Saturday, 7 February 2015

"Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance" - Belle and Sebastian and "Become Ocean" - J.L. Adams

It comes disguised as something else, something spangly and jangly, poppy and delighted at itself. It could be the songs from some near and dear pop star whose efforts bedeck the charts with their insincerity yet glossy efforts. It isn't though. Not when you really listen. I say disguised advisedly. It is pop music in the manner made by The Smiths or New Order. It carries its own weight, a weight than isn't self evident at first but a weight there nonetheless is, a barb among the bait.
 
I, me, myself can be a bit of a lazy bastard, a little bit the idle wastrel who tends to write when the mood suits. Oh, I get up, fed myself, make the odd cup of coffee then open my laptop meaning to compose something but more often than I would chose to allow go to YouTube or my Inbox before settling down to punching keys and adding text to what is an ever ongoing process. Unlike Stuart Murdoch I have never encountered or been derided for having Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.  The first song on this album, deceptively so when all the toe tapping is done away with, is about this condition, one that its composer has had to face since heavens knows when. It is an uplifting ditty until you realise it isn't all it is at first listen.
 
When listening to Wire, Pere Ubu or The Fall, one is struck by the consistency of the drive, or of the overall feral enervation or perhaps the confounding of the lyric that at times strikes as being deliberately wanton. There is a certain quality to that music that is challenging. Same here.
 
Much of this output is autobiographical. More of it, when you dig deep, is highly personal even revealing. First song up, "Nobody's Empire," had me reading over and again the lyric. It sort of resonated within me but I couldn't fathom why?

"Lying on my bed I was reading French
With the light too bright for my senses
From this hiding place
Life was way to much
It was loud and rough around the edges"

I knew what Stuart meant even if my take was different.

Or take "Allie," the song fits neatly into a contemporary frame as easily as it might into something distant, perhaps a little personal?

"When there's bombs in the Middle East
You want to hurt yourself
When there's knives in the city streets
You want to end yourself."

For me it could all be dismissed as being apocryphal as I have never witnessed, apart for the news, such events and yet?

There is still that mix of folk meets pop. It is where intelligence fondles bright young things in moments of mutual consent.This is music that matters. These are songs that count for something more than just the bouncy, trouncey sound. If only all such music were such. 



:
:
"Life on this earth first emerged from the sea. As the polar ice melts and sea level rises, we humans find ourselves facing the prospect that once again we may quite literally become ocean."  - John Luther Adams




There are oceans that are not of our planet. Expansive water that may or may not be able to have once been vast oceans. There are the lakes of Titan, a moon that orbits Saturn which contain seas and lakes carrying evidence of what once might have been vast  life supporting waters. They have levels of methane, propane and ethane. Mars may have had, at one stage, an ocean. Hypothesis suggests that nearly a third of the surface of the planet was once covered by water although water on Mars is no longer oceanic. If this is the case, and there is little to suggest it is not, then it takes no great leap of imagination to accept that we are part and parcel of something far greater than we first thought, that life in its rich abundance might have begun elsewhere. Whatever science proves or disproves, water is vital to us.
 
It was John Cage who, when writing of Lou Harrison's work said - "Listening to it we become ocean." A monumental statement and yet unerringly true. When hearing the work of minimalist composer John Luther Adams one is transposed to another sphere where water, what swims in or on it, what floats within its waves, becomes almost quasi-religious. It is both apocalyptic and regenerative.
 
I have always struggled with what is referred to as minimalist music. I mean, one guy and piano playing three notes over is minimal. Here you get an orchestra, split into three natural groups compromising strings, woodwind and brass each with a sequence of sounds that flow and rise and fall and shift so that the sound you hear is that of the ocean. An overlapping quavering that is ever changing, ever simple yet at the same time forever complex. Sometimes the lengths of the pieces coincide with each other so climaxes are reached at the same time. Other times the opposite is achieved when one of more 'groups' appears to surge above another.
 
Listening to this one is reminded of sitting on the shore, any old shore will do, and hearing the surf rising, the sand sucking the rippling tide into his sunken depths, the seagulls overhead whose cries are those of children, the wind gently blowing, the constant swelling of the water, the indistinct heat wavering in its indestructible haze. Underneath this shifting pattern is a piano, sited centre of the piece accompanied by other instruments such as timpani and percussion, cymbals and harps all of which add to the overall flavour and colour of the piece.
 
The Seattle Symphony commissioned this work in 2013. It was released late the following year, too late to be considered in the awards. At 42 minutes it is a groundswell of work that folds in and upon itself time and again.   It is remarkable music through which we can observe our place within the greater scheme of things, a place made all the more special as only we can detect our presence within what is the key of life - The Ocean.



.
.
.
Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

No comments: