Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Songs To Learn And Sing #21

By coincidence there's an international thread running through the next few days' selections of the greatest overlooked songs, today's being the pick of Mawzine's Sheila Pham:

Little Birdy - Relapse

It's kind of strange that some people live in places surrounded by unimaginable vastness, with thousands of kilometres of ocean on one side and thousands of kilometres of dry desert on the other. This startling geography may be one reason why a lot decent bands come from Perth in Western Australia. Maybe living in the middle of nowhere is not only an incentive to make your own music, but something that happens out of sheer necessity.

However it's happened, some pretty outstanding bands have emerged from Perth in recent years. Bands like The Sleepy Jackson and End of Fashion have achieved some success internationally, but there's still much about West Australian music which remains an unknown quantity to the rest of the world. Take for instance, Little Birdy, who came onto the scene in late 2003 with a phenomenal debut EP. Every song on that four track indicated that this was the start of something wonderful. Relapse in particular is one of those rare songs that gets you right from the first moment.

The song starts off gently; the tinkling of a glockenspiel over a strumming guitar sets the initial pace, before Katy Steele's innocent and beguiling vocals lead you on a trip to somewhere unknown. In fact, it’s basically her voice which makes this song - and possibly their other ones - so special. Her distinctive voice is the instrument which lifts 'Relapse' from a good pop song to the heights of a great one.

The song explores the ubiquitous break up and early on in the piece there's a lot of bad feeling and a lot of sarcasm: "I love the way you're always on my mind". But it doesn't take long before the negativity is stripped away to reveal the emotional core of the song: "I can't help this pain that I feel". As the song progresses that plaintive refrain hits all the right notes. The string section comes out strong before the dramatic climax, where Katy Steele lets loose in the last leg of the trip. The come down is a series of breathy sighs; the string section quietly fades away.

All it takes is three and a half minutes to feel like you've plummeted into the depths of someone's pain before you come out again, gasping for air.

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