week 9: happy birthday to me (feb. 28th)
this week's track is inspired by something i wrote on or near to my 19th birthday (and the bright eyes track):
"i never wanted to outlive you
but it's looking like i might do
all these things that i would undo
i wished that you would pull through"
a very very close friend of mine died at 21 and i'm now 19. this realisation was strange to me - it felt he was miles above me in terms of what he had done with his life, as if he lived an 80 year lifespan in a quarter of the time. may his memory be for a blessing.
week 8: n205
i fell ill, and i fell behind. this week's effort is based on early synthesiser stuff, mort garson's plantasia and so on. it's kind of out of left field for some people, i guess, but i like working on more electronic and poppy stuff because a lot of the stuff i listen to is more poppy and electronic. the theme here is about home and moving away, particularly about that period where you know you're moving away, but you're not there yet. a lot of my music is about these weird transitional periods, because a lot of my life (as is everyone else's, i believe) is about weird transitional periods where you can't quite work anything out. you no longer feel attached to your 'home' but you're physically not in your new home, like a big fish in a small pond or something like that. but i've gotta get some more tracks going because i'm behind...
week 7:malachei elyon
sonically, this is very much the next step of what i was talking about last week - the minimalist expansiveness and all that. there's also a cd i got free with a magazine called 'ambient americana' or something like that that has a lot of similar-sounding space country. i love playing around with effects; my boss DD-7 is the greatest impulse purchase i've ever made, not only for what it adds when i am playing but also when i'm not (the ceaseless drone at the end of the song that i carried on listening to for quite a while after i ended the recording) but there's also practical reasons behind the sudden switch in style. i've caught a cold (not covid, thankfully, seemingly unimaginably) and it pains me to talk or especially sing. for the first time in my life (at least consciously), i've had to prioritise different forms of speech - the top ones are my daily prayers (i find liturgy both important and beautiful, reflected in this song's title), at evening meals with my parents, and helping customers at my work. even though my voice is now recovering quite a lot (thankfully as i'm hoping to see drain gang this weekend and i don't want my efforts over the last years of committing every lyric to memory to be in vain), i don't want to risk it unnecessarily especially as i was wanting to create a more ambient, experimental track. although i'm a keen writer, and i love lyrics, sometimes the aspect of a song i'm most proud of gets lost in all of it. it feels like sometimes i'm throwing up all over it, egotistically pointing at myself and my own incredibly witty and emotional lyricism. this one, quite literally, speaks for itself. the guitar has temporarily become my voice and it's far more eloquent than i could ever dream of being.
week 6: bleed easily
this was my first effort that wasn't actually recorded in the same week. there are inevitably going to be unforeseen challenges in writing and recording 52 songs in 52 weeks, and this week's was the sudden kaputtmachen of my headphones. dancing to tay-k was recorded on a pair of 20 quid sennheiser earbuds which is why it sounds so gloriously lo-fi, and this was recorded on a pair of sennheiser headphones that my mum randomly discovered in working condition in what can only be described as an act of divine providence. these are the same headphones that, almost two years ago now, broke in the same way all my headphones seem to break, by suddenly losing sound in one ear. i've been trying to raise funds for a pair of iems which is going well so far, baruch Hashem.
but on to the song itself. it's a lot more layered and meditative than some of the stuff i've tried before. it incorporates an improvised guitar part solely consisting of harmonics, traditional weatherfield arpeggios, and what my yamaha keyboard refers to as 'chimes'. my mum has chimes in the back garden, bought from a japanese garden in cornwall in one of her many 'spiritual' flirtations. but unlike her luckily botched attempts to buy muslim prayer mats despite little to no knowledge of Allah, the windchimes are fairly inoffensive, in fact they're very very pleasant. there's a storm coming, and hopefully on the bright side some beautiful noises will be conjured within the safety of these four walls. i can only hope that those not as lucky as myself will be safe.
when i wrote the song initially, in an acoustic rendition, i could hear the wind chimes in the back garden and immediately started to wonder how i could incorporate this feeling into the music. i didn't want to just make a field recording of the chimes because that seemed simultaneously too difficult and too much of a cop-out. i've always had an affectation for ambient pop and i've been listening to it a lot recently - i could write extensively on the flirtations between minimalism, micropop, downtempo, and video game music. i don't know if the influences are visible or not, and i don't know if i'd like them to be more or less so - but think instupendo, steve reich, caroline polachek and imogen heap perhaps. i think there's a happy medium between the respective relentlessness of poptimism and intellectualism that imogen heap resides in - the careful composition of catchiness - and i respect it infinitely more than either of the two in isolation. the percussion on instupendo tracks often feels like bitcrushed wind chimes - and although i don't quite reach the same stage of glitchiness here it was definitely something in the back of my mind while i was making it, one of my most loved limitations of the portasound i work on.
lyrically i suppose it's quite simple - but that fits with the rest of the sound i believe. i've always liked the way certain bands (american football, the promise ring sometimes and duster come to mind) have a lot fewer lyrics than people might expect thanks to elongation, repetition and instrumental periods. i remember reading an interview with bladee in which the interviewer made particular note of the long instrumental periods, intros, outros, and so on in his tracks that could be influenced by his liking of ambient and non-vocal electronic, a similar situation to this one. sometimes you need to leave the lyrics ambiguity and space to grow and permeate instead of explicit rapid-fire storytelling. i've written a lot about this one but i hope it doesn't ruin the enjoyment or overexplain. maybe because i wrote it last week along with the other track and it's had more time to steep in my head. one more brief note on the title's literal significance: i'm always bleeding somewhere, completely unintentionally, and i have no clue why.
