In amidst all the near-evangelical happy-clapping about physical musical media, there’s always something that never gets mentioned: and that’s the bit about there always being some shiny nugget or two hidden away in the smallprint that comes with the record (or indeed CD, because whenever “physical media” is mentioned, they don’t mean that, snobs that they are) should you be so inclined as to sit down and read it. In this case, it was reading the various credits and liner notes to Wolf People’s excellent Fain that I first heard about Stick In The Wheel, and their cheery, murderous songs instantly won me over. There’s something about picking old songs and tales up, or creating new ones in the same old spirit, that appeals to these ears; stories of death and toil that are best belted out late at night when the body tires and the subconscious comes out to play and further colour in the grim poetry.
It always seems a bit strange when a band goes eponymous some way into a career. The usual way about things is to self-titlingly announce yourselves right at the start and then take it from there, wherever “it” takes you. When it does happen though, it’s an eyebrow-raiser. Why now? Why this?
It does all become rather apparent once attention is paid to what the Smoke Fairies have achieved with this record, that both expands their musical palette and brings an intangible feeling of a closer bond, which is rather nicely illustrated by the image on the cover – it takes two wings for one to fly, after all…
Something I do enjoy about certain musical paths I’ve trod over the years is when I get sent down the avenues of other media thanks to the melodious recommendations and tributes from the various performers. Sometimes it’s a hint or reference in a song title, sometimes it can be a whole list of new things to see, read and do. It’s interesting to see what influences and drives artists from areas outside their chosen profession, and in a world of entertainment where self and shallow currently rule the roost, it’s both refreshing and heartening to see someone doing the opposite – and doing so just because. I stumbled across this record a day or so ago while looking for something else (always a favourite method of discovery), and have been absolutely flattened by it.
If the previous post wasn’t indication enough, I can confirm without the tiniest shadow of a doubt that I am in a very bad mood indeed. Reasons are myriad and too important to go into here, but take it from me, it’s a doozy. Now, there are two ways I can go with this: I can dig out something entertainingly self-pitying (and of that I have plenty) and have a bit of a Thursday Night Wallow; or I can dive right in and listen to something suitably, beautifully and proactively nasty so that I can turn this mood into something much more fun to be with. Thankfully, the twin red vinyl discs containing the latter have appeared to save the evening.
It’s all about the tannins, apparently. Those cheeky little biomolecules that bob about in red wine that combine with certain foodstuffs to make everything that much tastier, or so I’m led to believe. I don’t see why this shouldn’t be the case with music either – we are more emotionally susceptible when we’ve had a couple, we’re really good at darts when the optimum blood-alcohol level is achieved (although when exceeded, we revert once more. And it’s a very small margin), and different beverages combined with different stimuli provoke different moods. Or at least it does with me.
It may well be a synaesthesia thing, but I can say without any deviation of certainty that this is a Red Wine Album. I know this not because I’d started the wine before the record, but because about 30 seconds into said record, my tastebuds went somewhat, and very specifically, mad so I had to stop, fetch a glass or two, and start over.
This is something that I’ve mentioned this on these pages before in a variously-veiled fashion, but it’s something that’s worth repeating: silence is a great measure of really good music. To be more specific: it’s that heavy, booming silence after something’s finished that makes its presence felt in such a way that it’s an indication that the preceding sounds were so good that a vacuum has been left in their wake. And, weirdly, that vacuum can be just as enjoyable as what went before; sure, you can just put the thing straight back on again and relive it all over again, but sometimes it’s more pleasurable to just sit in the silence without thinking too hard about anything and just nestle in the aural afterglow of something a bit special. And, after all that, it should come as little surprise that this is one of those records.
This is a record that makes the notion of being a Record Collector a bit of a strange one. Our various and varied collections are not passive artifacts for us to hoard and catalogue (none of mine are, anyway – which is probably why I can’t find anything), they exist as a series of buttons and triggers to be pressed, pulled and even provoked in order to bring forth memories, feelings and sometimes tears. They remind us of times that are better off forgotten, but still we prod the hornet’s nest whenever we want to reminisce about something wonderful or even terrible. We can be so stupid.
So while Lepidopterists don’t rifle through their hoard to find a particular moth pinned to a piece of plywood that reminds them of an ex-girlfriend, and Philatelists don’t spend hours gazing at a stamp from a far-off country they’ve yet to visit because they miss their Dad, some of us (most of us?) find ways to feel alive in whatever way we can by listening to other people’s joy and pain. Benji is a prime example of this.
In the rush to get things out and into the wild blue yonder before everyone gets to do their end of year lists (which seems to have been done in October in some cases), it’s easy to overlook the gems that appear in December. Usually with good cause it has to be said, as much that appears during the festive period is a fearful pile of compilational drivel for the benefit of people who don’t buy CDs at any other time of the year, for the sole purpose of giving them to people who aren’t going to listen to them anyway. But (and it’s a large and lovely but) when there’s an exception to this rule, it’s only fair that everything else stops for a while to take notice.
I have to admit that this one arrived at a bit of a weird time. There was already lots going on both here and in the dreadful murk I have to put up with everywhere else (somewhat overwhelmingly so, it has to be said), I had loads of things half-finished and half-considered, and in all the confusion, this sort of fell off the table. Which is doing this record and these people a huge disservice, as falling off furniture (metaphorical or otherwise) is something that shouldn’t be happening at all. It’s also another one of those things that came along at an opportune time and is playing again now at an equally buoyant moment, reminding me of some of the things that drive me through this site (and elsewhere) in the finest possible manner…
The full title of Ghosts: A Collection Of A-Sides, B-Sides and an EP From The Recent Past wouldn’t fit in the box I have at the top of this page to enter such things, so the least I could do was embolden it at the earliest opportunity. And it’s a collection of which is as accurate as it is copiously-monickered, for it gathers a selection of early singles, plus what may or may not be some previously unreleased things from before their full debut album sprang forth. This dual CD edition gives you, the consumer, not just the original Ghosts compendium but a whole extra disc featuring another nine songs from the archives. And as it’s also a Thursday that sees this package hurtling through my letterbox, this post is being accompanied by a rather lovely wine. Long/possibly made-up words and many things in brackets to follow/precede aren’t so much a startling prediction as a worrying inevitability.