Saturday, 26 December 2009

Week 17 - Dub a Dub a Dub Dub (The True Sound of Christmas)

Yes it's Christmas, yes it's a blog about Christmas songs, and yes there are some less traditional ones in it. Big whoop, wanna fight about it?

Anyway, ridding myself of the true spirit of Christmas for a minute and pretending to be oh-so jolly, I'll wish everyone a Merry Christmas, but hold off extending those sentiments to the new year as I'm hoping to have done another blog by then.

For me, Slade, Wizzard et al are beyond the pale when it comes to Christmas tunes. They're so deeply imbedded into the festive fabric that I can't begin to consider them songs. They're like the chill wind blowing through the aisles of supermarkets and shops selling yuletide tat. As such I can't really hear them anymore. Although I do still hear Noddy scream "It's Chriiiiiiiiiiiistmas", oh yes. I hear that as if I'm in Alabama State Penitentiary and Bubba's just crept up behind me and whispered "I'm gwine-a make you my beeeatch". I don't much care for it. It's not that I don't like Slade, the rest of the year their songs are great.

Another 'traditional' one that doesn't make my best three is Fairytale of New York. I love this, whether it be Kirsty and the Pogues, Christy Moore or even No Use for a Name. The problem is that I can listen to this at any time of the year, and quite often do.

But onwards.

First up is a song from 1965, but you really wouldn't know it. It sounds much later. It's the Sonics doing Santa Claus. I'm not a fan of saccharine sludge and this really puts the claws into Santa, proper fuzz guitars from a garage band. Considering the lyrics revolve around getting nothing for Christmas, it's remarkably upbeat. Rock on.

Next is a wonderful track by a band I've always struggled to get in to. It's Just like Christmas by Low. A lovely voice and sleigh bells means it just oozes festive cheer. It seems to be about a tour of Scandinavia and how the band find their seasonal spirit in Oslo. Oh, and it mentions snow and wintery places. All good.

Finally, I suppose this is by far the most 'traditional' song on this list - it's on those 100% Christmas! albums you see. It's a song about war, and perhaps cynically added a bridge and sleigh bells to make it Christmassy. Still, it has one of the most recognisable intros ever. It's perfect music for nodding your and playing the imaginary trumpet and is ripe for a dub cover version. Word to the wise though, don't put it on repeat on a jukebox boozer, publicans don't always appreciate it.

It's Jona Lewie's Stop the Cavalry and I love it!

Ho ho ho, merry Christmas and all that.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Week 16 - Scandimania part two

I don't think it will be much of a surprise to find out that this is a follow up to last week's Nordic love-in.

Therefore I won't disappoint you.

This week ventures deeper into Scandinavia than just the Polly Tones, but thankfully not into the regions of Abba, A-Ha and the Rasmus. Instead it's a mixture of haunting folk covers and awesome modern psych, just the way I like it!

But anyway, on with the show.

Remember German synthpop act Alphaville? If you do, you'll definitely remember this, practically their only hit - certainly their only one of note. This version, however, is a beautifully chilled cover by Norwegian singer/songwriter Ane Brun. She's got a great voice and this version of Big in Japan sounds like it could almost have been done by Joanna Newsom. But it wasn't, and Brun does it very well indeed.

Next up is another track that the Bees inspired me to listen to. It's on their wonderful Sound Selection album, on which they present a load of tracks which have inspired them, from funk to rock and reggae to psych. It's the last category that this song falls into.

This time we move to Sweden, with Gustav Ejstes's Dungen.

Jämna Plågor is a rollicking dark psych tune that stunned me when I first heard it, not least for the fact it was created in Sweden in 2005 and not Brazil in 1968! It's one of those songs that you kind of forget is instrumental as you get sucked in to the beats. Cracking, and once again, thank you Bees.

You know I said some would be haunting folk covers? Well, two are. Also, you know that John Lewis Christmas advert with the nice cover version of Guns n Roses' Sweet Child O' Mine? Yeah? Well, my final song is not that.

However, it is by the same artist. From Mr and Mrs Bergsman came Victoria Bergsman, from her came The Concretes and from them Victoria split and named herself Taken by Trees.

Digressing a tad, The Times voted Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavilion their album of 2009. Animal Collective are one of those bands like Flaming Lips, for me anyway - the songs I like, I love, but the other stuff I can take or leave. One of the tracks on MPP is My Girls, and that is good.

But what is better than the original is Taken by Trees' version of it. She changed the title to apply to her gender and called it My Boys.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Week 15 - Scandimania part one

Every once in a while something comes along that stops you dead in your tracks. You can't quite believe what you've heard and you want to know more.

Reading a piece by Paul Lester in the Guardian, I followed up his excited suggestion and listened to The Polly Tones' reworking of Brian Wilson's SMiLE.

Malin and Viktor moved from a small town in northern Sweden to London to build a career in music and, judging by this attempt, it's only a matter of time before it happens.

What could easily have been an embarrassing hash has turned out to be a jaw-dropping effort that deserves its place in musical history. The duo have pared down Wilson and Van Dyke Parks' mind-altering orchestrations to just voice, guitar and editing. It's hard to explain just how well it works. Yes, there appears to be layering and a couple of other instruments, but it's clearly a bare, yet sumptuous end product. Malin's voice is great and Viktor on occasions sounds uncannily like Wilson, and their arrangements are spot on. It makes you wonder how long they've worked on this project. But who cares, it sounds great!

Heroes and Villains, by far my favourite track on SMiLE, is simply inspired. The final of the 10 songs they've done is Surf's Up and that too is brilliant. Even though I almost feel dirty saying this, I found The Polly Tones' version easier to listen to than Wilson's!

So, without further ado, I give you The Polly Tones' SMiLE.

Part One - Our Prayer/Gee, Heroes & VIllains
Part Two - Roll Plymouth Rock, Barnyard, Old Master Painter-You Are My Sunshine, Cabin Essence
Part Three - Wonderful, Song for Children, Child Is Father of the Man, Surf's Up

I'll leave the final word to Paul Lester: We'd like Mr Wilson to hear their SMiLE. It would blow his giant mind.