Jack White - Lazaretto
GET IN MY EARS!
Welcome to Don't Look Down.
It's probably best described as a "blog".
It is "written" by Nick Chaffey, and full of things he thinks you'll find interesting.
Any questions you have are probably answered here.
While watching this I screamed “YESS!!!” and “OH MY GOD!!!” several times, punched the air, and couldn’t stop smiling. Not sure what could make me happier. Not to mention that Letterman fucking LOVED it.
Future Islands killing it on live TV.
That’s right. It’s not “Get Lucky”. I can’t deny how damn good that song is or, come to think of it, every song on Random Access Memories is. "Touch", "Instant Crush" and "Motherboard" have all been big favourites for me this year, and the album has been far-and-away my favourite of the year.
But when it came to picking just one song from that album (a self-imposed rule for these lists), one thing became clear:
There’s “Contact”, and then there’s everything else.
I listen to a lot of music, and I’m lucky that I end up quite liking most of the stuff I hear. But this means that the likelihood of finding something that I have a really strong positive reaction to is almost as rare as a unicorn.
And “Contact” is a big, big, fucking unicorn of a song.
I mostly listen to music when I’m walking somewhere, at a leisurely pace. Whenever “Contact” comes on my iPod, it doesn’t matter what speed I’m actually walking at; I feel like I’m running.
My heartbeat quickens, my breathing becomes deeper, my footsteps get lighter. And all because this song features the greatest build to a crescendo I have ever heard.
It’d be wrong of me to pinpoint the moments that matter. You’ll know ‘em when you hear ‘em.
This song is like a trip into space, and it’s little wonder that people on YouTube have been pairing the music with footage of 2001 (but, mystifyingly, not Contact. I mean, clearly that’s the better reference, right? They have the same title and everything! (See that film)).
This is a song that has one simple trick up its sleeve, and its grand enough for that one manoeuvre to give me goosebumps. This is the musical equivalent of a heavenly tunnel bathed in multicoloured light.
You can practically hear the synthesizers that made the music having to catch their breath once the song finishes.
I hear this, and think I understand the emotions that people went through when Pink Floyd dropped Dark Side of the Moon back in 1973.
And we’re done! Thanks to everyone and anyone that’s read any of these posts over the past few weeks!
Are you aware with the term 'Christmas creep'? I’ve worked in a supermarket for the last year and a half, so I sure am.
I’d like to pitch a similar phenomenon I’ve started to observe within the world of music journalism: ‘Albums-of-the-year creep’.
As soon as December hits, every music website, blog and magazine seem to play a massive game of Chicken with each other when it comes to publishing their end-of-year lists. Some don’t even wait until November is done (check the date at the bottom).
I understand why this happens (these kind of articles are excellent for attracting huge numbers of pageviews and, by extension, ad revenue), but it begs the question: How can you have an end-of-year list out before the end of the year?
"It’s not our fault," they say, "How were we to know that both Beyoncé and Burial would release amazing records halfway through December?"
Well, you weren’t. But they did. And now you all look damn foolish.
I still haven’t heard the Beyoncé album yet (but if “XO” is anything to by, I’m looking forward to hearing it), but boy have I heard the Burial EP! And I’ll be damned if it doesn’t get on my list!
Each Burial release feels like a rite of passage for me. Whenever I’ve heard anything of his for the first time, it’s always at night.
To begin with, it was just a happy coincidence. I was introduced to Untrue while travelling back from a university interview in Bournemouth. It hadn’t gone particularly well, but the music on that album, paired with a walk home from the train station in the late evening, was the soothing experience I needed to stop worrying about it (in hindsight, the university wouldn’t have been a good fit for me anyway).
And so it went with his other releases. Kindred was the first thing I reached for when I found myself walking the streets of Hereford late one night. His Massive Attack remixes soundtracked my journey home from filming at Maida Vale. I discovered, to my delight, that the running time of the “Truant/Rough Sleeper” single is exactly as long as my walks to work at 5 in the morning.
And so, two weeks ago, I went into the Weston night, and listened to Rival Dealer for the first time. And it was amazing.
I walked past the shops on Whitecross Road, Clarence Park, the seafront, dozens of places I’ve known since I was a kid. These are places I’ve seen dozens of times in both the day and nighttime, but listening to this music made them feel new all over again.
Burial never makes any wild changes to his sound between each release, but he changes just enough that everything feels different. Rival Dealer is easily his most hopeful record yet (there’s that word again!), and the whole experience really hammered home just how good I’ve felt about my life in this past month, a far cry from how I was feeling previously.
I can see how the guy wants these songs to be "anti-bullying tunes that could maybe help someone to believe in themselves".
"Hiders" is just a small slice of what the EP has to offer (and I really recommend listening to it in full), but I keep coming back to the twinkling piano sample that forms the backbone of the piece. It keeps fading in and out, paired with Burial’s trademark pitched-down vocal samples.
Later, it appears to have morphed with a choir singing the same notes. A fast drumbeat kicks in and, once again, I’m reminded of M83.
But these songs cast a spell on me that Antony Gonzalez can only dream of (sorry Antony). They just fit into my ears like no other artist does.
"There’s a kid somewhere" the track begins. It might be me, talking a long walk. It could be you too.
If it’s a nice night, grab your earphones. Go somewhere. Be transported.
Winner of this year’s ‘Requires More Attention From Everyone' award
[Last year’s winner]
Ellery James Roberts
There’s this cliche that suggests that, as modern pop music has progressed, the lyrics have become harder to pick out, either through a lack of enunciation (as demonstrated hilariously by Steve Buscemi in a video series he made with Vampire Weekend), or by being buried by other instruments in the audio mix.
