Favourite Song: Laura Marling ‘False Hope’

Laura Marling recently released her newest album „Short Movie“ and of course it is brilliant and smart and beautiful and because I don’t really want to write about it just yet (having only listened to it half a dozen of times), I picked this first single which – as some other songs – have a sound that is very much like New York in the late 70s, early 80s and at times has just the right amount of Bruce Springsteen (without merely copying it) and even some harsher postpunk-vibes of feminist heroes of the past (Patti Smith, maybe?).

The song starts with a sober clarity but gets more and more manic as the protagonist realizes how scared she/he is of the loneliness and therefore escapes into a relationship that might or might not be real but definitely is not the solution.

Is it still okay that I don’t know how to be alone?
Would it be okay if I’d just came home tonight?
We stay in the apartment on the upper west side
And my worst problem is I don’t sleep at night
Woman downstairs just lost her mind
And I don’t care how, I surely don’t care why
Why I know false hope

(and maybe that woman downstairs is the protagonist her/himself or a fear of her/him)

The strength in Marling’s voice – when she’s not consciously and rather impressively fluctuating through the stages of despair – is one of her strengths as a musician because to show vulnerable narrators, we don’t need vulnerable, thin and shaky voices. Strong people can falter just as easily and have the same fears (and maybe more) than those flittering vocalists with their breathy, hardly audible sighs of sadness. No, Marling is one of the great songwriters who make all those tender flaws seem so much more powerful by having this very strong, nearly aggressive clarity in which they are presented. There is doubt and there is fear, yes, but the narrator knows this and decides to let them be, to fight or to leave them. These are bright paintings with broad strokes (not a single one seems hesitant) and they carry all the subtleties in the final image which is yet another song and another album to dive into for a while and feel the cold waves of Marling’s voice and the soft rush of her guitar play.

Favourite Song: ‘Horses’ by Tomo Nakayama

I recently watched „Touchy feely“, a movie about white middle-class people with the kind of problems we’d like to define as „1st world“. And because I am the perfect target group for these kind of movies (well, with limits…), I really appreciated the themes – mainly the want and fear to be close to someone. And because sometimes a good soundtrack is not just a row of pretty songs, Tomo Nakayama’s song in the later half of the movie perfectly captures the entire premise of the movie and yes, there were tears on my behalf.

It’s no wonder, though, because this is the kind of song that feels like it always should be performed and heard in a church (for the acoustics, not for the religious experience).

I also recommend the movie. First of all, it has Ellen Page in it, which is in my case the only reason I need to watch it. But it’s also astoundingly calm in its narrative which those slightly comedic slightly dramatic movies about white people with middle-class-problems hardly ever manage (quite often they have a certain manic pace to them, which I like to refer as the Woody Allen-twitch).

Dutch Uncles: Kate Bush’s shadow

„O Shudder“, the 4th studio album by the British outfit Dutch Uncles starts with the most Kate Bush-ish song we’ve heard in years and easily could have been on one of the mid-80s records the queen of smart pop released back then. I suppose that the quartet used to sound different, given that they cite King Crimson and Talking Heads as influences. Yet, all „O Shudder“ does – and this beautifully so – is an homage to Bush and her soft yet slightly off-putting songs that never ventures far from her musical history.

I am not quite sure yet how much I like the album but it is fascinating, how accurately old-fashioned this album sounds and how clear this influence shines through. I gotta give it to the band for still managing to create beautiful and not redundant songs even if those are as reminiscent of someone else’s legacy as can be.

Quickie: Ibeyi are what pop music wants and needs right now

My faithful readers know that I am not one of those jaded „back in the days, music was so much better“-kinda gals and the siblings behind the beautiful pop band Ibeyi are proof why any such saying is absolute malarkey.

The sisters Lisa-Kaindè and Naomi Diaz are a French-Cuban outfit singing in English and Yoruba, an old Nigerian language which is beautiful and shows that languages other than English should find their way much more often into pop music.

Their musical style is the kind of postmodern potpourri you might know from M.I.A. but their roots are not that deep into Hip Hop but instead form a very beautiful blend of modern pop, traditional folk music, beautiful harmonies and some exquisite stylistic choices to keep you, Dear Listener, on your toes throughout the whole album.

Although the sounds are quite different, I would compare this album to Gotye’s latest solo album because it has some banging singles on it but also doesn’t shy away from tricky experimental pop songs that defy any Billboard-environment but make the album all the more precious from an artistic perspective (plus, it never gets boring and is absolutely absent of fillers).

May the radio stations give these two musicians all the airplay they deserve.

