Monday, October 19, 2009

It was never this cold in my dreams and I think I might have fought for the wrong side

Having no music to listen to on a four-hour train journey is a terrible tragedy. But this time I was travelling on the right side of the afternoon; and because my train was going up and down the Midlands, as some trains tend to do these days, I was looking at familiar fields and forgotten railway stations getting showered with the disappearing sunshine, that last bit of bright light before it all reluctantly fades away in that slow autumn way, and darkness only really fell just after Bedford, like it always does.

I had 'Rescue Us' by My Favorite going in my mental jukebox the whole time. It's sweetly and almost obsessively familiar so for a few hours it didn't feel like I needed to hear it properly. But it was making me want to bury my head in my hands and it was threatening to kill the gracefulness of what I could see out of my train window. It's a song with key changes that amount to emotional blackmail and it even has one of those galling yet incredible voice-breaking moments.

And the book in my hands was Rabbit, Run by John Updike, whom I'd completely missed out on reading before, and it's a very uncomfortable read: at first cruelly misogynistic, then equally misandristic, hollow in feeling, sexy as hell, urgent, hopeless, incredibly beautifully written.

Those were the four shortest hours of my life but by the time I got home I was feeling ten years older, ten years younger and like I should be burning everything down to start all over again. So I had a bath and went to bed.

My Favorite, 'Rescue Us' (mp3)

Friday, October 02, 2009

Why stuff is important, parts 3, 4 *and* 5: Striving for the Lazy Perfection

I remember the time and the place and the feeling - that's what's so mad about this record. It was a dark winter afternoon back in the 20th century when I went to Pilgrim, the only indie record shop in Athens, for the tenth time in as many dark winter afternoons and finally, finally they had received the stock from Sarah despite the general strike.

It used to take me about an hour and a half to get from the record shop to my house in those days. A walk down the centre of Athens, down to Athinas Street, a really long wait for the bus and a really long, ugly journey back home to Pireas. And the fifteen-minute walk up the hill until I could be in my room setting the record player up felt like the longest walk ever.

But this is not me looking back to 1994 with nostalgic feelings - it was a pretty grim year, really. It's just that the other morning I was up early and with 'Give A Little Honey' in my head so I put Striving for the Lazy Perfection on the record player and for some reason I had the exact same reaction I had 15 years ago when I sat down to listen to it for the first time: utter confusion.

The sweetest, guiltiest, sincerest, sexiest confusion. It started from the vaguely religious cover and slapped me properly with the first song, 'Obsession No. 1': something to be afraid of, something to worry about, something that made me want to close the door in case my mum walked in and heard how fast my heart was beating. The last time I'd heard from the Orchids was when that wonder of a single called 'Thaumaturgy' had come out about 18 months previously. I was so taken aback by that that I didn't want them to release anything else because there were not enough hours in the day to listen to 'I Was Just Dreaming'. But I was still desperate to see what they would come up with next because I almost knew where this was going. Almost. I didn't expect it to be so forceful.

Everything about this record shouts sex. Whispers and repetitive beats and suggestive lyrics. It's strange. I don't want to call it sensual or anything because it's not one of those shagging records that put you in the mood but then why do I always feel awkward listening to it with other people in the room? It's sexy but lonely and dark. And it's not just that. Most of the people I know who like the Orchids prefer to ignore this album and dance to 'Apologies' and 'Defy the Law' instead. But for me there is no greater, more consistent, more breathtaking record than this in all of Sarah's output. There is no 'Sarah sound' and this record proves it because it's a soul/ambient/rock/indiepop record that messes with your brain and your musical expectations to such a degree that it doesn't matter anymore and you can just sit there and listen and get swallowed by the fragility of 'Prayers to St Jude' and the irreverence of 'A Living Ken and Barbie' and the defiant heartbreak of 'A Kind of Eden' and yet it's still The Orchids, still five blokes from Glasgow, still unbelievably pop.

Striving for the lazy perfection. Striving for the lazy perfection. God, I could say those words until my lips dissolve. What a perfect title.

One day everyone will understand.

The Orchids, 'Welcome to My Curious Heart' (mp3)