A month ago I posted my year-end-list/stealth-manifesto, and I’ve noticed a few trends:
There was also a bunch of tracks that didn’t make it into the twelve, (some of which I’d begun writing up before I actually thought to count how many songs I’d picked) which I’ll throw in here:
The Sorcerer’s Intern
featuring my Mum on shaker
Most of the stuff we’re working on at the minute is pretty time intensive, so it was a bit of relief to do something more spontaneous.
One thing comes after another. I’ve tried to sequence this list with some sense of flow (albeit not as tightly/forced as last year) because music is never static - how each moment flows to the next is usually more important than what happening in any given moment.
Kaki King is an extraordinarily accomplished technical guitarist, watching her play, it’s a joy to see the dazzling layered tones coming from one guitar. The Fire Eater (from Glow but I went for the unnacompanied version) flows through several distinct regions, moving through different aspects of her style, from sparse tension building to rhythmic release and a gentler harmonic comedown.
But her playing never becomes tiresome, ego-driven showing off (as can be the risk). Despite the complexity there’s always a thread of beautiful simplicity to follow: no section is incomprehensibly dense, no transition feels bolted on or jarring, the playing never overwhelms the track. Beautiful.
Ok, I promise to stop complaining about my own one-track rule after this, but context is important. It’s why I prefer albums to singles. It’s why I still buy hard copies. It’s why I’m writing these.
North Sea Scrolls has done a lot to create context for itself: a concept album with spoken word introductions/narrations, an accompanying time-line, paintings, and live shows where they dress appropriately and use a projector to inject extra context into proceedings. Weaving a surreal, sprawling, interconnected, alternate history of our green and pleasant land. Context.
Fortunately, a heavy folk song about brutal morris dancers is gonna be awesome whatever the context.
My favourite part of the Matrix series is the haunted/glitching house segment of the Animatrix. It managed to be quiet and beautiful while remaining completely faithful to the rules of a world more obviously tuned for hectic thrills.
The Walkers Lament pulls off a similar trick, embedding a moment of stillness and beauty into a zombie apocalypse. A post apocalyptic folk ballad capturing the deep sadness of having to shoot your loved ones before they eat your brains.
It also manages the rather magical feat of not sounding like a new song. There’s something about the way the structure is stripped to the most resonant elements, where easy rhymes and certain lines invite a singalong on the first listen, that feels like it’s been passed through the refining process of an oral tradition.
Of course, even if the song had been around for years, I’m pretty sure Tara Bratton’s gorgeous performance would still count as a definitive version. A beautifully clear voice that pours a lot of heart into what could have been very alien subject matter.
I can’t help but think Call Me The Breeze is the wrong choice of single from Sugaring Season. Oh, it’s a lovely tune and I can see why it might be considered an easy entry point (especially in a market where Laura Marlin has been successful), but: Beth Orton is one of my absolute favourite singers and, from an album that acts as an broad yet subtle showcase for her voice, it’s a track which does little to accent the idiosyncrasies that make me love her voice so much.
Dawn Chorus has a relatively sparse backing of delicate guitar, warm double bass and shuffling brushed drums, where the vocal takes centre stage, vocals which are unmistakably Beth Orton, crescendoing in a rush of syllables that, through rhythm and repetition, shake off semantic shackles into a bubbling cascade of the human body as musical instrument: a sonic sculpture poured from a mould of lungs and vocal chords and tongue and teeth and a lifetime of singing, from cradle to studio. Lovely.