Every Friday, Dusted Magazine publishes a series of music-related lists compiled by our favorite artists. This week: Field Music alum School of Language and Edmonton's The Whitsundays.
Listed: School of Language + The Whitsundays
School of Language
Loosely picking up from where critically approved Sunderland trio Field Music left off, David Brewis' latest project - School of Language - is a taught and clever exercise in song-crafting. The debut School of Language album, Sea From Shore - is cohesive and ambitious, and as catchy as anything in the Field Music catalog. Brewis will be on tour this month as School of Language with a band featuring Chicago mainstays Doug McCombs and Ryan Rapsys. Sea From Shore is out now on Thrill Jockey Records.
10 things I steal from most often
Sometimes I'm tempted to use the euphemism of 'inspiration' but at other times you just have to admit that all of those ideas come from somewhere. I keep hoping that my rip-offs are so bad, inaccurate and out-of-kilter that they turn into something original.
1. Neil Young and Crazy Horse - Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
I'd had a copy of this album on tape years ago (copied from Sunderland Record Library) but managed to misplace it somehow. Then last summer, a friend of mine played the opening track in a DJ set and it immediately filled in a bit of blank I'd been having about how to finish off the School of Language album. I finished writing two more tracks within a week or so, which is incredibly quick for me. I love the languid heaviness.
2. Peter Gabriel - Peter Gabriel 3 (Melt)
Texturally and lyrically, this is an incredible record. Other than the couple of straighter band tracks, it sounds totally modern. There are endless ways to expand on the drum and percussion ideas here (and not just in the “In Air Tonight” direction, though I have a fondness there, too). The songs are quite lyrically detailed but mostly are used to evoke a moment, rather than tell a story – you have to infer the story from the atmosphere of the moment.
3. Aretha Franklin - I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)
It really tweaks my sensibility when English bedroom-indie kids go on and on about funk, just in order to justify their half-arsed James Brown steals and cultural self-satisfaction. But!!! … I absolutely love music to swing. I think it's pretty much essential and the best bands making rhythmically experimental music always manage to give it a momentum, as if they can stretch and contract time. I'm not sure whether this is something you can learn or whether it's intuitive, but records like the ones Aretha recorded with the Muscle Shoals band are like a guidebook for that kind of pulse.
4. Led Zeppelin - Physical Graffiti
And the greatest British band at finding that pulse were surely Zep. Their records are about as perfect, rhythmically speaking, as it's possible to be. No matter how wayward their epic songs were or how many guitars were strewn across them, JPJ and Bonzo swung them with equally epic grace.
5. Roxy Music - Roxy Music & For Your Pleasure
These are two of a handful of records which redefined what a pop song could be for me. There are no choruses. None. At all. The songs are either complicated, long, structurally uneven, silly or arch, but somehow it just about holds together, in no small part due to Bryan Ferry's brilliant lyrics and even better delivery. My take is that pop music should be both familiar and novel, and Roxy made a point of rephrasing the familiar (’50s nostalgia, lo-fi sci-fi, cabaret) in a more (pop-)artful way than anyone had ever done before (expect perhaps the Beatles) while shaking every novel twist and turn of their music like a strutting peacock's plumage.
6. The Beatles
Well, I'd be deluding myself if they weren't here or if I tried to pin it down to just one album. There's so much hinted at in their records, especially, to my ears, Revolver, Sgt Pepper's & The White Album, that I don't think I'll ever tire of stealing from them. They created their own world but, unlike most artists, popular or otherwise, their new world included everybody else as well.
7. Ornette Coleman - The Shape of Jazz To Come
People, drummers especially, are always asking how and why I end up with so many time and tempo changes in songs. Well, it comes from years of listening to stuff like Ornette Coleman and Thelonious Monk. In the 'heads' here (the themes which top and tail each track), the music follows the melody, and follows it wherever it cares to go. In that sense, it's both totally musical and totally logical. It's never, ever, ever about "let's play in a crazy time signature for the prog fans at the front.” It's always, "I've got this great tune/riff … oh, damn, it's in a funny timing again.”
8. Fleetwood Mac - Lyndsey Buckingham's songs on Tusk
Ol' Lyndsey went pretty extreme with this one. If ever I need to be inspired to not hold back, this does the trick...
