Glitter, wind, more of the same

Three closing songs to mark the passing of a year and the predictable dreariness of a new one.

Until Fade, which comes out this coming week, it has been customary for Yo La Tengo to include a few lengthy, freewheeling compositions on each of their albums. On their previous one, Popular Songs, these were tacked onto the end, and were of variable quality. One was deemed pretty, one was deemed intolerable, and the finale, “And The Glitter Is Gone” was regarded as something necessary for YLT purists alone. More is the pity. This noisy and attitude-laden epic is part-Sonic Youth marathon, part-Spiritualized vamp. Ira Kaplan’s bruising and cauterising guitar parts run amok, searing across his wife Georgia Hubley’s shuffling groove and a two-note bass drone, doubled up on fuzzed-out bass guitar and maybe a malodorous synthesizer. Of course there are no lyrics (although four minutes, some nonspecific, mutated cries ping between the channels, which may have originated in a human being). The song is punishing to your speakers, but not so much to your soul, for which it’s deeply cathartic—an ideal palette-cleanser for a new year.

Also releasing a new album this year (with only marginally more publicity) is David Bowie. Time has been very kind to Station To Station, released in 1976, which marked the start of his creative purple patch (including the famous Berlin trilogy). I am frequently amazed by how receptive the charts were to Bowie’s more experimental works—pop, then still in its infancy, was more accommodating in trying out new costumes, perhaps. In any case, Station To Station is still given deserved praise for its chilling depiction of cocaine, coitus, and conspiracy theories. The album ends with an emotionally-charged cover of “Wild Is The Wind“, containing an unhinged vocal performance from Bowie. Given what comes before it, the arrangement is positively restrained: cleanly-struck chords on an acoustic guitar; a natty drum track which occasionally tumbles and rolls into something more dramatic; gentle brushings of flanged electric guitar to colour in the nocturnal scene. But two minutes in, after a gossamer-fragile few verses (“You / Touch me / I hear the sound / Of mandolins”, for example, is delivered with exceptional grace), Bowie ramps up a few gears. “Don’t you know you’re / Life itself?” he wails, as if without his love he will be torn apart by the raging winds. As Bowie wrings every ounce of the histrionic from the title-phrase, the music behind him tactfully recedes; this moonrise kingdom has fallen.

Finally we come to the song that, for all the suburban brightness that precedes it, embodies the cyclical nature of each day—and, by extension, each year. “Oh, when you came back from the sea / It’s true / You brought a melody” is as yearning as Real Estate get on “All The Same“, which closes out their second album, Days. But the song quickly returns to resignation: “Oh there’s the day / Oh what a shame / It’s OK, that’s all the same / It’s alright, it’s OK, because the night is just another day”. In time, this leisurely back-and-forth settles into a more heady mode of travel, with the final four minutes of interlocking guitars riding a motorik beat evocative of an endless road, a convertible, the unchanging routine.

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