Saturday, 13 October 2012

"Looks Far, But I Like Night Drives"

A long distance relationship combined with a full-time job leads to an awful lot of night drives, and an awful lot of albums spun whilst cruising the motorways of the country.

One thing that's become very clear in all of this is that there are day albums, and there are night albums. Really, though, a day album is just a default term, something that picks up nothing when you listen to it after dark. Darkness is always where the action lies.

I'm not just talking about albums that are enjoyable after sunset - I wouldn't trust any album that didn't work that way.  I'm talking about the albums that undergo some alchemical change once the stars are out; that sound indefinably different on the open road with dusk just a memory.

Below are my five best examples of this process in action.  I've deliberately avoided nominating anything by The Cure, because that would be entirely too easy.

1. British Sea Power, "The Decline of British Sea Power"

The album that brought enlightenment, revealing the existence of night albums in all their unsettling glory. During the day, the production on this album seems strangely off-kilter.  At night, it sounds like every song is being played out on the moors.  Listen to this atop the hills of Yorkshire on a foggy winter night, and you won't reach your destination with your brain in the same shape as when you left.

Nightiest track: "Fear of Drowning."

2. Brand New, "Daisy"

Brand New had already gotten some way into the dark with their third album, "The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me", but "Daisy" is a step beyond.  Listen to this in your lunch break, and it's an angry squall of screaming men and violent guitars.  Out on the starlit road, it's the sound of furious ghosts calling to you from your back seat. Even the fox gets scarier.

Nightiest track: "Gasoline".

3. Angelo Badalamenti, "Twin Peaks Soundtrack"

There's plenty of soundtracks that work best at night, of course, since the link between music and scene is something they're designed to do.  That said, Badalamenti manages something no other composer has in my experience, which is to swirl together every aspect of the night; the fear, the beauty and the calmness, not just between pieces but within them.  This worked wonders when combined with Lynch's tendency to do similar things with dialogue and direction, but even out of that context, there's nothing else like it.

Nightiest track: "Falling".

4. We Were Promised Jetpacks, "These Four Walls"

The night album on this list I most often play in the daytime, because it's fascinating and exhilarating whenever you put it on. Once the sun goes down, though, the album lurches into new territory.  Like "Decline...", much of the work here is being done by the soundscapes, expansive, lonely places that unfold best when you're stuck out in the middle of nowhere yourself - and almost any road at night is the middle of nowhere. There's a consistency of purpose here though that outstrips the shambolic (and I mean that in the best possible way) "Decline...", though; a sense not just of night but a specific place, specifically the unwelcoming beauty of Scottish backwaters.

Nightiest track: "Conductor."

5. R.E.M. "New Adventures in Hi-Fi"

It took me years to appreciate this album properly.  It's still far from my favourite joint from Stipey and the boys, but it rose significantly in my affections when I realised it's their only night album, and can't be.  Once out on the road under a full moon, songs like "Undertow" and "Bittersweet Me" no longer seem crass and bitter, but urgent; they're claustrophobia no longer oppressive but a counterpoint to the night landscape.   For a long time I thought "Electrolite" was the only true gem on the whole thing, but now I realise my mistake.  "Electrolite" is the dawn at the end of a bad night, and without the night before, the new day wouldn't have any meaning at all.

Nightiest track: "Leave".

That's my five nominations, then.  Any suggestions of your own?  Leave 'em in comments.  Also, a shiny penny for anyone who can recognise the title quote (sans Google, natch).  I'll give you a clue, it's from a '90s LP which no-one in their right mind could possibly consider a night album.


Tomsk said...

The Decline of BSP is one of my favourite albums but I've never really considered it a night album, though I can see how it might become one. I liked playing "Carrion" so much that it never got associated with any particular time of day. Maybe I should try their later albums at night as they've always been a bit underwhelming during the day.

My first encounter with the night track phenomenon was "Perfect" by the Lightning Seeds, which maybe shouldn't count seeing as its lyrics are all about staying up at night. So instead I'll nominate their album Dizzy Heights, which despite having some archetypally chirpy songs is definitely enhanced by the night overall.

Also anything by Simon & Garfunkel is night listening par excellence, although Mrs T point blank refuses to listen to them so it's difficult to test this.

Actually looking through my albums it seems the letter 'S' is a particularly good predictor: the Shins, Sufjan Stevens, Edward Sharpe, Elliott Smith and Sigur Ros all have something of the night about them. Perhaps hearing the sibilance of your own name over and over again turns your mind to night time sounds.

I have meant to make a night time mix CD for the car for many years but have never got round to it. Perhaps because it can only be compiled at the dead of night.

SpaceSquid said...

"Carrion" is certainly an extraordinary track, no arguments there. I'm a big fan of "Open Season", and "Do You Like Rock Music" has its moments, but neither of them strike me as night albums. Their problems lie elsewhere.

I will confess that I haven't heard "Dizzy Heights" since I was seventeen, so it's entirely possible that it qualifies. S & G I'd suggest is tremendous at any time; your wife is tragically wrong irrespective of the time of day. For that reason I don't think I'd count them as night albums, much as I love them.

I'm not convinced about Stevens either, though Sigur Ros is an excellent shout. The others I have insufficient experience of, which is obviously my failing and something to be corrected as soon as possible

And yes, night CDs can only be compiled after sunset. There's a switch in your head that's flicked on after dark, and there's no use in pretending otherwiee.

Tomsk said...

Wot no exposure to Elliott Smith? That is indeed a grave failure - go and buy XO immediately. Yes now!