Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Post-Folk: Objects by The Nightjar


The word 'folk' used to refer to a type of music designed to be enjoyed by large groups of people. Old-fashioned folk songs aimed to create a feeling of community and togetherness, emphasising simple tunes and lyrics that everyone could join in with. Far more recently, 'folk' has come to denote a far lonelier sort of music: the word now gets thrown at acts like Bon Iver and Nick Drake and early-period Leonard Cohen. These days, 'folk' is one person with an acoustic guitar singing fragile, solitary-sounding songs to a room full of quiet, attentive listeners rather than to a choir of bawdy drunks in a crowded pub.

The Nightjar are a band from London who describe themselves as making "lo-fi post-folk" music. As the phrase 'post-folk' suggests, their sound is a step beyond that of the quivering, poetic mopes who commonly purport to be 'folk' musicians nowadays - not only is their particular twist on folk music not designed for consumption by large, loud groups of people, you almost get the sense that it's designed for a time when all other people have disappeared off the face of the Earth entirely.

Monday, March 20, 2017

All at Sea: We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank at 10


If you ignore the various EPs, mini-albums, and rarities compilations they've released over the years, Modest Mouse's discography can be roughly divided into two equal parts.

Their first three albums - This is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About (1996), The Lonesome Crowded West (1997), and The Moon & Antarctica (2000) - were made by a tight-as-hell trio who knitted together weird, wonky riffs and strong, sinewy rhythms to create brilliant and bizarre indie rock that perfectly evoked the immense, sprawling, spread-out strangeness of North America. Having only ever driven on British roads, I can't really speak from experience - the longest journey I ever completed took me from Cardiff to York and covered roughly 250 miles, which is slightly less than the distance between Seattle, Washington and Spokane, Washington - but whenever I listen to those first few Modest Mouse albums in all their long-playing glory, the feeling I'm left with is similar to the feeling I imagine truck drivers get about eight hours into an eleven-hour shift. During longer tracks like Truckers Atlas from The Lonesome Crowded West, you begin to lose all sense of time and space, until eventually all you're aware of is Jeremiah Green's drumming stretching off into the distance like endless yellow lines on the tarmac.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Fourteen Floors: Hurray for the Riff Raff & The Long Journey Upwards


Buried deep in the second half of Hurray for the Riff Raff's wonderful new album The Navigator is a track called Fourteen Floors.



Gentle and slight, Fourteen Floors is not The Navigator's most memorable song by any stretch of the imagination.  It doesn't have the purposeful drive of pre-release single Hungry Ghost; it certainly doesn't scale the same spine-tingling heights as Pa'lante, the album's stunning climax; it's not even on quite the same level as Halfway There, the lovely little acoustic song that mostly stands out because it provides a gentle moment of calm between The Navigator's two fieriest tracks (The Navigator and Rican Beach).

Nevertheless, I find Fourteen Floors strangely intriguing, and so I'd like to take a closer look at this song today. What is it about? What does it add to the album? And what are the 'fourteen floors' supposed to represent?

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

EP Corner: List of Equipment by Lusterlit



Lusterlit are two people - Susan Hwang and Charlie Nieland - who write songs about books. This fun little collaborative project grew out of the Bushwick Book Club, a loose collective of NYC-based songwriters who come together once a month for what the Club's website describes as "an hour-long orgy of book-related songs and book-inspired food and drink". It's like a regular book club, but you have to write and perform a song about the book instead of just talking about it (which I imagine makes things far trickier for the people who just come for the wine and only pretend to have done the reading).

Both Hwang and Nieland have released collections of their own work in the past, but the List of Equipment EP (which came out a couple of weeks ago) is Lusterlit's first release as a duo. It features five different songs about four different books:
  • Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
  • Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child
  • The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham
  • The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem
At this point, I should confess that I haven't read *any* of the above books - I did skim a brief summary of each one on Wikipedia before writing this blog post, but my knowledge of List of Equipment's source material sadly ends there. However, even I am aware that this is a pretty varied selection: you've got a gory Western, a French cookbook, a post-apocalyptic sci-fi classic, and a magical realist superhero novel.

Monday, March 13, 2017

To All Who Had to Hide: The Navigator by Hurray for the Riff Raff


In the wake of Donald Trump's election victory last November, there was much talk about 'identity politics' and the possibility that the left, by placing too much focus on the concerns of minority groups, drove a significant number of moderate white voters to the right.

I don't wish to debate the validity or otherwise of this theory right now (although I largely agree with Hadley Freeman's assertion that it's kind of shitty to suggest that gay rights, racial equality, and other issues that don't primarily affect straight white men are 'niche' concerns) - I only mention it because this line of thinking has spawned a toxic 'THIS IS WHY TRUMP WON!' atmosphere that effectively tells certain people to keep certain parts of their identities hidden so as not to piss anyone else off. Discussions about racial profiling, abortion rights, LGBTQ+ issues, et cetera are seen as counterproductive because they don't involve everyone, and some people have suggested that we on the left will only bring Trump voters back onside if we stop banging on about this stuff and focus on the issues that 'normal' people (i.e. straight white men) are worried about too.