It’s late on Friday and I’m in a foul mood.
I’ve been in a limbo of waiting all evening, standing by to hear a time and place to meet up with friends in town, only to finally find out the details so late in the evening it’d be pointless for me to head out. I hate waiting for anything, times ten when that waiting is for nothing.
Thus, foul mood.
I look to counter this by turning to something that makes me happy: music. I’m going to be unrepentantly unoriginal here and use the old blogger’s trick of setting my iPod to shuffle and writing some drivel about the first five songs that come up. I get to look clever and cultural while boring you with my musical tastes.
And yet the moment I try to do this, my little white box of music defies me - out of 4061 individual songs stored in a miracle of magnetic alignment, three out of the first five random choices are not only by the same artist, but from the same album. Evidently the universe is against me in a multitude of tiny ways.
Let’s try this again. I just wish there was a legal way I could link to mp3’s of these tracks.
1) Tightly Wound by The Pineapple Thief - from the album Tightly Unwound
An incredible and little-known band, The Pineapple Thief have grown on me hugely over the course of their albums. They seem to have been loosely categorised as prog-rock, the dread term that has mainstream music critics racing to make stupid jokes and dismiss the genre because that’s what they think their readers want to hear. Quite aside from the critics being wrong, so is the claim that the Thief are prog. There’s bits of early Radiohead in the mix, and an initial impression of simplicity that turns out to be much more complex than you expect. I find listening to the Thief to be intensely calming.
My copy of this has been signed by the whole band. I don’t know why a scribbled name on something makes it feel more important as an item but it does.
2) I’m Yours If You Want Me by Chris Thile - from the album How To Grow A Woman From The Ground
This is the man who made me buy a bluegrass mandolin - his playing is astounding in both his solo work and as part of Nickel Creek (not to be confused with the world’s most arse-clenchingly generic rock band, Nickelback). Even if you think you don’t like country/bluegrass it’s worth giving some Thile a try. Here a single voice and mandolin conspire to send shivers down your spine before a double bass and harmony vocals surface briefly from the depths halfway through the song. I’ve got Jools Holland to thank for introducing me to Thile when Nickel Creek appeared on Later… Despite having many years of experience playing the guitar, my skills haven’t transferred to the mandolin enough to even attempt the sort of things Chris does.
3) Too Sick To Pray by Alabama 3 - from the album La Peste
Another band I first saw on Jools Holland - playing this particular song, as it happens – Alabama 3 are probably best known for the title song of The Sopranos. They seem to just randomly incorporate musical styles from every neck of the woods, making them a country-rock-dance-gospel-electronic-rap-pop smorgasbord that somehow avoids the perils of aural indigestion. La Peste is their most downbeat album, showing a little less of the humour they’re known for, but retaining their unique style. Despite the name, Alabama 3 are from Brixton, but you’d never guess it.
Honey in the Rock, another song by the band, has possibly my favourite female vocal in any song, period.
4) Suicide Lover by Paul Gilbert - from the album Burning Organ
Any song that starts with the couplet She was the first girl I ever kissed / How was I to know she was a terrorist can’t be all bad. Paul Gilbert is a serious guitar god who manages to funnel his playing into some incredibly catchy, compact, and often funny rock songs. Only a couple of weeks ago I saw him live at the London International Music Show where just he and a frequently misfiring CD player managed to blow away the performances of most of the other performers.
5) First Breath After Coma by Explosions In The Sky - from the album The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place
I listen to a lot of purely instrumental music, much of which is post-rockiness like Mogwai, Mono and Sigur Rós. For many people it’s an acquired taste - the pleasure is far from immediate. I’ve heard Explosions In The Sky described as U2 without the vocals and stretched out to triple the length; with their chiming guitars and prominent rhythms it’s a pretty fair analogy. The joy comes from the slow build-up to a musical climax. When I saw them live, at the culmination of their set a guitar amplifier burst into flames and a puff of smoke drifted across the room - a fine way to end given the band’s name.