I just watched the recent Apple Stevenote (keynote speech by Steve Jobs) and as usual, Apple chose some uplifting music for the Macbook Air advert at the end of the show, to which I found myself humming along.
Then it hit me who the song was by!
It would seem that Elbow, the band named after what the Singing Detective described as the “loveliest word in the English language,” have finally “arrived!”.
Was it the Murcury Prize they won a few years back that would ear mark them for success? Nope.
Was it the fantastic performance of said song at Glastonbury in the same year? Nope…
No, Apple’s choice of backing track for their new Macbook Air 13″ and 11″ might just prove the break this epically talented band needs to get them and their remarkable back catalogue spanning 20 years or so, some much needed air time.
Here’s hoping that a day like this is just what elbow need to nudge them into the spotlight.
Cloud Cult is a band with a long history that I have just started to appreciate. They are hard to identify because of their eclectic mix of acoustic and wired instruments with genre busting arrangements swinging from lo-fi to orchestral not just within any particular album, but within a single track!
As concept or “story” albums go, this one’s story is somewhat low key. It is a loosely themed collection of songs telling the story of the birth of “Puck” his alienation from society, his initial attempts to fit and final rejection ending in death. Depressing subject matter, perhaps, but delivered with a lyricism of startling compassion and warmth that sounds more “hope springs eternal” than Armageddon.
At first I was a little underwhelmed, but having become a fan of The Mountain Goats, Elliott Smith and Lost in the Trees, I knew that repeated listens would bear dividends… And I wasn’t mistaken. What at first appears to be a mishmash of unrelated tracks, or unrelated verses within the tracks, turns out on careful listening to be a finely crafted story of the demise of a young man who had done nothing to deserve his fate.
Who Killed Puck?
- Where it starts – A track I prefer to think of as “I found God” since that lyric is repeated throughout the whole song. It is a coming of age classic where a boy is constantly reaching higher highs and lower lows on his trip through adolescent to adulthood. Repetitious and remarkably catchy, the simple construction belies the multilayered music that builds slowly throughout the track. It would appear to be the story of the meeting of Puck’s parents.
- Conception – One voice, one guitar, recorded on a tape deck and filtered to death doesnt get much lower fi than this. A killer melody tugs on the heartstrings and makes this track a Low-Fi masterpiece. Seems to be talking about the soul of Puck moving into its host…
- 9 Months – a meandering, instrumental track that sways from a Mike Oldfield, Amarok-style multilayered drum heavy “native” rhythm to his electric-guitar heavy, riff laden and back without going anywhere… An ode to Oldfield, perhaps… There is a sense of frustration in the song but it’s title would suggest it is the birth of Puck…. Ending inthe whispered lines “I am Human”.
- Pucks 6th Birthday – a Micro segue of a warbling childlike taunt…. unsettling stuff. Thankfully short.
- Becoming One of You – The story of a boy who does anything and everything to fit in with the crowd, ultimately ending in disappointment and rejection. The Eels could have sung the first minute or so of this song, but the almost Heavy Metal like bass and electric guitar which come into the forefront as the track progresses might give the fact away that it wasn’t. At just under a half of the way through, the song takes a left turn and heads into familiar electronica overladen guitarwork with repeated lyrics, as is common throughout the tracks on this album…
- Ad Brainwash (Part 1) – A minute or so is samples and sounds from the swinging sixties, highlighting consumerism and idleness which blurs into the main event:
6 Days – One of the highlights of the album. A mutating rhythm underlies a narrated discussion on the brevity of Human existence. Based on a speech by David Brower, an environmentalist and the founder of Friends of the Earth. Nice, but I don’t see how it furthers the concept of the album.
The lyrics are so compelling, I took the liberty of quoting them here:
Compare the 6 days of the book of Genesis
to the 4 billion years of geologic time.
On this scale, 1 day equals about 666 billion years.
All day Monday, until Tuesday noon
creation was busy getting the earth going.
Life began on Tuesday noon
and the beautiful organic wholeness of it
developed over the next 4 days.
At 4 P.M. Saturday, the big reptiles came.
5 hours later, when the redwoods appeared
there were no longer big reptiles.
At 3 minutes before midnight, man appeared.
One-fourth of a second before midnight, Christ revolted.
One-fortieth of a second before midnight, the industrial revolution began.
We are surrounded by people who think
that what we have been doing for
one-fortieth of a second can go on indefinitely.
