As part of our music-themed month on the blog, we’ve been asking our authors to talk us through four songs that have in some way shaped their writing. Here, Gavin Corbett reveals a record collection as varied and experimental as his novels, encompassing rowdy punk, twee pop, obscure Irish indie and ambient electronica.
Peter and the Test Tube Babies, ‘Moped Lads’ (No Future Records)
‘Even though I’m well-behaved and largely law-abiding, I find disorder exciting and funny. I like disorder in music: either in that which is in itself haphazard or that which incites disorder. ‘Moped Lads’, such a thrillingly tight pop song, is of the latter category. It sounds like disorder funnelled to the intensity of a blowtorch flame. You can imagine the singer’s larynx coming very close to ejaculating from his mouth and the amplifiers shuffling around from vibrations. The line “If you hit them they’ll tell their dads” is inspired. In art as in life it’s always possible to be serious without being po-faced, and ‘Moped Lads’ is yet another example of that.
Talulah Gosh, ‘Beatnik Boy’ (53rd & 3rd)
Truly misunderstood, Talulah Gosh were ridiculed by everyone but their small hardcore of fans in the band’s mid-to-late-eighties lifetime. The music press thought them wincingly winsome, intolerably twee. The more derision was thrown at them, the more intransigently themselves they became, and they were right to, because the body of work they left behind burns away everything else around it. It’s a lesson to anyone in any creative field: if you think you’re on to something, don’t yield to those who don’t understand; screw the knockers and bang on with what you’re doing until the worst that anyone can accuse you of is honesty. ‘Beatnik Boy’ represents Talulah Gosh at their best. There’s so much going on beneath, or with, the ostensible ‘girl yearns for boy’ lyric. It’s the innocence that gets to me, but also the wavering note, that hint of self-awareness of a pathetic faith in the ideal of love. Sometimes I hear the spirits of an ancient, pagan England sylphing through: apprentice druidesses hiding out from an unfriendly world and attempting to summon an assisting power. Even thinking about it makes my throat bind up.
The Would Be’s, ‘I’m Hardly Ever Wrong’ (Decoy)
The Would Be’s are Ireland’s great lost band, and in that sense aptly named (though poorly punctuated). To be honest, I don’t know an awful lot about their work beyond this song, but even if this were the only thing that they ever wrote they would still be worthy of a place in any pantheon. They have a lovely jangly, shambly sound, characteristic of many mainly-now-forgotten indie bands of the post-C86 era. The singer’s voice hovers and swirls like a female Morrissey’s and threads the most unusual intervals to find its own strange path through the music. It’s like she’s singing off a scale from the Otherworld. The only other song I can think of whose vocal line seems to be composed of notes from this eerie scale is The Smiths’ ‘William, It Was Really Nothing’.
Boards of Canada, ‘Happy Cycling’ (Warp Records)
‘Happy Cycling’ is all about the slowly decaying ending. Before that, breakbeats, tape warp, backward loops, seagull screeches and a spectral chorus create an uncomfortable level of tension. Then, at 5:07, all of it gets sucked into a vortex, and the coda kicks off. This bit’s immediately reminiscent – like much of the Boards of Canada’s work – of baleful background music to late seventies/early eighties Doctor Who. It briefly swells, adding horns and other instruments, before the half-life begins. Fading all the way, now it recalls one of Gustav Holst’s more subdued Planet themes, conjuring mystery and wonder. The enervated bass pulses sadly to the end, and the song seems to get larger the closer it gets to death. At the beginning I see sun flare and feel disoriented; by the end I feel I have escaped the atmospheric gauze and see the cosmos spread before me. The only shame of ‘Happy Cycling’ is that it has such an earth-bound name. I don’t get cycling from it at all. It should be called ‘Orion Waggles His Pelt at Puny Humankind’.’
Words by Gavin Corbett
Green Glowing Skull is out now.
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