Wednesday 29 October 2008

The Uncoolness Continues: Inspiro-prog

Hell, Heavy Soil's current theme (Songs It's Not Particularly Cool To Like) is fucking killing me. Damn it, it's a recipe for evenings suffused with nostalgic tears.

This in mind, I give you:

This song fucking owns. I don't care who disagrees. Flutes, a cor anglais, brass section fanfares ... Gongs and strings aplenty ... Then some quasi-flamenco guitar and vibraphone (?) action. Guitar solo in parallel thirds at around 3.20. It's all here, my friends.

Imagine a young Billicatons, if you will, absolutely entranced by this. Never mind the Rolling Stones, Sex Pistols, Doors or Nirvana ... Heck, it was songs like this that made me yearn to play guitar, as I sat in the back-seat of the car, my childish breath misting the window.

(Don't cry for me: I'm already dead.)

Anyhow, listen to this song. Listen to it, I beg of ye, with an open mind. Luxuriate in the progness of it all. And that lovely, melancholic first-inversion-based piano chord sequences. Luscious.

Monday 27 October 2008

Free Eels with strings. And caps lock.

Eels fans are already spoilt for rarities, thanks to the release of Useless Trinkets, earlier this year (er ... hmm ... strictly speaking, though, they ain't all that 'rare', are they, once they've been included on a major release compilation?).

Now, though, they have the chance to get their probably-not-all-that-grubby mitts on yet more music.

A 'DELUXE NUMBERED & SIGNED 4 LP EDITION - LIMITED TO 2500' of the lovely Blinking Lights and Other Revelations ships tomorrow, according to the band website.

(Caps lock, eh? Who doesn't love it?)

So, this release consists of Blinking Lights... reproduced on 3 LPs, plus (on the fourth) an 'exclusive 17 track live album, MANCHESTER 2005'.

Right now, you can download four free mp3s taken from this live collection – featuring some nice strings. Hurry, though, won't you? Apparently, these tracks are only available until Tuesday (tomorrow).

Here's the link to the free Eels mp3s. Once you've recovered from the colour scheme and 'interesting' font choices, look for the beigeish box on the lower left.

For the lazy or cautious, though, here's Heavy Soil's pick of the four:

Video sucks

Perhaps, dear Soiler, you will remember an earlier post about Ultralash's World of Suck. Fucked-up, poker-faced Sinead O'Connor, we called it.

Well, this very morning I received an email from Karry Walker (= Ultralash) with a link to her new video for the song. Filmed 'via cellphone camera'.

Take a looky.

If this piques your interest (and I hope it does), check out my review of Ultralash's album Foamy Lather – which I highly recommend.

The album, I mean.

(... Oh, what the hell ... Yeh, I recommend the review, too.)

This is an artist who is boldly experimental, uncontrived, idiosyncratic. Heavy Soil very much digs the homemade vibe that permeates her work (the above video very much included).

And, yes, soil can dig as well as be dug, thank you very much.

Thursday 23 October 2008

Your Latest Trick

Anyone who has seen the fantastic (fantastic, I tell you!) finale to the second season of The West Wing will have encountered ample evidence of the following fact:

They may not be cool, but Dire Straits fucking hit the button.

'Brothers In Arms' is the obvious song – and I'm pretty tempted to hunt down a YouTube clip of that aforementioned West Wing sequence. But I won't. I'd hate to spoil it for those of you yet to watch the episode in question.

Instead, I nominate another Dire Straits carjourney companion of old: 'Your Latest Trick'. Here's the music from YouTube – or you can listen to the song on

Dig that sax.

Oh how clever I thought these lyrics were, when I used to listen to this song on my walkman. That stunning wordplay '12 keys hanging off of my chain' ... Ah! Such things were the meat and drink of the young Billicatons.

Tuesday 21 October 2008

Don't Be Embarrassed

With a deft manipulation of her rudder, the good ship Heavy Soil heads into tempestuous waters with a new theme:

Songs It May Not Be Particularly Cool To Like

This theme, my friends, is screaming out for your comments. Heck, your suggestions.

