Has your life been changed by music? If so, read on, because it’s officially time to embrace Field Day this weekend. And after 10 years of being oh-so inspirational the acclaimed Victoria Park festival returns with a stellar line-up of crazy bands and wild jams.
But if you want to blow your righteous music-loving mind, look no further than Sunday’s set from Shearwater. The gloriously symphonic and enigmatic rock troupe are celebrating the release of their strongest and most striking album yet, Jet Plane and Oxbow, as it ‘shimmers in the night sky’ as frontman Jonathan Meiburg represents.
And shimmer it does. Just like the crowd will radiate heat and energy in Hackney this weekend, the music of Shearwater has also reached an impressive new apex by translating their intimate and joyous pop into an electrified and expansive convulsion of sounds. Gone are the days that Jonathan was feeling meek – welcome the dark wave of Gary Numan-esque chants and gorgeous The National-sized climaxes.
If nothing else, this is the biggest and loudest moment for the Sub Pop-signed band, which has unexpectedly transformed from wallflowers to headbangers. But on stage, don’t expect them to trade volume for detail as the band still pride itself on their intricate melodies and glorious melodies. Because they can still channel the strummed acoustic guitar majesty of The Replacements when they feel like it.
“It’s like joining us on an expedition,” Jonathan says. That’s how he described his path to the studio to record the new album as he listened to field recordings of howler monkeys, musician wrens, and other strange creatures from remote parts of Guyana and Brazil – all while digesting the ideas and influences of David Bowie. Part rock star, part David Attenborough – that’s Jonathan.
Ahead of Shearwater jetting over to play Field Day on Sunday, we caught up with Jonathan to ask him about his all-time musical favourites – from Charles Ives to London’s crown prince of dub reggae poetry, Linton Kwesi Johnson. Hold on – it’s going to be a wild, if well-researched, ride…
Charles Ives – The Unanswered Question
This humble but mighty piece – from 1908 – is one of the strangest and most moving recordings I’ve ever heard. It really does evoke a feeling that’s beyond words. Ives wrote it with a specific program in mind, which you can find online (he described the strings, for instance, as ‘the Silence of the Druids, who See, Know, and Hear Nothing’). But I’d suggest letting it just wash over you. Like all of the music from Ives, it has whimsy, pathos, and melancholy in equal parts, and seems a century ahead of its time.
Jim Pepper – Newly-Weds Song
From the unclassifiable 1971 record, Pepper’s Pow-Wow, Pepper – a Native American singer and saxophonist – plays flute here in a track that’s almost a genre unto itself. It begins with a traditional chant, then becomes a funky and satisfying slab of otherworldly garage rock with an irresistible metrical hiccup. Whenever I play this record to someone who hasn’t heard it, their eyebrows reliably shoot up at the second line of the first verse.
Alemu Aga – Medinnana zelesegma
From the great Ethiopíques collection (Vol. 11), this track features Aga’s mesmerizing, near-whispered singing over a deep, buzzing, harp-like instrument called a begenna whose origins go back two thousand years. What’s so remarkable is that it sounds strangely familiar, like something you heard in a dream. I dare you to stop listening to all 10 minutes of this after 30 seconds.
Linton Kwesi Johnston – Inglan is a Bitch
Let’s give kudos to the BBC’s legendary Old Grey Whistle Test programme for having the guts to air this tune back in 1980. The album version from Bass Culture is equally great – but LKJ’s a capella recital of the quietly angry, funny, and wise lyric must be one of the best (and most personal) protest anthems ever recorded. His ‘Inglan’ could be any number of countries today, but he has always done London proud.
Morton Feldman – Piano and String Quartet
More than any piece of music I’ve heard, this one seems like it’s listening to you. It’s long—almost 90 minutes—and not an easy climb at first. But if you stay the course, it just might rejigger your ideas about what dissonance means—and maybe a whole lot more. After an hour in its presence, I feel like a slightly different person. Isn’t that what music should do?