A boxful of treasures (random thoughts part 1)

Sandy DennyI have had enough of the incompetent, half-hearted singing I spent so much of my early listening life tolerating.  I still head for the fringes but finding myself underwhelmed, I drift back to where the song can be found.  It matters more to me these days than the noise, though if I can have my cake and eat it…

So not having got my hands on the latest, much more expansive and expensive box set dedicated to Sandy Denny, I am listening to the five disc A boxful of treasures.  I’m also listening to Rufus Wainwright’s Want one.  Sandy is the better singer – at her peak, one of the very best ever – but Rufus has the voice he needs and writes a great song, so that I believe him just as I believe in the worlds that Sandy’s songs portray; the old folk song world of broken hearts and tragic tales, and the world of broken but resolute hearts of her own experience.  The introduction to a live version of ‘Who knows where the time goes?’ reveals that it was the second song she ever wrote.  She ran before she could walk.

Of course it’s yesterday’s news – hell, all of this post is – but Arcade Fire’s The suburbs grew and continues to grow on me with every listen.  That The neon bible was muddy, heavy, overblown, and drenched in the internal and semi-solipsistic consciousness of Win Butler made it doubly inaccessible but I’m glad I gave them one more chance.  While The suburbs doesn’t have quite the quotient of excitement that Funeral or The Arcade Fire did, it does have something, an air of mystery, an indefinable thread holding it together.  It’s nostalgic yet detached, subjective and universal.  But I’m afraid I still can’t help thinking of Alannah Currie from the Thompson Twins when I hear Régine Chassagne sing.

I like the Decemberists tipping their hat to the Smiths and trying to be R.E.M. more than I like them progging out and about (though since Shara Worden was singing with them, I could overlook that).  But while it’s affecting to hear Colin Meloy singing songs from his own heart, now I miss his yarn-spinning.  Is there no pleasing me?

I am underwhelmed by PJ Harvey’s Let England shake.  It’s the first of hers that I’ve bought, though I have always had a sneaking admiration for her.  I thought this might be the one, from the noise accompanying release, reading between the lines.  But her voice isn’t quite what I was hoping, and nor is the recording.  It sounds tinny where it should ring in peals like the bells in old flintstone churches.  Still, I’m glad she’s there, doing her thing.

I love Warpaint though, particularly when they get their shit together on songs like ‘Beetles’, and drift from groove to yearning melody.  It’s then that I think they belong in the lineage that includes the Slits, ESG and Luscious Jackson.  But if like those groups they can be idiosyncratic, lock down a groove, and find a beautiful melody, they can also be not only motorik, but plaintive and dreamy.  They repay a lot of listening.

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