The prospect of a guest slot on Love Will Save the Day brought both shivers of anticipation and also trepidation. As a keen follower of the series I saw that it was essential to echo the themes, flow and spirit of the endeavour, without losing the thread of my own personal perspective. I realised too, that since my formative university days in a classic soul band, my musical tastes had inexorably drifted towards a darker, folkier and less beat-centric vibe, a landscape filled with artists such as Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and Bill Callahan, whose bleak world views and middling BPMs could derail the theme of love saving the day.
So, in the course of this compilation I have had the joy of reconnecting with music from a younger, more optimistic personal era, a time where I would rustle through second hand record shop shelves and dusty books to find music suitable for a working brummie funk group. In amongst the old and the new, a discernable narrative started to form – a push and pull between the noise, pressure and anxieties of the city, and the release and euphoria of the inner world of music. Something like a 30 song version of The Flight of the Conchords immortal ‘Inner City Pressure’.
Rather than a full tilt disco party, I see this playlist a little like a low flying bird, majestically striking off the ground, cruising long and free before heading deep and slow into the desert sunset. Enjoy!
Charlotte Gainsbourg – Songbird in a Cage
The journey starts (and ends, but we’ll come to that ) with the Gainsbourg family, specifically with the psychedelic stomp of Songbird in a Cage. Written for Gainsbourg by Paul McCartney and produced by SebastiAn, the singer, turned actor, turned singer again’s clipped delivery against a martial beat eventually breaks into a soaring melodic chorus, like a neat miniature of this entire mix. The song introduces the push and pull between the freedom and the friction of the city, and the escape from tragedy that travel can bring.
Thomas Wydler – Soulsheriff Smells a Rat
I have found a lot of excellent underground music in the past, by tracing the spiderweb of Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds who between them represent a sizeable portion of the 80’s best bands. A number of Bad Seeds subsequently pop up in this mix. First up is the Swiss drummer Thomas Wydler, formerly of Berlin post-punk pioneers Die Haut. A clattering, beat strewn instrumental stalked by a prowling bass and wind chime vibes, SoulSheriff introduces some loosely krautrock style syncopation into the mix.
Timber Timbre – Floating Cathedrals
Previously a dark alt-folk outfit, on last year’s Sincerely, Future PollutionCanadian brooders Timber Timbre somehow morphed into replicants moulding neon lit Bladerunner torch songs. Having discovered them ahead of the excellent End of the Road Festival in Dorset, I then utterly failed to see their set after a music quiz overran and I got lost in the woods. No matter, the warm analogue synths and iceberg method lyrics pondering ‘death by instagram’ exist on their own plane.
Heliocentrics, Mulatu Astatke – Anglo Ethio Suit
I stumbled on this recording in a small bar in Budapest and managed to ask who it was. Answer: Ethno-Jazz founder Mulatu Astatke, backed by Love Will Save the Day favourites The Heliocentrics. The creaking violin (straight out of Wu Tang Forever’s Wu Revolution) and the languid flute curling around the drums like smoke, gives a real sense of space and place, and just the vaguest threat of jazz freakout around the corner.
Tindersticks – Say Goodbye to the City
Tension in music alongside the abstract notion of ‘space’ and ‘the notes you don’t play’ is one of the defining characteristics of a certain type of jazzy rock. As the Tindersticks have got deeper into soundtracking Claire Denis films, tension and space have become their defining characteristics. This version is taken from the gloriously unnecessary album ‘Across Six Light Years’ in which the band, born again with a funky new rhythm section, re-recorded live in the studio versions of deep cuts that they ‘never got right the first time’. To the untrained ear of course, the majority of songs were practically identical. For this song however, the band’s trademark languid style was noticeably reshaped into a coiled groove – delivering finally the intense climax promised but evaded earlier by the Heliocentrics.
Roots Manuva – Don’t Breathe Out
Continuing the theme of ‘city sickness’ from the Tindersticks but imbuing it with a hard fought edge of sweet salvation, Roots Manuva delivers this uplifting slice from 2015’s Bleeds. Rodney Smith’s struggles both on stage and off are well documented (he recently had to persuade his doctor that he was indeed a well known rapper and not delusional), but his mix of heartfelt flow and ‘poor people funky soul clap’ always lifts the spirits, especially with the entry of Sylas’ James Blakian falsetto.
