Monday, October 6, 2014

How I Spent My Sunday

Sunday, October 5 (Morning)

It's been a distinctly lazy Sunday for me thus far. I left bed briefly to make some toast and put some washing on, then it was straight back to bed to waste a few hours on the internet.

In bed is where I am when I remember that Wooden Arms are releasing their debut album, Tide, in the UK tomorrow. After a recommendation from Josh 'SCRIBER' Price, the band emailed me a while ago to ask if I would write something about the record. I said that I would, and so I decide that I'd better get hopping.

I pull Tide up on iTunes and press 'Play', making the following notes as I listen:
  • "Life is simple, life is sweet/Not yet quite complete" - Vicenarian has something of the Nick Drake about it

  • I'm not entirely sure what "chamber music" is - it just means music with strings, doesn't it?

  • The folk/classical dichotomy is interesting - this is the type of music that often gets given the 'folk' label nowadays, but the lush orchestral arrangements and complex song structures are the very antithesis of proper folk

  • Want an example of the classical chops on show here? Very well - the title track opens with a great rising/falling violin figure that reminds me of A Lark Ascending, kinda

  • It's a great Sunday album, this. Waiting's piano part makes me want to be on Penarth pier with the wind in my hair.

  • Harmonies in Noah keep things fresh 'til the end. Sounds a bit like The Staves.

  • I love False Start, that'll be on my Songs of 2014 list for sure (even if I first heard this track in 2013). It's the best conclusion that Tide could have asked for, using all the musical nous that was so evident on tracks 1-5 and pouring it into the mould of a perfect, slow-building love song.
"That'll do," I think to myself as the album draws to a close. "I'll mould that into a proper review tomorrow. And I'll find a less silly way to word that Penarth pier bit."

Sunday, October 5 (Afternoon)

After a quick lunch - biscuits with too much cheese on them - I grab my guitar and I head for my friend Meic's house. I'm currently in the process of recording a Shiny Tiger album, and I've enlisted Meic (whose technical know-how far outweighs mine) to lend a hand with the recording.

Normally, I would drive to Meic's house, but it's a nice day for a walk, and so I leave the car at home (besides, it was the Cardiff Half Marathon this morning, and I fear that the roads may still be in a state of bedlam). Accompanying me on the journey from Splott to Penylan is Popular Problems, the new album from Leonard Cohen.

In spite of the artwork, these nine new songs actually prove to be rather good. The album opens with Slow, a bluesy electric piano track that cleverly pre-empts any complaints I might have had about the lack of faster-paced songs:

"I'm slowing down the tune (I never liked it fast). You want to get there soon; I want to get there last. It's not because I'm old, it's not the life I've led - I've always liked it slow. That's what my momma said."

From there, Popular Problems turns out to be - much like Tide - a fantastic album for a Sunday. It's great to revisit Cohen's subterranean baritone, although the instrumentation is often just as good; my favourite parts come when Len backs off for a moment to make room for a sumptuous violin interlude, as on Samson in New Orleans or You Got Me Singing. In fact, these string-led sections are very reminiscent of the Wooden Arms album that I was listening to earlier, and I wonder whether or not they'll be cutting records like this in forty years' time.

Based solely on this first listen, Did I Ever Love You? is my favourite track from Popular Problems. It has yet another beautiful string section, and the lyrics - which sound like something written by a husband who has just emerged from a cryogenic freezer ("Was it ever settled? Was it ever over?") or a state of profound amnesia ("Was I ever someone who could love you forever?") - are very affecting indeed, and Len pulls out a note-perfect impression of Tom Waits (not that their voices are altogether dissimilar to begin with). The shift from crooning, ponderous verse to upbeat, country/skiffle chorus is a little bizarre, but once you get used to it, it really is a stunning listen.

I arrive at Meic's house (frustratingly) just before the end of the album. Once inside, I spend the rest of the afternoon rocking out on an electric guitar, in dire antithesis to both Tide and Popular Problems.

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