Category Archives: music

Elegiac Stanzas: Literary references in British Sea Power’s early discography

I’m a big fan of the local library
I just read a book
But that’s another story

So declares Yan Wilkinson in Who’s In Control, the first song on British Sea Power’s fourth album, Valhalla Dancehall. And as the very name of that album suggests, British Sea Power are a band more than comfortable with a literary reference. In fact, from just classical mythology alone they’ve drawn upon Zeus, Hercules, and the Trojan War. Listening to British Sea Power, isn’t just listening to music, it’s an education in the arts. Like reading a truly great book, it’s fun on its own, but when you dig into what it’s drawing on, you get something truly meaningful.

One of the reasons I love BSP, and maybe the reason they get a bit overlooked, is that they pick unusual things to sing about. When most bands are singing about love and relationships, BSP have sung about the history of artificial illumination, the smallest church in Sussex, and the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich. You know, standard fare. And throughout these explorations, they pepper eclectic references. And if GCSE English taught me anything it’s that lots of references = very good. Or at least, it makes the songs richer than your standard verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus-chorus affair.

Which brings us to this. For years I’ve wondered about collecting the references I’d unearthed. And finally, I’ve actually got round to doing it. I’m focussing on the first album – The Decline of British Sea Power – mostly because I know it best, but also because I think it has the highest density of these references. And I’m grateful to various contributors across the internet for helping me to fill in the blanks on some of this, especially the folks at, the Salty Water BSP fan site, and the stark-raving mad bunch on the BSP forum.

TDOBSP is also a masterpiece of an album from start to finish, musically as well as lyrically. It’s broadly about…. remembrance?  At least, that’s my interpretation. As the quote on the front of the album says (from Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey): “We ourselves may be loved only for a brief time… Even so, that will suffice… There is a land for the living and a land for the dead.

The album cover of The Decline of British Sea Power

Angular guitar riffs meet Russian literature

The album opens with forty two seconds of gregorian chanting. Because why not. But after that, the first line – spoken, not sung – is:  “Oh Fyodor you are the most attractive man”. Oh hello, Russian author FYODOR DOSTOYEVSKY, on this nondescript 2003 indie rock release, what are you doing here? The song is Apologies to Insect Life, and the song supposedly draws inspiration from Dostoyevksy’s Notes from Underground – but I don’t know enough about to get the specific references.

It’s a Pixies-inspired clangy anthem that builds with frenetic energy that spills over to the next song Favours in the Beetroot Fields, supposedly an oblique reference to the dispensation Field Marshall Montgomery gave his troops to seek ‘favours’ while stationed out on the front.

BSP & Betjeman

The title of Favours in the Beetroot Fields partially echoes The Licorice Fields at Pontefract, by former poet laureate John Betjeman. Is it a deliberate reference? Possibly not. But we know it’s at least knocking around in the BSP subconscious from their appearance in the BBC documentary Betjeman & Me, in which they perform a reading of Pontefract and discuss Betjeman’s penchant for larger ladies.

Betjeman’s roots spread throughout BSP’s work, but more in tone than outright content. Betjeman’s playful poking at sensibilities pops up in a lot of BSP lyrics. And I have a strong suspicion that the song Lucky Bicycle (which you’ll be lucky to find anywhere) is a reference to the line from Myfanwy. where the poet writes of how his beloved rides around the city on a bike and he cheekily declares: trace me your wheel-tracks, you fortunate bicycle!

Shakespeare and sci-fi

The fourth song on the album, Something Wicked, is probably the best example of the album’s themes. It compares and contrasts various symbols of nature that have been co-opted by mankind for military purposes (the Oak Leak Cluster as military award, the use of camouflage) concluding that “your works of nature are unnatural”. The title is an almost-too-obvious reference to the witches of Macbeth, who foretell the bloody events to come in their warning to the king-to-be.

Something Wicked features some of my favourite lyrics on the album, with a couple of my favourite lines being:

And the lake was clear as crystal
The best tea I’ve ever had

There’s no such thing as a filler lyrics for BSP, and I choose to believe that these two lines are a reference to The Shining Levels by John Wyatt – a book about a man who ends up living in isolation in the Lake District (the shining levels of the title being the lakes themselves). That BSP apparently almost named their album after the book is also a strong indication. A highlight of the book is when the protagonist adopts an injured baby deer and nurses it to back to health. The same little lost roe deer from No Lucifer from their third album? Probably!

But as well as the Shakespearean allusions, Something Wicked could also be a reference to Ray Bradbury’s novel Something Wicked This Way Comes. Again, we know that BSP are fans. Their song Georgie Ray off Valhalla Dancehall, is loosely based on Bradbury – as well as George Orwell – and their fifth studio album Machineries of Joy is the namesake of a collection of Bradbury’s short stories.

