Even in the Quietest Moments: Songs for a Rainy Day

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You might think this a strange topic for summer, but here in Asia the monsoon rains have already begun. If you find yourself stuck indoors, here are some tunes that will imbue the vista before you. And yes, you’ll be able to tell I’m of a certain ilk and age from this list.

ALVA NOTO/RYUICHI SAKAMOTO – MORNING/IANO

One look at the cover and my thoughts were; if it sounds as good as it looks, I’ll be happy. It did. Almost every track on 2005’s excellent Insen exudes the rain except Moon which is the odd one out and should have been on a separate album – but there’s a lot of records like that. Morning is also worth noting. If you awake to the sound of the silver stuff, this would make a very nice backdrop.

COCTEAU TWINS – VIOLAINE (OTHERNESS)/CICO BUFF/PRIMITIVE HEART

Are you the kind of person that likes to listen to music alone and on a dark afternoon keeps the lights off to accentuate the mood? Then you’ll love this version of Violaine. Culled from their Otherness EP from 1995, it’s the strongest thing they had done for years. Four tracks remixed and unlike those of previous release. Violaine is the sound of many darkened rooms in the quietest of moments for those too anxious to open their doors! Alternatively, it might be good on headphones while walking through woods or disused urban rail lines. Cico Buff is like a luxurious white chocolate melting through your speakers while the equally elegant Primitive Heart trickles like drizzle into the ears! And that’s no bad thing here. Whales Tails would also suffice. You like the scent of rain on pavements? Well they’re all that too.

BLACK ROOM – ITALIAN GIRLFRIEND

Now a touch of dramatic class from Norway. Lights off, imagination on for this sex fuelled fantasy. ‘We could watch the night together from my room/and we could watch the highway/I love the way it glooms’ and ‘we shot Polaroids of each other all night long/and then we closed our eyes and listened to the rain.’ Need I say more? European pop noir doesn’t get much better; it’s every bit as moody as Joy Division or even Depeche Mode. Investigate the Black Room.

BEBEL GILBERTO – O CAMINHO (THE WAY)

What would sixties bossa nova sound like amalgamated with other worldly shards of light tinkly synths? Gentle, relaxing, thought provoking, spine tingling. Music for white living rooms, with or without a coffee table, sip through the ear.

DURAN DURAN – TOO LATE MARLENE/LEAVE A LIGHT ON

To the Shore, from their début set in motion the first in a career spanning chain of songs that tell you Duran cannot be anything other than English. There were others of course Keep Me in the Dark from Arcadia’s record and when DD reconvened in the mid-eighties; Winter Marches On, Too Late Marlene and Midnight Sun continued their beautiful crusade to bring soggy pictorials of damp autumns or a rainy London to many who may not have experienced them. Leave a Light On may have its mind in Krautrock but its heart is given an anglo-phonic twist with acoustic guitar and of course Simon LeBon’s skills not only as a singer but in English verse. ‘So come the evening/I’m out on the dunes..’ OK, not the most British of landscapes but somehow it works for a dreamy wet eventide and comes across like a post-millennium Moody Blues. Intriguingly, a lot of these songs reside at number (track) 4 on their respective releases. Coincidence or something more esoteric?

BRIAN ENO – THURSDAY AFTERNOON
BRIAN ENO/HAROLD BUDD – LOST IN THE HUMMING AIR

Got an hour to spare? No? Well you can always try the 11 (almost 12) minute version. Either is good and exemplifies Eno’s tenacity as aural sculptor. A few layers of wafting synths are all it takes. Humming Air is similar only shorter and this time guided by Budd’s piano permeating the misty elegance of this synthetic stream with saintly restraint. Delicate, dreamy and designed to defy the trappings of any musical boundaries that may be forced upon it.

BRYAN FERRY – BETE NOIRE/DON’T STOP THE DANCE

Anyone fancy a rainy day in Paris? Christ, I can’t imagine it any other way. What is difficult to fathom is why the hell something as light as puff pastry would have such a dark title. Don’t beware Bete Noire, embrace it! For Don’t Stop the Dance, an element of CHIC hangs in it’s rain swept shuffle; Manhattan or London, Nile Rodgers can illuminate any downbeat tune with a danceable groove.

DARREN HAYES – LIGHT/FEEL

My namesake Darren Hayes (no relation as far as I know) endures a lot of diatribe from critics and people only capable of seeing or hearing Savage Garden in much the same way that George Michael struggled to shrug off the WHAM brand. But for what it’s worth, I think he (DH) had a lot of balls shifting focus for The Tension and The Spark. The only thing wrong with it is the cover and maybe it’s a bit too long at 13 tracks. So he’s human and makes the odd glitch. Doesn’t every artist? Among its many highlights lay Light and Feel. Both gems in the alternative electro pop sphere he was now mining and both running a smooth ride – kind of like a menthol cough sweet sliding down your throat save the prickly stabs of collaborator Robert Conley’s electronics during the waning strains of the latter.

