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…
Frankly, it’s been far too nice to be faffing about indoors listening to stuff and then scribbling about it when I could be outside listening to stuff and then forgetting to write about it when I come back inside. That’s the joy of Outside though, and given the forecast for the next few days, I’m glad I made the most of it. So now that I’m back in from the sunshine, and shortly before I follow my Dad’s old lead of unplugging everything before a storm so the lightning doesn’t get in, I’d better get a shift on. And what better way of doing so than this, a cheerfully strange slab of English Summertime that further exposes me for the idiot that I am for basically not reading the instructions.
Yeah, I know I’m either slightly late or incredibly early with this, but it’s fairly pertinent to be a-writing about this EP in the middle of January; for one thing there is a large supermarket chain who have already started hoovering up money for next year (by selling chocolate Easter Bunnies on Boxing Day and who are now taking orders for 2013 Christmas Turkeys), for another thing I don’t think that the word Christmas features at all in the four attached tracks.
Mostly though, it’s because (and if you are acquainted, however remotely connected, to anyone from Great Britain today, you will not have failed to have been pummelled into submission by this revelation) that it’s snowing a bit over here today. There’s probably other stuff going on in the world at the moment, but that all pales into insignificance at the UK’s Snowmageddon that has meant that some people were a bit late for work this morning (because they didn’t notice yesterday that it was going to snow despite all the news yesterday being all about it going to snow a bit today, and therefore didn’t get up a bit earlier). Anyway, it makes for a much lovelier setting for this short collection than the grey dampness that Christmas actually was this year. So, armed with lovely cold visuals and the last part of a bottle of Baileys that I forgot I still owned, it’d be rude not to lose oneself in this wintry aural treat.
When I first started to do these weekend asides around this time two years ago, I had this particular record in mind. Grand Procrastinator that I am though, I never got round to doing anything about it and it wasn’t until last week that I remembered what I was going to do.
In the previous Sunday Whatever, I highlighted a track from Echo and the Bunnymen’s Porcupine, mentioning that the Liverpool band’s finest album wasn’t a “proper” album by my own strict definition. This is, by some margin, the Bunnymen’s finest forty minutes and one of not that many albums in my collection that I can say – without pause for thought – is utterly essential.
We in Great Britain are rubbish at weather to a ridiculous degree. One of the most boring and temperate climates in the world, and the country goes into meltdown at the first sign of anything slightly different. I use the term “meltdown” in its loosest sense of course, as that would imply that something would have had to have been frozen in the first place, which of course it hardly ever is.
Our usual trick is to employ as many different SI units when discussing the various slight ups and downs in our climate: warmth is spoken of in Farenheit (“ooh, it’s in the low 70s!”), chills in Celsius (“-1, I’ll never get to work”) and depths of precipitation in the metric system when if anyone tried to apply this to fruit and veg there’d be a revolution in local newspapers the length and breadth of the country (in miles, naturally).
But for all out crap flatlining weather (or maybe because of it), snow remains magical. Maybe it’s because it so rarely hits here in any decent amount, maybe because it makes everything look lovely until it goes all brown and slushy, maybe it’s the way that it cushions sound so that when you wake up in the morning you just know it’s snowed by the difference in the silence. Or maybe because I remember almost all my childhood birthdays being spent playing in the stuff. It’s ace, it’s fluffy and I have a bottle of vodka in the garden right now getting naturally cooled and lightly dusted in this year’s apparent chaos (ie, it’s snowing a little bit). And at last, I have the ideal atmosphere in which to talk about this record.
The first record of 2012 is here at last! Well, the first one I’ve got round to buying, anyway. I’ve been looking forward to this one for a while after buying their (his?) debut EP on a whim at the end of last summer and really enjoying its baffling stylistic multi-direction, each song suggesting a different direction that this project could embark upon. Taking on board the spirits of Peter Gabriel, Elbow, Bon Iver and a healthy dose of traditional (and not-so-traditional) folk elements, the songs on that EP were elements that all fitted in with each other whilst managing to distance themselves musically. The title of this first full-lengther would suggest more of the same, Black Light suggesting a harmonious oxymoron.