What are the songs you hate to love? The songs that would make the most tolerant indie-kid (what do you mean, "Oxymoron"?) sneer? The songs that went out and never came back – but for whose loss you secretly weep while others celebrate?

Heavy Soil wants to know. Comments, please, ladies and gentlemen!

As grease to lubricate the cogs of your mind, here's our first pick. 

Dig that lipsynch and the fact that, disturbingly, some of these guys look pretty close to the fashionistas of the moment (drummer and keyboard guy particularly) ... But the best still in store: 2.18.

I fucking love this song. It could make me cry, with its nostalgia-rich overtones of childhood car journeys.

And I bet Fieldvole will dig the video, pyrophiliac bibliothequarian that she is. So this one's for her.

Monday 20 October 2008

Unplugged Hole

To wind up the ramshackle theme, let's take someone to whom the aforementioned adjective (relative to some of the things she's been called) is practically a compliment: Courtney Love.

Rebecca was kind enough to send me a link to the video embedded below. As she points out, Ms Love screams pretty impressively in this'n (compared to Cobain, her screaming is haphazard, often somewhat weak; but not here). She also looks a good deal better pre-plastic (or, at least, pre-quite-so-much-plastic – I know not which).

Bear with the song beyond the first minute or two, because it's a slow builder.

What's the verdict, O Heavy Soilers?

Thursday 16 October 2008

Loosening the Bowels of the Earth

Gratuitous headline? Gratuitous blog.

When Heavy Soil assumed its current form, those distant – um – weeks ago, it set out its manifesto thus:
Each weekday (Monday to Friday), [Heavy Soil will provide] one recommended song or piece of music, a line or two about why I think it's interesting – and, godwilling, a link to somewhere you can listen to it., most probably.
And that's more or less what's been happening.

But here's the rub, dear Soiler: Heavy Soil does not uncover great new songs at a rate of 5 per week. The vast majority of new music to which Heavy Soil listens, indeed, is not to Heavy Soil's (highly refined) taste.

See the problem?

We are churning through good songs at a faster pace than we are discovering new ones. In business terms, I guess, this would be called an unsustainable practice. To spin a metaphor: Heavy Soil is eating into its savings. Living above its means. Exceeding its income.

Some day (new paragraph, new metaphor), Heavy Soil's iTunes pasture (currently so fertile) will be rendered barren by overfarming.

You get the picture

(You do get the picture, don't you? Please say yes. Don't make me use another metaphor.)

So, henceforth, Heavy Soil will ease off somewhat with regard to the frequency of songs of the day.

The changes

Don't cry, little one; don't cry. For the changes will, we hope, be relatively painless:
  • Posts will deviate from their one-per-weekday schedule. Instead, we'll post two or three songs of the day per week
  • Themes will run as long as they have mileage, rather than being limited or stretched to five days each

Of course, just as soon as Heavy Soil grows rich enough to retire from its day job and spend the days carrying out armchair A&R, things'll be different.

Wednesday 15 October 2008

Grizzly Bear covers dead relative

Most of Grizzly Bear's album Yellow House was recorded in the (ramshackle) house of vocalist Ed Droste. Although the arrangements are fairly complex, and production is at times painstaking, it is still very much imbued with the feel of that house. So the album title is fitting.

Today's song of the day – Marla (download mp3 via YouSendIt) – is particularly interesting, having been written not by the band, but by Droste's great aunt – a "failed musician that [died] at an early age in the 1940s".

I'm not sure how many other bands have covered songs by deceased great aunts. Any offers?

Anyhow, this is rather a lovely, atmospheric, wearily melancholic song.

Listen to the creaks of the piano stool – and the woolly-yet-gongy tones of a damp old piano. There's a very nice subtle string arrangement, and all the ambient touches and subtly-mixed effects and sounds that are actually so hard to capture.

Beautiful shivery strings at 2.17 (and the way in which the figure is echoed by the piano subsequently).

