Monday, November 13, 2006

Songs To Learn And Sing #13

Continuing our series of handpicked selections from the great and good is someone who we featured as a Myspace pick on Weekender a couple of weeks ago, one of our favourite discoveries of the last few months, and someone who we're sure would like us to tell you that his first proper release, The Independent Scrutineer EP, is out on the 27th, Pagan Wanderer Lu:

Molasses - La Berceuse d'Eve (Eve's Lullaby)

In deciding what song to write about for this blog I was torn between two extremes - should I pick a song that's been 'important' to me in defining my own musicial trajectory? If I'd gone that way I'd have gone straight for Common People by Pulp, the first record that ever made me think music might actually be important as well as fun. But then I decided there was little point in writing about a song that everyone pretty much knows already and which has been recently trotted out on its 10th anniversary double cd reissue (Christ I feel old). So I've gone intentionally for something a little more obscure.

Molasses are a collective of Montreal post-rock/avant-jazz musicians, some of whom are also members of Godspeed You! Black Emperor. They've released four albums over the last five years, the first two being quite harsh and long drawn out pieces of sombre, soporific improvisation hanging by a thread onto the sotto voce, folksy, and almost exhaustingly downbeat songs of songwriter Scott Chernoff. Those who are familiar with Godspeed and their more peripheral side-projects like Set Fire To Flames or Esmerine will hopefully understand what I mean by the Hotel2Tango feel, H2T being the loft space where members of Godspeed live and record and where more recently the Arcade Fire recorded Funeral - all 'real' analog warmth, the creaking of floorboards, the dust on mantelpieces and the heavy hearted trudge of a long walk home. Whilst they were interesting and at times beautiful they were ultimately quite hard work and not ones I'd recommend to everyone.

Their third album, A Slow Messe was a double CD, but rather than this meaning it sprawled and meandered even more they chose instead to hone in on the songs, creating shorter, more composed sounding songs. It is their masterpiece; though the tone throughout is bleak and defeated and the tempo never rises above the same weary pace it's utterly compelling throughout.

The particular song I've picked is a bilingual lullaby, Chernoff cleverly writes alternating verses in English then French, managing to say the exact same thing in both languages and still make it rhyme - which is kind of neat in itself but set to music it becomes something magical. Chernoff often uses biblical imagery in his lyrics - "may the lion and the lamb fornicate on your soul" being another particular favourite line from this album - and here sings soothingly for Eve, burdened with the entire fall of mankind, to simply lie down and sleep her troubles away. With Molasses' Francophone singer Jennifer Ménard alternating with him on the translated verses she sounds almost like a voice coming from a another place. Throughout, Thierry Amar's distinctive drunken stagger of a bassline adds a strange nautical feel to the song - or is that just me? The piano chimes, the guitars are gently strummed, organs and harmoniums hum, and between verses strings swoon and caress the gentle ebb and flow of the song - the perfect lullaby.

At the end of the day though, this is a recommendation not a review. I could bore you to tears with the ins and outs of this record - I just hope the mp3's already playing on your computer by the time you've read this far and its woozy beauty tempts you to invest in A Slow Messe, one of my very favourite albums.

Never a full time collective Molasses have managed one more album, Trouble At Jinx Hotel, since then, which sees them refine their sound closer towards pop music and further from the avant-garde, but with Chernoff apparently having fled to Tokyo it's unsure if the group will continue. Still, they've already left behind a small but stunning body of work for the curious and enlightened.

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