Tag Archives: portishead

Private revision rave

I seem to be starting every post nowadays with “Just a quick update to say…” so here comes another one.

My hands are somewhat tied, musically, at present, owing to an overload/guilt trip about actually getting down to some revision. Predictably, I’ve spent the entire year slavishly scribbling down notes without really understanding what was going on. Consequently, I should now have my face firmly held to the grindstone.

While I revise, I do however like to listen to music. Usually I favour stuff with a strong rhythmic element – LCD Soundsystem, Hercules & Love Affair, Prinzhorn Dance School, Portishead, Massive Attack – but I also find myself working more productively with instrumental post rock, which has the effect of letting me “leave the phenomenal world, and enter into the sublime.” Albums like Explosions In The Sky’s Those Who Tell The Truth Will Die, Those Who Tell The Truth Will Live Forever and Tortoise’s landmark TNT are ideal for this purpose, as are most of M83’s albums.

When I’m not revising, I’ve also been exploring the depths of Spotify, and have had the following albums of frequent rotation:

The Decemberists – The Hazards Of Love

Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz!

Konono No. 1 – Congotronics

Amadou & Mariam – Welcome To Mali

Antibalas – Talkatif

John Rutter – Gloria

Various – Nigeria 70: Lagos Jump

Antony & The Johnsons – The Crying Light

Beck – Sea Change

Doves – Kingdom Of Rust

Robert Wyatt – Comicopera

Hockey Night – Keep Guessin’

All of which I can heartily endorse. Certainly if you’re in the UK, you’ve no excuse not to get swallowed up by Spotify, because anyone can sign up.

Enjoy!

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You’re bringing me down

I’m man enough to admit that the following albums leave me pretty much in tears by the time they finish:

  • Amon Tobin – Supermodified (occasionally)
  • Arcade Fire – Neon Bible
  • Blur – 13
  • Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago
  • Godspeed You Black Emperor! – Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven
  • Interpol – Turn On The Bright Lights
  • Jaga Jazzist – What We Must
  • Jonny Greenwood – There Will Be Blood
  • LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver
  • Low – Drums And Guns
  • M83 – Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts
  • Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!
  • Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here
  • Portishead – Third
  • Pulp – We Love Life
  • Radiohead – OK Computer
  • Radiohead – Kid A
  • The Shins – Wincing The Night Away
  • TV On The Radio – Return To Cookie Mountain
  • Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

What does this tell me? Well, other than that I’m possibly an emotional trainwreck, it also suggests that I’m a real sucker for killer album closers, notably those that are long, protracted, portentous and often outstay their welcome. Sometimes, these final songs are emotionally charged to such a degree that I feel utterly drained. At other times, it’s just the pent-up sadness that eventually emerges from an album full of grief, depression or sadness. When a songwriter lays his soul bare on record, it’s hard for me to not empathise.

This has made me sound like someone close to the brink, which I’m not, so I’ll stop now.

Scary monsters

People are sometimes confused when I describe music as being “scary, but in a good way.” To me, music that’s frightening and chilling is to be embraced rather than hidden, even if my initial reactions to such music can be rather severe. The first time I properly listened to Radiohead’s Kid A, I was reading Phillip Pullman’s The Amber Spyglass: more specifically, it was the chapter in which Will and Lyra travel through the land of the dead, in order to create an opening and thus free the millions of fading ghosts that occupy it. As I recall, the combination of words and music was pretty chilling. To be reading about the end of death, while listening to music that appeared to depict a post-apocalyptic world, was fairly overpowering, and now, whenever I listen to the album, I can’t help but be transported – in my mind’s eye – into Pullman’s equally startling vision.

Some years later, Radiohead’s guitarist, Jonny Greenwood, composed the music for There Will Be Blood – one of my favourite films in recent years. The film is terrifying, but in the abstract, because we are simultaneously horrified and glued to the character of Daniel Plainview as he tears up the land in pursuit of oil and wealth. The scene in which his first oil tower explodes is all the more memorable for the accompanying score, which borrows liberally from Greenwood’s own score to the arthouse film Bodysong. The track in question, “Convergence”, explores the phase music of Steve Reich, but with pounding drums and scattershot percussion in place of piano. What starts out as a tribal rhythm grows into a many-limbed, writhing beast of a composition, as all the diverse elements gradually coalesce into a solid beat. Set against images of a landscape that is literally on fire, the effect is exceptionally powerful.

Finally, 2008 also brought us Portishead’s return to music, with the dark, dark vacuum of terror that was Third. Beth Gibbons never sounded so tortured and fragile as on this record, particularly when her achingly beautiful voice collides with the band’s hypnotic, droning music. The album closer, “Threads”, is an undoubted highlight – over a spare and fluid guitar figure, Gibbons mournfully wails of being “always so unsure” before a repeated cry of “Damned one”. On paper, this may sound melodramatic and ridiculous; when heard, the song is almost nightmare-inducing. Eventually, marking the passing of the album, guitars and synths beat a crushing crescendo, which is turn dispelled by a droning clarion call, which sounds halfway between a Tibetan wind instrument and a dying synthesiser. You almost believe that the unholy racket (and I mean this in a good way) will never end. What a chilling cure for insomnia.