Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’Category

Biological Folkology 101

I’ve kind of wanted to do a post on the big ‘What is folk?!’ question for a while now, but trying to find that answer has unleashed a whole new Pandora’s box on me that I wasn’t quite ready for. At the risk of sounding trite, music in general is too porous, inconsistent and bendy to fit into concrete categories, let alone be classified into a single genre.

But let’s try anyway.

Back when I studied biology we learned about taxonomic keys. These help scientists to fit newly discovered forms of life into classifications so that no one accidentally discovers the same rare Amazonian lizard twice. Basically, it’s like one of those ‘What Kind of Romantic Lover Are You’ quizzes from girls’ magazines that I’ve never ever read before especially not the ones my sister buys and leaves on the coffee table. You start (I imagine) from a broad question that leads you to a narrow solution.

Internet, I’ve created my own taxonomic key just for you. It’s not very sophisticated and will only tell you what Is Folk and what’s Not Folk, but to me that really is the only important question in the whole world. So go ahead, enter a song of your choice and see how Luke’s Folk Interpreter does.

(Allow me a little caveat before you begin, though. This is just my take on contemporary folk music. Like ‘indie’, ‘alternative’ and ‘electro’, folk has become a blanketing term for a wide variety of different music. What I call folk, pure traditionalist folkies would call something else. I guess part of folk’s beauty is it’s interpretable nature: if you want to label it folk, who am I to stop you? Anyway, I’m at risk of saying folk more than six times in a single paragraph so I’ll let you read on.)

Luke’s Folk Interpreter

1. Is there an acoustic guitar involved?
Yes (go to 2) No (go to 3)
2. Are there lyrics?
Yes (go to 4) No (go to C)
3. Is there a piano, or other suitably unamplified instrument involved?
Yes (go to 2) No (go to 5)
4. Would they play this at your local night club?
Yes (go to B) No (go to 6)
5. Is there a drum track or bass loop that accompanies the sound of your neighbours yelling through your shared wall to shut up?
Yes (go to B) No (go to 2)
6. Are there synthesizers, electronic beats or loops?
Yes (go to 7) No (go to A)
7. This is where it gets tricky. Does the melody “rely” on the electronic bits more than the unamplified instrument?
Yes (go to C) No (go to A)


The conclusion we scientists of folk can draw from the taxonomic key above is that any musical genre is difficult to pin down. Folk songs are perhaps a little easier (give me a guitar, three chords and some pretty words and I’ll churn one out for you right now), but as more and more people discover synthesizers and loops this is bound to change.

Having said that, I’m quite proud of Luke’s Folk Interpreter, and I implore you, no, no, I challenge you to find a song that clogs it up and spits out an ambiguous result. Go ahead, I’m waiting.

I’ll start you off with a ditty from a band Wikipedia cleverly labels ‘folktronica’. Tunng (don’t worry, I had to look up how to pronounce it too) straddle the rarely-straddled line between beautiful folk and senseless noise and come away with a sound I’ve never heard before. This isn’t the actual song I wanted to put up (if you can, get hold of ‘With Whiskey’) but I’ve just lost a hard-fought battle with html and jet lag and it was the best I could do.

To my twelve readers hundreds of daily visitors, I hope the folk lovers among you now have a better way to explain that boundless genre you invest so much musical credit into. If not, at least now you know what a taxonomic key is.

Don’t Look Down Or Back by tunng


06 2010


Moving is probably one of the most stressful things a single person can undertake. I’ve come to the end of my second academic year and must now find a way to shift all the clothes and books and wires and bed linen and cutlery and old magazines that have somehow gravitated into my possession over the past two years into a house two miles down the road without the aid of a car. Still, if Mama Burns could do it back in 2001 with four kids, an entire household and nine-and-a-half thousand miles between old home and new, I don’t think I’ve much reason to complain.

It’ll only be a quick post this week as it turns out that in between nights in a sleeping bag and days fueled by strange amalgamations of the leftover food I’m trying to finish off, I don’t have much time to write.

Luckily, my good pal Sam has dropped a sturdy folk rope ladder to rescue us from this stressful abyss: Angus & Julia Stone.

Big Sam and I were discussing the F-word and how its employment in songs can be effective at supplying lyrical oomph. It seems, however, swearing in songs is an art form, and if you want to drop the f-bomb you have to make sure it’s going to hit its target. As much as I love Mumford & Sons, when I saw them play live in a friendly music store a few months ago I couldn’t help but wince every time the obscene, albeit catchy, chorus came up in Little Lion Man. On the lyrical battlefield, swear words are the hardened commandos you only want to send out on the most difficult and important missions.

