Track of the week : John Cale & Brian Eno – Spinning Away

This week’s track of the week is by no means a new song, but it’s new to me at least. I had no idea that back in 1990 John Cale & Brian Eno had released an album together, but if I had, given their musical history, I would have expected it to be at the experimental, avant-garde end of the spectrum.

In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Lush, melodic, even poppy, it’s an absolutely gorgeous record. I’d recommend seeking out the entire album, but why not start with ‘Spinning Away’ which amongst its’ myriad charms has strings to die for.

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90 songs of my Nineties youth : Belly – Feed The Tree

To catch up on what 90 songs of my Nineties youth is all about, read my intro to this series. This week, Belly’s Feed The Tree

The Song

Tanya Donelly was already an indie hero before my friends and I had any interest in indie music, having been in both Throwing Muses and Breeders. Belly, however, were her own creation, lone frontwoman for the first time, no longer in the shadow of Kim Deal or Kristen Hersh. Belly was also our introduction to her music, in particular ‘Feed The Tree’.

I first heard the song on a cassette compilation of mainly American indie and alt-rock groups. It immediately stood out amongst the grungier bands that dominated the era. Its’ influences seemed to be the shimmering, melodic indie bands of the 1980s, rather than the shouty quiet/loud/quiet dynamics of their contemporaries.

What stood out most of all was Donelly’s voice. Melodic and sweet but also powerful with a raspy edge, I’ve still not heard anything like it in all the years’ since. When she belted “I know all this and more” in the bridge, it was impossible not to pay attention, and she swiftly became a favourite amongst us indie kids of the time.

Does it still sound good today?

It does indeed. Whilst you can tell it’s from the nineties, as much from the production as anything else, it never sounded totally of its’ time, so it hasn’t really dated. The two line chorus “Take your hat off boy when you’re talking to me, and be there when I feed the tree” sounds as perfect as it ever did. Belly are not a band especially well remembered by music history, but ‘Feed The Tree’ stands as one of the best songs of the early nineties, and is far from Belly’s only great song.

What happened next?

Belly only lasted a couple of years after the release of ‘Feed The Tree’, but Tanya Donelly has continued a long and fruitful solo career, starting with songs like ‘The Bright Light’ that were not entirely dissimilar to Belly, but gradually progressing to a mellower sound over the course of her career. Having been lucky enough to see her live just over a year ago, I can confirm that the voice is as great as ever, and we even got the odd Belly song thrown into the mix for old time’s sake.

Tracks of the year 2015

There were so many great songs to choose from in 2015, so to narrow it down to 11 I had to ask myself, which were the songs I listened to on repeat throughout the year? Even then, I was only able to narrow it down to 11 rather than the more traditional ten. So, here goes:

11. De Lux – Oh Man the Future

De Lux were our new band of the month back in September, but this was always my favourite song of theirs by far. As compelling and catchy as a paranoid rant about the future can be.

10. Leftfield and Sleaford Mods – Head and Shoulders

Sleaford Mods were perhaps the most divisive band of the year, as became apparent when a friend mentioned this track on Facebook. The split was pretty even between those who thought it was the worst thing they’d ever heard, and those who love it. I wasn’t sure at first, but grew to love it, with Leftield’s bassy electronic rumblings proving a perfect match for Sleaford Mods’ surrealist, angry ranting.

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Robert Wyatt – Shipbuilding

On a Good Day has been posting a song a day on Tumblr, and has now reached day 100 (do follow if you’re a tumblrer). To celebrate, I thought I would choose one of my all time favourite songs for track of the week.

Shipbuilding was written by Elvis Costello and Clive Langer during the Falklands War, about the impact of the war in the traditional shipbuilding areas of the UK. Whilst returning prosperity (briefly) to those areas, it also meant sending their children to fight and possibly die for their country. Whilst this sounds like dry subject matter for a song, it manages to combine the political and the personal in a profound and beautiful manner. Lyrically, to me, it is one of the finest songs ever written.

The first version I head was by Suede, recorded back in the mid 1990s for the Help album for Warchild. This was a charity compilation that was recorded, released and topped the album chart in less than a week, in the days when that meant physically producing and distributing hundreds of thousands of CDs. It featured most of the big names of the era, Oasis, Blur, Radiohead and so on, but Suede’s contribution always stood out even then.

Shipbuilding has been recorded by many others, from Costello himself, to Graham Coxon, to Tasmin Archer, but it is the Robert Wyatt version that I love the most by far. Where others bellow, Wyatt’s voice is fragile, the music slow and sparse, imbuing the song with a deep sadness. Not to everyone’s taste I’m sure, but I hope some of you love it as much as I do.

A song to start your week : Aris San – Dam Dam

This week’s song to start your week comes from Greece via 1970s Israel. Not for any topical reasons, I hasten to add, just because it’s a great record, which I discovered on a Fortuna Records mix of middle-eastern music.

This one always cheers me up (which I need today on my first day back in work after a week off). I occasionally find myself lamenting that I rarely find music unlike anything I’ve ever heard before, but when I hear this it reminds me there is a whole world of music out there I know nothing about. 90% of my record collection is from Western Europe and North America, and I have only really dipped my toes into pre-punk era music so I have plenty more to discover.