My music listening life reached a kind of fork on the road yesterday. Was initially thinking of getting myself a copy of the Grammy award-winning collaboration by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. But then this feeling of being a bit bored with commercialized mainstream sounds hit me with the same force as a fifth vegetarian burger in three days. You know you can still take another one. But on second thought, a break would be such bliss. Realized that this aural craving for the uncommon had been going on for some time now. It started last year with Marcus Adoro’s surfing-inspired debut Markus Highway and Dong Abay’s post-Yano obra Flipino.
Anyway, in my regular weekend scouring of record stores yesterday, found myself suddenly taking some interests at these stacks of quite unfamiliar albums by new indie artists. Went immediately into my obsessive-compulsive mentat mode in deciding which one to buy. Read the black sticker in front of each album that had nuggets of information about the artists and the songs. And in just a few seconds, my thoughts were transfixed on this album that the sticker described as dealing with isolation and the struggle of the individual to fit in. Themes that struck a chord or two. Went to a nearby internet shop to check out the artist’s blog.
Some minutes later, had a copy of How to Swim and Live, which is supposed to be Little Name’s debut album. Contrary to my gut notion, the album was not the work of a band. Little Name is probably as much as to Lee Barker of Liverpool as The Martian is to this blog’s author. And the angst is not that obvious the first time you listen to the songs. The melodies are unabashedly pop with some jazzy guitar, synth, and trumpet sequences mixed in. Result: tunes that are like 60s tracks by Burt Bacharach, sucked into a wormhole and ejected to an early period.
As with any work that tries to pack in some substance, the real secret though is in the lyrics. It gives a crisp description of alienation. It has that distinctive sarcastic color. Sometimes, it's depressing. Which all contrast sharply with the cute tunes one hears from the album. My favorite lines are from track 8, Nobody Loves You:
I always thought that it would be much easier,
To get away with murder,
Than to get through you.
I thought someday, we'd put our
And run away to Ambleside,
Raise chickens by the lake.
Nobody loves you,
And it's easy to see why,
Nobody wants you baby,
And it's all because of lies,
And your tissue thin disguise,
That hides who you really are.
Just a few playback and found myself already singing the chorus line. Talk about stickiness factor. Lee Barker’s easy-going rhythm makes everything quite chewable though, as if you can stay forever above the murk. Which is enough to make How to Swim and Live one of those remarkable first efforts. And Little Name an artist to watch in the coming years.