Sam and I decided that the Stone siblings do a pretty good job of it in their song Draw Your Swords (below), enough to make you draw your breath and sit up, but not so much that you have to awkwardly fumble with the volume control on your laptop in case a co-worker or parent hears.

Do you know any songs with subtle swears in them? I think we should make a playlist together of all the tunes written by artists who know how to turn a four-letter word into poetry. No Eminem please.

Anyway, it’s time I turn my attention back to dust behind cupboards and blu-tac marks on walls. Next time we meet I’ll be several time zones away and a much, much more relaxed boy.

Can’t ******* wait.

Found at: – FilesTube


06 2010

Getting Your Sad On

Guide dogs have a really weird effect on me. I’m finding it difficult to put it down in words, but I think it’s something to do with this incredible partnership between dog and human, the trust that echoes so clearly between them. It’s something like nostalgia and regret and pride all rolled into on, something to do with relishing a sad moment, enjoying an overwhelming joy that comes when someone perfoms so well despite the circumstances. Then again, it’s just the fact that the dog has managed to find a job despite the recession that gets me so emotional.

Do you ever watch World War 1 documentaries? It’s the same thing. The photographs and anecdotes and history are all so powerful and interesting, but I always sit on my couch enveloped by this niggling sadness in the knowledge that nearly a century later there is nothing that can be done for those poor boys who have already disappeared in the mud of Ypres and Passchendaele. The Discovery Channel apparently feels no remorse for putting me through this, and I spend the rest of the day guiltily reading about Harry Patch on Wikipedia.

You’ll be happy to know that this addictive depressant can be imbibed aurally, too. Like employed dogs and the Great War, the music of Nick Drake is the painful cut in my mouth that I just can’t stop prodding. The tall, soft-spoken revolutionary of the folk world died at the age of 26 before his fame could catch up with him. He was extremely shy and abhorred any form of public performance and I remember reading once that while recording his final album his self-confidence reached such a low point that he had to sit in the corner of a room and face the wall while he sang. Poor Nick.

Something that makes folk a particularly powerful genre is its ability to span musical generations. A song written in the first half of the 20th century can be recorded and re-recorded by so many different artists that by the time it gets to Spotify people forget who even put it to paper in the first place. ‘Blues Run the Game’ is one of those hand-me-down songs that I find particulary poignant, especially since Nick Drake performs his own stunning rendition: knowing his sad history makes the lyrics that much more powerful.

I’m sorry if I’ve now made you want to put on a pair of sweat pants and sulkily watch Wifeswap all day, but I hope you can recognise the bittersweet feeling I’ve been awkwardly trying to express within this post. Do you also have a song or a subject that you love to torture yourself with? Is there some video from your childhood that chokes you up just as much as it cheers you up?

I won’t mind if you can’t think of anything, but do go ahead and listen to Nick Drake’s version of ‘Blues Run the Game’. Fame reached him posthumously but I hope somehow he knows.



06 2010

A Lesson on Labels

So after a brief overnight stay at the Bristol Hospital for Poorly Computers, my old reliable laptop is back on top of my lap. It has a spiffy new hard drive which means the sound works again , and everything seems to be running pretty much like it was before.

Well, perhaps not completely.

Have you ever realised just how personal a personal computer is? Think about it. That familiar purr that greats you as you boot up. The way you’re desktop is arranged so you always know where your most important icons are. The websites that load up your login details before you’ve even arrived.

Unfortunately, digital amnesia has taken its toll on my computer’s memory banks, and things just quite aren’t what they used to be. The fans are eerily silent, my desktop cold and barren. Even Gmail doesn’t remember who I am anymore. As efficient as my computer now is, it’s lost its soul and it’ll take me a while to get it back.

It was during this process of clinical rehabilitation, working my way through iTunes and salvaging what was left of my battered music collection, that I stumbled across a song title that made me feel like I’d lost touch with my computer forever:

Two Pretty Swedish Girls.

