Ask to Ayla

“The paramedic thinks I’m clever cos I play guitar
I think she’s clever cos she stops people dying”
Avant Gardener – Courtney Barnett

A LOT of border crossings are littered throughout this blog and, with a trip around Africa heading up, there are plenty more to come, complete with plenty of hanging around, filling in forms and no apparent activity from anyone involved.

But this is the first border for this journey through my iPod, arriving at the end of A section – all 537 of them.

We’ve gone from A to B and are about to embark on the trip to the C, via 755 tracks (to be honest, the journey’s already started but just haven’t had a chance to catch up on the blog over the past few days).

After last week’s detour on the subjects of my tenants and Gloucester’s sacking of Nigel Davies, it’s back to the main business of the music.

There’s been no real movement on a new director of rugby (although a big-name signing looks imminent), while the cleaners and decorators have been in to my house and, most importantly, the tenants have opted not to contest losing all their deposit – not that they had much of an argument.

So it is back to the music and another trip to Cardiff tomorrow to clear out the stuff they left – with a few therapeutic bank holiday weekend trips to the tip – to help make real inroads into the Bs.

The final stretch before the alphabetical border was, like many actual frontiers, a weird sort of no-man’s land just waiting to reach that final track – Ayla by The Maccabees – with a surprisingly high number of songs beginning Au, Av or Aw.

The aural equivalent of “are we nearly there yet?” Courtney Barnett

Highlighting that final drag was Avant Gardener by Courtney Barnett – my current musical obsession away from this journey.

It has emerged as my favourite track from her combined EPs, A Sea of Split Peas, as she somehow manages to shoehorn Uma Thurman, pseudoephedrine, asthma puffers, radishes and a chorus about having trouble breathing into a tale of suffering anaphylactic shock while gardening and makes it sound like another mundane Monday.

While agreeing with her view that paramedics are deserving of more credit, as a confirmed non-musician it is hard not to empathise with the view that “the paramedic thinks I’m clever cos I play guitar”.

Anyone who does anything well – particularly those who make it look easy – attracts my admiration, particularly musicians.

Despite a few stabs at tackling even the most basic things, it always proved beyond me – largely due to a lack of patience when younger and the guitar teacher who had seen my sister through a variety of grades insisting on constant repetition on basic classical techniques when all that was in my mind was imitating the guys with guitars on Top of the Pops.

It didn’t help that my childhood fingers barely reached the positions he was seemingly trying to force them into.

“Anyone can play guitar”, Thom Yorke once sang (a song sadly missing from this journey as Pablo Honey only exists in my collection on cassette), but my efforts proved just how wrong he was.

And we are the better for it as a lack of any noticeable musical talent has meant the option has been to listen to it and that’s fine my me.

This section started with listening to Ask – Sharon Van Etten before the better known song of the same name by The Smiths, who have been surprisingly quiet through the opening stretches of this journey.

Ask is not towards the top end of my favourite Smiths songs, although something has to be pretty special to work its way into those higher echelons.

Asleep, which followed a handful of songs later, is creeping towards that level which we will explore in depth at a later date.

Belle and Sebastian have also been noticeable by their absence (without checking, complete up to this point) which was rectified by Asleep On A Sunbeam – again, not in the pantheon of their great tracks but they have a fairly distinguished list of those.

REM have managed to pop up more regularly so far, but have continued the trend of doing so with some of their lesser tracks – generally the ones after Bill Berry left and… that’s a long rant we will save for another entry.

But the boys from Athens, Georgia (which is looking increasingly likely to receive a return, slightly longer, visit on a post-wedding* road trip later in the summer) appeared with one of their better later efforts, At My Most Beautiful, and hints of their early splendour with Auctioneer (Another Engine).

There was more Americana from Bright Eyes (one of the slightly overlooked acts which has piqued my interest so far during this trip) with At The Bottom Of Everything and White Denim, who chipped in with At Night In Dreams.

That song popped up a day before they performed it on Later… Live. Interesting to watch it on the small screen instead of live in Bristol, which would have been the case but for the clash of dates. That’s one for this week instead.

We had two trips to Australia, first with the Manic Street Preachers (whose song of that name was once used to advertise Wales ahead of the Rugby World Cup) and then The Shins, while we reached 500 with The Attack, one of two songs in this stint from Les Miserables. Happily with no sign of Russell Crowe.

And to wrap up the As, we retracked through the three A tracks added to the list since this journey started (been a bit quiet adding music in the last few weeks) – Advance Upon The Real by Perfect Pussy (a mix of noise and ambient background, but be careful Googling them), Algiers from the welcome return of The Afghan Whigs and Amber Veins by Eagulls.

