Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Long Farewell

Has this ever happened to you?

You buy the latest CD from one of your favourite bands. You take it home, peel off the cellophane, and pop it into your computer to rip this new acquisition to iTunes/Windows Media Player/whatever.

After a moment, your PC recognises the fact that you've given it an album to chew on, and up pops the 'Rip CD' screen, which looks something like this:

And that's when you spot something unusual in the 'Time' column. Most of the songs on this album are between two and five minutes long - pretty standard stuff - but the last song clocks in at just under a quarter of an hour.

You roll your eyes - it's one of those albums. One of those albums with a seemingly super-long closing track that's actually three minutes of singing, ten minutes of silence, and then a short 'hidden' track that you'll never actually bother to listen to.

It's even more annoying when it's a good song that you actually want to listen to. This song is a corker, and yet you have to fast-forward through half an hour of nothin' just to hear it on the album.

I've often found myself in the above scenario, and usually, my initial assumption is bang on the money. Occasionally, though, something truly special will happen: that 14mins 02secs closing track is actually a 14-minute long song.

This minor miracle recently befell me when I bought Lease of Life, the new album from Errors:

Lease of Life's final track (the intimidatingly-named Through the Knowledge of Those Who Observe Us) is 13 minutes and 20 seconds long, according to iTunes. When I first put the CD in to rip, I naturally assumed that Errors had pulled the increasingly unfunny trick of including a hidden track after several minutes of dead air, but I was wrong - Through the Knowledge of Those Who Observe Us is genuinely that long.

And it's brilliant, too: a slow-burning and slightly minimalistic epic that repeatedly disappoints you by changing the melody and then wowing you because the new melody is even better.

Of course, Errors aren't the only band capable of actually filling a longer-than-average finale; here are three other examples from my CD rack:

São Paulo by Guillemots (from Through the Windowpane)
Length: 11mins 42secs*

A moody piano epic that turns into a life-affirming samba about halfway through. Perhaps my favourite closing track of all time (Suede's Still Life is a close second).

*The above YouTube clip actually cuts off some of the intro, which is why it's only just 10 minutes long there)

The Battle of Hampton Roads by Titus Andronicus (from The Monitor)
Length: 14mins 2secs

I've extolled the brilliance of this song on many a previous occasion, but it really is a feat of verbose, angry brilliance. Oh, and it has bagpipes, which is so fucking rock.

Dark Mavis by Mansun (from Attack of the Grey Lantern)
Length: 8mins 37secs

This is kind of a cheat, because Grey Lantern's final number actually does have a hidden track tacked onto the end (An Open Letter to the Lyrical Trainspotter is one of the few such songs that are actually worth sitting through the silence for). Still, Dark Mavis is a bit of a long haul even without the extra material, serving as a suitably pompy, dramatic ending for the craziest album ever to top the charts.

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