This week, I’m finally getting ’round to looking at a subject that I can’t quite believe I haven’t touched on before. There are countless songs about the sea, clearly an evocative subject that can have so, so many other metaphors and meanings applied to it – as the songs featured here do. In addition, this is an appropriate subject for another reason, in that we’re off to the Greek island of Crete later today for a much-needed holiday.
So, here are ten songs about the sea. I’ve added various others that didn’t make the cut to the Spotify playlist. All images, by the way, come from my own collection on Flickr.
An artist so sea-themed that he isn’t signed to Ninja Tune, for him it’s Ninja Tuna. So let us start our voyage with Mr. Scruff taking us on a bizarre sailing trip assisted by Monty Python, John Craven and christ-only-knows-who-else as we go looking for whales, and find a sampling epiphany perhaps only matched by The Avalanches, along with the whale, apparently. He closed the previous album with a song called Fish, a woozy, jazzy number about, er, fish.
Child In A Seacave
And talking of those metaphors, here’s one brilliant use of them in one of Bitter Ruin’s most striking songs. This features on their long-awaited debut album, although if you’ve seen them live at any point in the past couple of years at least, you’ll have heard this song already – and happily the version on the album is pretty much as we heard it in the first place – Georgia’s voice, a subtle guitar, and the occasional support from Ben’s voice. But that’s all it needs – Georgia’s dramatic vocal seethes with fury at rejection by someone for something, likening her predicament to various maritime disaster scenarios to spectacular effect.
Lost At Sea
The Last Days of Rome
David/Dee Thrussell has just as much fun with nautical metaphors, turning one of Snog’s greatest (and catchiest) later-period songs into a shipwrecked take on political direction, with the politicians talked about having pretty much lost themselves at sea in the seventies, eighties, nineties, noughties, frankly the current decade too if we’re bringing things up to date. But then, that was always the genius of Snog – wrapping biting social commentary into lightweight, poppy constructions such as this.
Marine Fields Glow
In contrast to their loud, heavy and intense live show, on record there are certainly moments where Esben and The Witch pare back their power for songs of beautiful, calm clarity. This is one of them – where the imagery of the title is invoked by the still, beatless calm of the music, and a distinct feel of drifting through the water, gasping at the wonders beneath.
Alles Wieder Offen
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Back to the surface, where Blixa has a one-sided discussion with the sea, specifically the waves, pondering on why they do what they do. And as always with Neubauten, there is exquisite detail everywhere if you look for it, like the way the song builds and builds and builds like the swell of the sea until it suddenly calms again, as Blixa roars “are you staying? / are you staying? / are you staying? / or what?“. Or the amusing lyrics, where he asks why the waves can’t decide whether they are the first or last, musing at their awesome power, and the songs within it. Not sure I’ve ever come across another song having such a conversation before…
Nightmares By The Sea
Sketches For My Sweetheart The Drunk
Of the late Jeff Buckley’s work that was unreleased at the time of his death, there was something of a mixed bag in what came to finally be released – although to be fair, much of it was uncompleted and was released broadly in the form that Buckley had got to. This track was one of the most striking, certainly, a sparse, taut rocker, with the lyrics comparing falling in love – or lust, maybe – to being under the water, as a form of release. As I recall, this was not the only reference to the sea or water by Buckley, which makes his cause of death (drowning) all the sadder.
This May Be The Reason Why The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing Cannot Be Killed By Conventional Weapons
Talking of nightmares, time for a nightmarish vision wrapped in something rather more lighthearted. And for that, we can turn to The Men for their hilarious twist on a summer day out to the Kent coast at Margate. Musically it begins like a Cockney Music Hall bit of fluff, as group of Victorian Londoners head to the seaside, before the problem arises from the sea. A problem the size of an Elder God, in fact. It seems oddly fitting that at that point, it switches from music hall to death metal. Altogether now: “Didn’t we have a lovely time the day we met Cthulhu…”
I Sat By The Ocean
Back to the seashore as a metaphor for love, but here it’s for reasons of forgetting those that have been lost. Looking out at the sea as a means to wash away the past, to absolve sins, perhaps, but also to move on and realise that the right choice has been made, even if it doesn’t seem that way initially. Also, this is an awesome track from an album that has got better and better upon repeat listening over the past year or so. Josh Homme and his band still have it, for sure.
March To The Sea
The Fire In Our Hearts Will Beckon The Thaw
One last trip towards the water, before we’re back out in the boats again, with Chicago-based instrumental metal titans Pelican to guide us in a relentless, thrilling twelve-minute march – one where we ride our way through storm after storm of metallic fury, and in between reach moments of quite beautiful serenity. This should be soundtracking shows about rugged, tropical desert islands as we sweep across the lush forest towards the crystal clear seas beyond.
We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank
Not just seafaring in this song from Modest Mouse – much of the album is themed around it (and apparently, the album “was envisioned as a concept album about a boat crew that dies in every song”, but it didn’t work out like that…), but the star is this track, which was a massive hit in the US and helped propel the album to the top of the Billboard charts too – some feat for an indie-rock band, even if by this point they had recruited Johnny Marr for a period. But anyway, this song has fun with the seafarer’s penchant for a tall-tale, particularly in the gloriously loopy video where a tall tale gets taller and taller until, well, you’ll have to watch the video for yourself to find out. Next time, he’ll certainly need a bigger boat.