The idea of British Sea Power being science fiction fans may seem odd, so let’s acknowledge that. So far we’ve brought up mythology, Shakespeare, poets, and nature – none of which suggest an interest in either science or fiction, particularly. But there’s an interesting link here, which gives some more context to other parts of The Decline Of…

Remembering Geoff Goddard & Joe Meek

At university, BSP were friends with a chap named Geoff Goddard. Despite working in the catering department at the University of Reading, Goddard had a celebrated past in the music industry, working with artists like The Tornados and Heinz. Most notably he worked with the producer Joe Meek. Meek’s album I Hear A New World is one of the most incredible (viz. weird) half hours of music you’ll ever listen to, and has been cited by BSP as an influence on their own work. And together, Goddard and Meek created hits like the chart-topping Telstar and Johnny Remember Me. So is it any surprise, then, that the fifth track on TDOBSP is called, simply, Remember Me?

Before moving on, take a moment to appreciate the video BSP made for Remember Me, where they bring to life iconic London statues to belt out the most anthemic track off the record.

The Lonely & Larkin

The seventh song on TDOBSP – The Lonely – might also be the saddest. Hauntingly beautiful, it paints a picture of isolation, of long evenings spent hunched over a keyboard playing music. Just look at how beautiful the chorus is:

I’ll drink all day and play by night
Upon my Casio electric piano
‘Til in the darkness I see lights
But not candelabra
But things from other stars

Oh, did I mention that the song is about the late Geoff Goddard? Yup! It’s a tribute song to the friend-of-the-band, which makes it all the more heart-wrenching. As a portrait of a genuine person by someone who deeply admires and respects them, it’s deeply moving and genuinely poetic.

And there’s a touch of another poet at work here. Compare Philip Larkin’s Aubade:

I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.
Till then I see what’s really always there:

It’s not so much a paraphrasing as an out-and-out reworking of Larkin’s original. But it’s far from plagiarism. BSP use reference as the basis for originality, not as a substitute. And I like the idea that BSP are Larkin fans. There’s something a bit punk about Larkin and the idea of a bunch of angry young men studying his works and then blasting them out on stage seems fitting.

See also “it deepens like a coastal shelf” as Larkin’s description of misery in This Be The Verse. I think Larkin was talking about the shallow portion of a continent that is submerged underwater (thanks Wikipedia), but I can hear it ring in Oh Larsen B, from BSP’s second album, an ode to Yan’s “favourite foremost coastal Antarctic shelf”. (A song about the collapse of the Larsen-B ice shelf, of course).

Now That’s What I Call World War One Joy Division

We need to talk about Carrion, the 8th song on TDOBSP, and my favourite British Sea Power song of all time. I think it’s about a shipwreck, judging by some of the lyrics and the fact that the British Maritime Museum had some of the lyrics up on a wall for a bit. It name checks Scapa Flow and Rotherhithe, has a bit about the devil in it, and the refrain is about hair pomade. So basically a perfect song.

As well as being a piece of poetry in itself, I think Carrion has some interesting war poetry allusions in it. In early live shows, the song was preceded by clips of the classic war film A Matter of Life and Death or the audio of “Returning, we Hear the Larks” by Isaac Rosenberg. There used to be a great clip of this on Youtube but I’m having real trouble finding it – if anyone out there has it I’d be truly thankful!

Returning to the text itself, as it were, the line “Can stone and steel and horse’s heels / Ever explain the way you feel?” seems to me to be a TS Elliot reference. His Triumphal March is an inventory of the instruments of war, beginning with “Stone, bronze, stone, steel, stone, oakleaves, horses’ heels”. Oh, and there’s those oakleaves again from Something Wicked.

Do you like my historic rock?

Let’s march on to the end of the album then. At just under 14 minutes, Lately is the climax of the album. The lyrics require close interrogation, and a lot of it I can’t place at all. The song breaks down both lyrically and musically to the end, with Yan just screaming variations of the same line:

Do you like my megalithic rock?
Do you like my prehistoric rock?
Do you like my teutonic rock?
Do you like my priapic rock?
Do you like my neolithic rock?
Do you like my sterile rock?
Do you like my megalithic rock?

We’d see this again in the title of their third album – Do You Like Rock Music? But the song begins a lot more sedately:

Lately, you seem like another language
Are you in trouble,
Are you in trouble again?
And you know how they say,
The past, it is a foreign country
How can we go there,
How can we go where we once went?

Very typical BSP; themes of memory and isolation. And of course “the past is a foreign country” is a quote by LP Hartley which in full reads: “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” But it’s interesting that BSP would explicitly call this out as a reference (“you know how they say…”). Reference itself as a form of remembrance.

