Having been rather busy this month, on a variety of projects, June’s Office Chart is much more off-the-cuff. It found itself put together in short spots of downtime. Its choices were more impulsive; thrown on in the moment, as the whim took me. That said, I may have accidentally come out with the best end-product yet. Perhaps, in the past, my agonising over equal genre-mixes and ordering was a mistake. While I have spent some time making sure that there’s some coherence in the flow, a lot of the work did itself. The songs just seemed to make sense next to each other. July will have a hard job following this one, perfect for a smoky saunter into summer.
Soft Temple – Grails
Grails were formed, like this playlist, on a whim. From those humble beginnings, they would go on to give themselves a name as one of the downright coolest instrumental rock bands going. In the wake of post-rock, and the deep ravines explored by the likes of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Mogwai, it actually became a thoroughly boring genre. Admittedly, when bands like Explosions in the Sky showed up, I found myself intensely disenfranchised with the whole post-rock thing. Grails, on the other hand, were one of the few bands who stayed interesting to me. Their 2007 album in particular, Burning Off Impurities, is an essential listen and quality starting point.
Nettling – BONZIE
I recently conducted an e-mail interview with BONZIE about her latest album, Zone on Nine. Every word of my analysis was steeped in sincerity; the album really is a stunning piece of work from an extremely exciting young musician. I don’t even mean to mention her youth to patronise her talent. In essence, it’s purely that Zone on Nine sounds like the kind of layered work that only a weathered career could inspire. Yet, reeling off refreshing song-writing seems second-nature to BONZIE. This is one my favourite examples of it, though Nettling is far more beautiful when heard in its original eclectic context. Fortunately, I feel it sounds particularly lovely after Soft Temple anyway; a gentle, but somehow embittered, introspection after the chaos of Grails’ cacophony.
At the River – Groove Armada
Yes, I know. It’s that tune. The one with the trumpet (it’s actually a trombone) that was on Marks and Spencer adverts. You caught me. Still, this was an excellent track before its corporate re-appropriation. Patti Page, an old-school pop legend with a six-decade long career, was supposed to be the centre of this, with the vocal hook from Old Cape Cod being used liberally. If we’re being honest though, it’s all about that trombone. Sure it’s cheesy, but it’s instantly likeable and firmly memorable. The problem with At the River is that it’s such an obvious tune that, oddly, it finds itself forgotten about entirely until it’s on again. I forgot about it for years but, when I heard it again, I enjoyed it far too much not to include. It’s no longer a secret guilty pleasure.
Heysátan [Live] – Sigur Rós
Speaking of post-rock, not many did it better than Sigur Rós over their first five albums. This one was originally the closing track from Takk…, their big commercial breakthrough that also spawned Hoppípolla. While it’s probably their last truly great album, you do tend to zone out by the end of a Sigur Rós offering. This meant that Heysátan passed me by for a good long time, before showing up in a live rendition on their brilliant film, Heima. When I first saw that DVD, I was convinced that their breathtaking performance of it was an entirely new song, and indicative of upcoming material. It’s truly a high watermark of serene, musical beauty, and i’ll let it speak for itself with a clip from the film too:
Julie and Candy – Boards of Canada
Obviously, Boards of Canada have become obligatory now, having appeared in some form on every Office Chart so far. This has always been a highlight of their catalogue for me, showing off their nostalgic tinges in equal measure to their inventive production skills. The washed-out woodwind evokes times you probably weren’t even born in. So strong is that embryonic incantation that the music of Boards of Canada can be, at times, unsettling. That kind of commentary aside, the beat on this is a subtle masterpiece. It takes so long to build, you barely notice it doing so. However, by the end, the whole thing reaches a climactic zenith. Also, it has one cheeky little drum-break that only happens once but is well worth keeping an ear out for. Extra points if you can finger-drum along with it at the right time, every time.
Here’s a live performance of this track, which is an interesting little rarity in its own right; Boards of Canada have graced the stage a depressingly small amount of times. This, slightly different, version puts an even greater spotlight on the beat’s progression I was so keen to highlight:
On May’s Office Chart, we saw the welcome addition of Scott Bradlee’s take on Black Hole Sun. A personal favourite of mine, it’s all too unfortunate that May would also be the month of Chris Cornell, the song’s composer’s, death. With such synchronicity in the cruel hands of fate alone, I thought it best to let that sit as a fitting tribute. This month, I wanted to showcase another Postmodern Jukebox performance that particularly gripped me. I also wanted to put something from Puddles Pity Party, who I recently wrote about, on here. Funnily enough, I also had Lorde’s Royals in mind since it reminds me of someone I know. Considering how well this ticked all three boxes, it couldn’t not appear. Talk of fated synchronicity or what? Since the last couple of tracks have had videos posted with them, let’s go ahead and do the same with this one:
Gold Day – Sparklehorse
Mark Linkous, main-man behind the sprawling Sparklehorse project, was a sad and somehow predictable loss. His personal torture was uncomfortably obvious in his music, which was one of the very things that gave it its bite. On what is, to my mind, his finest work, It’s a Wonderful Life, we hear some of the best examples of his craft. This one doesn’t peer into a songwriter darkly, however. Instead, it seems to be a heartfelt ditty to the vulnerable innocent. It’s an extremely parental song in its tone, while you can hear that it’s the words of someone who wants to impart something more than his own experiences. Like much of Linkous’ work, it could also be snarlingly ironic. Either way, this is a wonderful song that shows why he’s a songwriter who deserves to endure.
