Monday, 7 September 2009
Lyrics and poetry
I love an alliterative band and indeed a group which pays so much attention to what they're saying. Don't give me any of this mind-numbing Cascada or Basshunter nonsense, give me a band which has something of value to say in its lyrics. Give me Fleet Foxes.
The band is performing tonight (Monday, September 7) at the fabulous Vicar Street venue in Dublin and I was of the few (700 or so) who managed to scramble onto the Ticketmaster website a few months ago in a desperate race to get tickets once the clock struck 9am. The Seattle-ites are a breath of fresh air in today's music, even if they are influenced by the likes of the Beach Boys, Fairport Convention and My Morning Jacket. They have a unique talent for writing lyrics which are powerful and beautiful, yet simple, and all credit goes to the band members – Robin Pecknold, Skye Skjelset, J Tillman, Casey Wescott and Christian Wargo.
Song lyrics, and poetry and prose, are in my estimation, inseparable twins. Some say the music makes the lyrics more beautiful. Any band will tell you that their song lyrics are not expected to stand on their own. When stripped of their musical accompaniment, some might say the words when read aloud, seem a little 'flat'. A similar problem occurs too, in that so-called 'modern 'and 'post-modern' poetry would sound odd set to music.
I once read an article which claimed the recording artist Morrissey is a poet as great as Philip Larkin, the only difference being that Morrissey wrote his song lyrics to fit the melody, and Larkin wrote his poetry to fit metre.
Fleet Foxes' song White Winter Hymnal, while refreshing and hauntingly beautiful with a video to match, has one simple line. To paraphrase, the protagonist is following a pack who are described as being 'swallowed in their coats' and they have red scarves tied around their throats to stop their heads from falling in the snow. Then the protagonist turns round and sees Michael falling and turning the snow red like strawberries in summertime.
It was only last year the checked shirt-clad band released its self-titled album with the music, hushed, wistful, melodic, harking back to the days of yore. It is a gem which should be a listening priority for any self-respecting music fan. The choral harmonies of Crosby, Stills and Nash complement the lyrics, and instead of enjoying their poetry bare, in the stripped sense, you get double for your money here.
Their songs 'Ragged Wood', 'Mykonos', and 'Blue Ridge Mountains' can all stand alone as poems, but when you add the music to these pearls they become simply outstanding. In 'He Doesn't Know Why' the lyrics deal with mortality — 'Tiger Mountain Peasant Song' finds the singer "staggering through premonitions of my death," and in Oliver James, the narrator finds a drowned child on the banks of a river.
Can any blog readers suggest poems they'd like to see accompanied by music? TS Eliot's The Wasteland perhaps? I imagine it would sound like a Jesus and Mary Chain Song. Or what about a Philip Larkin verse? Or is there a song, which, when stripped of music is just as good as a poem? Over to you...
Band promotional photo courtesy of David Belisle