I really like this verse too:

Replacing Hercules, with the heroic sounds of Formby
Remove the tunics touch, stood aside from the putsch,
Stood aside from history

There’s the Greek mythology, with the heroic athleticism of Hercules ironically displaced by the saucy northern entertainer George Formby. Then there’s a bit I assume is a Hitler reference with the Putsch.

But BSP could never stand aside from history. They’re too obsessed by it. The ringing from ten minutes of guitar feedback has barely dissipated when the final song of the album begins. A Wooden Horse may be the closest that BSP come on the record to writing a traditional love song. “When wooden horses were in use / I would have built one / And left it for you” sings Yan. But even this sentiment is framed within the context of Greek mythology and history. They just can’t help themselves.


So what does this all mean? Just because BSP have written an album densely packed with literary references, both oblique and obvious, does that alone make it any good? Well, of course not. Other bands have drawn upon history and literature in their music; The Decemberists deserve an honourable mention here for being particular great.

But the way that BSP have done it is unlike anything I’ve ever seen any band do. And it’s not just the scale of it, or the way it’s made me obsessively crawl over every word, and spend hours researching this essay over an entire Easter bank holiday weekend.

What makes the album great is the way that these references reinforce the theme. As we’ve said, this is an album about remembrance, of looking back and appreciating. The album is called ‘The Decline Of…’ for a reason. We look back with fondness at things in the past, but we also displace the old with the new. We reject old myths for the modern, we reject the natural for the mechanical, we forget people and things.

In referencing the obscure and the forgotten, BSP make us remember. Geoff Goddard died in 2000 but he lives on in the music he left behind, and in our remembering him through BSP’s music.

Returning back to the quote that adorns the cover of the album..

We ourselves may be loved only for a brief time… Even so, that will suffice… There is a land for the living and a land for the dead

Things You Need In Addition To Love

Nothing you can make that can’t be made.
No one you can save that can’t be saved.
Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you in time. It’s easy.
All you need is love. All you need is love.
All you need is love, love.
Love is all you need.

Ok, so this is demonstrably untrue.

There are many things you need in addition to love.

1. Oxygen

This is the big one. The body requires oxygen as a kind of combustion source to break down food into energy. Without oxygen your brain cells start to die off pretty quickly (other cells in the body not so much). So that’s pretty important.

I guess you could also add ‘respiration’ in general to this. The act of breathing is also about removing carbon dioxide from your body. You don’t want that hanging around or I guess you’d just suffocate. So yeah, Beatles, BREATHING is really important. Y’all not gonna mention that?

2. Food

Can’t get energy if you’re not eating! Food is our energy source, and is required to literally fuel our lives. I guess you can technically remain alive without eating (we do it daily between meals), but you’re not gonna last more than a few days if you go entirely without.

People have reported living for up to two months without food. But you do get really, really hungry. So I wouldn’t really even call that living. You need to eat.

3. Water

Ah, water. Now water you can’t go without for more than a few days. The body is constantly using up water for all kinds of things; sweating, respiring, that kind of stuff. They say our bodies are about 50-60% water, but I don’t know where it is. I guess in the feet or something. I dunno. But you need water.

4. Warmth

Get too hot and you’ll burn; too cold and you’ll freeze. I know right, it sucks. You’re only ever a couple of tens of degrees away from certain death.

It gets worse. The human body temperature is a steady 37C. But if that drops to just 35C you’ve got hypothermia and bits of you will start falling off. Upwards, between just 37.5C and 38.3C is considered hyperthermia. You’ll start feeling dizzy, your heart will go nuts, and you’ll generally just have a bad time. Then you die.

So when I say ‘warmth’, I really just mean a nice stable temperature that doesn’t change too much.

5. Sleep

God only knows why we sleep. Something to do with the body needing to recharge, or the mind having to process stuff. Anyway, we gotta do it.

The record for going without sleep is somewhere between 11-18 days. But you’re not really having a good time. Sleep, guys.

6. A functioning immune system

Yeah, there’s lots of bug and microbes out there constantly trying to kill you. So if you’re immune system isn’t up to scratch you won’t last long. This is why auto-immune or immune deficiency diseases are so rough. Even a common cold can wreak havoc.

And that’s about it, I guess. And you don’t even need love. Many people live without love, so we can remove that from the list.

Let’s return to the song.

