by / August 5th, 2011 /

Top Story: State’s Office Stereo – Lana Del Rey, Cocteau Twins, Arcade Fire, Games & Holy Ghost!

A weekly feature in which our writers and photographers share their favourite tracks of the week.

Lana Del Rey – ‘Video Games’ (chosen by Jennifer Gannon)

Slowly coiling around your brain like a strand of silky hair twirling around a starlet’s finger, it entrances. Like a missing scene from Mulholland Drive it arrives, full of mystery and drama studded with eerie darkness. An alluring Molotov cocktail exploding with brooding sexuality and menace, ‘Video Games’ can devastate you with just one listen.

Lana Del Rey arrives like a chanteuse that’s used to the fuzzy end of the lollipop, offering up a vignette of classic Americana; the dense summer evenings overpowered with the fragrance of the young, of cigarettes, sour sweat, warm leather back seats, cheap perfume and chewing gum – the over-peached cheeks of the grass stained Lolita’s ambling into the misty shadows. Del Ray’s black coffee tones soak through the grandiose orchestration slashing the saccharine with a foreboding feeling of dread mixed up with the restlessness and the listless days of youth spent waiting, wanting and obsessing. A bewitching lullaby for those who dream in black and white.

Samantha Savage Smith – ‘The Fight’ (chosen by Damien McGlynn)

This Calgary-based singer possesses not only an excellent double-barrel surname but also a double-barrel voice that combines timeless, soulful power with an unusual twang that would have seen her classed as “freak-folk” if this were 2006 and everyone was still looking for the next Joanna Newsom, but now, in 2011, she is more likely to be classed as the weirdo’s Zooey Deschanel. The eccentricities that pepper her debut album’s vocals are, however, more closely aligned with the likes of CocoRosie, while her collaboration with luminaries of the local blues scene ensures slick instrumentation from the gentle opening scratches on her Telecaster to the rousing closing refrain. You’ll be singing the line “this is all yours…” to yourself in a week’s time, so her memorable name will come in handy when you want to find the full length album on Bandcamp.

03 The Fight by samanthasavagesmith

Cocteau Twins – ‘Heaven Or Las Vegas’ (chosen by Ian Maleney)

It’s always cool when you re-evaluate an act and find something wholly new and interesting where once you saw nothing at all. Recently I was convinced that Cocteau Twins were worth another listen after years of dismissing them out of hand. Their 1990 album Heaven or Las Vegas was suggested as the most suitable starting point and after a little trepidation, I gave it a spin. A couple of songs in, things were sitting much better than I was expecting and then the title track came along. The lyrics flit restlessly intelligibility, never giving in completely to communicating something obvious or straight-forward. The chorus emerges over and over again from the hazy verse, dragging you back to that hook. It’s genius pop shrouded in reverb, hiding wonderful melodies behind great big guitar strums and echoing drums. A genuine classic, and I finally know that.

Holy Ghost! – ‘Some Children’ (chosen by Alan Reilly)

The closing song from the formidable Holy Ghost! debut LP is a groove-laden Italo-disco-pop number with ‘80s synths, falsetto spikes and one time Doobie Brother/Steely Dan singer Michael McDonald laying down a chorus, all neatly tied together in a gospel style sing out. This is how you get people coming back for more – clever lads.

Holy Ghost! – Some Children (Free Download) by DFA Records

Erik Mongrain – ‘Airtap’ (chosen by John Ryan)

In 2007, a little known French-Canadian busker came to the attention of the world following an impromptu performance on a Spanish variety show. The song ‘Airtap’ became a Youtube sensation securing Erik Mongrain’s place in the upper echelons of the guitar playing world. With a view total approaching 5.5 million, this enamouring solo piece never fails to inspire awe in its audience.

‘Airtap’ combines elements of the Baroque classical era with a thoroughly contemporary approach to the acoustic guitar. The result is virtuosic instrumental music without the egotism; a tapestry of interweaving melodies guided by the subtle pulse of string scratches and tapped harmonics. The song tells the tale of a 21 year old musician finding his path in life. And while Erik has since gone on to produce two critically-acclaimed albums, Fates and Equilibrium, ‘Airtap’ captures the sights and sounds of those twilight hours spent performing on the streets of Granada.

To revise a famous saying: “After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is Erik Mongrain’s music.”

Arcade Fire – ‘Suburban War’ (chosen by Simon Roche)

Every day I get closer to chalking down The Suburbs as a monumental album – concept albums were never supposed to be this accessible and addictive. I’ve sealed the limited edition vinyl in plastic and only play it on special occasions but recently I’ve been wearing out side four of the record. ‘Suburban War’ is not only the concluding passage of The Suburbs but a summary of the thoughts on the entire album, and all you need know about it can be gleaned from the opening plucked notes which sound like the colour of a faded photograph from the ’70s. It’s about those suburban kids who knew what was going on long before the rest of us and whether to stay, fight or leave it all. And anyone who did leave has their own summary in: “the cities we live in could be distant stars, and I search for you in every passing car”.

Games – ‘Strawberry Skies’ (ft. Laurel Halo) (chosen by Daniel Harrison)

I re-discovered my love for this track (originally released last year) after Martyn selected it on Benji B’s show the other week. Games have since renamed themselves Ford & Lopatin, but Laurel Halo remains Laurel Halo – her vocals take an already great tune into the stratosphere here, backed by a hypnotic marimba/synth arrangement that manages to be both dreamy and dancefloor-friendly.

Halo’s King Felix EP, released late last year, is easily one of my favourite records of the last couple of years. This year’s Hour Logic EP sees her take her sound in a much more abstract direction, largely eschewing vocals – a brave move considering they had been such a key aspect to her sound. Given time, Hour Logic reveals itself as an extraordinary piece of work: layered and intricate, it takes the pulse of electronic music in weird, wonderful, shape-shifting directions; in many ways sounding like a contemporary update of Kraftwerk’s odes to technology.

Friend? – ‘Dan2 and the Black and Purple Dream Jeans’ (chosen by Sean Conroy)

You don’t need me to tell you that Ireland’s current instrumental scene is perhaps one of the best in the world. The Richter Collective’s Adebisi Shank, And So I Watch You From Afar and The Redneck Manifesto lead the way in this respect, but they are not the only ones on offer here. Friend? are one of the relatively new, ElevenEleven label’s biggest acts. Their monstrous guitar sound is complimented by haunting violin work, which along with their staccato breaks and electronic samples could be the aural backdrop for any Hollywood slow-motion battle.

‘Dan2..’. is a slow burner, revealing itself only towards the end of a technically excellent display of musicianship. There is no doubt about its beauty, however; where some musicans see technical talent as being of the utmost importance, Friend? find the balance between instrument mastery and beautiful hooks. ‘Dan2…’ seems not to be structured as neatly as other current instrumental bands’ work, making for a challenging, but a most definitely, worthwhile listen.

Dan2 and the black and purple dream jeans by FriendQuestionMark by ElevenElevenLabel

Friendly Fires – ‘Running Away’ (chosen by Hilary White)

I was never mad on Friendly Fires’s choice of singles, particularly on second LP Pala. Singles are meant to represent the catchiest side of the record, or the one the band feel acts as the best calling card for the work as a whole. ‘Live Those Days Tonight’ and ‘Hawaiian Air’ are fine and dancey, but my “leader of the gang” is ‘Running Away’. It’s the album’s “look at me, Mum” moment, an attention-hogging diva outburst of strutting bass lines and a gently pushy vocal hook that nags, water bottle in hand, “go on, go on, go on”. If they don’t play it on December 7th in the Olympia, I’ll go out and kill a macaw.