9. Todd Rundgren - Side 1 of A Wizard, A True Star
…as does this. A total mind-melt. Even the rubbish bits make a strange kind of sense. The phrase "can I get away with it?" sometimes enters my head when I have an idea for some new music. I get the feeling that on this record, that phrase was not on the agenda whatsoever.
10. Peter Brewis of Sunderland, England
Yes, that's my brother. Even over the past year while we've been making separate records, we still rely on each other for ideas. We're pretty open about it – it's not like I secretly log on to his computer to see what kinds of drum sounds he's been coming up with – I just sit there while he's recording and ask him about it, pass on a few EQ-ing tips and everybody's happy. We're both determined to get better at what we do and we both have quite different approaches, so there's plenty of mileage in us continuing to cross-pollinate.
Edmonton, Alberta's the Whitsundays wowed everyone at Dusted HQ with their surprising success on our college radio chart. An unknown band on a tiny label debuting at No. 7 and then climbing to the No. 4 spot is pretty impressive. We thought, either these guys have excellent promoters, or the record must be pretty good. It turned out to be the latter. The Whitsundays ape the best pop music of the past, citing the Zombies, Animals, and Syd Barrett as chief influences. Novel choices, we know, but the band pulls it off without sounding ungodly annoying, a rarity amongst those who aim this high.
Paul Arnusch (Faunts, the Floor) is the band’s primary songwriter and he took part in this week’s Listed by pulling out some of his “Best Ofs,” everyone’s favorite exercise in absolutes.
Eight categories of the best songs
By Paul Arnusch
Best background vocals of all time
For this category I couldn’t decide between “Blue Angel” by Roy Orbison and “Suspicion” by Terry Stafford. Roy’s songs are thick with hilarious made-up words and syllables, but somehow they always sound right. Whenever I hear “bum bum bum, yep fip fum” I immediately begin to smile, just in time for Roy to come in for the verse. … As for “Suspicion,” when the haunting background vocals chime in during the chorus I can’t help but phone my girlfriend and subtly ask her why she didn’t call me last night.
Most Intense Song of all time
The song I chose for this category is “Cat’s Blues” by Palace Music on the album Viva Last Blues. The distorted Rhodes at the beginning tears through you as the song increasingly becomes more and more heartfelt and sincere. God only knows how many times I’ve found myself driving with this song playing so loud the speakers are all distorted, pounding the ceiling of my Plymouth and screeching those perfectly written lyrics totally out of my range.
Best song on an album, which wasn’t sung by the principal songwriter of the band
Okay, so I obviously made up this category to accommodate another one of my favorite songs for this list, but I had to because this song is so great. It’s “Waiting for the Moon to Rise” by Belle and Sebastian. Isabelle’s airy vocals sound so smooth I want to wrap myself in them and go to sleep so I can frolic towards her in a meadow in my dreams.
Best pop song written by a post punk/new wave band
This award goes to Wire for the song “The 15th.” This is perfect pop. I find there’s a gem like this on almost every album Wire released.
Best noise pop song
It was hard for me to choose a song for this category because I’ve always loved the noise. Between Dinosaur Jr, MBV, Iggy and the Stooges, Ride etc. so many great pop songs have entered my world but I’m going to go with “Happens All The Time” by Eric’s Trip. This band changed the way I thought about music at a very early age and for that I’m forever indebted.
Best sad song
“Befriended” by The Innocence Mission. The Innocence Mission is able to dig up deep feelings of sorrow in me that I didn’t even know I had. Thankfully, their music also gives me equal amounts of hope. This song is painfully well-written.
Favorite Neil Song
Neil Young is so important in my music world that he gets his own category. My favorite song is “Will to Love” on the album American Stars and Bars. I love how he spontaneously recorded it one night sitting by the fire with his guitar. The crackle of the fire creates the perfect ambiance for his seven minute extended metaphor of a fish swimming upstream.
Final Category: Best Lyrics
I debated calling this category “best song” but having gone through some of the artists mentioned above, and a number of others in my music collection, I just couldn’t bring myself to give this title to any one particular artist. However, the song that lyrically still blows me away after years and years of rotating in and out of my CD changer is “Kathy’s Song” by Simon and Garfunkel. You just know the stars were aligned when Paul Simon wrote this, as it couldn’t be more perfect. It nearly brings a tear to my eye every time.
By Dusted Magazine