Christine and the Queens – Tilted (live for Spotify)
I completely missed the initial hype around Christine and the Queens, mainly because too many people kept pointing her in my direction. However this Spotify exclusive live version of Tilted (the English version of ‘Christine’) picks up the pace nicely.
Lou Reed – Disco Mystic
Reed’s much underrated 1979 opus The Bells contains not only his best front cover, but also an unholy fusion of literary lyrics, rock & roll and discordant jazz. Matching the feedback and distortion of the recently maligned Metal Machine Music with a swinging jazz band led by the legendary Don Cherry, Lou Reed’s sole lyric was the croaked refrain of ‘Disco, Disco Mystic.’ It’s like the evil sibling of Coltrane’s A Love Supreme drowned out in Studio 54.
As Lester Bangs wrote: “There’s a real band on this record, and these musicians are giving us the only true jazz-rock fusion anybody’s come up with since Miles Davis’ On the Corner period.”
Tamikrest – Imanin Bas Zihoun
Last year I was intoxicated by the remarkable music memoir by Hugo Race, Road Series. After leaving the original 1984 lineup of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, the young Melbournian traces his subsequent journeys across East Europe, Sicily, Mali and Brazil in a hypnotic beat poetry style that has the same cadence and mystical blues vibe as his loop based work with the True Spirit. One of the key chapters describes a chance musical encounter with the Malian Tuareg group Tamikrest in the Sahara desert. Out of these ‘tent sessions’ came both the first ‘Dirtmusic’ collaboration (more of that later) and the production of Tamikrest’s debut album. Coming on like Tinariwen’s rambunctious younger cousins, with the lustiest handclaps you’ll ever hear, Tamikrest seethe with the unbridled energy of a freak sandstorm.
Barry Adamson – I Got Clothes (ACR:MCR remix)
Since he swapped Hansa Studios in Berlin for the mean streets of Moss Side Manchester, Adamson has become known as much for his excellent soundtrack work for David Lynch as for his 80s bass playing with Nick Cave and Magazine. Adamson has continued to remain relevant, as seen with this burbling, squelching remix which comes on like a Mancunian Dr John haunting the Hacienda.
Red Snapper – Get Some Sleep, Tiger
One of the standouts from the ’90s drum & bass scene, and a personal inspiration back in my drumming days, Red Snapper made dance music using a basis of real, honest to goodness acoustic instruments, specifically live drums, brass and frantic double bass.
Calexico – Under the Wheels
Having seen these Tuscan tex-mex masters captivate a dancing, uninhibited festival crowd in Lisbon recently, it makes some sense that the band has pivoted from dusty Americana into a global feel good party band. As they accurately wrote on Instagram, the song sounds like “a character wandering the city streets on their skateboard.. swerving in and out of themes of anxiety and worldy stresses.”
Jens Lekman – Wedding in Finistère
A recent set stand out by the Swedish electro-balladeer, who despite being reviewed in Pitchfork and Mojo and the like, still has to keep a side job as a wedding singer in Sweden to pay the rent. The chorus turns a bride’s last minute cold feet into a Paul Simon style celebration of the inevitable passage of time, and as in all good wedding stories at the end “we all danced and got drunk”.
Beirut – No No No
Last year I was lucky enough to visit the Gŭca Festival deep in the mountains of Serbia. One of the world’s biggest Balkan horn festivals, a tiny remote town with a permanent population of 3,000 suddenly becomes the destination for a crowd of over 300,000 music loving Serbians who descend for a battle of the orkestras carnival that sounds like a full blown military conflict (with trombones instead of bombs). This bouncy little number by Beirut brings all those memories flooding back, summoning visuals straight out of Emir Kusturica’s Time of the Gypsies.
Sheila & B.Devotion – Spacer
Trying to avoid the obvious disco anthems while searching for something shiny, I turned to St Etienne’s Bob Stanley and his imposingly authoritative tome Yeah Yeah Yeah, the Story of Pop Music. This Niles Rodgers produced gem was the result.
