Friday, March 24, 2017

To Journey Freely: Q&A with Mo Kirby of The Nightjar

The Nightjar are a post-folk quartet from London whose debut LP, Objects, came out last week. Recorded in rural Portugal, the album is a bewitching listen indeed: The Nightjar's music is evocative of wide open spaces, of flickering candles, and of a vast sea lapping at the shore of a pebble beach on a moonless night.

Ahead of a gig in Camden next month and a number of other live appearances after that, The Nightjar's lead singer Mo Kirby very graciously took the time to answer some of my questions about Objects and its constituent songs and sounds.

Image credit: Paul Blakemore

The Album Wall: Why did you choose to call yourselves 'The Nightjar'?

Mo Kirby: A nightjar is a bird with silent flight. It hunts at night, has a strange call, and nests on the ground. They are unusual birds with lots of interesting folklore attached to them. The characteristics and behaviour of the birds attracted us to the name, but we also heard that - very unusually - nightjars had been found nesting in marshland next to where we lived in London. We were already considering using the name, but that sealed the deal.

TAW: You describe your music as 'lo-fi post-folk'. What is 'post-folk', and how is it different from regular folk music?

MK: Folk music as a genre is very hard to pin down. To me, it is music rooted in and referencing a tradition, and it is shared and passed on in a particular way. I would feel uncomfortable describing what we do purely as folk music. We reference folk traditions, but we have taken it somewhere else. What we do is inspired by traditional folk music and folk revival, but it's developed in response to these...hence the 'post'.

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.