DARYL HALL – THE FARTHER AWAY I AM

Dating from 1977, this piece is noticeable for utilising the ever diminishing usage of the word ‘farther’ as in ‘further.’ Musically it’s a Fripp soundscape that Hall almost narrates over; definitely one of his more prosaic vocal arrangements. ‘Is it just a cloud passing under?/I don’t wanna lose you.’ Repeat to fade. Read my review of Sacred Songs here http://www.allmusic.com/album/sacred-songs-mw0000235908

JEAN MICHEL JARRE – JE ME SOUVIENS/PLEASURE PRINCIPLE/NEAR DJAINA

Rain has been present in Jean Michel Jarre’s sound designs for years. From Band in the Rain to Oxygen Part 7 though there need be no sample for the music to evoke or imply the essence of precipitation. Je Me Souviens (translation: I remember) is an electronic pulse intercut by Laurie Anderson’s a typical quirky word play eg ‘the voice, the boat, the gate, the house, the bell, the sky’ etc. It’s the first time she’d guested with Jarre since his acclaimed Zoolook project over a decade earlier. It is in the confines of the Jarre oeuvre what ‘War and Peace’ is to Ryuichi Sakamoto (see below). Pleasure Principle from his (for me) last decent work, 2003’s Geometry of Love also echoes earlier works; a refined Zoolook blended with strings fit for the Purcell room or a prestigious ball. Either way it’s a beauty, save for its unnecessary 30 second intro which sounds like someone rifling through newspapers. Half that would have been sufficient. Staying with GoL is Near Djaina; une ballade au piano triste, with the usual accoutrement of Jarre electronic effects such as trains swirling in cocktails, it would be easy to envisage it in a film, the male lead contemplating past events with regret while staring into a glass full of memories. On GoL, Jarre married his signature sounds to a contemporary lounge bar chic, ensuring a continuity from his past body of work with a dialogue for the present future. It worked!

MICHAEL HEDGES – NOMAD LAND

The sound of a happy tramp stamping around in puddles while no one else is looking (and so what if they were). A swing rhythm guided by Hedges poetic guitar and a playful sax. Probably his Fool in the Rain (as in the Led Zep song). Goofy fun.

EG AND ALICE – DOESN’T MEAN THAT MUCH TO ME

If Prince were from London he might well have come up with this. From one of the most overlooked records of the nineties, 24 Years of Hunger was not a hit but was a stupefying concoction shifting between the warm tones of début single Indian and In a Cold Way to the more cinematic flourishes found on So High, So Low and Crosstown. They kicked off 1992 with Doesn’t Mean That Much to Me, a vibrant soft white pop-funk with a silky-synth-sheen powered by Prince style percussion. It should have been huge but along with the album and its brief splash in the media dissolved along with the short lived duo who made it.

THE BLUE NILE – AUTOMOBILE NOISE

Sparkle in the Rain might well have been a Simple Minds title but this feels much more relevant. Twinkling keys in the chorus (if indeed it’s a chorus at all) like specks of rain on the windscreen or Christmas lights. As often with them, something of Scotland is there in the music and one can easily picture a white sky over Glasgow or perhaps the more stately setting of Edinburgh when tuning in. Now a mature 30 years old, it really is a wonderful life when you hear songs of this craftsmanship.

JON HASSELL – LAST NIGHT THE MOON CAME DROPPING ITS CLOTHES IN THE STREET

Pale, meditative, this has everything from swirling electronics to violin but above all Hassell’s distinctive trumpet pulls and tugs in all directions over a repeating wave like motif which washes ashore time and again. Around 5.25 landfall is provided by an electronic bass to the wash of sound that continues to breach its earthly perimeters. At over eleven minutes its minimalist repetition may wear thin for some, for others its rapturous and captivating.

DAVID SYLVIAN – WHERE’S YOUR GRAVITY/WASN’T I JOE/THE WORLD IS EVERYTHING

I need to learn some new vocabulary to better explain the work of David Sylvian. This is not pop or rather it isn’t pop as we know it. There is no BOO-BOO-BOO-BOO/BOO-BOO-BOO-BOO-DUM-DUM Phil Collins style drum to lift the song from its lazy stroll. No, this is music that – much like its creator – stays on its own course, oblivious to what anyone else thinks of it or what it should do. It isn’t alone in its restrained arrogance, Wasn’t I Joe, which much to the chagrin of fans remains unreleased, is astounding and this time there is rhythm to give it an extra impetus – needed for a piece of almost 12 minutes. Meanwhile, lurking at the other end of Sylvian’s spectrum is the probable origin to what became Gravity. The World is Everything, with us for just one minute and forty-three seconds proves the world is indeed alive, albeit divided between lyrical enigmas and driven by sublime subtleties.