Nothing you can make that can’t be made.
No one you can save that can’t be saved.
Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you in time. It’s easy.
All you need is oxygen, food, water, warmth, sleep, and a functioning immune system.
All you need is oxygen, food, water, warmth, sleep, and a functioning immune system.
All you need is oxygen, food, water, warmth, sleep, and a functioning immune system, oxygen, food, water, warmth, sleep, and a functioning immune system.
Oxygen, food, water, warmth, sleep, and a functioning immune system is all you need.

Much better.

An explanation of everything Insane Clown Posse consider to be miracles

Insane Clown Posse are a fascinating band. They’ve somehow managed to create an entirely unique genre of music: Clown Rap. They describe themselves as hip hop, horror core, rock rap, and other things. But at its heart, it’s just Clown Rap.

Here’s what they look like:


But enough background. If you wanna know about ICP there’s plenty of writing already out there listing how weird and wacky they are.

I’d like to talk about a specific ICP song: Miracles. Here’s the vid:

It’s pretty weird, huh? It’s just them listing things they think are miracles. (Probably part of their ‘hidden’ Christian agenda, right?). Most famously, it spawned an entire meme around the “magnets” line.


In this article, I’d like to help Insane Clown Posse by explaining how the things they’re confused about work. I hope they find it a useful introduction to the world of science. So here goes!

If magic is all we’ve ever known
Then it’s easy to miss what really goes on
But I’ve seen miracles in every way
And I see miracles everyday

Ok, that’s just the intro. So far so good. There’s some MIRACLES coming up now though.

Oceans spanning beyond my sight
And a million stars way above em at night
We don’t have to be high to look in the sky
And know that’s a miracle opened wide

So, the oceans and stars are miracles? Nah not really. They’re just parts of the earth and galaxy. They’re pretty much the most bog standard things in our lives. If we didn’t have the oceans and stars you wouldn’t be around to appreciate them. So yeah, nothing special here really. The sky is not a miracle.

Look at the mountains, trees, the seven seas
And everything chilling underwater, please
Hot lava, snow, rain and fog
Long neck giraffes, and pet cats and dogs

Ignoring the fact they added “please” for no reason other than to rhyme with “seas” there’s a lot going on here. Mountains and trees are basically the same as above – natural objects that are utterly unremarkable. “The seven seas” is just the “oceans” from before repeated.

“Everything chilling underwater” – so, fish? Nah. They’re not miracles. They’re just creatures that have evolved to live underwater.

“Hot lava” – as opposed to? Cold lava is basically just rocks. Lava is formed when rock gets hot and becomes molten. A miracle? I don’t think so.

“Snow, rain and fog” – you’re just listing weather here mates.

“Long neck giraffes, and pet cats and dogs” – weird grouping of animals here. Above, they listed ALL underwater creatures but here they choose just two domestic pets and LONG NECK GIRAFFES? Nope, nothing miraculous about those either really.

Pure magic is the birth of my kids
I’ve seen shit that’ll shock your eyelids

Childbirth is often said to be a miracle. “The miracle of creation” they call it. But it’s really not. Reproduction is a very standard natural process. It’s just what all animals do. Was your wife pregnant for nine months? Yes? Then she’s gonna have a baby. Not miraculous. My eyelids remain unshocked.

Just to be clear, the definition of a miracle is a an event not explicable by natural or scientific laws. For some reason, ICP have chosen thus far to focus exclusively on events explicable by scientific laws. Do like UFOs or something instead, not widely understood scientific processes like “fog”.

The sun and the moon, and even Mars
The Milky Way and fucking shooting stars
UFOs, a river flows
Plant a little seed and nature grows

That’s more like it! The first two things we can skip, they just fall under ‘space stuff’ which is pretty unremarkable. “UFOs” is more interesting. By their very nature, they cannot be explained (otherwise they’d be FOs). But are UFOs miracles? I don’t think so. In most cases they can be explained away in some sense – people seeing things wrong, secret military tests, weather balloons, weird weather, whatever. These are all perfectly rational explanations.

Consider Bayes’ Theorem. It’s a scientific/philosophical theorem about the probability of events given other events. To steal directly from wikipedia:

P(A|B) = \frac{P(A)\, P(B | A)}{P(B)},

where A and B are events.

  • P(A) and P(B) are the probabilities of A and B without regard to each other.
  • P(A | B), a conditional probability, is the probability of observing event A given that B is true.
  • P(B | A), is the probability of observing event B given that A is true.

So in practice, this can be things like ‘if a disease testing machine is 95% accurate and you’re testing for a disease that affects 1% of people, how likely is it you have the disease if you get a positive result?’ The result always freaks people out, because it’s much lower than you’d expect [16% in this case!].

What does this have to do with miracles? Well, people aren’t all too accurate at determining things. We’re well below perfect miracle detectors. We’re fooled easily, basically. So our detection rate (for pretty much anything!) should be well below 95%. Say, 50%.

