Tuesday, March 06, 2007

One Minute Wonders

In a quiet moment recently, I sorted the music on my iTunes by song length, interested in knowing what the longest track was I had on there*. Yes, the winter nights have indeed flown by… Anyway, a nice consequence of this was that I realised just how many songs I have that clock in at around the one-minute mark, and it got me thinking… Mostly these songs are used as neat little interludes on albums, to allow the listener to draw breath, or to set the scene at the start of an album. I’m guessing that some of them are this length either because they are half-realised ideas that were deemed not worth expanding on, or because the artist’s became fond of them as miniature nuggets of their art – musical haikus if you will. Sometimes it’s baffling how they could be left so tantalisingly short, when other songs are indulged to go on and on, often undeservingly. I always found them very useful when making mixtapes, back when that was the accepted way of distributing music amongst friends. Now it’s all CDs and zip files, I’ve found less use for them, but decided to compile a playlist of a selection of these songs and was delighted to see how well they came together as a wonderful, albeit brief, compilation. Any of you out there with precious little spare time could cram your entire musical listening for the day into a short 20 minute-ish spell, courtesy of these selections. I think you’ll find it a rewarding listening experience. I agonised (pointlessly) over the order of the songs, but have concluded that it doesn’t really matter, so if you bother to download them all, you can always sequence it yourself. The tracks vary greatly, but I guess the linking theme is that they are all instrumental. I did find a few vocal songs in the time boundaries, but they seemed incongruous in the mix of instrumentals.

Super Furry Animals - Furryvision

Kicking things off is ‘Furryvision’ from the Super Furry Animal’s finest hour ‘Radiator’. Opening on an ominous minor chord, twinkling melodies and plaintive strings make it the perfect song to set the scene; a mouth-watering promise of delights still to come.

Squarepusher - Tommib

‘Tommib’ is my favourite ever Squarepusher track and shows that he doesn’t always need a chopped-up amen and his trusty bass guitar to blow you away. My wife walked down the aisle to this track, which makes it even more special to me. She didn’t have long though, so ended up practically sprinting, dragging her Dad along with her, to this majestic, skyscraper-sized instrumental.

Working for a Nuclear Free City - Pixelated Birds

‘Pixelated Birds’ is a classic example of the one-minute song as album interlude. Working for a Nuclear Free City littered their self-titled debut album with these, but this is my favourite, as its shifting, ethereal distortion reminds me of Slowdive.

Bronnt Industries Kapital - Palus Somnii

Bronnt Industries Kapital’s ‘Palus Somnii’ is an eerie, sombre little number that manages to thoroughly unnerve in the short space of time it is allowed to breathe before the coffin lid is slammed shut. *Shivers*

My Bloody Valentine - Touched

‘Touched’ by My Bloody Valentine has always intrigued me. The sole composition on the album from the drummer Colm O’Ciosoig, it sounds perfect as a bridge between tracks, but I’m always left feeling that it’s a much grander piece of music, chopped to fit. I love the groaning sound, the pounding drum and the evocative strings. I'm so used to it effortlessly segueing into ‘To Here Knows When’...

Caribou - Lord Leopard

...but instead, we jump straight into ‘Lord Leopard’ by Caribou, which is a brilliant demonstration of just how many ideas you can fit into a small time frame. Consisting of live hip hop drums, a skanking bass line and synths reminiscent of John Carpenter's soundtrack for 'Escape from New York', it ends with a crazed drum solo and psyche freak-out guitar - incredible.

Gnac - And Again

‘And Again’ by Gnac is actually one second under one minute (clocking in at 0.59) but is perfectly formed, and reminds me of the sounds you might hear as the sun bursts through the clouds after a heavy storm. It’s the only piece of music I own by this artist, and I almost don’t want to hear anything else as this song is so damned perfect. And again? – yes please.