Tuesday 14 October 2008

Sombre Quirkiness From Scout Niblett

Miss Scout Niblett has deliberately (or at least, I assume it's deliberate) cultivated an aesthetic that exemplifies this week's theme (which is ramshackle, in case you weren't paying attention).

Ropey tuning, thunkingly misfingered guitar chords, lazy femCobainish vocals and sparse arrangements.

Today's song of the day, then, is Scout Niblett's So Much Love To Do (download mp3 via YouSendIt), from her 2001 album Sweet Heart Fever.

If the song doesn't charm you with its title alone, perhaps you'll fall for the key changes during the splendid "It's coming after me / So I'm coming after you" phrases, and the subsequent (unrepentant) dominant seventh chord.

The fact, really, that the whole song sounds a little like something that a beginner guitarist is strumming her way through from one of those 'teach yourself guitar' books. In a good way, dash it all.

The interesting thing about Scout Niblett is that, in someone else's hands, this song performed thus would sound like a joke. She manages consistently to strike the oh-so-delicate balance between 'quirky' and sombre. Nice triangulation, ma'am.

Monday 13 October 2008

Kristin Hersh Sticks It To The Man

Kristin Hersh has been taking her engagingly perforated voice and nuanced guitar picking around fans' houses.

Eschewing the usual club touring (in an effort to "go back in musical time to before there was a music industry"), Hersh has taken a kick at the already tumbledown fourth wall separating performers from fans.

And her reasoning for doing so seems pretty sound to me:
"Normal people like music ... They don't need big corporations to tell them what music they like and they also don't need to jeopardize tomorrow's work day to drink expensive-cheap beer in the middle of the night in a rock club if that isn't their thing. They still like music."
Heavy Soil could scarcely agree more. The whole of Kristin's blog post is worth reading. And the video below – a performance of Deep Wilson "in Tom's backyard" – is today's song of the day.

As someone has commented, the nocturnal sounds combine perfectly with the music. It's a pity the sound clips when she goes loud ... But how atmospheric.

Credit Crunch Soundtrack - the Roundup

So, last week's posts chimed dolorously to the tune of the Global Financial Crisis. They were:
And what a week it's been, eh? Do you feel crunched, yet?

The new week's theme

Well, so far, we've had an instrument and we've had an event. This time round, Heavy Soil is employing the services of an adjective ... This week's theme, then, will be ramshackle.

Saturday 11 October 2008

Sunset Rubdown: 21st century troubadours

It doesn't take a conceptual leap of impenetrable genius to observe the connection between recent fiscal events and the legend of King Midas – whose wish that all he touched should turn to gold ultimately came back and kicked him up the arse (that's a direct translation from the Ancient Greek, you realise?).

Well, Friday's (ahem) song of the day is Sunset Rubdown's Magic v Midas (download mp3 via YouSendIt).

This is a fantastic song by an equally fantastic band (read my review of Random Spirit Lover, the album on which Magic vs Midas appears).

One of the album's more sedate songs (yes indeed), it is sparsely eloquent, with its confident use of silence and textural variety. Just as a fashion designer might be able to put together a mesmerising outfit composed of a multiplicity of contrasting yet complimentary fabrics, Sunset Rubdown understand how to make boldly contrasting types of sound work together.

The various parts (voice and instruments) move in a folksy kind of parallel, giving the impression of a messy Renaissance chorus: 21st century troubadours.

I like the rumbling drum rolls at around the 3-minute mark, ushering in a relentless yet reigned back accelerando, egged on by spurts of bloated-spider guitar ... And the spiraling snatches of melody, spinning like twigs in a circular current.

Great song; great album; great band. Heavy Soil endorses emphatically.

Thursday 9 October 2008

Opulent Bacharach and Costello

Painted From Memory, an albumsworth of collaboration between Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach, is goddamn fantastic. The two complement one another wonderfully.