They are considered normal.
But they are stark. raving. mad.
- Pretty – Puck finds temporary solace in the infatuation with a girl. The key word being temporary. Starting off with one voice, one guitar, the song builds into one of the strongest, most a soaring climaxes of the album.
- Sane As Can Be – The song starts off as a gentle acoustic track marks the middle of the album and is perhaps the turning point in Puck’s life as he goes over the edge as he reveals his secrets and philosophy to his girlfriend, who appears to reject him. This turning point comes as the song flips to an electric guitar track with some fine Metal drumming. Comparisons might be drawn to About a Boy mutating into Susu or Spoon.
- Do You Ever Think About – Segue hears two people discuss suicide as its rhythms build into something which would have fit on the heavier bits of “War of the Worlds”
- Ad Brainwash (pt 2) – Are two segues in a row technically segues at all? Who knows.
- Ready To Fight – This song continues on where from Becoming One of You left off and reveals Pucks anger boil over and his rejection of society and its values.
- Who Killed Puck? – A “noise track” more than a song. You can quite literally hear Puck’s whole life flashing in front of him with lyrics from ‘conception’ leaking in in the background, suggesting his soul’s return to the ether.
- You Can’t Come Back Again / Close – A beautiful ode to the end of life… turning full circle to ‘Conception’. Again building into a climax of Mike Oldfield “Guitars” proportions.This is where the fun ends, so you might as well stop listening here.
- Bonus track 1: Lies – A funky yet unremarkable track about, funnily enough, Lies. If it were to fit into the album, it would have been something that Puck got angry about.
- Bonus Track 2: The Yin and Yan of Sex: A dull closing track. enough said.
This is my second in a short series of articles looking at good things that come in threes.
The first in the series was Women with Attitude, where I took brief look at Lily Allen, Katy Perry, Amy Winehouse.
This time, I’ll be looking at three culture-crashing Asian singer-songwriters who have taken my fancy over the last couple of years. And no, this is not a typo, Angela Aki and Angela Ai are different people.
The two other articles in this series cover:
- Angela Aki a Japanese-Italian solo artist and pianist, brought up in Japan educated in the US and made famous by her Final Fantasy XII theme tune.
- Angela Ai, an American Born Chinese, raised in Columbus, Ohio who is a Pennsylvania U graduate, an actress, on Broadway, a singer and a talented pianist.
Fayray (Album: Hourglass)
Hourglass is a beatifully produced, audiophile grade album with impressive taste and style. A real treat to Jazz and Pop fans alike or those who want to stretch their hifi with some well recorded accoustics and female vocals.
The opener, “First Time” starts with the powerful, subterranean stings of a beautifully captured double bass that will sound best with decent earphones or a subwoofer. The deep strings give way to an English voice which if not of unfettered, soaring range is one of impressive control and resonance; as rich and pure as the accomplished band that backs her.
Most surprisingly, First Time is sung entirely in English on a Japanese album, making it an unusually brazen opener for a rising star. Taking into consideration its slower, more understated, calmer pace and its also being far less famous than several of the others songs on the album, she bucks the recent trend of lining up the popular singles 1, 2 and 3 to catch casual listeners in the shopping centres at the expense of album flow, rhythm or atmosphere.
The fact that this is so demonstrates the confidence in her craft and control over her own production values.
The pace picks up a little with the third song, a Wong Faye esq ballad “最初で最後の恋” (My first and final love) and a rather 90s retro “Fell” harking back to Nakajima Miyuki with a little added electric guitar.
Classical piano influences show through heavily with most songs featuring an accomplished piano or keyboard track, played by herself.
The fifth song is a meandering, self composed piano instrumental solo demonstrating (perhaps a little unnecessarily) her prowess in front of a keyboard. Although a beautiful piece in and of itself, I can’t help feeling that it was a little unessessary.
“白い二月” (White February) is an Enya-like, synth piano floating number featuring her voice sailing breezily across its entire range into falsetto.
“道” (The Way) ups the pace to about the fastest and most upbeat the album gets with another Wong Faye influenced unashamed pop song and one of the few tracks which dispenses with the keyboard as the main melody carrier and instead pulls in a battery of electric, accoustic and spanish guitar.
“Look into My Eyes” is the hit single that put the album on shelves throughout Japan and features Fayray in her best light: On classical piano and in control of voice, the song’s well crafted rhythm and its gentle melody with other instruments, accoustic and electric guitars, a full string section and decent drums following her piano in its wake like the Pied Piper.
