Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Clandestine Classic XXXIX - Antiphon

The thirty-ninth post in an occasional series that is intended to highlight songs that you might not have heard that I think are excellent - clandestine classics, if you will. Maybe they'll be by bands you've never heard of. Maybe they'll be by more familiar artists, but tracks that were squirelled away on b-sides, unpopular albums, radio sessions or music magazine cover-mounted CDs. Time will, undoubtedly, tell.

There was a time when I would buy, on average, an album on CD every other week. Sometimes more. My shelves groaned under their collected weight. But life changes. Life gets busy with other shit. Time for just sitting and listening to music gets eroded, especially now that I no longer spend an hour in the car commuting every day. And tastes changes too. I was going to write that my tastes have changed but let's be honest here, my tastes have stayed mostly the same and the world has moved on. I've just had a quick look at the current UK top 40 and do you know what? I don't know a single track in it. Not one. I couldn't even hazard a guess, a hum, at any of them. My taste has never been mainstream, but it seems what I like has never been so far removed from what is popular. Or commercial, at least.

I got to wondering recently when this parting of the ways happened. Perhaps these Clandestine Classics would provide a clue, I thought. So I drew up a graph, running from the year I was born to now, and I tallied up the 38 entries in this series thus far to see how they were distributed. This is the result:

Seems 1992 was a much better year for music than I remember! The big surprise here is the shortage of tracks from the early to mid Eighties, but then I guess the "clandestine" criteria for this series means I can't easily include The Jam, The Smiths, and many other bands I listened to a lot back then. I had a big 60s Mod revival thing going on then too - Who, Kinks, Small Faces - again, hard to categorise as clandestine. The consistent level throughout the Nineties is no surprise - I was out a lot, going to lots of gigs (mostly with The Man Of Cheese), avidly reading the music press, exploring new sounds. Then in the Noughties... well, I didn't grow up as such but life moved on around me. Then, in 2007 my life took a right-angle turn and I had time again to indulge, to seek out new bands, to try new things again. Even so, no Clandestine Classics since 2011.... I am not down with the kids.

So lets add a more recent bar to the graph. Midlake are a Texan folk rock band who've been plying their trade since 1999. I'll confess to not being familiar with their history or earlier work. I've since read that in 2012 their lead vocalist and primary songwriter upped sticks and left the band, and that 2013 album Antiphon was their first output without him. And what output! I heard the title track on the radio and was immediately hooked. Antiphon (a Greek word for a specific type of "call and response" religious chant) may be folk rock but it's choral in a way that definitely sounds ecclesiastical...but fear not, it's an entirely secular work. I think. Because the lyrics are a little obtuse at times; they seem to be anti-war, but also talk of the poor kneeling down before He who takes and defiles, and of idols who wore fine wool... so who knows.

What I do know is that the harmonies made by these, the remaining members of Midlake, are incredible, dense, layered. It's the sort of sound other bands would make with a computer. I found these sounds to be transportative, given the right mood. The record buying public disagreed - the album of the same name limped to number 39 in the UK chart, and didn't chart at all in the US. There was no single release which, given the aforementioned state of that chart, is probably no surprise. To get the most uncluttered perspective on those harmonies, have a listen to this live session version first - then head back here and revel in the depth, structure and sheer weight of the album version, here courtesy of YouTube. Oh, and is it just me or does the middle eight sound briefly like early Seventies Genesis?

I'm still not down with the kids, but I'm okay.

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