Instrumentation-wise, this is fairly opulent stuff: harp glissandi, velvety string lines, brass sections, et al. And the arching melodies and harmonic progressions are luxuriant. This is proper songwriting - the musical equivalent of an expensive clockwork watch, all its parts meticulously assembled.

Perhaps some will find it all a bit lavish, a bit put-together, a bit musicalesque. But Heavy Soil deems it very fine indeed.

Seriously, the whole album is brilliant.

May financiers everywhere find strength – God-given or otherwise – when their phones don't ring ... (And there you were thinking there was no link ... Oh ye faithless!)

Wednesday 8 October 2008

Melancholia and deliberate chintz from Tindersticks

Here's a rather charmingly melancholic, deliberately chintzy song of the day (just look at the artwork of the album Curtains, on which the song features).

This song demonstrates nicely the way in which the simplest of chord changes can, if handled well, be very effective. The simple two-chord verse sequence is repeated again and again, so that the change at 1.20 – finally – to the chorus is incredibly satisfying harmonically. Thanks, Tindersticks, for making us wait so long for it.

Good string lines leading up to and immediately after the 2-minute mark: the way they clamber wearily to their top notes.

Myself, I'd shorten this song a little, were it mine: I feel the simplicity of the harmonies and melodies would be better served by a three-to-four-minute duration.

But let's not pick nits, eh?

Tuesday 7 October 2008

The Beatles' Hymn to Bank Failures

Well, let's get an obvious choice out of the way:

Lyrically, the first verse of this is eerily apposite:

"You never give me your money;
You only give me your funny paper,
And in the middle of negotiations
You break down."

Yes, that's you down to a tee, Lehman, old boy.

Isn't it nice, the way the piano is panned hard left; guitar hard right? They used to mix things this way, back in the old days, y'know, back when stereo was a novelty.

And, yes, it's another song of the day with extreme and sudden changes. Heavy Soil makes no apologies for repeatedly enriching your days in this mildly predictable fashion – especially when the song itself is so splendidly unpredictable.

So piano balladry and lovely vocal harmonies give way to honkytonk rock'n'roll, to gospel-tinted faux-triple-time, then a charmingly received-pronunciation, children's-jingle finish.

Monday 6 October 2008

Blur's weary, deadpan examination of America

Blur's self-titled 1997 album is probably the band's most interesting ... A good bit less Britpop irony; a good bit more Coxon-fuelled, alt-American-influenced guitarwork.

Today's song of the day, though, is one of the album's least experimental. But lyrically and melodically strong – and, of course, topical:

Okay, so Damon Albarn is singing from the perspective of a weary touring musician – but these lyrics could easily enough apply to a credit crunched banker, could they not?

Good things about this song:
  • A great lead guitar entry at around 0.24
  • The fact that the string lines (which could in another manifestation be cheesy) are justified by the lyrics' talk of radio shows, tv ads and cinema classics, and is nicely lo-fi and weary
  • Likewise the rather delightful harp cameo in the middle-8: another piece of superficially elaborate and flamboyant instrumentation incorporated skillfully into a downbeat, disillusioned ballad in such a way as to sound as gaudily insubstantial as neon-lit facades and back-to-back chatshows ...

Theme for the coming week

Back before banks and financiers started skittering, tumbling and flailing like greyhounds on an ice-rink, I wrote about the global financial crisis. Specifically, I professed myself bored of the credit crunch.

Since then – few will deny – things've become a tad gloomier.

(Though I stand by my thesis that the wealthy residents of North Oxford (UK) and similar are hardly dipping below the breadline, even so.)

But, yeh. This preamble is all by way of hustling in a new theme for y'all. This week, Heavy Soil proudly presents:

A Soundtrack To The Global Financial Crisis

First post coming soon, just as soon as I've unpacked my suitcase (meanwhile, be my guest: browse my holiday snaps)

Wednesday 1 October 2008

Ben Folds, Way To Normal: enormous disappointment

Ben Folds has lost his ear

Not a single song on Way To Normal, released yesterday (in the UK; today in the states) is truly memorable. Not a single chorus could I convincingly sing back to you, right now.