So to B…

*Not mine, think that might have cropped up before now.

 

photo by: kingArthur_aus
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The Angel and the Fool to Anti-Pioneer

“Used to be the one of the rotten ones, And I liked you for that
Now you’re all gone, got your make-up on, And you’re not coming back”
Anthem For A Seventeen Year Old Girl – Broken Social Scene

THERE is, as you walk to the northern side of the Rainbow Bridge at Niagara, a big sign pointing the way to Canada. Just in case you have trouble spotting the world’s second largest country.

Just in case you missed it
Just in case you missed it

Musically, it has often been a bit more difficult to spot Canada, dwarfed as they are by their neighbours across the 49th parallel.

There have always been the flag bearers – Neil Young springs to mind, while Arcade Fire have carried the flag with distinction in previous years – but they have had a lot to make up for (“The Canadian government has apologised for Bryan Adams on several occasions” runs the joke from the South Park movie. Oh Canada indeed).

And the less said about Celine Dion the better. Have never watched Titanic for fear of exposure to that bloody song.

But as befits such a large, varied and wonderful country, it has produced some, well, varied and wonderful music which, after the American takeover of the previous section of my iPod, annexed the closing stages of this prolonged leg with four of the final eight tracks.

Leading the way were the pretty much unclassifiable Godspeed You! Black Emperor, whose Antennas to Heaven weighs in just two seconds shy of 19 minutes, by some distance the longest track so far (just checked and it is the 16th longest in all with 11 of the top 20 coming from the Montreal oufit).

Inadequately described as ‘post-rock’ on their Wikipedia outfit, they are not a band you are likely to sit down to for a relaxing listen and, followed as they were by fellow Canadian Leonard Cohen (Anthem), it was a drive to work strangely out of sync with the glorious spring morning outside. An interesting one nevertheless.

This section ended with Anti-Pioneer by Feist, another Canadian, but tucked in between was the song which brought us in to this entry – Anthem For A Seventeen Year Old Girl by Broken Social Scene.

Hailing from Toronto, they labour under the moniker “musical collective” with an endlessly changing cast of characters (Feist among them at certain points), which normally suggests self-indulgent experimentalism that musicians aren’t willing to take a risk on under their own names.

But, while hard to pin down to any signature sound, Broken Social Scene have somehow managed to maintain enough coherence to make them a more than viable proposition, producing several top songs – none better than the hypnotic Anthem…

Sung from the perspective of an older woman to her 17-year-old self, it is simple, repetitive and keeps you waiting for it to launch full into something bigger. The fact it never does makes it all the better and by the time you realise it is just not going to happen, the relentless repetition has wriggled into your head and established it as a thing of beauty.

It is rare for me to remember a first hearing of a song – something other writers and bloggers seem able to recall at will – but Anthem… first popped up on the first aborted attempt to travel through my iPod.

More specifically, it came halfway through a walk to the pub to watch football and had to be instantly replayed, both to check what it was and because it had hooked into my brain.

Away from Canada – and there was also, old joke warning, Answering Bell from Ryan Adams, which is close but infinitely better – this leg has been dominated by Angels, Animals, Anthems and Another thing.

We came in with the angels, starting with The Angel and The Fool by Broken Bells and rattling through, among others, three versions of Echo and the Bunnymen’s Angels and Devils and Angels of Deception by The The, from Matt Johnson’s largely overlooked classic album Infected.

Amid the animals, we had Animal Nitrate by the weirdly overrated Suede (quite like this track, which was on Radcliffe and Maconie earlier, but don’t get the awe with which they are widely held) and a first outing from the far too overlooked Cadbury Sisters with Animals.

Stumbled across the three sisters (yes, they are siblings and, yes, they are part of the chocolate family) supporting Turin Brakes last year and was instantly smitten. Have seen them twice more since and it is great to see their close harmonies, perfect vocals blended to a sort of English Americana finally getting some airplay, although nowhere near what they deserve.

We’ve mentioned a few of the anthems, while starring role among the Another.. songs was Another Travelin’ Song by Bright Eyes.

Conor Oberst is one of those artists who has largely passed me by, but the more he crops up on my radar the more he impresses (even if he does seem to possess a Ryan Adamseseque need to release everything he does without that much quality control) and back-to-back versions of that track saw it being sung much of the day in the office.

Along the way, we have passed 350 (Another Invented Disease by Manic Street Preachers – another band which perplexes me as much as anything else) and Anonymous Club, a first entry for my current musical obsession away from this blog, Courtney Barnett.

But we’ve got a long way to go, so we’ll come back to both of them.

 

 

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