Flatten the grass

BzzzzzzBzzzzzplop . . . . . . BzzzzzBzzzzzplop  EEEEEEEELike many other people I’ve been listening to Ceremonials, the new disc by Florence + the Machine. Of course, it reminds me of a great pipe band. Florence Welch’s powerful, instant-on voice makes me think of a pipe chanter, except one with a three-octave range, multi-layered, with complex harmonies and counter-melodies textured in.

I just read that her new album has hit the number-one spot in the UK charts, so there must be a market for BIG music that carries certain sameness, and which is highly infused with Celtic style, crazy outfits and wispy heather visions of the moors. She also often uses lots of lower-toned drums, often in rhythmical, chant-like ways, which fits with the current sound of many bands.

Bill Livingstone once talked about listening to the 1980s vintage Strathclyde Police when they were “in full sail,” conjuring an image of a clipper meeting the waters head-on with wind. The pipe band-sailing ship analogy is even more apt today with much larger bands developing huge visual and sonic power.

I could see Florence + the Machine doing something with a pipe band, just as I could hear a pipe band covering one or two of her songs in a concert. Our music is often criticized by outsiders for always sounding the same with unwavering loudness and a dearth of dynamics. But there is no denying that a pipe band at its best produces impressive and beautiful energy that, as George Campbell would say, “flattens the grass.”

I’ve also read some criticism of Ceremonials, contending that the songs remain the same from track-to-track. But Florence Welch clearly works within a formula that rings true with many people. Sometime, pipe bands try too hard to be something they are not and can never be. Instead of working with what they have, they strive to overlay pipes and drums with other stuff, seemingly never content with, It is what it is.

I’m not saying for a second that there is anything wrong with that. I’m a vocal proponent of pushing the boundaries. But some artists are able to hit upon a formula without ever becoming formulaic. They recognize what they’ve been given, their limitations, and get on with making the most of them.

Most excellent 2009

Orbital MetricHope everyone had a good Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa or whatever you prefer to do.

I might have listened to more music than usual in the last year, since I find it more accessible than ever. In recent years I’ve listed my favourite five tracks and five albums, but this year I’ll just list my 10 personal favourite tracks from the year.

Perhaps I should have separate piping/drumming and non-piping/drumming lists, but mixing them up is part of the fun.

These are the ones that seem to have stood up best over the year, one or two coming in late in 2009 to make the cut, as it were. In order: 

  • “Satellite Mind” – Metric, from Fantasies – I’ve now played this song at least 100 times. Still sounds fresh and unbelievably catchy.
  • “The Cure” – Tegan and Sara, from Sainthood – Hey, nothing wrong with doing the 1980s even better.
  • “Ae Fond Kiss” – Wendy Stewart & Gary West, from Hinterlands – A lovely rendition of the Burns song, Stewart’s voice paired perfectly with the texture of West’s backing vocals, whistle and accompanying cello.
  • “Loaded”The Idle Hands, from The Hearts We Broke on the Way to the Show – More retro-’80s stylings in a Psychedelic Furs / Joy Division sort of way.
  • “Field of Gold” – Simon Fraser University, from Affirmation – Almost as moving on CD as it was on the night.
  • “Bull Black Nova” – Wilco, from Wilco (The Album) – My favourite track from one of my favourite group’s most recent album.
  • “Comme Des Enfants” – Coeur de Pirate, from Coeur de Pirate – If Annabel stays with the piano this could be her. I don’t really know or much care what the words mean, but they’re pure French charm. (Thanks, Lorna!)
  • “Cello Song” – The Books, from Dark Was the Night – Love this cover of the Nick Drake song, which actually would be great for a pipe band to adapt.
  • “A Thousand Curses on Love” – Bill Livingstone, from Northern Man – For most of August and September I could not get the waulking song base of this track out of my head. A good thing.
  • “Poyntzfield Reprise” – Manawatu Scottish, Twelve-Thousand Miles – by far my favourite track on this excellent pipe band studio album.

Just didn’t quite qualify: “Just Breathe” – Pearl Jam, from Back Spacer; “1901,” Phoenix, from Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix; “Hell,” Tegan and Sara, from Sainthood; “Wilco,” Wilco, from Wilco (The Album); and “Captain Jack Murray,” John Mulhearn, from The Extraordinary Little Cough.

Those are mine. What are your favourites from 2009?

Yes comment

Sting like a sharp B.So 72 per cent of pipes|drums readers feel that those who post comments to articles should put their true name to them. I’d guess that most of those who make up that 72 per cent are people who don’t generally post comments, since everyone can provide their real name.

Online publications struggle with this. I haven’t seen any newspaper or magazines sites that allow comments also require that commenters provide their real name. It’s interesting, though, that major newspapers and magazines diligently check to ensure that the writer of a letter-to-the-editor in their printed version is truly the author, and would rarely allow a “name held by request,” much less a pseudonym.

It’s a quandary. It’s still all about dialogue, but it’s also about credibility. Some would say that they don’t pay attention to comments made by people who don’t include their true name, but what about a public meeting? Unknown people stand up to make valid comments all the time, and folks still listen, don’t they?

It’s all about the subject matter and the delivery. Piping and drumming used to shout down or ignore dissenting or unpopular views by sweeping them under the rug until they went away. That’s changed, mainly due to new mechanism to exchange ideas without fear of reprisal.

I’d love to authenticate every comment to every pipes|drums story before enabling them, but would wonder whether 1) it would dissuade people from commenting, and 2) take too much time for too little return.

Also, I haven’t studied it, but have a feeling that a much higher proportion of pipes|drums commenters put their name to their post than is true of forums. I’m pleased every time that highly credible people like Bill Livingstone, Alistair Dunn, Donald MacPhee, Duncan Millar, Jim Kilpatrick, Bruce Gandy and many other famous folks have no trouble backing their frequent comments with their name.

Just like more mortal pipers and drummers try to imitate their playing, I’d hope that people also emulate their sense of integrity.