week 5: dancing to tay-k with benjamin reichwald
this week's effort is a quick, fast and loud tribute to joyce manor and the titular swedish lad. it's based on a true story, shoutsout trance party! i have this running thought whenever i listen to a joyce manor record (they're one of my favourite bands, so there's no insult intended here) that it must take them about 2 hours to record an album, and it took me longer to plug in my whole recording setup and make my shitty mic stand not fall over than it did for me to record this one. the whole 'sign from God' stuff is very much a continuation from the themes of nothing bad ever happens to me, i'm moving to london this year for university, a city that has always been very (physically and mentally) close to me but never home, and trance party felt like the confirmation i needed that i'm making the right decision. contrary to how a lot of these tracks have sounded, i've only been depressed for a couple of days so far this year which is incredible - i think quitting drinking and effectively balancing my part-time job and my creative pursuits have played a massive part in it. i always worry about saying things like that when everything is going well, because life is really an eternal pendulum between gifts and curses and sometimes there's not much you can do to prevent the flow. an object in motion tends to stay in motion and all that. even during a football match, when celtic are up 3-0 at half time, there's a feeling in my gut that i can't say anything positive lest there be a massive upset. but the bhoys are doing well, and i'm doing well, and thank the Lord for that.
week 4: smokedout
this one was written when i didn't have loads of time to spare - one of the challenges of this kind of thing. i wrote it on thursday evening and recorded it early friday afternoon. i decided to drench it in reverb in the 'mastering' process, hence honouring the title i gave it. it felt hazy, it felt not quite 'present' - reflecting my tiredness during the week. i just didn't have any energy for people or things, not in the sense of being depressed, just in the sense of being straightforwardly tired, for once. i needed some time at home, i needed some rest, but i needed something interesting. this balance is one of the great difficulties of adult life! not having everything proscribed to you can be a blessing as well as a curse.
in february, i'm going to try some more upbeat music. february has been a difficult month for me the past few years for unknown reasons. it's my birthday and i should be happy, but typically it becomes very dark. noticing these patterns is something very useful and damning simultaneously.
week 3: cocodamol
not much to say about this one, i want to let it speak for itself. i bought this keyboard, a yamaha pss-270, for 20 quid in the barras - a beautiful mound of garbage and cool shit, all celtic fanzines and tangles of dead cables. this song is a conversation between 2 people - of the uselessness of self-destruction and self-distraction
week 2: san marino
the san marino men's national football team have only 1 recorded victory - beating liechtenstein 1-0 in a friendly in 2004, not recognised by some bodies due to it being a friendly. i still haven't decided whether it's better for their grand narrative if it's official or not. having 1 victory, over liechtenstein, and having no victories, are both good in their own ways.
i had a realisation while praying one day - reflecting on the story of rabbi beroka and the prophet elijah - that i can try as hard as i can (and inevitably fail) to keep all these rules i've set myself, but what's important is the bigger picture, who i am as a person, what i do for others. faith and judgement is never a matter of who sticks by the book the most, but who has the most considerate and positive impact on the world, which led me to think - what is my impact on the world?
ever since my significant decline in mental health, i've been mainly focusing on myself, not in a selfish way, just trying to get back on my own two feet. but as a result, i've become increasingly isolated and insulated, and like the city-state of san marino, my victories are getting fewer and farther between.
i've been listening to a lot of coma cinema and this song is an attempt to reconcile music, my faith, and my wishes for this year to come - i want to make a positive attempt in the world, although everyone says the same thing.
note: the line about 'throw me in the fire' came out of nowhere while i was recording. 'use your powers take me out', included later, was the original. i kept it in because i love spontaneity and automatism - it feels like some kind of sign or message to me.
week 1: look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair
bringing a book into the new year, by my standards, is a bad omen. but this year i did just that, eschewing my tradition of reading the catcher in the rye as my first book every year (although i began it immediately after). i read v for vendetta recently, and then decided to reread watchmen. i caught a lot of what i missed the first time round – notably the literary references.
this song, i suppose, is inspired by my interests that were reflected in watchmen, most notably bob dylan and the romantic poets. it’s an attempt at new romanticism, but not in a duran duran sense. i aim to write more pensive lyrics, i aim to use natural imagery to highlight political issues. i’m a big fan of william blake and percy bysshe shelley, i recommend everyone to read london, the human abstract, ozymandias, and the masque of anarchy. blake is also a huge influence on my visual art, and even my way of seeing the world, but that’s neither here nor there.
technically, i tried to write a folk/country song. i don’t know if i’ve been successful, but i tried to play my guitar like dolly parton. writing 52 songs in a year is going to be a challenge for me, so i want to try new styles and learn new things along the way. i’m going to try and stray from traditional guitar arrangements all the time – i’m going to put my banjo to use, i’m going to play some more experimental arrangements, etc. it’s going to be very exciting, and very new. peace + love.
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