Now I don’t know about you Internet, but this is not the kind of thing I usually have in my iTunes collection (folk tends to be pretty porn-free for the most part). I was starting to seriously regret the money I’d handed over to the seemingly friendly computer technicians only hours before (quick side note to budding entrepreneurs: it is slightly unsettling writing a cheque to a company with the word ‘geek’ in their title, please keep this in mind) when my eyes slid over to the song name: Tiger Mountain Peasant Song.

Fans of Fleet Foxes will have by now joined in on my huge sigh of relief, but for all the rest of you who are at this moment conjuring up images of some very exotic form of adult entertainment, rest assured that Tiger Mountain Peasant Song is, as the title suggests, just a song.

Its writers–the mellow Seattle folk band Fleet Foxes–rode to fame on the back of rich vocal harmonies and a disarmingly traditional vibe. There’s a hint of Pentangle and other early folk in their minimalist and mournful tunes (don’t worry Papa Burns, we’ll cover Renbourn soon) as well as some snail’s pace Americana.

The two Swedish girls, whose career paths we so unjustly labelled explicit, are actually sisters Klara and Johanna Söderberg, and it wasn’t till after I’d downloaded many moons ago their cover of Tiger Mountain Peasant Song that they settled on the name First Aid Kit.

My persistent battle with html has awarded me yet another prize. Enjoy the embedded version of First Aid Kit’s cover of Tiger Mountain Peasant Song, and try to imagine yourself in a pine-soaked forest a hundred miles outside of Stockholm. Is there anything sweeter than voices in harmony?

While you do that, if you don’t mind I’m going to spend some time getting reacquainted with this mean block of alien hardware that’s now in front of me. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t miss the busted CPU the ‘Geeks’ did such a great job of replacing. I’d only wish I’d had a chance to say goodbye.

Edit: Fellow folker Kevin P has made me aware of this fantastic version of First Aid Kit covering Donovan’s Universal Soldier. I couldn’t keep it to myself.


06 2010

Deaf Metal

I often think our lives revolve around two or three little factors that dictate how we behave, feel and respond. Every week they change and flip and switch around, but they always play a role no matter how small.

An example, I hear you cry? Do you remember that annoying ulcer you had a couple months ago that sat in your inner lip, nagging you to avoid salty or sour foods like a disapproving parent? A tiny patch of sore skin was dominating your diet for a whole week! A damaged epithelium stopped you from indulging in salt and vinegar crisps and citrus fruit!

What about the time you thought you’d change hairdressers because you felt like a change. Remember how you walked away with a bowl haircut and the creeping realisation that you were going to have to wear a hat for the rest of the week? An ill-trained hairdresser changed your life! A complete stranger who you were too polite to offer suggestions to decided that you would spend the rest of the week trying to bring back the nineties in a crumpled beanie!

The past week my big ‘Dictating Factor’ has been a dying hard drive. My university offers a free ‘laptop clinic’ and after carrying my ailing computer to their waiting room, and seeing the third-year Computer Sciences student good doctor, was told with genuine sympathy that the problem was fatal.

I didn’t quite know how to tell my laptop the news. It was a quiet walk home.

Running my computer in Safe Mode the past week (the technological equivalent of a life support machine) has meant the sound card isn’t working, and consequently I’ve been folkless for a good two-hundred hours or so. This explains my lack of posts lately (it appears failed hard drives that put your internet experience on mute are not conducive to writing a blog about music). Nevertheless, herein lies the crux of my meandering and thus far incomprehensible argument.

One of the things I always try to press on people (when I’ve had a few more beers than usual and they’re smiling politely as they inch towards the toilets) is how important lyrics are to a song. If we call the rhythm the train tracks and the melody the steam engine, then the lyrics have to be the pretty ticket taker who lets you have a student concession when you’ve forgotten your Young Person’s Railcard. In short, (at least I believe) the lyrics are the heart and soul of contemporary folk.

Then why, I asked myself in a silent, folkless room, can I not write a blog post about a song I’ve never heard before? If I’ve read the lyrics, and the lyrics are good, then shouldn’t the piece follow suit?

It just so happens that Johnny Flynn (ex-beau of Laura Marling and folkist extraordinaire) has released a new album, and it just so happens that a friend of mine saw him live recently, and it just so happens that she recommended to me some of his new songs, and it just so happens that the Internet was invented in the late 20th century and I consequently have access to the lyrics of one of these new songs.

Dear Readers, you have an audio advantage over me here. It seems the student has become the master, and the master has become the blogger clutching at straws. I’ve never heard this song, have not even researched this album and for all I know Johnny Flynn has decided to take a dubstep-blackmetal-trance twist on his latest release. Let’s just say I could regret this.

