Love and (even more) death.
Part 2 of Jason Lewis' Year in Music
Imagine that you'd just baked a cake that you've wanted to make for a long time. As you remove it from the oven, it looks fabulous, but on closer inspection you find that it’s not cooked all the way through, there's a spongy section in the middle that’s congealed, undercooked and gooey. No matter how many times you return to it, there's no denying the fact, this one is going to be hard to enjoy.
A Moon Shaped Pool
I think that it’s appropriate that I mention ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ by Radiohead. It starts with the strident ‘Burn the Witch’ full of horror soundtrack strings and haunted ‘..Red crosses on wooden doors/ if you float you burn…’ imagery. This is Radiohead at their nightmarish best.
At the other end of the album is the heart-breaking ‘True Love Waits’ (the song that's been in their canon since 1995). Is Thom singing about a dying relationship? Of trying to communicate with someone who has stopped listening? a modern take on ‘If you go away’? Or is it a plea to hold on to true love? to fight it out, no matter what? Whatever your interpretation, the minimal piano arrangement and Yorke’s pleading vocal make this one of Radiohead’s most compelling and profound songs.
There are some magnificent moments on ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’. The mournful ‘it’s too late, the damage is done’ from ‘Daydreaming’ and ‘...now I see you messing me around’ of ‘Identikit’ may hint at Yorke’s own post-relationship turmoil. But then, but then…songs like ‘The Numbers’ and ‘Desert Island Disk’ seem to meander, underwhelm and fade away without leaving much of an impression. Unlike their finer moments (‘No Surprises’, ‘Exit Music’, .Videotape. etc.), the mood is impenetrable. These indigestible moments deter from what would otherwise be a classic Radiohead album.
Angel Olsen’s ‘My Woman’ is full of emotional turbulence too. ‘I'm falling in love and I swear it’s the last time’ she announces over the swooning keyboards of the opener ‘Intern’, but you know that it's probably not going to work out that way. The yearning ‘Never Be Mine’ aches with unrequited feelings, whilst ‘Shut up, kiss me’ is full of raggedy guitars and a demanding lyric where she implores her distracted partner to ‘stop your crying, it’s alright’. It’s probably my favourite single of 2016.
The second half of ‘My Woman’ dispenses with the raw guitar sounds in favour of a series of slower and more acoustic numbers. Most staggering of these is the introspective ‘Sister’ which gradually builds over almost eight minutes. Those Stevie Nicks comparisons really come to the fore with the ‘all my life I thought I’d thought I’d change’ line that she repeats regretfully as the song reaches its soaring conclusion.
The (almost) title track ‘Woman’ starts like a gentle country ballad before the hitting the howl of ‘I dare you to understand/what makes me a woman’ and the painful burst of fuzzy guitars. The closer Pops waves goodbye to a relationship over a lonely piano and concludes the album with the sad acknowledgement that ‘I'll be the thing that lives in the dream when it's gone’ making this is one of the most overwhelmingly heartfelt albums that I've heard in a very long time.
In early December a memorial stone was unveiled in Poets Corner to Philip Larkin. The inscription contains one of his most celebrated lines …’what will survive of us is love’ from his ‘An Arundel Tomb’.
I think about this line a lot when listening to Hannah Peel’s beautiful ‘Awake but always dreaming’ album. Peel’s grandmother succumbed to dementia and the album is a loving celebration of her, an exploration of fading memory and the distressing effects of illness.
I first encountered Peel on the delightful Rebox EP where she used an only a music box and layers of her sweet vocals to strip down early eighties anthems like Blue Monday, Tainted Love and OMD’s Electricity to their delicate essence.
Recently. Peel has delved into more electric textures. This is clear on this album, the opening ‘All That Matters’ sparkles with synths like the eighties electro hits she used to reinterpret. A touching love song to those that are around us in times of need.
Gentle pianos and violins blend with lonely electronic noises on the melancholy single ‘Tenderly’ which becomes darker with the questioning ‘shadows of your heart, am I always in the dark?’ of the final line. The hypnotic ‘Don’t Take It Out On Me’, introduces a shift in tone, memories are starting to fade, the soundtrack becomes more fragmented. The instrumental ‘Octavia’, blends analogue synths with clarinets to create a disorientating soundscape. The sadness of ‘Conversations’ (which includes samples of, possibly, her grandmother), is nakedly honest and hugely sad.
Peel’s beloved music box makes a reappearance on a cover of Paul Buchanan’s ‘Cars in the Garden’ which closes the album. The song is a poignant metaphor for aging and death (peel’s gran died earlier this year, aged 98, seven years after her diagnosis). It is a tender ending to a touching album, As Larkin observed ‘what will survive of us is love’.
Essential Info for Jason Lewis' Year Review
Part 1: Death at the Party | Part 3. ‘Ambience and Anger’ to follow soon.
Jason Lewis is a Birmingham based music, movie and arts obsessive. Jason's encyclopedic knowledge of 80s/90s Arts films is a debt to his embedded status in the Triangle Arts Centre trenches back then.