Yep, I’ll admit with my hands in the air that this is hardly an original idea. Radiohead have been doing office charts for years, and I can only assume that thousands of hip blogs and magazines have adopted it. Of course, it doesn’t really matter. I just thought it would be a fun monthly thing to do. Besides, I’ve got a High Fidelity-esque predilection for making playlists anyway. Neither of the Bens have anything to do with this, in case they get ashamed by the choices. This is just my own personal “writing an article for Secret Cave” playlist. Beneath the Spotify embed I’ll add a little of my own perspective on the choices. So, the tracks for February 2017 are:
Black Night – Frank Sinatra Jr.
I first heard this quite recently on Rick Alverson’s 2015 film, Entertainment. After hearing its full version directly afterwards (it was that good I had to check it out), I was sincerely ashamed something this great had slipped through my fingers. Make no bones about it, this is the very finest song on the whole playlist (with the possible exception of Shipbuilding). Its reserved dynamic feels somehow mulled and warm, despite its overwhelming darkness. The brief, but bombastic, brass interlude is quite simply as badass as music comes. When it has the audacity necessary to sail almost instantly back down to its meandering canter, I feel like applauding its songwriting. Penned by Frank Sinatra Jr. himself, I was surprised how original Black Night is in almost every way.
Strangers – The Kinks
Another one I discovered from the soundtrack to a movie. This time it was Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited, by far his most underrated film. Strangers is a pretty straightforward song in many ways, but there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, one of the reasons I like it is how it just whimsically builds on its central chord progressions. The major reason that I love this track is the chord progressions themselves. It would be pretentious to describe them as anything other than “beautiful”. I’d much rather listen to this side of The Kinks than the one where they slash at their amp speakers and repeat weak riffs for a century.
All I Think About Now – Pixies
Something from Head Carrier was always going to slip its way onto the playlist, since I recently positively reviewed it. There are a lot of songs from the album that could have easily ended up here instead. All I Think About Now is a bit misleading, evoking Where is My Mind? for a while before ending up in its own territory. It’s the only track from Head Carrier featuring new bassist, Paz Lenchantin, on lead vocals. Lyrically, it’s been described as a “thank-you” letter to Kim Deal; their founding bass player. It’s quite sweet under that light. Taken on its own merits, it’s one of the strongest songs off the new album and a good confirmation of Lenchantin’s obvious ability.
Work from Home – Tim Heidecker
We’ve written about Heidecker’s work a few times here, and it’s clear i’m a big fan of his comedy. However, his album In Glendale is often called remarkable for its sincerity and being a step away from purely comedic songwriting. To me, that’s only half true. As genuine as the songs and composition on In Glendale are, there’s something discomforting in the lyrics. You can’t always put your finger on it, but there’s a spine of self-deprecating satire throughout. On Work from Home, that spine is at its most subtle. Aside from the way he occasionally sings “bed” and the general arrangement of it all, there’s no real joke. What is real about it is how great of a song it is anyway. It became my favourite song for a whole, particularly lazy, day, and I even tweeted Heidecker himself about it:
@timheidecker Boring tweet maybe, but I just desperately wanted to say that “Work from Home” is my favourite song at the moment. Thank you!
— Lee Tyrrell (@GreenT128) 10 February 2017
(he’s one the people who liked it! What a nice fella…)
This Bird – Solange
(it’s kinda technically Boards of Canada too)
I might take some major shit from the Boards of Canada community for this one. Solange Knowles (yes, the sister of Beyonce) has gone on record several times as being a huge fan of the impenetrable Scottish duo. Therefore, I have something in common with her. It’s worth mentioning that I consider Boards of Canada to be possibly the most interesting producers alive. Their music is a little holy to me, and therefore it’s kind of strange that I enjoy Solange’s hatchet jobs. What she’s known, and generally hated, for by Boards of Canada fans are her versions of two of their tracks.
Her approach to Left Side Drive and Slow This Bird Down basically feature her warbling her own melodies and lyrics over the top of the original works. At first I took against them like every other snob, but they’re actually quite good. Deep down it makes me wish that we had a lot more pop music with this feeling. I particularly like the way that she tells us to “shut the fuck up” in this one. However, Left Side Drive is a vastly superior effort. The only reason I put This Bird on is because it’s the only one on Spotify. At the end of this track, Boards of Canada lob in one of their archetypal mini-ditties and it’s actually a bit embarrassing how Solange sings over it. I’d have cut it short if I could.
Avril 14th – Aphex Twin
One of the main reasons I stuck this little blighter in was to experiment with the idea of an “interlude” track in my own playlists. Not too sure about its placement, but we’ll see if we can get a more effective choice next month. I’ve never been a big fan of Aphex Twin, since I always felt that he left a bit of heart behind in his quest for “genius”. Lush tracks like Avril 14th prove that he definitely has that heart, but I’ve yet to hear him consolidate that with his more mathematical leanings. It’s a fairly obvious choice too, but it reminds me of a girl I was once with so I don’t care.