So Internet, listen to the track that I’ve managed to embed (yes!) below and be the judge of the Burnsian Lyrics Theory. Since I’ll probably be aurally-challenged for a few more weeks, it’ll be up to you to tell me what you think of the tune.

Would you look at that, I’m telling you what to listen to!

How ’bout a haircut?

Johnny Flynn // Kentucky Pill (free download) by Stayloose


05 2010

It’s the Easiest Decision I Have Done

Ireland and Scandinavia have something in common: they both generate excellent modern folk.

I’ve thought about the reasoning behind this, and I’ve come to a conclusion. It seems, perhaps, the colder you are, the better your folk. For anyone still confused, I asked one of my housemates studying economics to whip me up a handy little formula to prove my point:

There. Not too difficult is it? I suppose, though, you might want some physical evidence of this ambitious little statement. Well, I’m more than happy to provide.

Let’s start with Scandinavia. José González, Jens Lekman, Kings of Convenience, all these musicians come from a land of ice and snow, strumming acoustic guitars beneath massive snow drifts while simultaneously fending off reindeer and hypothermia (I can only assume). Perhaps my favourite of them all right now, though, is Sweden’s Kristian Matsson, or as the 27 year-old of reasonably average height prefers to be called, The Tallest Man on Earth.

Maybe this is Sweden’s 21st century answer to Bob Dylan, but somehow, despite the croaky throat, and poetic lyrics Matsson seems to take his version of folk just that little bit further than Robbie-Z. If you’re still in doubt, listen to him covering Paul Simon’s Graceland. Is there nothing greater than someone taking a perfect song and making it even perfecter?

Now follow me a couple hundred miles Southwest, down to Ireland where modern folk was arguably born (emphasis on the arguably if you try telling this to Papa Burns). The unending list of contemporary folkists like Lisa Hannigan, Fionn Regan, Glen Hansard, etc. makes it really difficult for me to choose just one to add to your growing compendium of folk. Ireland seems to spawn so many fantastic musicians, and there’s something particularly wonderful about the stuff that comes out of there. Nevertheless, I’ve only room for one Irish musician and, if you’re ever guided to the end of a rainbow by a little folk leprachaun, there’s really only one person you’ll find plucking away at the bottom.

Assuming in your past you’ve drunkenly belted out ‘The Blower’s Daughter’ alongside some stranger with a guitar at the dénouement of someone else’s party, you’ll most likely already be familar with Damien Rice. The 36 year-old from Kildaire is an important foundation to any established repetoire of folk, and Older Chests are the rafters. It’s probably the first fingerpicking tune I ever learned to play and it’s become an institution in the family household.

So what is it that links cold climates with good folk? Perhaps it’s something to do with having to stay indoors all the time (that might explain comfortable Swedish furniture and warm Irish pubs). Whatever it is, the Scandis and the Irish are doing something right. Still, you shouldn’t fret if you live within a few degrees of the equator. Grab a guitar and prove me wrong. You’ll probably have to come up with a counter-equation if you want to change my housemate’s mind though.

To my two and half or so regular readers: I’ve fixed the commenting system! You don’t have to have an account to comment now.


05 2010


Folk straddles a fine line between beautiful and boring. It’s a difficult game to get right.

Most musicians operate on a bit of a tightrope. Classical musicians don’t want to be too transcendental, rappers don’t want to be too obscene… I’m fairly sure there are other genres of music than just classical and rap but my analogy has exhausted itself. Anyway I think you get the picture.

When people ask me what kind of music I like, and I flick on my computer to show them, they always say, yeah it’s nice, I’d probably listen to it in bed, drifting to sleep.

It probably wouldn’t help much if the music I showed them was coming out of The Low Anthem, a four-piece folk set from Rhode Island. It’s slow, sad and sometimes you have to struggle to catch the lyrics, but I reckon Music You Have to Work for can be so much more rewarding than stuff delivered straight to your eardrums.

What I love about The Low Anthem is that on any of their songs you are just as likely to hear acoustic guitars and drum kits as you are pump organs and Tibetan singing bowls. According to Wikipedia you can also hear something called a ‘Fun Machine’, but I’m not really sure I want to know what that sounds like.

