing shit up in the back. The string runs at 3 minutes in are perfect and wonderfully complex and fiddly when set against the next minute of pure noise-bliss.
Gong by Sigur Ros
From synth strings to real ones and man, that’s a lovely opening. Then there’s the offset guitar riff that makes you think the beat is somewhere else entirely until the rattly metallic kit kicks in. Takk is my favourite Sigur Ros album, and Gong is my favourite track from Takk, so here it is taking it’s rightful place 3rd in the playlist. Sigur Ros nails that sublime melancholy thing. A sad song that uplifts by celebrating sadness, only music can really do it. Also it’s got an amazing kick at 4:09.
Fake Empire by The National
Rare to hear baritones anywhere in pop music, but here the warm low voice sits perfectly with the piano. It’s lazy, maudlin and sweet song about going to a park and taking drugs and wandering around town, as far as I can tell anyway.
Pyramid Song by Radiohead
In Rainbows is criminally absent from Spotify, so this slot should go to Reckoner. But in lieu of that there’s always Pyramid Song. It’s got the jarring disjointed rhythm of a dream. It’s one of the finest examples of theme being utterly married with the ebb and flow of the music. It’s basically perfect.
A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head
This should have been Masterfade, but Spotify still has holes so instead here’s A Nervous Tic delivering a dose of Andrew Bird’s ridiculous talent into the playlist. Bird, for those who haven’t heard of him, constructs his peices by looping his virtuoso violin playing with his voice and incredible whistling (the noise at 58 secs? That’s not a theremin, that’s him whistling). You get almost classical arrangements from Andrew Bird, a string texture becomes a plinky verse, then an a capella section. It’s odd and bears a few repeat listens. And no, I have no fucking clue what this song is about.
And Here We Test Our Powers Of Observation by The Bad Plus
New York Jazz trio The Bad Plus (Piano, Double Bass, Drummer) made a name for themselves covering the likes of Nirvana and Madonna in their own brand of twitchy dischordant jazz. This is one of their own concoctions, and it’s better than their covers by a long way. It’s got just enough consistent rhythm to hang on to and it builds into something undeniably dramatic.
Charmless Man by Blur
Why have I segued from an obscure Jazz trio to this? BECAUSE I CAN. Also, the slow fade in is a useful transition from a couple of slightly difficult things into pop glory. After their awesome Glastonbury performance earlier this year I had a proper listen to Blur’s stuff, and this is what has been in my head ever since. It’s funny, witty, a little bit cruel and the hook is just Albern singing ‘nah nah nah nah naaah na nahhh’, which gets points in my book.
Hysteria by Muse
BIG MUFF FUZZ. BASS. YES. It’s got Muse’s virtuoso skill and it’s a great pop song. I love their new stuff, I really do, but it’s so awesomely OTT that it’s fallen uncomfortably into the guilty pleasures category. But anyway, I think the main reason I love this song is the solo. I was on the front row of a Muse gig once and Bellamy did it sliding past me on his knees. Enough said.
A Perfect Day Elise by P J Harvey
From my favourite album this year (though it was recorded ages ago). I’m still hooked on Is This Desire? and, to a lesser extent, White Chalk. This is one of about six immense tracks from Desire. It starts with the most enourmous bass sound you’ll hear but I love this song for the slightly distorted vocal. P J’s lyrics are always pretty ambiguous and often go to genuinely dark places, but always with just enough subtelty to keep my interest.
If You Tolerate This Then Your Children WIll Be Next by The Manic Street Preachers
A Perfect Day has a long slow fade out then a bit of silence. There are few things I’d prefer to hear puncture a silence than those long mewing guitar chord sounds that kick start this five minute epic. This is the first single I ever bought for myself with my own money. I was about 12, and it was on tape and it signalled a sudden shift in my music tastes. Tolerate was released, OK Computer was just out. Interesting times.
See You Soon by Coldplay
One of Colplay’s two best songs (the other is Shiver), there’s only a live version on Spotify but even so I’ve put it in here. For me Colplay have become more musically boring by degrees from their first album but they undeniably have some ability. Chris Martin actually puts together a lovely lyric for this one, no mention of igniting your bones or anything. Nice work, man.
After The Gold Rush by Neil Young
Could this be my favourite song on the entire list? Quite possibly. It shows how much one man and a piano can do, especially when the man is Neil Young. It just has a simple and timeless melody and beautful words. No, I don’t know what they mean. Especially the last bit about the aliens coming down and rescuing mohter nature’s silver seed.
River Man by Nick Drake
Nick Drake is simply a superb guitarist. From the rare and bizarre tunings of his instrument come these odd songs full of difficult and moody textures. This song would only be half as good without the string part, which takes such prominence that it overpowers the vocal completely at about 4:10. A modern producer would never mix it like this, but it’s perfect.
John Belushi by The Broken Family Band
What did The Broken Family Band do this year? They broke up. Sad face. From their early days as a changeable folk collective to their recent and fairly valid attempts at indie reinvention The Broken Family Band have been consistently brilliant throughout their career. This is one of their finest quiet songs, and has an absolutely sublime solo guitar breakdown.
