Music Mondays – Living Is So Easy.

This technically should be a Song Of The Day, but come on! It’s British Sea Power, they need more than just a few words.

Oh by the way, I love this band. I suppose at this stage I should make reference to my brother, but only if I get to call him Dede. He, like with the Manics, introduced me to this band, but never really seems to go about introductions in the right way. It’s more a case of “listen to this, you need to, it’s essential. Actually, I’ll stick it on now”, as opposed to “oh there’s a band you might like, their EP’s on Spotify. For you to listen to at your leisure.” Anyway, that aside, I drove through the initial barrage of Sea Power love to find an endearing yet wildly underrated band – I can’t even find anyone to go and see them with me next February in Bristol, despite them wearing walking boots and chunky knits on stage (how is this not popular yet?). Eccentric and probably a bit weird actually, this band writes about melting polar ice caps, the flooding of Canvey Island and Dostoyevsky whilst rating castles and partaking in bird documentaries with Guy Garvey. But! Don’t let their odd antics put you off their music. This new release ahead of their upcoming album ‘Valhalla Dancehall’ in January 2011 (and subsequent tour) is, I think you’ll agree, rather good.

Called by the band “our most electronic song to date”, it has an initial pleasantly fake-sounding beat (is this to represent the fakeness of the characters in the lyrics?), with some classically unobtrusive and dreamy lyrics coming in a few moments after. And the lyrics are rather intriguing – I believe there’s no real historical or environmental story involved here, it’s more of a slightly tongue-in-cheek look at our times, and I think the title is perfect. Because it is! Everything they describe in the lyrics is indeed easy – how difficult is it to go to the party? How difficult is it to shop? – and I rather like the satisfaction of the thought ‘what will happen will happen.’ I get the impression that all the people they’re talking about are the people who BenchLad and I disapprove of/scorn, who always emerge at around 11pm dressed in next to nothing (in WINTER?! Bloody crazy idiots), looking to drink their body-weight, whilst we’re heading home for a good cup of tea and cuddle after seeing the latest film from Argentina. The soullessness of society is felt through the words from Sea Power, and again they’ve got it “just right”.

But then, is Yan just talking about a party? One where you go and meet people and have a mini groove? Or people just joining in with life? A “clay pigeon shoot” is mentioned at the start, which jars somewhat with everything else they talk about – so are they wanting people to meet in classic situations (who the hell meets at clay pigeon shoots Yan?) or at 2am in a sticky-floored club? I will never really know what Sea Power are saying, but that’s ok. Sometimes it’s enough just to let the music go.

Ps. Their artwork is AMAZING. And apologies for the video fading out before the actual end…

Into The Bleak.

Out of the hotel room, I see two or three men huddling around a bin fire. Although no snow is blowing around, it is inches and inches deep on the ground. Night has quite set in by this point, and I feel awfully glad of my bed, despite the characterless decor and undrinkable tap water from the bathroom.

The next morning, I awake my comrade by playing ‘The Soviet National Anthem’ – a rousing tune by anyone’s standards – but she disapproves greatly, thinking post-Communist St Petersburg would too. Even though it is bitterly, bitingly cold outside, I discard my thermal vest on dressing, finding it warming abilities an uncomfortable test of my body’s acclimatisation. We breakfast looking over the River Neva, with the Cruiser Aurora in the distance. It is a long way from the soggy green garden at home. At this stage of the Russian winter, the Neva has frozen over, and tracks of one man can be seen in the thick snow. He had trekked straight over the river, without a care the ice might collapse.

That day was a visit to the Winter Palace. The Winter Palace! This is the stuff of revolutionary legends, and it is quite surreal walking into the grand, audacious, and, quite frankly, ridiculously over the top – palace. That word fits it stunningly well. No expense has been spared on its decor, and the monstrous gap between the luxuries of the royals and the dire life of the poor was more crude and poignant than ever. There were some parts of St Petersburg that looked like Dostoyevsky had just written about them, ‘Notes From The Underground’ did not first emerge 150 years ago, and the Tsar was still on the throne. It looks, to put it plainly, like there has been no real equality here at all.

Eleven PM. Our Sleeper Train waits patiently at the station as we flap about with heavy bags and, for some slightly less bright ones, stilettos. Nothing yells “tourist!” more than multi-coloured coats and inappropriate footwear. All aboard, I hope for some stray Russian called Sasha to be carrying a ukulele, and maybe we could all have a nice sing-song, reminiscent of something from the war, but sleep seems to be on everyone else’s minds. I take the occasion to stay awake, looking out of the window, as each station we rattled past was lit up brilliantly for a moment, then lost again in the quiet darkness. The gentle rocking of the carriage, and the somewhat intense (yet very welcome) heating soon takes its hold over me, and we awake a few hours later, all a little groggy and sleepy, in a rather foreign place called Moscow.

(Russian Travels, February 2004)