Eight Good Songs and Why

Burial & Four Tet – Moth

This is a song that has an immediate calming effect on me, probably as a result of having some of the most finely contrasted and all-round chill textures of any song that I’m aware of. Whether this be a consequence of the affected vinyl crackle, perceptible at I think all stages of the tune (guaranteed to make any song sound that bit warmer), or the two percussion tracks, just slightly out of step with one another. The beat composed of thicker percussive elements, the more melodic one also has that sleepy quality induced by sounding as though someone keeps on raising or lowering the volume on it. Finally, the vocals reach into something of that mark of bittersweet eternal longing/the sense of the finitude of all human experience sort of a way.

The In Crowd – Back a Yard

A song that I like, propelled perhaps by my partial misunderstanding of the lyrics, or at least, an overreading of them, alongside my immediate belief in the fundamental goodness of all reggae. From my point of view, it is on a par with soul in terms of its quality; even when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good.

The chorus or hook which keeps returning to the line,  ‘Back a Yard’ is what makes the track as good as it is. For me, it advocates the notion of partial disengagement from every and all action or activity, taking the notion of knowing one’s country, licking some caly, (I have no idea what that is) or visiting one’s parents while remaining ‘Back a Yard’ into the realm of a categorical imperative or an ethical mandate. And the melody is very bouyant and timeless also.

The Magnetic Fields – World Love

Picking one song to valorise out of The Magnetic Fields’ 69 Love Songs would be almost impossible for me, it’s the kind of album that has me listening to at least eight, sometimes twenty tracks whenever I go back to it, with just one in mind. In their discography though, ‘World Love’ strikes me as unique, distinct from all those other lachrymose ballads in rhyming couplets about death, suicide and depression, (which are, by the way, fantastic, they will never not be fantastic). It is nice, nevertheless, to hear them taking a different tack, and invest their lyrics and varied instrumentation in a more hedonistic and celebratory world view, the revolutionary aspects of music and things like love, music, wine & revolt. It is also probably one of the few genre songs on the record which isn’t recorded ironically, which one can also dig.

All Saints – Pure Shores

Great metaphor, great sounding dream-like ambience, one of the best choruses of all time. Vocal performances on point, particularly as they outline a wish for a place of dwelling, rather than just an absent love-object, it is a song concerned with having a place of one’s own, which I find much more comeplling. Barest traces of surf-rock type melodies in the slide guitar furbelows, which complement the more bluesy things, not to mention the extravagant synth.

Boards of Canada – roygbiv

It can be difficult to articulate why I enjoy this song so much, or articulate why I like Boards’ music to the extent that I do. Seeing as they deal primarily in contemplative instrumentals, there can seem as though there isn’t a whole lot to deal with, I had to wade pretty deep into their discography before I started to reckon with what their music was. It strikes me as though their samples and instrumentation seem to be trying to communicate a particular vibe emanating from twenty or thirty years ago, kind of an unearthly Cold War-era local access television, or a symphony from Fischer-Price instruments, but in no way do I mean this as a criticism. The point being that nostalgia is what this song is structurally composed of, Boards being a sort of experiment in shading tones of elapsed time. If the sampled kid’s voice is saying ‘play,’ something which I recognise there could be debate over, the effect is only heightened.

Philip Glass – Mad Rush

Philip Glass is one of those contemporary composes who I still struggled with, having not quite yet adjusted to music that, as Foster Wallace puts it in Infinite Jest, is ‘going precisely nowhere.’ The minimalistic concatenations that form a lot of his works absolutely wouldn’t bother me, if it wasn’t for the instruments he deigns to use to elaborate them – I think the original version of ‘Mad Rush’ was played on an organ which sounded as though it was mocking itself. In any case, this version appears on piano, and does away with the confrontational honking of the original by encompassing a far greater range of dynamics, from the tenuous opening notes of any given movement, to the key vortex to which it builds, the explosion-refractory pace that defines this piece. Forcing the name of a piece onto the material when exploring the significance can be dangerous, but in this case, it’s hard to not read it as some manner of exploration on the pace of our lives, how it precedes unsteadily, unpredictably, without time for thought or reflection, just as, in this song, one isn’t sure whether the next ‘big’ moment is the last or not.

Maschine – Kersal Massive

This is a mash-up of a video that went viral some years ago of some pre-teens rapping into a camera phone and a jungle-influenced percussive track. Full points for the confidence and delivery of the vocal perofrmance, though it would be hard to envision it melding so seamlessly with the above. It’s an extremely varied and complex agglomeration of percussive effects which recalls Aphex Twin in its confutation of percussive/melodic effects, capable of straddling the fine line of ‘banger’ and something more ambiguous and exploratory, as is seen best in the extended ambient synth parts, which are curiously evocative.

Skepta, Wiki – That’s Not Me

Not the version that appears on Skepta’s recent album, but an extended video version with Wiki of Ratking. As aggressive, confrontational and percussively inclined as the best of the mainstays of the grime genre, it sometimes seems as though grime, in its imported form, may ascend to being more gangster rap than gangster rap itself, especially in a post-Drake, post-EDM-influenced landscape. Like a lot of grime, from a lyrical point of view, Skepta keeps things simple and the various ictuses he deploys tend to fall on monosyllabic rhymes, which, even when the rhyme is slanted, depend on simple -ack and -at sounds. This blunt-force approach serves him extremely well relative to the beat, and he manages to interweave enough variation to prevent things getting monotonous. The way in which Wiki’s unconventional delivery, not to mention backtracking on Skepta’s attempts to stay defiantly on message in his lyrics, make for a satisfying contrast, and confirm the track’s eclecticism, sitting next to a fairly bald manifesto of intentions, i.e. making a definitive break from the ways in which his career, and by extension, grime, has been developing in recent times.

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