So with that in mind, it’s actually rather nice (and somewhat rare) to be able to buy a record knowing that I’m almost certain to like it but without actually having much of a clue about what it is I’m actually going to be liking…
I do like singles. Honestly. It’s just that they’re an absolute sod for me to go on about on here due to the nature of how I do things around here, which is basically
Put record on
Stop when record finishes
Check spelling (not necessarily in 100% of cases)
Check sense made (this one might actually be a massive lie)
It’s a system that has served me fairly well for a year and a half, and I’m not sure if I can do it any other way (especially the Wine bit, I insist upon that), as if I’m not listening to something then it’s hard to put into words what I feel about it. Short records mean either lots of repetition (which can wear down the appeal of them) or very fast typing (which is a bit of a strain on both fingers). Nevertheless, I’m always willing to have a go, albeit under the guise of a very long preamble to get the wordcount up before I actually start…
This one should really be entitled “what I dun on me Summer Holidays”, given that this album is released in the aftermath of one of the strangest and most involving marketing campaigns that I can remember. Eschewing the usual “hello, buy my new thing” standard method of selling stuff, Thomas Morgan Dolby Robertson assembled a crack team of writers, artists and game designers to come up with a mysterious world set in an alternate, dystopian reality where nobody knew what was going on, and players around the world were divided into 9 Tribes on three continents and given instructions to trade, ally, invent, scheme and generally caper our way to the centre of the map in order to find the Floating City, with clues hidden in (and on) EPs and an iPhone game as if that wasn’t enough to start with.
Of course it all got a bit competitive, and probably somewhat predictably given a couple of the tasks we were set along the way (which involved much creative writing, editing and opinionating well into the tiny wee hours during a couple of weekends/schoolnights), it all went a bit mad. Strops were thrown, arguments were fermented and (most importantly) friendships were cemented during a particularly memorable night where a character’s trial went completely and spectacularly mad and the players got very angry indeed. Oddly enough, this added to the game immeasurably, bringing people together first in a sense of outrage, closely followed by general militant bemusement. And nobody did militant bemusement quite like the mostly-British (let’s see if I get this right) Muluberry ClubBloc Seaboard, a coming-together of several of the game’s tribes who joined forces for that most noble of reasons, “well, it seemed like a good idea at the time”.
This isn’t the first time I’ve done something on a record that’s twenty years old, and such is the amount of stuff from that period that shaped the way that I listen to music even now, it probably won’t be the last. Where this one is largely unique is in the amount of revisionist hyperbole from ‘serious’ newspaper articles in publications who want to be seen to be a bit hip but all who have seemed to have copied from the same wikipedia article and then embellished it with things that they heard once from blokes in pubs.
It’s weird seeing so many articles about this album when there are so many other albums from that same period (and a few years earlier) that anyone could pick up on and say “this is what changed everything”. Change didn’t come (1990 pun intended!) straight away, Nevermind was at the end of a chain of so many great records from some brilliant bands that every city’s underground clubs and radio stations were taking to their hearts (and ‘underground’ at that time really meant it), and it was this that kicked an already-open door off its hinges. This is not to take anything away from the band or the album, as it was something truly beautiful, but there were already plenty of people waiting for this, despite the “from out of nowhere” claims in hindsight. What Nevermind did do though, was to clear out all the clichés from what was accepted as mainstream entertainment, followed by inadvertently creating a whole new set for an entire media industry to exploit.
Band names are curious things. They can define a group’s soul, sound and attitude without even having to play a note. Chosen wisely, they can draw people to shows and records by sheer virtue of an awesome or mysterious moniker.
Or they can pick a really rubbish name like The Beatles and become the biggest combo in the world anyway.
An obstacle that bands face nowadays of course is that they’re operating in a market where it’s becoming harder to both come up with something arresting and original as well as not being awful. Duplication and litigation is not uncommon, even among the larger bands (both Nirvana and the Screaming Trees have doppelgangers, and Verve had to add a “The” to avoid certain legal doings). So it’s probably not surprising to see curious little trends bubbling on the surface with regard to naming. Last year, it was Bees. This year, it’s Whales. Almost certainly coincidence but a nice one nonetheless, and it’s surely only a matter of time before the Whaley Bees stun us all with their groundbreaking debut. Or something.
Anyway, all this ponderous preamble means nothing when ultimately it’s what they come up with that matters. This debut album from yet another fine band from Seattle wonderfully brings to mind several past summers, including the one we had here just last week…