And then consider nature, the odds of a miracle actually happening in nature should be very low indeed. Ruling out quantum events, the possibility of an event occurring that violates the laws of nature should in fact be absolutely zero. It shouldn’t happen. But let’s be generous and say there’s a 0.000000001% chance that an event could occur outside of the laws of physics.

With our detection rate of 50%, and the minute chance of a miracle actually occurring – what’s the outcome according to Bayes? Well, I’m past my prime in terms of actually running the numbers, but it aint’ good. In short: we’re far far far far more likely to be wrong about what we think is happening than it’s the case that the laws of nature have been violated (like the test for the uncommon disease – it’s more likely the test is faulty when it gives out a seemingly positive result).

Thus, armed with Bayes’ Theorem, Occam’s Razor, and a decent helping of Cartestian scepticism we can pretty much say that UFOs aren’t miracles. They’re just weird clouds or big owls or something.

“A river flows” – not a miracle.

“Plant a little seed and nature grows” – THIS IS LITERALLY JUST HOW PLANTS GROW OMG.

Niagara falls and the pyramids
Everything you believed in as kids
Fucking rainbows after it rains
There’s enough miracles here to blow your brains

Niagara falls is a natural object formed by river processes and different rock types. The Pyramids were built by people. I believed all kinds of dumb things when I was a kid, but I don’t think we can just include stuff kids think in our inventory of miracles. That seems like cheating.

“Fucking rainbows after it rains” – from Wikipedia: A rainbow is a meteorological phenomenon that is caused by reflection, refraction and dispersion of light in water droplets resulting in a spectrum of light appearing in the sky.

“There’s enough miracles here to blow your brains” – no there isn’t. We have exactly zero miracles here so far.

I fed a fish to a pelican at Frisco bay
It tried to eat my cell phone, he ran away
And music is magic, pure and clean
You can feel it and hear it but it can’t be seen

What’s the story with the pelican all about then? It’s clearly not to be another of ICP’s supposed miracles. It seems to just be an amusing anecdote that ICP felt like including in the song… for some reason? I guess they couldn’t find anything else to go in those two lines.

“Music” – not magic. Vibrations of an object cause variations in air pressure around it, which is picked up by us and interpreted as audio. It can sort of be seen, just look at a vibrating guitar string or bass speaker.

Music is all magic
(Are you a firm believer in miracles)
You can’t even hold it
(Do you notice and recognize miracles)
It’s just there in the air
(Are you a firm believer in miracles)
Pure motherfucking magic

I am not a firm believer in miracles. They have failed to prove this point.

Music is a lot like love, it’s all a feeling
And it fills the room, from the floor to the ceiling
I see miracles all around me
Stop and look around, it’s all astounding

They’re really pushing this ‘music = miracles” line. But don’t buy it. It really isn’t. ESPECIALLY not their music.

Water, fire, air and dirt
Fucking magnets, how do they work?
And I don’t wanna talk to a scientist
Y’all motherfuckers lying, and getting me pissed

First four there are just the natural elements as identified by the original Greek philosophers. That reality is combined of these as constituent parts has long since been debunked. They’re not miracles.

MAGNETS. Hahahaha. Here’s how magnets work –

Ferromagnetic metals have large amounts of unpaired electrons in their outermost shell. These electrons produce a gravitational effect, which tends to be in one direction or another. Line up these electrons in the same direction (towards a  ‘pole’) and you can produce a magnetic field. Basically like this:


The magnet can then push/pull (repel, attract) other ferromagnetic objects within its magnetic field. So like a needle can be made magnetic, but a tree branch can’t.

All sorted? Good. Magnets ain’t miracles.

“And I don’t wanna talk to a scientist, y’all motherfuckers lying, and getting me pissed” – it’s frustrating that they so vehemently reject the advice of scientists. I have no doubt that they’d find their guidance really useful. Maybe they have consulted one in the past but they didn’t get the answers they were looking for. It’s still weird though that you’d attempt to catalogue miracles without at least hearing out a scientist. Oh well. Next!

Solar eclipse, and vicious weather
Fifteen thousand Juggalos together

A solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the sun and the earth. It happens somewhat regularly, depending on the part of the planet you’re on. I’m not even sure what “vicious weather” is meant to refer to here – like storms and stuff? Not miracles.

The gathering of 15,000 ICP fans is a miracle in the figurative sense – how can they stand each other? – but not actual in the sense we’re interested in.

I seen a caterpillar turn into a butterfly
Miracles ain’t nothing to lie

It’s called metamorphosis. Lots of animals do it. We have a pretty solid understanding of how it works.