Distortions by Clinic
Thanks to the surgeon masks that they wear at all times, nobody really looks like Clinic. Nobody sounds like them either. Distortions is unusually mellow for them, but quite lovely. They’re more often heard bashing out really odd and interesting, discordant music with clarinet riffs and jangly electric guitar backing. They’re a pop band gone a bit wrong. They’re the disturbing jangle of a detuned ice cream van trundling through the fog. At night. In Transylvania.
Magic Doors by Portishead
It was The Rip or this. But The Rip doesn’t have the gorgeous piano strokes of the chorus. Like a musical sigh. Ahhhh.
Killing Him by Amy Lavere
Soft voiced Deep South singer Amy Lavere hammers away at an upright bass when fronting her three peice band. Here she sings sweetly about killing her ungrateful lover and being a bit sad about it. She toured through Birmingham last year for some odd reason and I was lucky enough to see her. Seen live, there’s less cloying folky fiddle noises and more smooth electric guitar riffage. It’s a definite improvement over the album sound, and it’s something I’d highly recommend.
Maps by Yeah Yeah Yeahs
I liked the idea of putting Amy Lavere next to Karen O. New York squealy sex bomb fighter jet rock and roll front woman positively croons on this track. It’s the quietest song on an absolute explosion of an album. It’s a good way to pick up the pace running into our next track.
Charmer by Kings of Leon
WAAAAOWW. I love that squeal. How is that a man making that noise? How has it come to pass in this modern world that such a noise has been recorded for profit? It’s the scream of sexual frustration backed by the grungy noise of a rock band, what’s not to like?
Rock and Roll Psychosis by The Jim Jones Revue
Holy shit, this is the noisiest thing I’ve never heard. We’re well into the jumping up and down on the couch while trying to simultaneously madly do The Twist to the Blues-Gone-Mental cacophany that is the Jim Jones Revue phase of the playlist. It’s hard to know what to say for this bit because I’m trying to sensibly articulate an emotion that is essentially a distilled cry of “WOOOOOO!”
The View from the Afternoon by The Arctic Monkeys
Great pacy modern rock sound from their first album. I got hooked on this trying to learn the drum part. It’s a brilliantly recorded track bursting with energy. As you stop to enjoy the lyrical wit you’re hit with a burst of distorted victory.
Fell In Love with a Girl by The White Stripes
It’s less than two minutes long which is exactly how long it should last. No solos or interludes, no extra sections. Just the best bits of a song a lesser band would stretch to 4 minutes.
Feel Good Hit of the Summer by Queens of the Stone Age
Was walking through town once and began to wonder why I was getting funny looks from passing strangers. Then realised I had been singing along unconsciously to this track. True story. C-C-C-COCAINE!
Subterranean Homesick Blues by Bob Dylan
A song that revels in the joy of language and also probably Marijuana. Don’t follow leaders, watch your parking meters! The vandals stole the handles! He wanted eleven dollar bills but I only had ten! Thanks a ton for this one, Bob.
E Pro by Beck
Modern practitioner of the Bob Dylan Subterranean Homesick Blues approach to songwriting, Beck fills his incomprehensible but addictive ramblings with a top class grunge riff doubled up by him singing ‘nah nah nahh’ with the riff. My feelings on that particular technique are a matter of public record. Go Beck!
Novacaine for the Soul by Eels
If you’re the musical type looking at an Eels songs from a technical standpoint is a distinctly underwhelming experience. There’s nothing difficult or interesting there on paper, but in song they’re brilliant. I don’t know what it is. Is it front man’s creaky low voice, the awesome video to this song that shows them flying around the place for no reason? Fairy dust? I know not. Great track.
Art Bitch by CSS
I blame Kieron Gillen for this. And many, many other things. But mainly this.
Like Eating Glass by Bloc Party
For some reason, deep down in my bones, I have a feeling that Bloc Party will be remembered fondly when the Arctic Monkeys have long since faded from memory. This particular trtack is a cracker. The first track of their first album. Superb drumming, great vocal. They seem to have two lead guitarists giving taking and taking riffs from each other. It’s fast, intricate work, and it’s really sharp stuff.
Bronze Medal by Idlewild
Winding down for the finale. Let’s take Bronze Medal. Idlewild’s been with my from my early teenage years, from their angry punk grunge songs about arguing and seeing shapes. They matured perfectly for me with their third album, but I still have a lot of love for their earlier tracks. I love the image the opening verse conjures of burning stuff for warmth in some abandoned shack in Scotland somewhere. Maybe it’s meant as A METAPHOR FOR OUR LOVE, or something.
Both Sides Now by Joni Mitchell
This is the later recording of this lovely song from the genius that is Joni Mitchell. The string section and laboured vocals slightly overstretch the simple poignancy of the original rendition. Her voice, too, was simply incredible in the older version. Here it is on Youtube.But still, beautiful track and hopefully a moving finale to two hours of music.
Phew. That was a long haul. If you made it this far then congratulations, and thanks! Have a Bronze Medal by Idlewild. Or a cup of tea, or something.