Take “Kerou’s Lament”, the debut single from ex-Wu Lyf frontman Ellery James Roberts. When the song exploded online in June, there was no lyric sheet (although fans have since transcribed their own). No one knew what exactly the song was talking about, but we knew one thing: This guy was fired up.
In a way, it almost didn’t matter. Despite the layers of fuzz masking the actual words being sung, the rage and anger of the delivery still comes through. You could easily project your own frustrations back onto the song, and allow it to be your own personal stress outlet.
Maybe that was just me. I mentioned a similar thing in the Drake post, so perhaps that was just my thing this year.
The final verse, however, was clear as crystal:
To the powers of old
To the powers that be
You fucked up this world
But you won’t fuck with me
Preach. If there’s one theme that makes me immediately fall in love with a song, it’s youthful defiance in the face of the forces that rule the world (or even just the mainstream music industry). Punk as fuck.
And personally, I can’t think of a better soundtrack to ring in the new year. Get clicking on that “Download” link!
Have a good 2014! I’ll see you tomorrow for the penultimate post.
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
In a year where Josh Homme decided to tell us how he really felt, Nick Cave also felt that it was time to turn down the volume. A lot.
Push the Sky Away is the quietest record he and the Bad Seeds have ever released. It’s also, maybe because of the lowered sounds, one of their best.
I can’t say how long the band will stick with this more subdued sound, but their performance at Glastonbury this year proved it works just as well in a live setting as a studio one, even if their performance of “Jubilee Street” was a little more hard-rockin’ than the version I’ve posted here.
I recommend listening to both versions, if only to see first-hand how great songs can work in different ways in different environments.
"Jubilee Street" is, without a doubt in my mind, one of the greatest songs Cave and Co. have ever written. It’s quiet, and it swirls rather than pounds. Cave still broods as well as he always has, but there’s a sadness in his delivery I haven’t heard since The Boatman’s Call.
In the live version, the instruments get louder with each passing of the riff. In the studio version, the music feels like it gets deeper.
Warren Ellis’s violin has never sounded better, and if the band are looking to keep things low-key for the next couple of albums, you’ll find no argument with me.
The Vampyre of Time and Memory
Queens of the Stone Age
Of all the artists and musicians appearing on my list this year, I wasn’t expecting that it would be QOTSA’s Josh Homme that was in most need of a hug.
And even on …Like Clockwork, “The Vampyre of Time and Memory” is a outlier. Nestled in among songs about divine fire and wanting extra limbs is the first song (to my knowledge) where Josh gets properly introspective and existential. This track appears to be a product of the long, troubled road the band embarked on making this record.
That linked article also features Homme using The Beatles’ "Let It Be" as a mantra for the production. This is especially fitting when, on repeated lessons, I reckon “Vampyre…” could have easily slotted into the tracklisting of Abbey Road without much fuss (somewhere around "I Want You (She’s So Heavy)", natch). Coming from a person who regards that album to be perhaps the best ever made, that’s a massive compliment!
This song just blindsided me in so many ways. I never expected to hear these guys write a ballad, let alone one as good as this. I didn’t expect Josh would ever play the piano in such an earnest way, considering how (wonderfully) creepily he’s played it in the past.
Most of all, I never imagined Josh Homme would have the same fears and feelings of isolation that the rest of us do. He’s always seemed like the kind of guy who could brush that stuff off, you know?
But he’s just as human as the rest of us. Give him a hug if you see him.
Winner of this year’s ‘Aww, C’Mere!’ award
The simplest drumbeat you can imagine.
The drone that happens from 1:38 to 2:53.
A slow wind down.
Winner of this year’s ‘Musical Sorcery’ award
[Last year’s winner]
Hold On, We're Going Home
I still don’t have a solid opinion on Drake. While he’s had a hand in some wonderful work over the past couple of years, he still throws out the old stinker. "Started From the Bottom" (as I mentioned in my Run the Jewels post), was one of the worst songs I heard all year.
And from the same album, you have “Hold On, We’re Going Home”, which was one of the best songs I heard this year.
In a way, Drake is almost the perfect pop music artist. Sometimes he doesn’t try, and is rubbish. Sometimes he does, and it’s pretty neat. Either way, he makes money. Pop music in a nutshell!
Me, I prefer it when songwriters do make an effort. My musical taste these days is such that I’m not really bothered by songs that don’t leave an impact on me, but if a song does resonate with me, I’m likely to remember it down the line.
(Although, seeing as "Wrecking Ball" was also one of my favourite songs of the year, the songs that resonate with me might have varied mileage with you.)
All of which brings us back to "Hold On, We’re Going Home". In a year where one of the biggest-selling singles was telling women "I know you want it", it was incredibly refreshing to hear a counter-argument in “you’re a good girl, and you know it”. Rather than badgering a lady into having sex, Drake just lets things slowly unwind through a mutual respect. The song is a smoky, end-of-an-evening trip through a night club, much like "PrimeTime" was earlier in this list.
The lyrics leave a lot to the imagination of the listener, which is always a plus for pop songs in this vein. The less information we have, the more we can attribute our own memories and dreams to the story. That’s how you get a song to resonate in the popular consciousness. You allow it to mean different things to different people.
So, naturally, Drake went on to completely ruin that aspect of the song when it came to making the music video, casting himself in a Scarface fantasy in which he rescues a damsel-in-distress wearing nothing but her underwear.
But that’s Drake for me. I have to have him both ways. And so long as I get the good side, I can deal with the bad.