Opener 'Hiroshima (B B B Benny Hit His Head)' establishes a pattern: it's well-produced, along interesting lines: studio-recorded parts are combined with live crowd sounds and suchlike. But, melodically, it's an emasculated 'Zak and Sara'. The hooks are stunted and malformed. And the humour - normally a strength of BF - is weak. The spoken outro is cringe-inducing.

Buoyant 'Dr Yang' continues this (practically album-wide) trend by which production techniques (this album is inventively, cleverly and extremely skillfully produced) and gimmickry utterly overshadow substance. The fuzzy choruses are hugely energetic and satisfyingly speaker-thrashing. But there's nothing there. The same is true, later, of pacy but empty 'Bitch Went Nuts'.

Diarrhoea in a sieve

Throughout the album, the embarrassment of riches in terms of wouldn't it be cool if we...-type ideas is matched by a very real embarrassment at the paucity of fundamentally strong material. Ben Folds has always been able to take a good song that bit further with a clever, outside-the-box musical device. One of the principal reasons for my intense admiration of Folds is his musical restlessness: his unwillingness to settle merely for a good song, but to add something unexpected and clever to make it great.

Unfortunately, in Way To Normal, he's doing the unexpected and clever things - but without the strong starting points.

So in 'The Frown Song' we have the kind of unprepared, abrupt, song-lifting key-changes that I normally applaud. But here they've nothing to lift. Or, rather, they're lifting a turd. No, wait ... Worse. They're lifting (if you'll pardon the horribly scatological extension of the metaphor) diarrhoea. In a sieve. Elsewhere, we have keyboard solos that cleverly doff a hat to multiple musical eras and genres in the space of 16 bars; hillbilly-parodying vocals; ring-modulated, crispily-synthesised piano-based beats (in 'Free Coffee') ... But what for?

'You Don't Know me', the single and duet with Regina Spektor is notable only insofar as it wastes to an almost criminal extent her vocal talents. I by no means object to the extremely poppy production and stylings of the song. BF is free, in my book, to go as pop as he likes. He has done it well before. But not here. The song is bland, featureless, bereft of direction. All the things that good pop has in abundance.

Poor Regina.

And let's talk lyrics

At times, listening to this album for the first time, I worried about Ben. He is perilously close to the deeply unbecoming: bitterness, slathering rhetoric, borderline misogyny. We don't want to hear lyrics that sound as though they're written in recriminatory tones with a particular individual in mind. It's not funny; it's embarrassing, and discomfitting. It puts me off big-style.

Cologne is affecting, lyrically. But only relative to the uninspired majority of these songs. On another BF album, it'd hardly be a standout track, as it is here: definitely sub-Jesusland (a song I didn't even much like, at the time). The chorus is pretty insipid, and, again, the melodies are not memorable. I'd challenge anyone to sing back more than a fragment of any of these songs after one or two listens.

Similarly, 'Kylie From Conneticut' is lovely, as a last track. But in the same way as a B-side might be lovely. Because you weren't expecting it. It is profoundly disappointing that a BF-ballad-by-numbers song such as this should be my favourite track on an album. At least it seems to be lyrically empathetic, rather than sneering.

What else? 'Errant Dog' is just rubbish. An unbelievably annoying song that also manages to murder a metaphor that Folds used far more effectively on the EP track 'Dog' (which is, incidentally, better than anything on this album, by leagues).

In conclusion

Folds has always been a musical shapeshifter, an ironist, an imitator and a satirist. He has always had fingers in many musical genrepies. And has happily juxtaposed styles with a charismatic, ironising wink. I know this is the kind of thing that some people find intrinsically annoying (as Fieldvole will perhaps attest) - but I've tended to feel that BF carries it off because he has always backed it up with strong musical techniques and, above all, songwriting skills.

On this album, that third leg of the stool (no link-in with my earlier scatological punning intended) - the songwriting - has disappeared.

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