HOWARD JONES – DON’T ALWAYS LOOK AT THE RAIN

Howard Jones was an unusual pop star and not just because of his infamous spiky hairdo of the time. No, because he was and is never afraid of tackling big subject matter in his lyrics and attaching them to beautiful music (Hide and Seek) and sometimes not so beautiful (Hunt the Self). While every generation says theirs was the best, the eighties produced artists who spoke of issues like vegetarianism and conditioning. Not many can say that – at least in a pop setting (Morrissey was from a different place, operating in a different gene pool). This song is nothing to do with rain in the meteorological sense, more in seeing or using positive imagery to beat the blues. It may also deserve a genre all of its own; synth-jazz? Play it on a sun showery day when the rainbows appear.

ICEHOUSE – ANGEL STREET

Yes.. I hear you, Hey Little Girl right? Well yes, that would do in many of its forms; the original and the house mixes from ’97 to name a couple. So too would Goodnight Mr Matthews. However in an effort to travel the less well known corners of the Iva Davies Sydney songbook, I arrived on Angel Street. A narration about a girl on a train platform as viewed by Davies from his former home. It’s one of their more subtle pieces and considering it was recorded in the middle of the eighties still stands up pretty well. It’s also nicely paced and unusual in that among its features are a French refrain and a Spanish guitar (I can’t think of another song of theirs where this is the case). In its meandering cuteness or strangeness if either of those are fitting analogies lie some highly honed electronic touches and a decent bass percussion element too. It was definitely beneficial hearing it in HD as opposed to the vinyl that I once possessed. If you’re still there in the solitude of your own private universe, this one is a must for subdued afternoons.

JAPAN – THE EXPERIENCE OF SWIMMING

How does one describe Englishness in music? As difficult a function as discussing colour-sound – even to musicians! When hearing this I’m transported to an England I resided in the late seventies or any number of riverside walks on overcast days. Sadly I was not based in the UK during its new romantic phase. As far as Japan goes this is in essence a Richard Barbieri solo piece; as minimalist as the aforementioned Sakamoto/Noto cover. Although the wordless song is set in a light key, an ominous undercurrent lurks just beneath its surface. It does enough to ensure it’s timeless and a possible influence on Radiohead (see below).

TIM BOWNESS – BLACKROCK 2000

A very personal memoir from the sonic diary of England’s best kept secret for over two decades now. At first it sounds like a million other songs with a singer crooning over an acoustic guitar. ‘Evening by the Irish Sea/Calculating you and me’ but.. just as I was about to hit the skip button, something engaged me. And that’s the thing with Tim, something else is there. In this case the addition of electronics and vocal effects embellish, making it far more than just a singer moaning about the life bestowed on them. It may be the end of the affair but through its deft delivery, he offers a lighter alternative to The Break Up For Real; sombre sweet. In Bowness-ville, the pen really is mightier than the sword.

PETER KINGSBERY – HELENE

Welcome to France and to a different man. While his time in Cock Robin may have yielded an education in thoughtful rock, Helene finds his story telling more refined, almost folk like and at times a feint touch of Cat Stevens encroaches its laid back terrain. Kingsbery, in wistful mode, sings of church bells and laughter from school-yards that disturb his chain of thought releasing him to continue on his way somewhere while recalling his past. There are moments where the song is lifted beyond the pastoral ‘try as you may/this is not my real home/and I miss how the sun comes up late in the morning/for all that I want/there is really not much you can do’ before landing back on its bed rhythm of calm. This is not the sound of Paris so much as he mentions the harbour, it is perhaps La Rochelle or Cherbourg, watching from the café, with the white sky and ever present rain not too far away.

RYUICHI SAKAMOTO – WAR AND PEACE

Over five and a half minutes, a slow building collage unfurls courtesy of Arto Lindsay’s words and production coupled with Sakamoto’s beautiful arrangement. This in turn is punctuated with dextrous funk-guitar twangs, strings, Brazilian percussion and programming. The song is effectively a mantra with each line repeated by an international cast of men and women to recite Lindsay’s words. Is War as old as Gravity? If I love peace, do I have to love trees? Why do they compare war to a man and peace to a woman? Is peace a time of tension? This is mostly done per individual, sometimes overlapping, at times appearing almost comedic and sometimes in unison as on the concluding line. A striking composition and a highlight of Sakamoto’s CHASM album.