Empty Word – Graham Coxon
To be completely honest, this is the only track on the playlist I regret including. It’s just a bit too loud, bombastic and repetitive; not to mention badly produced. I know that sounds oddly harsh for a song on my own playlist but, once I set something in stone, I don’t revoke choices. Now, I love Graham Coxon. He’s an incredibly innovative guitarist, as well as a solid songwriter. When I was 15, and just falling into exploring music, I thought his obscure solo album, Crow Sit on Blood Tree, was the dog’s bollocks. It’s still pretty good but I just don’t relate to it anymore. Playing this track for the first time after years, I thought “oh yeah!” with a wave of nostalgia and lobbed it on here. I won’t lie, I can’t wait for it to end every time I play the playlist now (skipping is sacrilegious).
Easy Way Out – Low Roar
I still don’t know anything about Low Roar except for the two tracks used in Death Stranding teasers. There’s no doubting that this is an absolutely massive Radiohead rip-off. However, unlike other wannabes (you know who you are), I felt like they’d done something with it. I definitely hear plenty of new tinge to go along with the influence. All that analytical snapping aside, this is just a wonderful piece of music. It’s cool, majestic, well-written and beautifully produced. The way it works with Hideo Kojima’s visuals is nothing short of divine. I’m still too afraid to check out a full album of Low Roar’s, as I don’t want them to be another disappointment like The National, Yeasayer or Grizzly Bear. Until then, Easy Way Out is a great way to make up for the Graham Coxon hiccup.
The lyrics to this song, an anti-war missive about home and love, are extremely moving. They get to me every time, and it obviously only helps that they’re supported by an utterly gorgeous melody. Popularised by Glen Campbell, it’s still a great song in his rendition. When given more space to breathe in this version, performed by its composer, it comes to a new life. The melancholy of the lyrics is magnified and every chord change is given a weight that just wasn’t there in the original. Make sure to take note of some of that guitar playing too. While it may not be tapping and sweep picking, in truth it’s better and more evocative than any of that shit.
Over the Ocean – Here We Go Magic
Going to have to thank Rick Alverson again for this one. Immediately after seeing Entertainment I simply had to watch his preceding work, The Comedy. In that film, this track is on in the background as a group of indulgent hipsters… well, indulge. The irony’s not lost on me. This is exactly the kind of music a twat like me would listen to, and that’s why it’s on the bloody list. I loved it straight away, although I got that I was the butt of the joke for that particular scene. Like Low Roar, here’s another band that does something a little extra with their Radiohead plagiarism. I love the transition from Galveston into this, although it is a notably odd and decadent response to Jimmy Webb’s introspective assertions.
Gagging Order – Radiohead
Speak of the devil! Well, they’ve been mentioned enough throughout this run-down so it’s no surprise they’re popping their head out. To be more specific, this is basically just Thom Yorke and his acoustic guitar. After years of doing so, I almost can’t be arsed to get analytical about my favourite band. I try to stay away from putting Radiohead on playlists for that very reason. I felt some obligation to do so on this one since i’d included a couple of clear imitators. It would have annoyed me not to have something of them when I have some Low Roar and Here We Go Magic going on. I didn’t want to go over the top though, so I thought this lovely b-side would do the trick.
Shipbuilding – Elvis Costello and the Attractions
This incredible piece of music has a very similar history to Jimmy Webb’s Galveston. It’s best known for an original version by Robert Wyatt. Elvis Costello, songwriter extraordinaire, was the main man behind its composition, though. It’s his rendition that gave the song the timbre it needed. Wyatt missed the mark a little for me. His delivery’s a bit too whiny, the double bass is too loud and it doesn’t really go anywhere. When Costello got on top of it he seemed to inject it with all the gravitas it deserved. What we’re left with is, to my mind, as good as songwriting gets. Then, that’s Costello for you.
Lovers Paradise – The Coral
The Coral were an enormously exciting band once. Along with The White Stripes, they were one of the first bands to get me into music beyond video game OSTs. Their first couple of albums are fucking great, and I maintain that to this day. Even better is their all-but-forgotten mini-album, Nightfreak and the Sons of Becker. The Coral themselves don’t even care about this one, refusing to call it their third album (although it is). It’s loads better than their shit fourth album, The Invisible Invasion too (which they, of course, maintain is their actual third album). Although it shows that it was recorded in a week, Nightfreak and the Sons of Becker is a half-baked masterpiece of off-the-cuff creativity. It seemed to round the playlist off nicely. I like most how it sounds like a post-apocalyptic Beatles (in the context of the full album). Consider it an epilogue.