Oh it’s been a while, but for those of you that remember far enough back this series might be familiar. I’m bringing it back just because I feel like it. Cool? Cool.
For those now reading who have no idea what this is, simply put, I pick five songs, in no particular order, that I deem to be related by theme, by name, or by nothing more than whatever whim I am currently subject to. You can then enjoy these songs if you like. It’s like a short mixtape of where my head is at.
The theme this time is pretty loose, it’s just songs that I find sweet – but exactly the right level of sweetness without being sickly. That is, they are warm and friendly and intimate, and have a particular resonance for one reason or another.
Oh, and all the artists’ names begin with S.
Without further ado, on with the picks!
Sackville – Gold Dust
As far as choices for this go, this is probably the most obscure. Not obscure for the sake of being obscure mind you, it’s just a song I genuinely love by a band that no longer exists, and few people have heard of. But they should have, because they’re great.
So it’s sort of folky, a little bit country – but an old-school home-spun take on country, none of your contemporary commercial hyper-patriotic crap. Humbly finger-picked and percussively strummed guitars drive the song along at a brisk pace, joined by a fiddle playing almost tremolo at times. Bowed strings swell into a background drone as the song continues. The absence of traditional percussion,the intimately recorded vocals and vague lyrics, create a sense of aching desolation which lingers after the song comes to a halt.
The Stares – Eclipse of the Sunne
The Stares are a criminally underrated band whose warm and densely layered pop writing yearns to be heard. This is a song that has an interesting structure without violating the conventions of traditional song-writing.
Led by the band’s male songwriter Drew Whittemore, this tune starts out slow and steady. Piano and guitar and strings courtesy of the great Eyvind Kang. It’s sweet enough as it is, but it really gets interesting in the last couple of minutes when Angie Benintendi joins in for a coda of pulsing drums, strings, keys and a swirling left-channel guitar solo.
Simon & Garfunkel – Punky’s Dilemma
This one is maybe not the obvious S&G choice. But for my money, it’s a hidden gem. This one is sweet but silly. It’s a song that’s pretty hard not to break a smile at.
Finger clicks, and a positively flippant bassline provide the context for a song of almost no serious intent whatsoever. Paul Simon shows his talent for child-like wordplay here, describing, among other things, the experience of being both a Kellogg’s Corn Flake and an English Muffin, leading to one of the weirdest line from a popular record ever “I’m a Citizens for Boysenberry Jam fan.” I’ve never tasted boysenberry jam, or even knowingly eaten a boysenberry, but I desperately yearn to join such an organisation. Well okay, maybe not, but still. I love it.
Sharon Van Etten – I’m Wrong
Is this cheating because it’s her first name that begins with an S? Well I don’t really care. Sorry. I discovered Sharon Van Etten pretty recently thanks to my friend Jeremy. I’m notoriously hard to recommend music to. But Miss Van Etten took me by surprise.
The singer-songwriter thing is hard to get right for me, especially those of the feminine persuasion. In recent years there’s a tendency towards either a child-like voice (Joanna Newsom) or else a bombastic soul singer kind of thing (Adele). I tend to prefer a huskier, breathier voice like say Norah Jones, Imogen Heap, or indeed Sharon Van Etten. Even then the song-writing and arrangements really need to be on the money. So it helps SVE has Aaron Dessner on board as producer on her latest record, because I happen to dig his whole shtick.
This song is for my money one of the most interesting musical arrangements on her latest album. it features droning bowed and ebowed guitars, in fact a veritable swamp of background drones. Little bells tinkle across the stereo spectrum, while the song swells into a spectacular wall of noise that quite miraculously manages not to obscure that voice. Love the lyrics too. The version she performs live with her current band is about twice as long, and almost twice as droney to boot. Love it.
Siskiyou – Hold It In
I love Siskiyou, they present exactly the right combination of frailty and warmth that tickles the pleasure centre of my brain. They are a band who make me smile, and stare into the distance and sigh. This song is a prime example of what they do. Also this particular song means a lot to me lyrically, mostly due to the sheer coincidence of a name in the song happens to be the name of a person in my life.
Colin Huebert’s voice is soft here, almost whispering, as he slowly but precisely strums his guitar, joined by banjo, upright bass, and a what sounds to me like a melodica or a harmonium. It’s a recording which sounds like the room in which it was recorded. Everything is quiet and soft, but woody and warm and alive and present. I’m not sure who the person in the song is to the singer, but what can I say – I’m a sap and these things get to me a little bit.