Discover Weekly Gems #1 – The Leanover by Life Without Buildings
Spotify’s Discover Weekly feature is doing all the hard work for me. Before it I would have to rummage through the quiet, obscure alleys of the internet for something new, fresh, weird or none of those things, maybe just some new or old pop. These adventures might prove successful and I’d come back with plenty of new precious stones. Other times it would be to no avail, encountering the same uninteresting or vapid musical iterations I wanted to avoid. In both situations, and to extend this metaphor to its absurd limits, I’d come back to home soil sweating and exhausted, rewarded or punished for my little excursions into the depths of the internet’s exotic islands and caves. But now, with Spotify’s neat music recommendation system, I can reap all the rewards (or still leave empty handed) without having to do all the hard, dirty work. What’s so impressive about it is its difference from other, similar recommendation algorithms. Last.fm’s radio, Spotify’s own genre and artist based radios, or any generic ‘IF You Love X, You’ll Love Y’ lists are always (or have been for me) disappointingly shallow.
Discover Weekly creates a playlist containing 2 hours of music it thinks you might dig, and I’ve yet to be disappointed by it after using it for around two months now. The algorithm is sophisticated and deep as it responds to your feedback (if you skip a song, save another) by moulding new playlists each week, constantly refining its choices. What’s truly great is how many unknown artists and bands pop up, it’s always a delight discovering and enjoying something new. And in the spirit of that, I may as well start chronicling some of the lesser known gems I’ve come across in my more leisurely, one-click travels.
The Leanover by Life Without Buildings is at once a wonderful, melancholy and triumphant piece of music. It occupies a space somewhere between post-punk and emo, pretty chords steadily guiding the song along but giving way to the true force leading the piece – Sue Tompkins’s incredible, rhythmic talk-singing. Tompkins sounds like a little girl, petulantly and defiantly addressing the world in her own terms, bending language in ways which make the listener immediately question which words are actually being said/sang. For instance, the recurring lyric in the beginning sounds like ‘if I lose you in the street’, but after several repetitions is begins to sound like ‘illusion street’ or even ‘evolution street’. What I thought was ‘high heels’ a lyric website has interpreted as ‘high hills’. She’s clearly interested in the rhythmic possibilities of language, but not in the same way that hip-hop is. It’s improvisational, doesn’t always hit the beat the way you expect, and there’s certainly no attempt at structuring verse or chorus. Words seem to be there less for their content than for their form. She even inserts some French (‘je danse je suis’) because it flows well. As for whatever the song ‘means’, I don’t know, but it feels like a hopeful, optimistic anthem against something large and sinister. Its title, ‘The Leanover’, creates a submissive image, as if referring to a repressive act or state of being, and maybe the singer/speaker Is symbolically standing up? I’m not sure, but they’re also from Glasgow, and I’m embarrassed to be discovering this gem from 2001 only now.