The impending number 360 in this series got me wondering. Was there a way that I could do something relevant to this number (as I have done in the past with other posts, such as 242 and 333. Then I had a brainwave.
/Tuesday Ten/360/Music of the Spheres
Hence this week being about shapes. So that’s two-dimensional, three-dimensional shapes, and other uses of the word, which has had some interesting interpretations in song.
When I asked about song suggestions the other week, there were 204 suggestions (the most in a while), from 75 people. 172 individual songs were suggested, eleven of which had been used before. As always thanks for every suggestion made.
A quick explanation for new readers (hi there!): my Tuesday Ten series has been running since March 2007, and each month features at least ten new songs you should hear – and in between those monthly posts, I feature songs on a variety of subjects, with some of the songs featured coming from suggestion threads on Facebook.
Feel free to get involved with these – the more the merrier, and the breadth of suggestions that I get continues to astound. Otherwise, as usual, if you’ve got something you want me to hear, something I should be writing about, or even a gig I should be attending, e-mail me, or drop me a line on Facebook (details below).
/When I Argue I See Shapes
/Hope Is Important
Idlewild are remarkable survivors from the boom years of the late 90s British alternative scene. Twenty-one years from the twenty-minute, six-song blast of EP Captain, they release their eighth album Interview Music in April, although they’ve long since left behind the uncorked rage that characterised their early material. This song is perhaps the point where things began to change, as the rage was starting to be corked, but it still bubbles through as Roddy Woomble details just how irritated and furious he can get, as the anger is internalised and he “see shapes”. Speaking as someone who has a nasty habit of internalising my own fury at times, it can become all-consuming, and I know exactly what Roddy means.
/We Are The Pipettes
Yes, I know, that for the first two songs, there is no geometry at all. But there are other uses of the word shapes, and one of those is to dance: or in other words, pulling shapes. And that’s what this actually-quite-wonderful retro-pop song from the Pipettes is all about – wanting to dance with someone, and throwing every shape they can as they love dancing. Remarkably I’d never heard this song before, either. I wish I had, now…
So anyway, shapes. This was the first song that I even considered when this subject came to mind. A short, minimalist song that considers the lazy circles made by molecules, atoms and things even smaller, and the beautiful patterns that they make (presumably under a very strong microscope). This science-based song, too, is followed by the marvellously upbeat Newtons Gravitätlichkeit, which moves onto arguing with gravity (as you do). But back to In Circles, one of the more delicate, pretty songs Neubauten ever wrote.
/Hip To Be Square
Being Square here means, of course, being normal. Fitting in, not making waves and just leading a normal life. Which I guess, around the time of the release of this song in the “greed is good” eighties, was the way to get ahead. It’s a snappy, smart pop song, really, that is still one of those songs that I can recall even now. It is probably best remembered now, though, for it is one of the songs Patrick Bateman has a lengthy monologue about in the book American Psycho – a section that is abridged but retained in the film adaptation (CW: contains blood, implied violence).
/Heart of the Sun
/The Circle & The Square
The remarkable variety of symbolism applied to various shapes is kinda mind-boggling (here’s just a taster), with different cultures and religions offering different views on the same shapes. Red Box looked into this on their outstanding 1986 debut The Circle & The Square, which looked around the world for inspiration and sounds that were neatly brought into a broadly synthpop base without ever sounding out of place. The core of the album, though, was perhaps this song, which alluded to a number of cultural points without ever settling on one.
The first Battles album Mirrored is an astonishing tour de force of technicality, as the-then four-piece warped and reworked, then reworked again, experimental-rock and electronic music into almost unrecognisable shapes – but never losing sight of the emotional pull of truly great, entertaining music, and I’m not sure any band has quite managed to pull of the same trick since (it was also #1 on /Countdown/2007/Albums, with the mighty Atlas at #2 on /Countdown/2007/Tracks). But this album wasn’t just about Atlas, and the following track Ddiamondd rams that home, as light is shone through such a prism and the resulting pitch-shifted, hyperactive one-hundred-and-fifty-four seconds is frankly an incredible track befitting of such an expensive, desirable shape.
It was pointed out by a friend in the suggestions thread that Chino Moreno of Deftones has a thing for shapes, both in Deftones songs and ††† [Crosses] songs, with at least ten songs mentioned that could potentially fit the bill. That said, quite what the significance of the Hexagram is in this song – a six-pointed star shape that has great importance to a number of religions, not least Judaism – I’ve long found difficult to fully understand, but a number of suggestions online seem to agree that it is referring to the Israel-Palestine conflict, which is certainly unusual for Moreno to allow his song to be so clearly understood. This is, also, one of the few songs I still enjoy from this patchy album.
/Living In A Box
/Living In A Box
A rare event where the lead single by a band is eponymous – as is the debut album that it comes from. So we end up with “Living In A Box, from the album Living In A Box, by…Living In A Box” – that also happened to be on an old episode of Top of the Pops that we watched on BBC4 the other week. I can’t remember a single other song by the band, but this punchy, intelligent pop song is a great one if a little “of it’s time”. Apparently the song refers to the idea of enclosure, tiny rooms and tiny houses – sadly the latter of which are, three decades on, something that is even more of a problem than before as house prices continue to rise. It also refers to the issue of homelessness – in the cardboard box reference (something made more implicit in the video) – which is also something entirely unresolved in this highly-developed country and should be a stain on the consciences of every politician.
The pyramid is most associated with Ancient Egypt, but they were far from the only civilisation building in that form, as the Spanish in particular found out as they encountered the various civilisations in Central America (and Pyramids were built in a great many more places, too). Mainly they were monuments – and enormous ones at that – which has, I guess, only increased their symbolism and importance. This song, then, one of Radiohead’s most stark, elegant songs, it is little more than piano and Thom Yorke’s wracked voice, and I’ve seen some suggestions that it is about either death or ancient Egypt, or more likely both.
/Small Blue Thing
Finally, though, Suzanne Vega examines the idea of difficult relationships through the metaphor of shape. As the character deals with the behaviour of another, they retreat into shape, be that bodily shapes that make them as small as possible, or breakable items like glass or china, but always in small shapes that might avoid the gaze. Maybe I never noticed it at the time, but Vega’s debut from 1985 is very much an album of vulnerability, of trying to avoid the light and being noticed, sadly because there is danger in being noticed.