“Living Without You,” the second English composition on the album and signals the entrance to the final, distinct segment of the album.
It is a classic piano ballad, slow and thoughtful and if not a classic in itself is nevertheless a pleasent listen and lays the way for the final three songs, which feature her on the piano with a sprinkling of backing, winding down the tension with her gentle, soothing tones and masterful playing in a string of medium-close miked accoustic compositions, which she produced, penned, perfomed and sung herself.
Fayray’s classical background, starting at the age of 4 with the piano, squarely places her in the top echelon for technical ability. Adding intelligent and thoughtful compositions supported by an accomplished, confident voice which does not squeak, squeal, grate nor need computer assisted modulation makes her accessible and enjoyable to a wide range of Japanese and overseas listeners alike.
Although she works in collaboration with a number of colleagues, the album is essentially her own production.
She often appears on TV in Japan, in dramas as well as hosting TV programs as an English language interviewer of artists, politicians and other notables.
Fayray, Hourglass (Japan, 2004)
- first time
- 願い (Negai; Wish)
- 最初で最後の恋 (Saisho de Saigo no Koi; My first and last love)
- 樅の木-樹の組曲- (Momi no Ki-Jyu no Kumikyoku-; Fir Tree -Musical Suite of Woods-)
- 白い二月 (Shiroi Nigatsu; White February)
- 道 (Michi; Road)
- look into my eyes
- living without you
- 口づけ (Kuchizuke; Kiss)
- 愛しても愛し足りない (Aishite mo Aishitarinai; No matter how much I love you, it’s never enough)
- 名前 (Namae; Name)
Next up, I’ll be taking a look at Angela Aki.
What can I say. The chain of events leading me to listen to this album is a bit of a tenuous one.
I have been expanding the range of films I’m watching recently and was trying got find an English langauge trailer for the Cannes Winner from 2004 a Hong Kong Movie Called 蝴蝶 (HuDie – Butterfly) I happened to find a video montage edit of the film on Youtube to a song called the “Blower’s* Daughter” by a man called Damien Rice. Something rang a bell and I checked through my albums to find that I already had a song of his on the charity album “HELP: A Day in the Life”.
*Apparently “Blower” is a word that was used at Damien’s School for the flute teacher.
What a song, I was blown away! It left me speechless and not many songs can do that! He sings it with such passion and sense of loss that I felt I was the one who’d suffered the pangs myself. I played the video three times in a row. it was the first time I’ve ever seen music put so convincingly to video.
I also found that the Blower’s Daughter was used for a film called “Closer” with my fave, Jude Law I watched a couple of montages for that film, too but was not convinced.
No, this song was and will always remain for me, connected to the film Butterfly.
A bit more research turned up the album “O” and I purchased it from Amazon forthwith.
01. delicate 02. volcano 03. the blower's daughter 04. cannonball 05. older chests 06. amie 07. cheers darlin' 08. cold water 09. i remember 10. eskimo
It’s a crime that such talent is forced to hide behind the sort of mediocre crap that’s so popular! I can’t believe that I haven’t heard more of him.
Just listen to Volcano, or better yet, check out Youtube’s Volcano video from Abbey Road! Jeezus this guy pulls the heartstrings!
I have a feeling this is going to be on my shortlist for some time, along with Sia and a couple of songs by Sarah Nixey.
I heard a clip of the song Academia on a music feed the other day and knew that I had to buy this Album. Sia has a voice that skips between sexy, cute and sultry with acrobatic grace. Her Australian accent is, perhaps a little unfortunately, perhaps not, well concealed behind a modern, pop-country veneer.
There are several standout songs on Some People Have Real Problems,
Academia – I have a thing for off kilter and this one is way off, it’s harmonizing chorus is out of this world and the lyrics are some of the most original to appear in a pop, for this is pop, without losing any of their immediacy.
Electric Bird – This is like a thick, strong hit of carbohydrates. The song starts of slowly enough, but builds to a chorus crescendo with curious speed, within 30 seconds, in fact. Quite a novelty. But the chorus is incredibly catchy, which is the mainstay of the song. Still, like carbs, it can get a bit overbearing and will perhaps wear of the most quickly of all.
Beautiful Calm Driving
This understated song gets under the skin with Sia crooning, lush lyrics and tones to a dreamy, trance-like tune. I find myself listening out for this one more and more each listen.