February brings weather that’s alternately trickling and restorative, then malevolent and jagged.It’s an unruly bait-and-switch, much like how the breathless bliss of My Bloody Valentine’s “Only Shallow”, which ends in a moody wash of feedback, is interrupted by the caustic, serrating lead guitar of Sonic Youth’s “Silver Rocket”. What emerges from the chrysalis is enraged, and reaches a premature apotheosis halfway through—digital noise corrupting analogue axe-brutalising—only to re-emerge as a more thrilling, propulsive creature in the final minute.
Scott Walker is sneering and surreal on “30 Century Man”. “Shame you won’t be there to see me / Shaking hands with Charles de Gaulle”, he sings in his inimitable baritone, over a devil-may-care acoustic guitar. The song, inexplicably, recedes into a twinkling music box, but only fleetingly. This is a ballsy month, elemental forces roaring over delicate textures, as in Bat For Lashes’ “Oh Yeah”. The titular battle-cries are expansive, but never engulf the collage of Natasha Khan’s open-throated vocals, brittle electronic pings, fluid piano-playing, and that irresistible synth pad.
There’s a meditative feeling to the season, profound ruminations still inchoate and barely-understandable. It’s there in the sophistication of Antony and the Johnsons’ “Swanlights”, with its backmasked arrangement rubbing uncomfortably against stray piano figures and Antony’s primordial moaning and cooing. In the song’s second half, a tentative rhythm strikes up, but it’s only to signal the coming of end-times—as we can sometimes feel at this time of year—which is itself denoted by a unyielding organ drone and more of Antony’s wordless soul-searching.
There’s no use trying to up the ante, which is why the song is followed by a stylistic deviation in extremis. “Super Rich Kids” instantly sounds like a modern classic. Frank Ocean’s wry, dead-eyed observations, set against springy chords, soulful backing vocals, and a forlorn horn or two. Earl Sweatshirt’s rap is brief but brutally effective, ushering in a subtle textural shift. Summer is just over the horizon, the song seems to say, but it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. The subsequent song is also imbued with the horns and sultry groove of a different era, and approaches a very different scene with the same emotional ambivalence. “This Is My Love”, by Hercules And Love Affair, is crepuscular and sinewy, the tenderness in the lyrics cut through by harsh streaks.
What is left but to come crashing into the daylight with the most universal question we all hope to someday answer? Dirty Projectors tackle the issue of spending one’s life with someone with remarkable simplicity, on “Impregnable Question”. If the response is what we hope for—and I often associate the thawing of winter with a renewed feeling of adventure—the ramshackle psychedelia of Tame Impala’s “Nothing That Has Happened So Far Has Been Anything We Could Control” makes perfect sense. Swirling euphoria, tumbling drums and Kevin Parker’s celestial yearning make for an unforgettable ride. The song phases in and out of your consciousness, ballooning into a magnificent cacophony, only to fizzle out for a false ending. You’re left gasping.
After the cosmic must come a bout of realism. For the second Scott Walker tune, the desire to impress is tempered by honesty. In “The World’s Strongest Man”, Walker is anything but, admitting, “When it comes to you and your world / I’m lost”. The fluttering arrangement drifts gracefully into silence. Then, from nowhere, a count-in; then, restless strumming of acoustic guitar and banjo. Spring is bounding in, courtesy of Fleet Foxes’ “Grown Ocean”. Wipe the encrusted grit from the bumper and head out for the open road. Crashing cymbals and fussily trilling woodwind attests to Robin Pecknold’s enthusiastic declaration: “In that dream I could hardly contain it / All my life I will wait to attain it!” He sounds on the verge of rapture; a great reawakening. Rather than go out with a bang, the song switches sweetly into an a capella epilogue, leaving the listener in unbearable anticipation for something which never comes. The great promise of February, dashed again.
My Bloody Valentine, “Only Shallow”;
Sonic Youth, “Silver Rocket”;
Scott Walker, “30 Century Man”;
Bat For Lashes, “Oh Yeah”;
Antony And The Johnsons, “Swanlights”;
Frank Ocean, “Super Rich Kids”;
Hercules And Love Affair, “This Is My Love”;
Dirty Projectors, “Impregnable Question”;
Tame Impala, “Nothing That Has Happened So Far Has Been Anything We Could Control”;
Scott Walker, “The World’s Strongest Man”;
Fleet Foxes, “Grown Ocean”.