Five Songs that are Pretty

Sunn O))) & Boris – The Sinking Belle (Blue Sheep)

Altar (Southern Lord 2006)

When Altar, the fully collaborative meeting of Sunn O))) and Boris, was announced, it was sort of implied that it was sound like both bands combined into one. So then, it comes out and there’s this song, and holy fucking crap people, it’s an actual bona-fide song, with a reasonably traditional structure and instrumentation, topped off with the beautifully restrained vocals of Jesse Sykes.

This is pretty much the last thing you would have expected from either band, and yet here it is, and it’s probably the best thing on the album. There’s piano, clean guitars, tentative cymbals and not a hint of Sunn O)))’s trademark guitar doom drone/droom dome/gloom moan, nor Boris’ hyper-fuzz psycho punk/proto drunk/platypus crunk.

Sackville – This Machine

Natural Life (Madrona Records 2001)

I heard this on a 2004 Constellation Records compilation, Song of the SIlent Land, which was notable because almost all of its tracks were unavailable anywhere else. This song was categorised as unreleased, although in fact it was released on CDR as the band’s final statement before vanishing.

Acoustic guitar and voice are the central focus of the track, but a violin drops in for some beautiful country fiddlin’ that in the end envelops the entire song in a reverberation. The words are not so much sung as spoken, with desolate evocative imagery such as “We found out where the lie begins, saw where the planes come in, crashing down at a 100,000 knots and landing on their backs…” It’s the kind of song that I was talking about in an earlier post, with a stripped-down sound, not the greatest singer in the world, not the most interesting parts, but it sounds honest and true and beautiful.

Anathema – Electricity

A Natural Disaster (Music For Nations 2003)

Anathema apparently used to be a death/doom band. But I don’t know because this is the only album I have. They apparently left their heavy origins and transformed themselves into a kind of atmospheric rock in a similar vein to Radiohead or Porcupine Tree. Indeed I saw them live supporting Porcupine Tree once.

So this is a song off an album, that’s like, piano and guitars and dynamically shifts from a soft whisper to, uh, a gentle cough. Anyway, it’s simple and repetative, but lushly produced, with a strong arrangement.

If it sounds like I’m being a little dismissive, I’m not, I just kind of don’t know what else to say because I realised I’m just describing the songs. Maybe I’ll try not and do that for the next one…

The Stares – 1 2 3

Spine to Sea (Mimicry Records 2005)

I mentioned The Stares in a post a few days ago. Perhaps I didn’t mention that all the members of The Stares are sexy superheroes. You’ve got Captain Gorgeous on bass, The Oscillating Pink Bittern on lute and atonal barbecues, the Incredible Granite Moron on steel drums and forceful jacket flapping, Johnny L. Splosive on tuba and last but most certainly not least, the sex-a-licious Lady Miranda Boobington on vocals and cheesegrater. Three days ago they saved the city of Seattle from certain doom by defeating the evil Doctor Afmimity Eckinsole and his partner in crime, the Auburn Gargoyle, preventing them from re-animating the cryogenically frozen corpses of UK pop sensations S-Club 7 in a bid to destabilise all of western civilisation in one fell swoop.

Yeah, forget all that…

This is a gorgeous melody, gorgeously produced by Randall Dunn, performed by The Stares, arranged in collaboration with the marvellous Eyvind Kang. A rich string section, twangy guitars, a piano, gentle drumming, a woman singing who doesn’t sound like a 10 year old (looking at you, ALL POPULAR FEMALE SINGERS OF THE PAST FIVE YEARS)… This song has it all, or at least all the good bits of it all, all the bits it needs to seduce me into a warm sense of bliss.

Caravan – Winter Wine

In the Land of Grey and Pink (Deram 1971)

The circumstances in which I discovered this band, particularly this album, are deeply personal and the extent to which this music affected me cannot be overstated.

Caravan are an oft-forgotten band who were hugely important in the Canterbury Scene, a strange subset of English progressive rock from Kent, with folksier influences than the bigger prog bands. Their album In the Land of Grey and Pink is commonly regarded as their best, and you know what? It is. Its pink Tolkein-esque cover suggests a whimsical lightness and the music contained within smells delightfully English.

Anyway, Winter Wine is written and sung by bassist Richard Sinclair, whom I saw perform this and several other Caravan classics during an acoustic set with saxophonist/flautist Theo Travis in a tent on Sunday at the Canterbury Fayre 2003. It’s whimsical, and light, and it smells English. Lyrically poetic and melodically lyrical and absurdly incalculable and preposterously wondrous… This is quite simply one of my all-time favourite songs from one of my all-time favourite albums.

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