PAULA COLE – I WANNA KISS YOU

If her lyrics are anything to go by, Paula Cole, could be considered a flirty girl. Just listen to her words on Oh John and Feeling Love for starters! Here she is again stopping the conversation. Why else would the cover show only her bright red lips suggestively positioned sideways (and we know what that means no?) Not only does she wanna kiss you, she wants to feel you, hold you, need you and love you too. At first glance the song (co-written with a guy you understand) seems like the sound of a horny woman on a rainy day if ever there was one. But amid all of this fornication is a romantic at work. Not only will she – at the very least – kiss you, but she’ll make you toast and tea too. Sound good? How about getting married in a hill-top church before retiring to an artistic retreat with an English garden; he the writer, she the painter. Sounds wonderful to me.

JONI MITCHELL – YVETTE IN ENGLISH

And staying with woman, is there a better artist than the much lauded Joni Mitchell? With café references and walks by the Seine in check and Wayne Shorter’s soprano sax skilfully slinking around her words like a friendly feline (as per the song), Yvette is a dreamy study of the left bank for anyone able to lose themselves in sound. Unlike the version on co-writer David Crosby’s album, this one is the more introspective of the two. In their conclusion, the character is left by the Seine at night by Yvette, which on Crosby’s version is palatable. Here, belies a rare flaw. It is of course endearingly, enigmatically and eternally, a rain imbued afternoon in Paris. The final synth-line sees her and the city, fading from view in time lapse photography.

WILLIAM ORBIT – PIECE IN THE OLD STYLE 3

Arriving from the chimes of bell birds and the sound of distant thunder, Piece #3 comes on like a hymn from the church of calm or the soundtrack to a Wordsworth poem (think wandering lonely as a cloud). A musical eclogue in three parts, it has a beginning, a middle and an end. All serve a purpose, the first introduces us or the listener if you prefer to a strange scene, possibly a landscape you’re not sure whether to enter into or not before it unfolds to a pleasant terrain (hence the Wordsworth mention above). The middle part is akin to entering a forest – a dark green canopy above sheltering from the threat of thunder – still audible before once again venturing out into the open for the final and my favourite part. Similar to the intro, the white sky envelopes all but like a fine painting there are hues in it so subtle it would take a Dulux paint chart to really define them. Along with Talk Talk’s Wealth, Piece #3 has one of the best fades ever.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS

AL STEWART – YEAR OF THE CAT
JULIA FORDHAM – I THOUGHT IT WAS YOU
EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL – MISSING/SINGLE
JOHN FOXX – EUROPE AFTER THE RAIN/KURFURSTENDAMM
MICK KARN – THE FORGOTTEN PUPPETEER
NO-MAN – SWEETHEART RAW/LOVECRY
RADIOHEAD – THE GLOAMING
SIMPLE MINDS – GRAFFITI SOUL

DANCING ON A RAINY DAY

FELIX – DON’T YOU WANT ME
GROOVE ARMADA – HISTORY
HUMAN LEAGUE – EMPIRE STATE HUMAN
PLANET FUNK – THE SWITCH
KLEERUP – THANK YOU FOR NOTHING
SOULSEARCHER – CAN’T GET ENOUGH

London in January. I’m on an escalator in the now long since vanquished Virgin Megastore on the corner of Oxford St and Tottenham Court Road when this classic dance funk number comes out of nowhere, only.. it was brand new. Songs which possess such a fresh vibe while sounding classic are few and far between and they made it sound effortless, sexy and timeless.

STARDUST – MUSIC SOUNDS BETTER WITH YOU
U2 – SALOME (ZOOROMANCER MIX)

ROCKING OUT ON A RAINY DAY (for less quiet moments)

PORCUPINE TREE – TIME FLIES
RUSH – AFTERIMAGE
HALL AND OATES – COLD, DARK AND YESTERDAY

Now the story behind this one is that while on tour in Australia, the band had a day at the beach where guitarist GE Smith mentioned it was cold, dark and yesterday. On hearing this John Oates penned the title and thus an essential part of the spectacular Big Bam Boom album was born. Worth hearing not just for its mood but for the sadly departed T-Bone Wolk’s choppy bass in the centre.

FLEETWOOD MAC – WHAT MAKES YOU THINK YOU’RE THE ONE/NOT THAT FUNNY

Both from Tusk and both rollicking good fun from a band unafraid to experiment.

LED ZEPPELIN – FOOL IN THE RAIN

I always like the songs that sound nothing like a bands normal stomping ground. For a song about a girl that never shows it’s surprisingly light and the break in the middle is still brilliant.

GUN – STEAL YOUR FIRE
BLUE OYSTER CULT – DON’T FEAR THE REAPER

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