Despite the cooler temperatures for the past day or so, the past week generally has finally felt like Spring has arrived. We’ve basked in sunshine for a few days, it’s been that bit warmer, and suddenly Finsbury Park is full of green again.
/443/Where The Wild Roses Grow
The first flowers, mind, had come a good few weeks before, as the first daffodils and crocuses of the year had added the first dash of colour, but it very much got me thinking back to the suggestion thread around flowers and plants (and trees) last year, so here’s an unusually spring-like post from me. That said, there is still a darker edge to some of the songs here…
This was the second dip into a substantial thread from last year that has so far also provided songs about roses (and another will follow about trees in due course). At least 92 of the songs suggested there were about flowers specifically, and just three had been used before. There were 78 unique songs, and 41 people suggested them. Thanks, as always, to everyone involved.
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).
/Daisies of the Galaxy
/Daisies of the Galaxy
Unusually, my wife Daisy’s entire name is made up of names that are also flowers (including her surname) – certainly, I’m struggling to think of anyone else that I know where the same could be done. Ironically, mind, neither of us are particularly greenfingered – my only success with plants or flowers in the time we’ve lived together was a short-lived period where I grew Venus Flytraps with considerable success on our Sheffield flat windowsill. The flowers that Daisy’s name refer to come up a fair bit on this Eels album, where Mark Everett seems to use them as a metaphor for being able to survive through anything that the world can throw at him, and in this song, are a sweet gesture of friendship to a friend going through tough times.
/Guilt By Association
A first appearance for this band in the entire series (and also one of the most unexpected songs I’ve ever heard live, when Andy Heintz’s later band The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing played it in an encore a few years back). This remains perhaps their best-known song, a good example of their grinding, goth-edged no-wave rock that perhaps surprisingly had a melodic edge to it. The video makes the flower link more overt, with Katie-Jane Garside appearing in the video flower-clad, while the chorus roars “dying like a lily in the water…” – which seeing as Water Lilies are not “true” lilies, I guess is likely correct…
/To Venus And Back
The epic centrepiece of one of Tori Amos’ most maligned albums, I’ve always thought this album gets a bad rap. Very much a different album to almost anything else she’s done, it saw her dig deep into electronic sounds and – critically – textures, her trademark vocals and piano being caught and twisted in the swirl around them. The best moments for me were where she went headlong into that experimentation – the dark nightmare of Juárez, where she took on the horrifying number of women killed in Ciudad Juárez at the time – and this song, whose unusual premise spawned a fascinating piece of work.
See, this lengthy, complex song (apparently the rhythms are so complex – and clearly studio created and overlaid – that it’s basically impossible to play live) has Tori reciting a list of the various plants that were in her garden and were all destroyed by a hurricane, with the exception of the poisonous, hallucinogenic Datura plants that she had. The woozy loops and frequent tempo changes, as well as the multitracked vocals, make for a genuinely unsettling experience (particularly on headphones, as it phases all over the place).
/The Sound of Music
The film is one of those classic staples of television these days, and the music from the film has a rather universal quality, in that pretty much everyone knows the songs, as Laibach proved when they played songs from the film in North Korea. This song is based on the titular alpine flower, used as a symbol of Austrian identity in the film as a way of resisting the Nazi invasion (and used more generally as an icon of the Alpine region to this day), and Laibach add a stately grandeur to the song, one of a few where they confound expectations by playing it entirely straight.
/My Secret Garden
/A Broken Frame
A perhaps more difficult reimagining of an entire album came from Greek synthpop duo Marsheaux, who took on Depeche Mode’s second album A Broken Frame and recorded their own take on the whole thing. Some might say it’s a niche choice – the second DM album was written and recorded in the wake of Vince Clarke moving on, and the tone is noticeably different to Speak and Spell, although not quite as dark as the band would gravitate towards across the eighties. Marsheaux clearly had a deep knowledge and love of this album, though, and seemed to tease out elements that Martin Gore had only hinted at in the first place, and nowhere is this clearer than on My Secret Garden. This song of deception and lies – the protagonist trying to hide their true self from someone, who clearly sees through it – is made harder, darker and all the more sinister by both the music and the gorgeous vocals of Marsheaux, making it clear that the metaphorical garden is one of tangled vines, poisonous plants and other elements that might be seen as dangerous.
/In My Garden
/Children of God
The change in tone that Children of God heralded for Swans – at least back when it was released – was most likely first made clear to listeners by the second track on the album, the Jarboe-led beauty of In My Garden. Gone are the relentless, punishing rhythms and noise, replaced by a gentle piano and droning tones (and a flute!) and Jarboe seemingly telling a tale not unlike The Garden of Eden (understandable given the religious, devotional and sexual themes of this album generally) – a garden where there is inestimable beauty, flowers grow, die and renew, and it is something like paradise. But as always with Swans, that beauty comes with a price, it seems, going on the way omninous drones drown out the elegaic sounds by the close.
The realm of Carrion Flowers – that emit odors similar to rotting flesh – is a deeply strange one, and include some of the largest flowers on earth (such as the Rafflesia arnoldii, or the titan arum, both of which make headline news when rare examples in botanical gardens bloom). The loose concept around this – that of death being an essential part of life – is something that Chelsea Wolfe has explored on various of her songs over the years, and on Carrion Flowers, harsh drones and thundering drums accompany Wolfe, as she appears to demonstrate some kind of admiration for the way that these flowers attract other life to perpetuate themselves, despite the stench of death. Life finds a way, eh?
/She Hangs Brightly
I must admit, I never realised the deep, romanticised symbolism of the blue flower. Of desire, love, and hope – and all three of those are realms explored in deep and often oblique ways across the sporadic output of Mazzy Star. Originally, though, this song was by Anglo-German group Slapp Happy in 1972, and their curious, busy arrangement is pared back so much by Mazzy Star that it took me years to realise that the Mazzy Star take was a cover. The dreampop duo turned it into another of their drowsy, sun-kissed songs that could only be by them.
/Get Behind Me Satan
One of the more striking White Stripes songs (and with a spectacular video), this strange song took the signature sound of the duo into fuzzier, darker realms. Reputedly about the changes wrought on the music industry around the turn of the millenium (the “white orchid turned blue” being a metaphor for unwelcome or unnecessary change, apparently) – but then, it could also be about a failed relationship too, and Jack White was never exactly keen on revealing meaning, instead preferring to let others guess.
That said, it seems that blue orchids don’t exist naturally, anyway – although I’m sure that hybrids have been made of these most beautiful of flowers. Talking of hybrids, too, High Contrast did a rip-roaring drum’n’bass rework of this very song – a hybrid well worth catching up on.
/Sag Mir Wo Die Blumen Sind
The extraordinary World War One commerative work that was Lament – an intricately researched, thought-provoking look at the Great War that shone a light on unexpected events – was an utter triumph, and unusually for Neubauten, saw them taking on the work of others for some of the songs. One such piece was one of the last on the album, the sad tribute to those lost originally by Pete Seeger. He wrote the song after reading about a Ukranian folk song mentioned in a Mikhail Sholokhov novel, and it is a song that laments a lost generation of men and flowers (those poppies, perhaps, that have become the symbol to commemorate and grandstand since), all lost in trenches of Northern Europe as both were ground into the dust in the fighting in unimaginable conditions. Neubauten took on the German-language version, made famous by Marlene Dietrich, and the result was a notably restrained, deeply sad song that genuinely laments a terrible waste of life, hope and future.