Bronze Age Fox - Real Nudies
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - Blue Turning Gray

A pair of guitar tracks, side-by-side, one from Hanham’s finest Bronze Age Fox, and the other from indie rockers Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. Both tracks are similar – I love the way you can hear the fingers scraping down the fret boards as the guitarists pluck and strum away. If you listen really carefully you can almost hear the creak of the stools or chairs they are sitting on. I think these songs may be distant cousins - 'Real Nudies' has a mournful flute, while 'Blue Turning Gray' also adds a subtle bit of wind to the strumming.

Casino vs Japan - Pinwheel

Casino Vs Japan’s ‘Pinwheel’ is a simple song with a beautiful, warm cyclical melody that could go on forever and I don’t think I’d get bored. Aural valium of the highest quality.

The Beta Band - Rhododendron

‘Rhododendron’ by the Beta Band is constructed from church organ, bongos, synths and a glockenspiel that sounds like it’s played by a kid in the school orchestra. It never really made much sense to me on ‘Heroes To Zeroes’, but lifted out of its original context, it sounds mighty fine.

The Art of Noise - Snapshot

It’s inevitable that the original sound collage terrorists, The Art of Noise would have a few miniature opuses lurking in their catalogue. ‘Snapshot’ is a strange little song from their debut album, ‘Who’s Afraid of the Art of Noise’ and it sits snugly between the epic ‘Beatbox (Diversion One)’ and ‘Close (To the Edit)’. This is a vinyl rip so it sounds a bit like it's been lying in a dusty old cupboard for a while, but that doesn't detract from the sonar melodies and heavy piano chords. It also appeared in a slightly longer version (2.33 as opposed to 0.59) on ‘Daft’, a kind of alternative ‘Best Of’ album. I prefer this one though; short and unbelievably sweet.

King Biscuit Time - Metal Biscuit

‘Metal Biscuit’ closed the debut album ‘Black Gold’ from King Biscuit Time aka former Beta Bander Steve Mason. It really reminds me of the Art of Noise, and sounds completely unlike anything else on the album, which is maybe why he tagged it on the end. It doesn't feel like an ending and always makes me want to play the album all over again, which is perhaps intentional. Its metallic electro stylings were a pointer to the sound of his current project, Black Affair.

Feedle - Go Home Revolving Piano

How to make a grown man cry in just over a minute and a half, by Feedle. I have been known to shed a tear at ‘Go Home Revolving Piano’, usually just about when the heart-wrenching strings kick in. It reminds me of an updated take on the classic lullaby ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’, and is soporific and disturbing in equal measures.

Boards of Canada - Olson

Rounding things off is ‘Olson’ by Boards of Canada. They are considered by many to be the masters of these miniature songs, with their first two albums being crammed full of them. It was hard to pick one, but I eventually plumped for ‘Olson’ from ‘Music Has the Right to Children’ as it is simply sublime, with the lush warmth of the bass line, complimented by the lazy, playful melody. I’m always torn as to whether or not I wish it would go on longer as it is so perfect as it is, but it could easily be extended and I’d be a happy chap.

* For anyone interested, it was ‘A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules from the Centre of the Ultraworld: Live Mix 10’ by The Orb which came in at 18 minutes and 48 seconds…

Buy Super Furry Animals 'Radiator'; Buy Squarepusher 'Go Plastic'; Buy Working for a Nuclear Free City 'S/T'; Buy Bronnt Industries Kapital ‘Virtute Et Industria’; Buy My Bloody Valentine ‘Loveless’; Buy Caribou ‘The Milk of Human Kindness’; Buy the ‘Melodic Today’compilation; Buy Bronze Age Fox 'S/T'; Buy Clap Your Hands Say Yeah 'S/T'; Buy Casino vs Japan 'Hitori + Kaiso: 1998-2001'; Buy The Beta Band ‘Heroes To Zeroes’; Search eBay for ‘Who’s Afraid of the Art of Noise’; Buy King Biscuit Time 'Black Gold'; Pre-order Feedle 'Leave Now For Adventure'; Buy Boards of Canada ‘Music Has the Right to Children’