Kiasmos – Lit
Talking of magic, one of the more beautiful nights I’ve enjoyed was at the Airwaves Festival in Reykjavik. Having spent a week chasing the Northern Lights across the black beaches of the Hringvegur highway, we ended up at the beautiful harbour-side Harpa building, filled with electronic artists playing in every room. A highlight was Erased Tape’s Kiasmos, blending Olafur Arnald’s meditative piano stillness with huge beats and flashing blue and purple lights. A true journey into inner space shared by a dancing room of happy Scandinavians.
Yoko Ono – Walking on Thin Ice (PSB remix)
Maybe most famous as the song John Lennon was working on when he was assassinated, this Bjork like disco hymn has a chilly power that is undeniably haunting. There’s a catch in Ono’s voice which sounds eerily prophetic.
LCD Soundsystem – Pulse v.1
A respite from the pressure of vocal communication, this ‘pulse’ was released ahead of LCD Soundsystem’s excellent but wordy American Dream album. As James Murphy described: “it’s super wonky, and i really didn’t want to square the human-ness off of it, but just let it be what it is. so you don’t have to tell me that it sounds super f*cked up. i know.”
Lykkie Li – I Follow Rivers (Magician remix)
What a song. While I listen more to her last album I Never Learn, with its themes of dislocation and New York City as a decadent release from pain, I just can’t escape the deep black pull of this particular river.
GusGus – Crossfade (Maceo Plex mix)
There is nothing more euphorically Icelandic than the sight of their mighty (now ex member) blonde haired Viking Högni Egilsson leading the crowd from the front of the stage into frosty dance euphoria.
Dirtmusic – Paix
This is a recent tune from the Hugo Race x Mali musician collective mentioned earlier. Race’s snaking, noir guitar is perfectly offset on this one by rising Malian star Aminata Wassidje Traore’s soaring vocals and the rhythms of Baba Zula.
Corona – The Rhythm of the Night
One final push into oblivion with the deathless polyrhythms of ‘Rhythm of the Night’. The song has stayed with me since it stuck out in the Claire Denis movie Beau Travail (1999), an example of how even the most famous songs can be revisited by a change of context. Imagine as The Quietus writes a scene “populated with the collective movements of girls’ shoulders against soldiers’ chests, camera sidling into the nooks between bodies and Latin American rhythms jostling limbs.”
Low Roar – Waiting (10 Years)
We watched Low Roar perform in the centre of a Icelandic brewery amongst the huge conical tanks and pressure gauges. They formed a gleaming, fjörd wedged somewhere between the twin glaciers of Sigur Ros and Radiohead. A glacial trombone at the end ties the song to it’s spiritual home in the volcanic Icelandic landscape.
Fokatelep – Indulj El
This Hungarian group melded the sounds of Magyar and Bulgarian folk and roma influences with beats and waves of hypnotic guitar. Liked a funked up version of Bowie’s Warsawa from Low, the song seeps with memories of crumbling old towns flashing by on the huge inter country motorways that criss-cross central Europe.
Einsturzende Neubautan – Perpetuum Mobile (single edit)
A clatter of metal heralds the entry point of that musical motorway into the harsh lights of Berlin. Perpetuum Mobile sets a distorted dialogue by our final Bad Seed, the inimitable baronesque Blixa Bargeld detailing the rock star travel experience (‘moving walkway, elevator, hotel room’) to music revelling in the concept of Perpetuum Mobile or ‘perpetual motion’. The primary instrument is, uniquely, a homemade turntable powered wind turbine.
Zagar feat. Underground Divas – Wings of Love (Radio edit)
A full throated climax to this mix, and a hymn to the majesty of love, this Hungarian radio hit was a collaboration by a introverted electronica act which brought in pretty much every female vocalist in the Budapest underground music scene into one joyful crescendo.
Jane Birkin – Le Moi et Le Je
And after the storm, the calm. Finishing as we started with the Gainsbourg dynasty, this time with Charlotte Gainsbourg’s mother Jane Birkin, and a beautiful song produced by Serge Gainsbourg. I’ve been haunted ever since I saw the Agnes Varda film Jane B par Agnes V. As Birkin is brought to tears by her inability to sing with the necessary emotion, Gainsbourg caresses a performance out of her, the final result forever infused with their chemistry. A victory over “the cruel and tender game between the me and the I.”
If you’ve made it this far, you are my hero, thanks for indulging me ♥️.
See you on the dance floor.
Love Will Save the Day