Song: Ram On
Artist: Paul McCartney
Everything hangs on the pristine ring of a ukulele. Ram On is from Paul McCartney’s second solo album, 1971’s Ram. With the exception of a couple of guest musicians, everything on the album is credited to Paul and Linda McCartney. Simple, beautifully soulful and direct, this little song reflects Paul’s ear for melody and his magician’s ability to continually come up with creative hooks. In the wake of the Beatles’ break-up and the acrimonious relations between himself and former songwriting partner John Lennon during this era, the child-like optimism of this track is quite something.
Though the iconoclastic New York band first formed in the late 90s, the music world first hears of this strange new flower in the summer of 2002 with the release of Interpol’s debut album Turn On The Bright Lights; Untitled is the opening track. It’s an unprepossessing name for such a huge introduction to a band. This is a more directly elemental song than what the band would later come to be associated with; nonetheless, the precisely interlocking, guitar-driven quality of their sound is there from the get-go and the production is immediate and savagely powerful. Interpol's songs are often about love, loss of love and a certain nameless existentialist angst, yet rather than being awkwardly moody and depressing, their best songs reflect a huge amount of intelligent energy, inflicting killer hooks and bass lines impossible to ignore.
Untitled begins with a tentative, open-ended guitar riff establishing the tone. When the drums and bass kick in you know you're in for something real - it's an unmistakeable gut-check signalling that this band means business. The track builds with remorseless inevitability into a monstrously huge and compellingly physical experience. The sparse, forlorn lyrics come off as some kind of hollow, trance-like mantra floating ghost-like over the blistering sonic attack unfolding below. One guitar keeps at the initial repeating phrase that grows ever rawer and more powerful, while the other guitar introduces itself with sliding stabs down the neck before bringing in a series of high, ringing, sustained notes which, taken together with the entire sonic package, simply kill. At one point the drums just start doing this astounding thing - it's like controlled explosions.
Structurally it's remarkably simple, even daring - the song never departs from its opening premise, only steadily intensifies that theme until it climaxes then trails off, ending on a single dangling, shimmering note which reverberates deliciously in the crisp air. Check the inventive youtube fan video below.
Song: Leave Someone
Band: Wilderness of Manitoba
Leave Someone is from the Toronto-based band's 2014 album Between Colours. There’s a certain appealing clarity to their refreshingly direct and gimmick-free sound. They charm the ears with classic songwriting, timeless vocal harmonies and a strong feel for melody. Vocals may be a big part of the band’s sound but the supporting instrumentation behind it is equally robust and delivers with a both grace and punch. This track in particular is a compact pop gem. Check out the simple yet cleverly eloquent official video release below.
Song: On The Dunes
Artist: Donald Fagen
Kamakiriad is pianist Donald Fagen’s second solo album, released eleven years after his successful debut, 1982’s The NightFly. It’s pretty much impossible for Fagen’s projects not to sound like Steely Dan, the hugely influential 70s band he co-founded with guitarist/bassist Walter Becker - but that’s hardly a bad thing (Becker in fact toured the album with Fagen, and the two would shortly go on to rekindle their songwriting and recording partnership).
On The Dunes is imbued with the aching acuity of regretful hindsight and bittersweet nostalgia. This spacious eight-minute excursion has the vivid feel of inevitability, like the crash and roll of the surf the narrator experiences at his lonely beach house as he pensively reflects on a life of misadventure and dashed expectations. It’s bloody brilliant. Though he’s famously critical of his own artistic shortcomings, rarely does a master like Fagen make a mis-step - and this grounded, butter-smooth number is no exception.
Song: Goro City
Artist: Manu Dibango
Cameroonian sax and vibraphone player Manu Dibango is an unstoppable music machine. He’s 81 years young with a massive and varied discography under his belt. Goro City hails from the 1980 record Gone Clear. Slickly meshing reggae with Afrobeat and funk, this lush, relaxed instrumental shows off Dibango’s talent on both the sax and the vibraphones. The horns are energetic and precise, the backbeat crisp and rock-steady and the bass makes it all real, hitting you in your mid-section with earthy grace.
Song: Makes Me Wanna Die
This spare, utterly singular track is from Tricky’s second solo album post-Massive Attack, 1996’s Pre-Millennium Tension. On this dark and ultimately uneven album creaking under the weight of its ambition, both Christiansands and this track are clear standouts. Longtime Tricky collaborator Martina Copley-Bird sings on Makes Me Wanna Die like her heart is laid bare. It’s a gut-wrenching track punctuated by pregnant pauses - empty voids which feel like bullet holes. Topley-Bird’s striking vocal clarity and the sparse yet infinitely gentle guitar accompaniment are the twin streams of shimmering humanity in an otherwise bleak and remorseless piece. Against all odds it works - there’s something elegant and gracefully poised rising above the confusing wreckage of barren angst.