Shaggy’s little boys look just like Shaggy
And my little boy looks just like daddy

Info: Shaggy 2 Dope is one of the ICP rappers. The other is Violent J. Here they remark that Shaggy 2 Dope’s son looks just like Shaggy 2 Dope. (Without the clown makeup, one assumes). Well mate, that’s just genetics. Physical characteristics are coded into your DNA – to a large extent – and are passed onto your offspring as part of the reproductive process. It would be much stranger if your genetic offspring didn’t resemble you at all. Family resemblance is not a miracle; in fact it’s not at all surprising whatsoever.

Crows, ghosts, the midnight coast
The wonders of the world, mysteries the most

Crows? Haha. But “ghosts” is curious. Like “UFOs” they’re going for the supernatural, which I really do think is their best strategy here. But again, I’m gonna go with Bayes and suggest that most people that think they’re seeing ghosts are just mistaken. Ever notice how we only have really shaky footage or grainy photos of ghosts? You think we’d be able to get at least ONE caught and studied under scientific conditions. Maybe then they’d say “nope, we can’t explain this!” and we’d have a proper miracle on our hands. Until then, I’m not allowing “ghosts.”

“The midnight coast” – well, that’s infuriatingly unspecific. Which coast? All coasts? They’re not that great. More info needed, please. Likewise with “wonders of the world, mysteries the most” – that feels like a lazy copout by a lyricist that has run out of things to list (he’s already done long neck giraffes and crows, after all). So no, you don’t get these either, ICP.

After this, they just sing about miracles a load more without giving any further specific examples.

Total miracle count: 0

Well, that’s disappointing. But I hope we’ve all learnt something today.

I’ll leave you with the incredible trailer for the direct-to-video Insane Clown Posse MOVIE, ‘Big Money Rustlas’ (sequel to ‘Big Money Hustlas’)

My Spotify playlists are awesome and you should follow them

I’ve got a bit of free time, so I thought I’d write something about music. But since I don’t really know anything about music history or the current ‘scene’ I thought I’d instead write about what I do know. And that’s me.

I’ve spent years curating my own playlists in Spotify. They’re my own little babies. Some of them are totally stupid, but I love them all. So here they are.

This is a basic list of everything I’ve “discovered” in Spotify since August 2011 (coincidentally the month I began to work at a certain music streaming service). It’s really interesting to me as a history of the music I’ve come across over the years. They’re not songs that are new as such, or even ones I hadn’t heard before, but ones that sort of became surfaced in my consciousness for some reason. So probably not that interesting for anyone else (1 follower though!).

Apparently I started this one in 2010. Nice. It’s a collection of songs sung in French. There’s something about them that makes me happy. They also tend to be kind of 60s new wave things as well, so maybe it’s just an idle nostalgia for that time; back when Eurovision wasn’t the horrific spectacle it is today.

The title is probably ironic. These are songs that sound old. They’ve got that old crackly analogue recording sound to them, which instantly takes you back. Not that I recall listening to, say, Frank Sinatra or Billie Holiday, as a child. But it’s a kind of false nostalgia, a longing for a better time in the past (Golden Age fallacy, I know right).

A simple one. Every song on Spotify featured in Wes Anderson films. Not as straightforward as you might think though, since not all the soundtracks are uploaded and have to be reconstructed manually (it took me a while to track down the right version of The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra for the Moonrise Kingdom section).

Deliberately the most ridiculous playlist. This contains the most outrageous dubstep I’ve come across on Spotify. Some people confuse this with a dubstep adoration, but it’s more of a study into the excesses of the genre (particular via the ‘brostep’ subgenre). Wubs and drops are thrown together in the most audibly offensive way imagineable, taking it to almost an artform. Fascinating.

An attempt to kind of focus in on a particular sound I like. Technically, it’s a shoegaze playlist, but it verges into anything kind of long and noisy. It’s called “Glaze” as a shoutout to its shoegaze origins, but also because it contains songs like The Jesus And Mary Chain – Just Like Honey and The Smashing Pumpkins – Mayonaise. I like the idea that it’s these big heavy dollops of sound coming at you through your headphones. Super pretentious, yeah.

When I Met You
Four similar playlists. Just playlists of DJ sets by The Avalanches and Lemon Jelly. Finding the samples and arranging them in the right order is strangely satisfying.

It’s a rap!
My rap playlist. I don’t know anything about rap, but I know what I like.

it’s a live! (version)
Live versions of songs I like by bands I like.

Comedy bits. Playlists don’t just have to be just music! I should really add more to these.

Talk To Me
Songs that have talking in them. Either as a sample or just as an introduction or something. It’s always interesting when songs do this. Bright Eyes – Firewall is a good example – that opening insane monologue is just a killer.