I’ve been writing essays all week and consequently want to attack this post with a formula, so here comes my big conclusion. Folk doesn’t have to make you want to sleep. It is the Swiss Army Knife of genres, capable of fitting any scenario or situation you expose it to. Run to it, cry to it, dance to it, drive to it. Juxtapose strange moments of your day to it, and discover the collage that emerges. Just don’t fall asleep.


05 2010

What the Folk?

Don’t look up ‘folk’ on Wikipedia. You will only get confused. Trust me.

Like ‘love’, ‘democracy’ and ‘Music TeleVision’ it’s a term that has kind of outgrown its original meaning. Germans will tell you it means people, Americans will tell you it means Woodie Guthrie, but you, dear Internet, must know that really it’s nothing more than six strings and a head full of poetry.

I don’t want to impose on any folkfans out there who already have their own ideas about folk, nor do I want to preach to the non-believers who are starting to wish they’d just looked it up on Wikipedia in the first place. I’ve made this blog–and I’ve started this post–so that I can tear a gargantuan hole in the starboard side of your music taste with the tip of a nice big folk iceberg. And even if that doesn’t happen, at least you’ll have something to listen to when you sleep.

Enough romanticising, let us begin Modern Folk 101. In our last lecture, we discussed Josh Ritter. Today we move onto the lovely Laura Marling, a 20 year-old from Hampshire who is harder and harder to get away from these days, not just, it seems, because she has a voice like a wine glass full of caramel, but because she’s gorgeous and I could sit and stare at her latest album cover for hours and hours and hours. Until I figure out how to embed songs onto the blog (HTM’elp me!) you’ll forgive me if I just set you up with a link to Ms Marling’s music.

This is off her new-ish album. If you’re not English and have never had the opportunity to be, listen carefully to the way Laura sings about the silly little island at the end of each verse. She captures that genuine spark of pride that flares up in the hearts of English people a few times a year, when they forget briefly about the BNP and Iraq and being rubbish at sport. It’s a lonely little flash, and it never lasts more than a few seconds, but in that minute ignition the place doesn’t actually seem half bad.

And then you remember it’s a country that qualifies this as front page news and you buy a house in the South of France.

That concludes my first folk recommendation. I look forward to embarking on this long and rewarding journey together, Dear Internet, and hope you remembered to bring along a sturdy pair of shoes and a bottomless knapsack.

You can throw away the map, though. I’m hoping to get a little lost.


05 2010

Under Scarab and Bone

There are few things in this world more wonderful than Josh Ritter. Okay fine. Babies, rainbows, that feeling you get when you wake up and you think it’s a weekday but it turns out it’s not; these things are nice too. Turns out, though, the invariably gorgeous tunes of Josh Ritter are a lot easier to come by than all of the above.

Despite discovering the Idaho native around the same time I myself first learned how to strum a C, until last weekend I’d never actually seen him live. Dear Internet, let us remark upon how foolish I once was. As I type this to the unerringly consistent thumping bass of my upstairs housemate’s pre-lash soundtrack, I shudder at the thought of the sad existence I led before around 8:32 pm last Saturday night. On a small stage beneath a curved and gilted green ceiling on a warm night in Cork, Josh Ritter bounded into the floodlights, and I nearly spilled my Guinness.

(I know, I know, who drinks Guinness at a concert, albeit a tame little folk one? Blame the Irish chap I was staying with who cheerfully planted the glass of liquid dinner in my hands. Turns out though, stout goes well with folk.)

I’d already started the evening in a pleasant mood when, standing at the bar, I heard an amplified guitarist introduce himself as Joe Pug. I had no idea the man would be opening for Josh Ritter. If you haven’t heard Hymn #101 yet, amend that, and if you have, go have a look at the lyrics.

To cut a enthusiastically long story short, the entire night was fantastic, and just when the Irish friend and I couldn’t ask for anymore, Josh rewarded our hesitant tour bus loitering with bear hugs and the most sincere thank-yous I’ve ever heard a human being utter. My night was made and my smile set when, after asking him if he remembered a certain comment I’d made on his blog weeks before he smiled, and proffered with a genuine satisfaction that pleased us both:

“Luke, right?”

After Josh and the band left, we spent the rest of the evening in a nearby bar, before escorting home a group of French holidaying au pairs. It made the walk back to my Irish friend’s house a thirty minute one, but I’d been walking on air for so long by then I didn’t even notice.

Go Listen To Josh Ritter Recording Live On Daytrotter



05 2010