Regular readers of this site will be well aware that we’re fans of going off on a tangent: we’re also quite regularly fans of music that does the same.
Musical tangents perhaps peeked back in 1967, when Messrs Lennon and McCartney wrote the baffling and brilliant A Day In The Life. What starts as a heartbreaking piano and maracas ballad, shifts into a 24-bar bridge featuring the processed vocals of assistant Mal Evans and ominous string accompaniment. Then, with the sound of alarm clock, comes over all skiffly ragtime goodness, before building into a discordant crescendo, and ending as quite possibly music’s most famous final chord rings out. It’s quite frankly one of the best songs ever written, even if it does make very little sense at all.
Other contenders for the most famous musical tangents in history, must surely include Bohemian Rhapsody. Queen’s homage to prog-rock, and a track we must admit we don’t like at all until the fun head-bangy bit in the middle, but it does have a mighty fine outro. A considerably better example is Radiohead’s Paranoid Android; it’s a suite of ideas, a track in four distinct parts. Beginning with the clanking guitars of the intro, it shifts into the more rhythmically muted second sections, before via a blistering electric guitar entering into the slower bleaker third part, with the infamous multi-tracked choral vocals, before reprising the earlier guitar line and ending on a descending guitar motif – remarkably it sounds as fresh now as it did when it was released twenty years ago. In more recent years Fleet Foxes have been spelling their songs fusions out, with The Shrine/An Argument, The Plains/Bitter Dancer and recent single Third of May / Ōdaigahara; each of which is a song in two distinct parts.
There’s a real skill to fusing seemingly disparate sections together into a song that is both logical and actually good to listen to – and when the musical tangent is perfected, it can be a thing of great beauty.
The music of Patchwork Guilt, the pseudonym of songwriter Phoenix Mundy, is intriguingly modern. Two albums and three EP’s already exist despite the fact she hadn’t, until the end of last year, ever played live. Originally from a bedroom in Bristol, but now based out of Liverpool, Patchwork Guilt has managed to gather something of a following from self-releasing onto Bandcamp and Soundcloud, despite initially shunning the idea of actually sending her music to anyone.
Following up her first single with a label, Get To Rest which came out via Bristol label Chiverin, Patchwork Guilt recently self-released a new single, Unwind. In process, Patchwork Guilt’s music might be bedroom-pop, but her sound is anything but lo-fi; Unwind is a complex and ambitious slice of psychedelic-pop. Complex percussion, prominent rolling bass-lines and meandering electric guitars combine, into a track with nods to the jazzy alt-pop of Arc Iris and the blissful, soaring melodies of Natalie Prass.
Today Patchwork Guilt has put together a mixtape of some of her favourite songs that head off on a tangent, a series of records full of arresting changes in musical direction featuring the likes of The Stone Roses, Do Make Say Think and Frédéric Chopin, as well as our favourite Devendra Banhart track, Sea Horse.
1. Connan Mockasin – Hey Chocolate
The first few minutes feature Connan’s weird helium vocals over a sultry, psychedelic jazz background. Then it changes into this early Pink Floyd style psych rock instrumental, which keeps on getting faster and faster like a terrifying (but great) nightmare soundtrack for the remainder of the song.
2. Devendra Banhart – Sea Horse
This is one of my favourite songs of all time. Start off mellow (just guitar and vocals) for a couple of minutes before suddenly breaking into this jazzy, waltz-like section. It’s very dreamlike and after a while begins to feel perpetual, but then he suddenly and unexpectedly erupts into a joyous, classic rock section that wouldn’t go amiss in a road trip movie scene. At the end, it goes full circle and returns to the intro again.
3. Talk Talk – The Rainbow
Maybe this one doesn’t go off on tangents so much as it is a structured, yet very long song. However after nine minutes you certainly feel like you have drifted in and out of lots of different ideas. Each one is beautiful, it grows and wanes and evolves and is just a very melodic and haunting song. Also, the friend who introduced this to me boldly stated that it featured the best harmonica tone ever recorded – I have to say I agree!
4. Sonic Youth – Washing Machine
Two and a half minutes of filthy alt-rock, and then out of nowhere these gorgeous guitars wash over and lift the mood entirely. The next section is like if members of the Velvet Underground and Neu! had a jam, with lots of fuzz and guitars that screech like seagulls.
5. Smashing Pumpkins – Silverfuck
This track begins really heavy, aggressive and fast-paced, which makes its tangent totally unexpected. A few minutes in, it dims to allow for a slice of woozy, dreamlike psychedelia which floats along for a bit, before abruptly going back into the heavy section for round two.
6. Porcupine Tree – Trains
This song is one of those ones which will always be irrevocably tied to very poignant memories that you have of a particular time or place, in this case a very lovely and bittersweet summer I once had. I love the contrast between how powerful and sad it sounds at the beginning compared to the folky, banjo section in the middle.
7. The Stone Roses – I am the Resurrection
The first time I listened to this album, by the time it was nearing the end I was already super impressed. On this last track, I remember enjoying its lighthearted, upbeat indie feel. It initially follows a typical, pop song format which is still great, but then out of the blue at 3 and a half minutes in comes the epic, funky section that grooves away for a few minutes before bursting into sunny psych pop. The sudden change into that section cemented the album as one of those ones you just leave in the CD player for weeks and press play every time you come into the room.
8. Do Make Say Think – Frederica
This song is mad! It begins in a mellow jazz guitar style which meanders along before bursting into a lovely sunshiney section (2:44) that put a huge smile on my face the first time I heard it. Subtly, in the background, these growly, scratchy horns start to creep in, and the guitars get all distorted and noisy. By five minutes in you feel like you may have been transported into a post-rock song and you just drown in it. It then drops abruptly, builds to another Mogwai-style climax, then seconds later the sunshine jazz section is back. Tis a wonderful rollercoaster!
9. Juana Molina – Eras
This song is more structured, but the different sections juxtapose each other and give the overall impression of wandering about semi-aimfully. It’s also kind of hard to tell which ones are intended as verses, bridges or choruses and it all seems quite ambiguous. Has quite an uneasy, wobbly sound, sections that sound like if how Radiohead might sound if they tried to play flamenco, and also a super cool/disturbing video to match!
10. Chopin – Nocturne No.1 in B-Flat Major
Classical buffs might object to this being called a ‘song’, but I feel like music is music and this is a fantastic example of it. It wanders and drifts in that way that classical music often does and creates so many different moods before returning to the main theme. It’s probably one of the only pieces of music that has genuinely given me shivers. I also recommend just putting on the entire collection of Nocturnes and just wallowing in them because they’re excellent.
Unwind is out now. Click HERE for more information on Patchwork Guilt.