Covers! I love covers. Everyone loves covers.

QQ (why can’t I hold all these feels?)
Like a kind of playlist of sad songs. This is like a necessity on Spotify. Music to weep to.

I keep changing the title of this one. It’s meant to be a reference to Lost in Translation, but that’s not at all clear. Anyway, this is songs that have a sense of urgency about them. It’s an interesting sound and I like how it’s presently differently across the genres.

Broadside Ballads
My cheesiest playlist. Mostly just a way for me to have easy access to Bonnie Tyler, etc. But some of them are ok.

seen live
An odd playlist, since the actual songs themselves don’t matter. This is just a way for me to keep track of all the bands I’ve seen live (which I previously did with a Last.Fm tag – ouch).

Music for my bookshop
One day I will have a bookshop. And this is the playlist that will play in it. I’ll probably need more than seven, so I should expand the scope beyond songs about books I suppose.

Cowboy songs. After seeing Django Unchained I kind of went off on one with this. I should probably review this at some point.

This is such a tiny subgenre, pretty much dominated by Parov Stelar and The Correspondents. I’ve tried to find some other stuff, but it is all more or less the same.

Songs that have children singing in them. A ‘challenge playlist’ because there’s not as many songs as you think.

jimmy unrustler
My relaxation playlist. This is the playlist I like to listen to in the bath. Lovely stuff.

Another challenge playlist. I try to find songs that have people spelling things out in them. More than you think.

Poetry on Spotify! Who’d have thought there’d be so much? Anyway, these are my top picks.

Samples from the Walt Disnizzle mixtape.

short but sweet
Songs under two minutes, an idea I totally stole from my friend Jamie.

The opposite of the above. Songs greater than 10 minutes. Lots of post-rock and things.

A ridiculously niche one. Songs that have people going “oooh!” in them. Please let me know if you have any of your own.

I should probably change the title. But it’s songs I like by female-fronted bands. Female singer-songwriters don’t really count.

The music I listened to in uni, back when I bought physical CDs. Since this was pre-Spotify I listened to these albums basically on repeat for three years and they’re indelibly burnt into my brain. Good memories, mostly.

Piano songs. But specifically ones that have a nice bouncy sound to them (I don’t know if there’s a proper word for that style so I opted for ‘plinky’ instead – it sounds about right).

Banjo songs. The banjo is so in right now – I really need to start practising on mine again.

Classical music I like. I need to put more effort into keeping this updated. I don’t look very cultured atm.

The answer is Jesus. What is the question?
A joke playlist! Based on the Stewart Lee routine of the same setup, I answer using things on Spotify.

songs what are years
As the name says, songs that are years. Obviously there are many more, but these are the ones I like the most.

There are some that I’ve had to archive since they’re seasonal: xmas (Christmas) and 2spooky (Halloween).

And that’s it! I also have about 300 other playlists I’m subscribed to or albums I’ve saved as playlists. But no way am I going through all of those.

This will be interesting for me to revisit in a year or so. So consider this a sort of time capsule. And I’d encourage you to do something similar if you’re on Spotify.

And if you’re not on Spotify, what the hell is even wrong with you.

Review: Mouth Sounds by Neil Cicierega


Today I’d like to do my first music review on this blog. And it’s something rather special.

I’ll be reviewing “Mouth Sounds” by Neil Cicierega. It’s a 56 minute mashup of popular culture, with All Star by Smashmouth as a recurrent motif throughout. Sounds good, right?

Give it a listen here:

The first thing to say is that I’m already a huge fan of this format. I think that The Avalanches’ Gimix is one of the greatest musical works of all time. If you haven’t heard it before, give it a listen. It’s 45 minutes of pure aural bliss.

I’m also a huge fan of Walt Disnizzle by ARKHAM.p77, a more focussed mashup piece, which blends disney songs with rap. As with Gimix, it’s all samples but the composition makes it work wonderfully.

I’ve even had a go at the genre myself, with my own 27 1/2 minute mix receiving absolutely no critical acclaim whatsoever. But enough about that.

Mouth Sounds, then, is my latest infatuation. There’s also a sister mix Mouth Silence that you can check out, but here we’re just talking about the original, created by Neil Cicierega.

But who is this Neil Cicierega anyway? Well, chances are you’ve already heard of him, but didn’t know it. Ever heard of Potter Puppet Pals? Yup, Cicierega.

He’s also the creator of The Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny, one of my favourite youtube videos. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a flash animation about an all-out battle royale between various characters in pop culture. Godzilla fighting Shaquille O’Neal, that kind of thing.