Nobody Does it Better – Carly Simon
Besides this being here as a tribute to Roger Moore‘s death, I’ve had an unexplainable love-affair with Bond themes for a long time now. The films themselves I can take or leave, considering their action-packed and misogynistic nature. Their themes are often meticulously composed, though there’s going to be a few duds in there somewhere. The Spy Who Loved Me, along with being one of the better Bond films, also brought this sexy beast to the table. Indeed, when Radiohead covered it in the mid-90’s (very well, I might add), Thom Yorke introduced it as the “sexiest song ever written”. I’m not sure i’d go that far, but he’s definitely in the right ball-park with his description. As a little more trivia, since this song speaks loudly for itself: Radiohead almost got a Bond theme under their belts themselves.
Their track, Spectre, was originally written for the disappointing film of the same name. It will have, probably, been jettisoned for being too morose or something. We got Sam Smith‘s awful Writing’s on the Wall instead, which i’m sure we can all agree is a crime worse than anything Blofeld committed. I was originally going to post a video of the film’s title sequence paired with Radiohead’s contribution, but it seems to have disappeared from the internet. It turns out that they work frighteningly well together. Seems that fated synchronicity is in the air everywhere at the moment. Either that or the editors deliberately worked with Radiohead in mind…
Paranoia – Goldie Lookin Chain
Goldie Lookin Chain have always held a special place in my heart, spanning right back to their first wide-release album, Greatest Hits. I even saw them at 2005’s Leeds Festival, where they performed a hilarious set; largely while riding mobility scooters. I tuned out of them for quite some time though, having a renaissance of sorts upon interviewing their primary member, Eggsy, last month. It turns out that they’ve released absolutely loads since the last album I was familiar with, Safe as Fuck. Even better, almost all of it is as entertaining, funny and simply good, as it ever was. Goldie Lookin Chain are far more than a throwaway novelty act. They’re very well produced, and vastly underrated rappers. This choice also shows off just how accurately they can portray a very certain kind of working-class British existence…
Glory Box – Portishead
Adrian Utley, one of the key parts of Portishead’s sound, was also involved in BONZIE’s aforementioned Zone on Nine. I had a good bit of time with Portishead in my late-teenage years. They’re a must-listen really, but it can’t be denied that they have a limited appeal. As such, I had shelved them and considered my time with them over. Besides certain transcendent artists, I find it hard to listen to any one band in perpetuity. That “been there, done that” attitude can leave some staggering gems lobbed, carelessly, into the ocean, though. When I heard Glory Box again, in research for my piece on BONZIE, I couldn’t believe i’d let it lie. Its seductive silk is all-encompassing. Everything stops when you hear this for the first time, and you can probably expect this song to stay classic for some time.
The Healer – Erykah Badu
I’m ashamed to say that Erykah Badu is another one of those artists that I’ve completely neglected. In some ethereal way, I feel like I would love her material so much that I don’t even need to bother with it. I’ve had this feeling with a few artists, and it’s something I seriously need to break past. The little bits I’ve heard of Badu have lived up to my assumptions admirably. She brings out the poor journalist in me, as all I want to say is, “she’s too cool for words”. I should be above analysis like that, but sometimes something’s so good that they require that level of juvenile simplicity. There’s a very interesting live version of this floating around, that makes some significant changes to its arrangement, that deserves as much of your time as the studio version. YouTube link? Oh, go on then:
Bruce Lee – Underworld
I once got in serious trouble with an ex-girlfriend for blowing my last twenty quid on a vinyl copy of Beaucoup Fish, a juggernaut of an album that is sure to survive the sands of time. I have no regrets. I’ve adored the entire record since I first heard it on some long-gone, long-distance car journey. This track, Bruce Lee, is one of the more radio friendly cuts. In actuality, i’d have much preferred to give space to something like Cups, but I felt its length disqualified it from inclusion. While shorter, and more accessible, Bruce Lee remains a pounding exercise in hypnotic rhythm. When it comes to relentless beats that layer in their incessant production, Underworld were the rulers of the roost by the end of the 90’s. This also showcases the unusual talents of Karl Hyde. “Suck from the box, yeah… Bruce Lee!”.
Parhelion and Arch & Hum – Shora
Outside of a collaborative, split-album with Merzbow, it’s very difficult to find any information on Shora. Obviously, I could dig far deeper but, in honesty, i’d much rather leave the mystique around this band. You know as much as I do. These are from an album that was always hanging around my brother’s house, which we played regularly on stony Saturdays. It’s somewhere in-between math-rock, prog-rock and our old friend post-rock. Frankly, it’s some of the most exciting music I’ve ever heard, smashing tidal tones up against solid timbral cliffs. In many ways it’s good that this sits in obscurity, offering it a quality of discovery that can be deeply engaging.
I’ll admit to having cheated a little on this Office Chart. I’ve placed two tracks from the same artist, and same album, right next to each other and in their original ordering. There’s a reason for this. I was set on including either one of these two tracks as this playlist’s closer. Unfortunately, Parhelion features a horribly abrupt ending when placed on its own. Similarly, Arch & Hum has a very nonsensical introduction when cut out of its context. Determined to include Shora, and less keen on their other tracks, I threw caution to the wind and put them both on. That way I was able to hold on to the coherence I always look for in my Office Charts. Additionally, I reasoned that, if anybody had made it this far, they probably wouldn’t mind.