Desperate Journalist: Goddammit, that’s a painfully great band-name

How do you gain an upper hand over any mean-spirited journalist before he has even uttered or written one word? You give yourself a band name that slaps that dude/tte right in the ballpensack and call it a day. However, if that wasn’t great enough, this North London quartet (directly copied from their Bandcamp-page) is also the cat’s pajamas, if the cat’s pajamas were pubescent sad British teens in an 80s-inspired midlife-crisis – you know who I am talking about, right?

Yes, this band managed what hardly any band trying to infuse the Smiths into their sound manages: they are like well portioned bourbon vanilla in your coffee – you taste traces but it doesn’t overwhelm your cuppa (coffee). But seriously, I am incredibly in love with the – I think – debut album (dto.) and this weird mixture of manic guitar play and the coolest vocals since Morrissey cursed out a meat eater at one of his shows (which was probably last week). At the same time, the band’s knack for beautiful melodies (slightly inspired by the early Cranberries – hm, never thought a Smiths/Cranberries-crossover would work but there you go) makes sure that you don’t want to turn off their album and get out “Meat is murder”. NO! Instead you just waft through this luscious and at times incredibly dark album and feel like – despite the wintery temperatures outside – a white t-shirt, a leather jacket and the thinnest, skinniest black jeans will be the right thing to wear tomorrow (at your job at Disney World, of course).

Plus, this is one of those magical times when the season of an album release actually helps with the whole impact of it because when if not in Winter, beastly cold Winter, do you want to wallow in teenage/millennial/digital native/generation x/baby boomer-angst?

Favourite Song: The Acid ‚Fame‘

If you still have the coffee/tea mug in your hand and haven’t had that first sip to pull you back into the waking world, this song feels like it’s the small red line across the horizon just before the sun goes up. Try it out, it’s true.

The Decemberists venture into a terrible, beautiful world

I gotta admit, “Hazards of Love” (2009) is still my favourite Decemberists album for the conceptual density and beauty and epic bow before prog rock. The storytelling – which makes the most popular and ambitious songs by the Decemberists as bright as they are – is drawing you in and the guest vocalists (or rather guest diamonds) add a nice addition to Colin Meloy’s trademark-voice. Two years later, “The King is Dead” (2011) delivered good quality but seemed a little thin after this gigantic flamboyant rock opera. But it turned out to contain some songs that haunted me and showed a grim defiance that shines through as soon as you get over the fact that “The King is Dead” is a (very strong) country album.

In a way, this last (studio-) album was a perfect palet cleanser because the new record “what a terrible world, what a beautiful world” is a lot less bold in its genre experiments from a conceptual “Hazards”-point of view but contains some of the most unusual songs for this band that is as beloved by most as it is despised by a few people who don’t care for whimsically nice things dipped in murder.

Even though there are quite a few songs that are as true to the former style as they could be, you’ll find that some of them venture off and others immediately start off with unusual directions. There is a hint of Britpop in “The Wrong Year” or – my highlight of the album – “A Beginning Song” whereas songs like “Philomena” and “Easy come, easy go” play with the 50s – whether it is sweet and prom-y as the former or dirty leatherboot-y as the latter. You’ll find background choirs that carry with them a faint smell of Elvis’ aftershave (“Mistral”) and a convincing country-blues ditty with “Carolina Low”.

Don’t get me wrong, these are not completely out there and still sound like The Decemberists. I think we all can agree that this band has such a strong voice that it would be hard – and probably not really successful – if they suddenly changed all of that. But “what a terrible world..” is a bright and exciting look at what this band can shape with this voice and how they can create a song that is their style to the T but still sounds fresh as rain in spring.

The lyrics – and this is something newish since the last album – don’t revolve as much around robbers and unfaithful partners and lots of knives but deal with the state of the world as a whole and the state of the world for one (or a handful of) individual(s). It’s a weird feeling if you are actually happy but watching the news feels like your life is completely dissonant with humanity and you try to balance out the joy of your privilege and security with the reality of most people which is quite the opposite. By the way, the title “what a terrible world, what a beautiful world” is a quote by Barack Obama after the Sandy Hook Massacre.

And yes, I hope that the next album will finally have another epic Decemberists’ tale of love and deceit and murder on it (and a length that defies every radio playlist) but for now, I am very happy that this album exists and offers so much new to discover. It’s been an awful long time and we were all worried about Jenny (and oh so happy about her recovery) and we were happy for Colin and Carson Ellies’ venture into literature (finally!) and we were all longing for a newly hatched Decemberists song.