Aside from being a catchy song, and extremely catchy, I loved TUSOUD for the way it called out pop culture figures. It’s like a game where you have to try and see how many references you can get (‘Spock, The Rock, Doc Oc, and Hulk Hogan’ is a fantastic line). It’s a masterful blend of these references as well as being a celebration of their fandoms. I don’t feel guilty for being able to recognise all these characters, despite them all being pretty nerdy. Instead it’s turned into something actually cool through the medium of song.

I think that last point might not be the clearest one I’ve ever made, but luckily I’ve got two great illustrations. And yes, they’re also mashups.

First up, Pop Culture by Madeon.

And secondly, the Golden Age of Video by Ricardo Autobahn.

What do these all have in common? Well, they throw together dozens of short clips from various sources in an exciting and entertaining way. Just like a cover of a song can breathe new life into it, these mashups re-present elements we’re super familiar with as part of a new, larger arrangement. “We came, we saw, we kicked its ass!” as the refrain of TGAOV works perfectly, but in the most unexpected way – for instance.

And placed into the wider context, the samples become a celebration of the genres they’re taken from. Pop Culture is great for this. The clips are all from pop songs, which tend to get a pretty bad rap. And sure, I don’t like a lot of the original source songs. But arranged together in the way they are, they become part of the best pop song ever. Likewise with TGAOV, we assume an overall perspective over the whole of video/film, and can see what is is we love about it: crazy characters, badass moments, excitement and fun.

Going back to Ultimate Showdown for a second. That was a celebration of a more specific culture: cult followings. Things like Monty Python and Big Trouble in Little China have dedicated cult followings and this video is a great showcase of them, but also for the concept of ‘cult’ in general. We watch it and feel great about Godzilla and Jackie Chan, we’re so lucky to have them! Screw the haters, this is a love letter to anyone who’s ever loved something out of the mainstream. Nerd culture can be beautiful too.

It should be pretty obvious then how this ties back into Mouth Sounds. You see, Mouth Sounds is another example of a cultural mashup. Here are a few of the things it samples:

  • Smashmouth – All Star
  • Modest Mouse – Float On
  • Homer Simpson
  • Austin Powers
  • Dave Matthews Band – Ants Marching
  • Talking Heads – Once in a Lifetime
  • Sir Mix-A-Lot  – Baby Got Back
  • Will Smith – Men in Black

And that’s just the first ten minutes.

At first glance, it might look like the focus here is less targeted than the above mashups. And sure, the range is wider but I’d argue that it’s because the target here isn’t meant to be a specific band of popular culture – but instead popular culture itself.

That’s why we get clips from music, film, television (one song ends with just the outros of various TV networks) and the internet (of course Chocolate Rain makes an appearance). The source of the samples matters just as much as the samples themselves. And the achieved effect is a greater appreciation of how all these things entertain us in their own ways.

I should also point out that it’s funny as hell. The mashup is playful and teasing in parts, such as playing the theme from Full House followed by an Alanis Morisette song, before segueing right back into Full House again – which, as flamboyant saxaphone fills go, is hilariously jarring in its own right. And the lack of an obvious theme makes this even more effective – you never know where the next sample is going to come from so it hits you even harder when it does.

All Star sung to the tune of Imagine by John Lennon? You couldn’t predict that, and it’s just the best thing ever. I feel bad even telling you that actually, like spoiling the ending of a good book, the surprise is so effective throughout.

Why the focus on All Star though? Well, I’ve written about Shrek in popular culture before, and I’ve  argued that Shrek has become a fundamental part of our cultural zeitgeist. I’ve even gone so far as to argue that All Star was the song of the decade it came out in. It seems that there’s an echo of this in Mouth Sounds. Most the samples do come from the 90s/early 00s (though not all) so it’d make sense for the song to be as prominent as it is, should my theory concerning Mouth Sounds as a cultural retrospective be valid.

All Star is just a great song too, as well. It seems to go with everything.

Mouth Sounds also has the element I enjoyed from TUSOUD of playing the game of trying to spot all the references. It rewards frequent replays and a keen attention to the detail of the songs. I spent ages trying to track down the original source of the Full House theme used (it’s like an instrumental version of one of the outros, from what I can tell), and had a great time doing so.

So in conclusion, Mouth Sounds is a fantastic achievement. The pure technical skill in location, arranging and mixing the samples alone is at least as impressive as anything done by The Avalanches, etc. Added onto that you’ve got the skill of making something that makes me laugh every single time I listen to it.

It’s also an important work of art in terms of making a statement. The statement it makes, as far as I can tell, is that our popular culture (specifically, western media in the late nineties and early noughties) may be crass, kitch and just plain dumb, but that’s great. It’s put us where we are today and we shouldn’t shy away from our cultural heritage.

Not when it can sound this good.