FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: CAN’T GET WHAT OUT OF OUR HEADS?
Perhaps the most fascinating slice of television programming I have encountered in some time is the six-part BBC documentary series from Bafta-winning filmmaker Adam Curtis, aptly titled Can't Get You Out of My Head. With due deference to Kylie, he’s not talking here about a boy. Mixing sequences of strangely compelling archive footage with stories of historical political activists and ideologists while icing them with great splodges of odd yet perfectly matched soundtrack, Curtis attempts to explain the multiple anxieties and crippling inertia that seem to have gripped the people and those in power who allegedly serve them. It’s a kind of emotional history of our age, yet at the same time a welcome antidote to conspiracy theorists.
Viewers and critics alike are divided as to whether to describe the series as brilliant, terrifying, ambitious or downright confusing, or all of those. It’s available in full on BBC iPlayer right now so you can judge for yourself, if you can set aside any anxieties and crippling inertia for a while. Whatever your view on Curtis’ thesis, there is no denying his mastery of sound allied to imagery. A case in point was at 1:05:16 in Episode 1 when “Recharge & Revolt” a 2011 cut by Danish dark indie duo, The Raveonettes, hits you like shards between the eyes and through the ears. It’s such a great tune so here is the track in full – though you really do need to see what Curtis does with it in his film as well.
"These strange days did not just happen" declares Curtis. "We - and those in power - created them together." So, as we search for what exactly it is that we need to get out of our heads, here is the rest of this week’s song selection which I do hope you will struggle to remove from your psyche for only positive reasons.
In searching for a bridge between the musings of Adam Curtis and how music can play on your emotions, the Portland, Oregon wife and husband duo of Hollie and Keith Kenniff who record together as Mint Julep seemed a fitting step. A new album, In a Deep & Dreamless Sleep, is due out on 19 March and many of the songs depart from conventional song structures to focus more pertinently on atmosphere and texture. The opening track from it, “A Rising Sun”, works as a kind of overture to the ten that follow.
“A Rising Sun” has a stream-of-consciousness feel to it as it builds from gentle acoustic guitar beginnings held together by a tabla-sounding beat and infilled with analogue static. The lyrics, when they arrive, are scarcely discernible with Hollie Kenniff’s dream-like vocals employed almost as extra instrumentation as the song picks up momentum from more and more sonic layers to reach a soaring crescendo, before dying away softly. It’s a wonderfully atmospheric piece; an immersive experience, free-flowing and perfect, dare I say, for mental stimulation.
Do we all have a place to call home? It can be more than one; where we were born or brought up, a significant point in our lives, or where we are now. The notion of home and our place in the world is a theme found in many songs but one that particularly resonated with me this week was “Where To Belong”, by young British/American singer-songwriter, Anna Renae. It comes from her 2020 debut album, Skin, released just as we went into the first lockdown, which scuppered opportunities for live promotion somewhat. Anna is an accomplished lyricist and documenting her experiences is absolutely central to her songcraft. Musically she brings a lightness of touch to complement the inviting precision of her vocals.
Equally striking is her maturity, given that the majority of the songs were written in her teens; “Where To Belong” indeed when Anna was 17. With roots in Lancashire and Northumberland, a degree from Liverpool University, a current sojourn in Hampshire and plans to move to Edinburgh to do a Masters degree, and to explore her American origins too, it seems she hasn’t quite settled on a true home yet. The song seeks to make sense of the inner conflict she has about where she feels happiest. The downsides of cities, towns and the country don’t make it any easier! Remembering that environment has such an impact on individuality and identity perhaps her wanderlust though fully justifies the closing line: “The world’s too big to know where I belong”. A follow-up EP is expected later this year and she has plenty of unreleased music yet to be recorded if the search for home does not overtake it.
Brighton has always been something of a mecca for indie-pop bands. Thyla is the latest outfit from the seaside town to be featured in these columns, following on from the likes of Slant, China Bamboo and Barbara. Having made waves both here and in the US over the past couple of years, the four-piece comprising vocalist Millie Duthie, Mitch Duce on guitar, bassist Dan Hole and Danny Southwell on drums, has trailed its debut album, set for release later this year, with the single "Breathe". The song reflects on the disconnection of individuals in a world, by contrast, more connected than ever before while maintaining a sense of inward strength about the condition.
Not every song hits home on the first listen but “Breathe” is a certain grower. Structurally it is differentiated from the norm as it eschews the conventional big indie chorus in favour of a detached, yet positively effective, reverberant refrain. This, allied to the synth effects that pepper the verses, gives the song an otherworldly feel in tune with the heightened lonely vibe of its subject matter. Vocally, Millie Duthie brings a hint of Pale Waves to her shtick but there is also something in her sweet phrasing that puts me in mind of an earlier new wave heroine, Clare Grogan in her Altered Images days. As a bonus, there is also the start of a fine blog – THYLAzine - on the band’s website which is a refreshing read I can wholly commend.
Photo of IAN SWEET by Lucy Sandler
Continuing on from the theme of disconnection allied to some kind of inner strength, the sheer emotional workout that LA’s Jilian Medford aka IAN SWEET delivers with every new song is evidenced once more through her latest single “Sing Till I Cry”, taken from her forthcoming album, Show Me How You Disappear. Having enthusiastically shared previous singles in these columns, I am pleased to report that we now only have until 5 March to wait for the full house. Accompanied by a mind-warping collage of images and video clips of Medford, past and present, this song reconciles the results of trauma; the loss of innocence balanced by the reawakening of simple pleasures.
Commenting on the song, Jilian Medford hints at what comes after an intense healing process following debilitating mental trauma: “You forget the simplest things, what it feels like to smile, how to see things clearly. This song prompts me to heal and rediscover that lightness of being. What gives you up? What makes you cry? What gives you love?” There’s a detached beauty and fragility to her phrasing in this song, at times like she is about to burst into tears, but the ringing guitar and crashing drums in the chorus lends a harder edge to exorcise her darker memories. It’s powerful, frank and honest stuff from a uniquely brave artiste, able to bare all before her.
“In my dreams I want to join the band like this and play the music like these”. Hodges is a virtual band from Japan, most probably the work of a single musician/singer but who really knows. Sung in Japanese, “Cotton” appears to be a protest song about fast fashion and the exploitation of coffee growers. The English translation you can see on Hodges’ YouTube and SoundCloud pages looks straight out of Google Translate and you sense that the sentiments are expressed far better in Hodges’ home language. Crashing guitar chords make way a bit of bass and drums borrowed from Iggy Pop’s “Lust For Life” and then, like on all great punk pop tracks, Hodges throws in a bit of xylophone! Marvellous stuff and a song Busted wished they had made.