Just over two years ago, I asked for suggestions around songs involving the senses. Needless to say, this ended up being a gargantuan thread, with the easy decision made to split it out.
/Senses Working Overtime/Sound
/Tuesday Ten/Senses Working Overtime
So, this is the third of six posts on the senses. This one was a tough one, too, as everything is sound, right? Well, I was looking for songs that really provided some kind of insight, and I wanted an interesting list that would give me something to write about. Well, Sister Rosetta Tharpe to Sunn O))) in ten songs hopefully does that.
There were just 37 song suggestions for this part of the senses, which is perhaps understandable. Two songs had been used before, there were 35 unique songs, and 24 people suggested songs. Thanks, as ever, to everyone who offered suggestions.
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).
/The Sound of the Crowd
My immediate thought when hearing the phrase “the sound of the crowd” is to consider Ulysses by James Joyce, a book that makes frequent reference to the world around Leopold Bloom, especially in terms of sound. Everything from passing traffic to sounds in the street outside a window, the tiniest events around Bloom are mentioned and amplified. Which is, really, what we do in everyday life, as we pay attention to what goes on around us. The lofty, thoughtful aims of Human League around the time of this release would perhaps suggest that Phil Oakey had certainly read Joyce, and the title was no accident – even if the sound of the crowd that he is looking for, in their popular breakthrough single, is that of the Saturday night crowd in Sheffield, looking for drinking and dancing, to escape their day-to-day existence.
/The Sound of the Suburbs
/At the Chelsea Nightclub
A very different sound, perhaps, is of the world that The Members were desperately trying to get away from. The mundane, regular events detailed in the verses of The Sound of the Suburbs, Sunday dinner being cooked, the washing of cars – both familiar sounds to me in my teenage life as I waited to do something else. It’s not hard to imagine the members of this band thinking the same, as they practised their guitar chords, or their sneering poses, and prepared to leave their Surrey upbringing and become punk-rock stars in London…
/Now You’re Gonna Listen
/Tracks of Wire
Sound isn’t all about making it, though, it is also about listening. But not just passive listening, where you hear but don’t act, but active listening, where you pay attention and take appropriate actions based upon what you hear. Hence the powerful, punkish rage of deux furieuses, that has been a frequent and appropriate soundtrack to life in this household at least in recent years, as various tracks have taken on resonance with what has happened in the wider world. Such as this brilliant, early song of theirs, where they give a voice to the downtrodden and left behind, as they rally together, stand up to authority and shout their voices loud, so that they are heard. Such events are happening right now, and some action is happening, but will it be long-term?
/The Sisters of Mercy
/First and Last and Always
Some interesting debate exists on the Heartland forums about the meaning of this song, and it appears to be about a woman Andrew Eldritch fancied in Hamburg (and he was torn between her and his girlfriend back home in England). But relevant to hear, most of Eldritch’s lyrics here are preoccupied with listening out for the sound of Marian’s voice, presumably the metaphor of sinking at sea as he does so alluding to the complex situation that would appear to have left him out of his depth. Still, a great Sisters song, that’s for sure, and even though it is well before the bombast of the work with Jim Steinman, it is nevertheless a big, sweeping statement of a song.
/The Sound of Silence
An unexpectedly brilliant cover, where Disturbed wisely left this song with little in the way of accompaniment to David Draiman’s voice, aside from piano and strings. A song of deep, bitter lonelineness, one that Art Garfunkel has apparently described as a song about the unfortunate habit of humans to be unable to communicate their real feelings when it matters. In other words, how we don’t make the noises that we should when we need to, instead leaving the important things unsaid, and making things worse. I’ve certainly been guilty of this in the past, and have tried to make amends in recent years by making sure that I do say what I should. I’m perhaps still not as good at listening to what I should hear, but that’s a work in progress too.
/Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain
One of this much-loved band’s greatest songs, Gold Soundz is a song about the past while dealing with the present. A short song (even by their standards), it is over in the blink of an eye, as Stephen Malkmus considers whiling away the time with a partner in the California sunshine, with hints of a great many things unsaid, and the thinking that the present is slipping away. But it’s that opening line that gets me every time – “go back to those Gold Soundz“. Taking refuge in the past, those songs you’ve loved for as long as you can remember, songs that make everything feel alright again. Ironically, going on the subject, this is one of those songs. Just the sound of those opening words make everything ok again, but heed the later warning “you can never quarantine the past“: your past informs what you are now, you learn, you grow. You don’t forget, but you can adapt and change, and be better.
/Sister Rosetta Tharpe
/Shout Sister Shout
/Complete Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Vol. 1: 1938-1943
One of the originators of rock’n’roll – thanks to her songs, her guitar work, and performance style, she was some years ahead of others – Sister Rosetta Tharpe had a lot to say, and her still-incredible voice was heard by an awful lot of other artists in the years following her recordings, as rock’n’roll begat a whole work of guitar-based music that steadily, and quickly, became the dominant force in popular music for decades. The influence of “rock” these days may have waned somewhat, but the echoes of Tharpe’s pioneering songs continue to resonate down the ages, that’s for sure.
/ Mind / Body / Light / Sound
/The Great Annihilator
This and the next band mentioned this week are both artists that have taken their use of sound to stupefying extremes, particularly live. But here, I’m not going for sheer volume with Swans. Their early music was aggressive, bludgeoning force, before pivoting into pitch-dark folk-infused rock (with occasional blasts of sound), and then continuing to evolve before disbanding the first time in the late nineties. One of their last albums of that phase, The Great Annihilator, was perhaps the most accessible they ever got, but they still had time to experiment, such as on this staggering mid-album centrepiece. A powerful, rolling drum rhythm underpins a song full of voices chanting behind Gira’s rich lead vocal, as he imagines leaving the plane of existence to be pure sound, and it remains one of my favourite, most thrilling Swans songs of all.
A /Tuesday Ten based around sound couldn’t possibly omit Sunn O))), right? The single most extreme, and exhilarating, live performance act I’ve ever seen, and I’ve now experienced – seen simply isn’t the appropriate word – them three times in that environment. A band that live put paid to the idea that you go to gigs just to hear music, as you feel a Sunn O))) show. From their wall of speaker stacks, they create a wall of sound that at points is overwhelming, at points blissful, but at all times is blisteringly loud and also clear as a bell. Not for everyone, sure – I could never imagine my wife going within a mile of one of their shows – but for students of “how far can you take live music?”, Sunn O))) have the answer.
This piece, from their exceptional, Black Metal-leaning Black One, has in recent years become the spectacular closing element of a Sunn O))) live show as Attila Csihar gains a suit of mirror shards as leaves the audience dazzled as well as near deaf, and lasts for an awful lot longer live than the eight minutes on record!
The ominous, industrial sounds of the excellent Clock DVA album Man-Amplified is at points one of sonic confusion. Tracks are densely constructed things here, with all manner of digital chatter going on, snatches of sampled voices, bleeps of electronic equipment, the phasing of sounds across speakers. All with the distinct feeling of Adi Newton and his colleagues trying to replicate what it is like to be human, and playing back the information overload in terms of sound that we city-dwellers in particular have to process every day. Which makes the closing track, Memories of Sound, so interesting. Just echoes of what has come before ripple through the gentle drones, a way to cleanse your mind and give you a clean slate to move on, so you can hear anew afterwards.