Listening Post #9

by Emily Pratten

This is my first Listening Post of the New Year and it’s wonderful to be back writing about beautiful sounds for all of you. Huge thank you to Jack for filling in for me during a time where 12,000 words were written and perhaps just as many stress-induced tears were shed. Potentially an exaggeration but poetic licence shall excuse it.

This Post is a selection of the tracks that so far, in 2015, I have struggled not to listen to. I’ve tried and failed not to play them on repeat. Ask my flatmate. I think he’s going to move out.

1. Years & Years - King

Yep, they’ve done it again. Forget winning the BBC Sound Of 2015 poll, they’ve made it onto the Listening Post once more. Truly their finest achievement and I’m sure they would agree. King has always been one of my favourite songs of theirs, having seen them live several times (as I’m sure you can all imagine, I have done a considerable amount) I’ve come to know King quite well before it’s release. The chorus is repeatedly stuck in your head and when I discovered it was the next single I was delirious (this is not a joke reference to the next song on the post but you can read it as such should you enjoy these things).

Opening with a trip tropical synth that runs throughout the song, it’s interesting and different to so many things being offered by other artists at the moment. Olly’s signature vocal comes in and joins the up-tempo synth before dropping into a chorus that is so melodically captivating, it’s rather astonishing. Without wanting to sound like my Grandmother, it’s just so groovy. Lyrically, once again, it’s a joy. There’s a look into controlling and unhealthy relationships here that’s beautifully honest. “I had to break myself to carry on”, “I was a King under your control”. All against the backdrop of a soulful tropical synth pop dance track. It’s emotive and powerful and shows that Years & Years are just going from strength to strength.

2. Susanne Sundfør - Delirious

When I first heard this track I knew I was listening to something special. After hitting the loop button and hearing it a few more times I was almost sure it was one of the best songs I’ve ever heard. Bold claim, perhaps worth rethinking, but the energy and clever production in this track is so epic and grand in nature it’s hard not to be bold. It’s empowering and cinematic. It opens with a sound sample from the THX film company. You’d know it if you heard it, it’s the long noise that rises in pitch and volume just before your film begins. Synth-like bass notes accompany the end of this sound sample and it’s very dramatic, before fading out to just the basic notes and a strong, clear vocal singing “I hope you’ve got a safety net, cos I’m gonna push you over the edge”. The song builds from this dramatic threat, and layers and layers of strings and percussion slowly lap in and out and over each other, before ceasing to allow to words “I’m not the one holding the gun” to echo out into the temporary silence. It’s a strong song - it’s very big, it’s Florence’s Ceremonials and a Hurts ballad. It’ll be one of my songs of the year, without a doubt. I’m calling it right now.

3. Ryn Weaver - OctaHate (Ghost Loft Meets Twice As Nice Uptown Remix)

I don’t think I’ve ever written about Ryn Weaver on this column, which is not only surprising but probably best for everyone involved, because with dear Ryn we have another Years & Years situation on our hands in that I love her without reason and do so with childish abandon. She recently had her TV debut on Letterman, where she sang Octahate, and I strongly suggest that if you haven’t heard it, you go and listen to the original version of this song which, in my opinion, is one of the best debut tracks from any artist I have ever heard, stirring up a scene in the Summer that Ryn fully deserved.

This remix is a different look on a Summer hit - it’s very slow and extremely chilled out and vibey. Vibey? Vibey. There’s cool vibes coming out of it every which way; it’s hazy and slow and interesting and it lulls in and out between verses and choruses with rolling guitar riffs and echoing vocals. It’s what I think a beach in the Caribbean would sound like. It’s tropical, like the Years & Years installment certainly is, but much slower in tempo. And Ryn’s vocal, as ever, as always, as we already knew from the original track, is beautiful. It’s signature and original and I’m horrendously in love with it. Gushing about it, always.

4. One Direction - Stockholm Syndrome

Don’t judge me. Don’t be a music snob and pull that face. Sure, they’re ONE DIRECTION. Gross. They’re made by Simon Cowell, for Simon Cowell, and Simon Cowell’s wallet. They’re an example of how a fanbase can truly make or break an act, and it’s certainly the sheer number of fangirls that have driven this ridiculous X Factor concoction of five ordinary boys into being perhaps one of the biggest and well known musical acts of all time. Annoying as you may find them, horrified as you may be by the very mention of them, that’s on you. I’m not a huge fan at all but I know a catchy pop track when I hear one and this song is certainly as irritating as a few of theirs. If you’ve not heard anything since that What Makes You Beautiful single they led with several years ago, then I don’t think you’re one to comment. There’s some change that’s occurred, not just hair length and rather skilful displays of ageing beautifully, which I shall spend no time commenting on since it is not musically relevant.

This track is upbeat and rather basic, it’s not over-produced or overly peppy, it’s a good verse with an above average vocal that leads slowly up to a chorus punctuated by emphatic “Oh”s after every line. It’d be irritating if it wasn’t so infectious. I’ve had friends doing high kicks along to the chorus in public. I might have done it once or twice while cooking. “Baby look what you’ve done to me” is sung by one of all of them, if we’re sure they all actually sing and it’s not just Harry auto-tuned to sound ever so slightly different. Manufactured as they might be, they’re still people, and they’re making the best music they ever have done. My flatmate groans whenever it comes on and then acts like he doesn’t sing it in the shower. He does. No space for high kicks in there though. A modern day tragedy.

5. Ellie Goulding - Love Me Like You Do

This song really bugged me when I first heard it. It didn’t really sound like Ellie Goulding at all. I’ve never been a huge fan but there have been several good tracks on a couple of albums and I’ve never really understood how she splits opinion quite so violently amongst music lovers, because for me, I’ve always been slightly more neutral towards her. It’s a pop ballad, really. I think many loyal fans of hers may refer to it as a sellout, because it’s certainly not as arty as previous things. It could just as easily be any other female artist in the charts.

However, however, I found myself singing along to it aftwards. And then again, and then again. And now I know all the words and I’m terribly fond of it. Much like Delirious, it’s quite a ‘big’ song. Not quite so epic, of course, but there’s a slow and quiet build into a chorus and this build continues throughout, before the music stops and she sings “What are you waiting for?” very grandly and emotionally. Then the chorus drops back in, the bass is back, and the layers of production, dramatic pianos, and vulnerable loving lyrics return. It’s the My Heart Will Go On of Ellie Goulding songs. I really, really like it now; I like the choral backing singers and the layering and the cinematic percussion. It could be a song for a montage for people running into each other’s arms at an airport, or arrivals in a train station. Say what you like about it, but I think when people meet again at airports and train stations, however cheesey their reunion, they’re always happy to see each other. Always glad. And Ellie Goulding is playing. Or it will be once my petition is filed.