It's my last week at work. For the past two days, I've been doing a lot of data input. I've had seven A3 sheets of information to input in four days. That's one and three-quarters of a page per day. In the last two days, I've cleared four pages, so I felt able to kick back a bit today, and try a little experiment.
As I'm just doing data input, there's no harm in me listening to Emma, my mp3 player, whilst doing it. Yesterday, I listened to the first two albums by the Shins. Tuesday, I tried listening to the Wu Tang Clan, which worked oddly well. But then… I had an idea.
You see, "The Drift" by Scott Walker has been lurking on my mp3 player for a while. I listened to a bit of it a while back, but never all the way through. This was because it was a bit scary. I felt pretty bad as my friend Jessie burnt it for me specially and I really should have listened to it by now. Anyway, what would happen if I forced myself to listen to the whole of "The Drift" in an office environment? This was my challenge!
Below, you shall find my track-by-track report of listening to "The Drift" whilst doing data input. The tenses are all over the place, but I think you get a good idea of the experience that I had. It was enlightening.
Or the opposite of that. It was endarkening.
The air conditioning seems to be cranked a little higher as my challenge begins. Seriously, is it colder in here just because of the song? The thumping drums are quite good at maintaining a rhythm, though. "That's a nice suit / That's a swanky suit," sings Scott. How apt. I am wearing a suit! Thanks, man. It needs dry cleaning, though. This is going fine!
A gentle, yet threatening beginning gives way to cacophonous droning and that infamous meat-punching, punctuated by klangs of horrible guitar. It is oddly apt for the workplace. The stapler appears to be smiling at me. There's a brief respite whilst I highlight an error using a blue highlighter; the droning stops so Scott can sing about Mussolini's lover waiting for execution. This song is lending my every salary adjustment an enormous significance. Some electronic squiggling sound, accompanied by the sound of a man thwacking a side of pork, is giving me a headache. A man has started yelling - it might be in the song, it might be in the office. I can't tell. Similarly, the sound of the cleaners putting some cups in the dishwasher is strongly redolent of wartime Italy. "This is not a terrapin!" sings Scott.
Oh good. The droning is back. Scott is whispering about poking a man with a stick. I notice someone, possibly me, has categorised this album as "Classical". That might be a joke.
Dear lord, what was that?! Scott shrieked and surprised me.
"Noseholes caked in black cocaine," trills Scott, as I repeat the same data input pattern I've been doing for three days now. Someone calls the phone on my desk, but rings off after one ring. Sinister. I probably would have been too scared to answer it, in case it was Elvis's dead twin, who this song is about. It's a slow burning song, and isn't giving me much of a rhythm to my inputting. "I'm the only one left alive! I'm the only one left alive!" howls Scott, a capella.
Jolson and Jones
Drums! Hooray! Accompanied by some electric crickets and some atonal organ. Boo. I really haven't done a lot of inputting over the last song. I need this song to help me get down to it. It is unfailingly sinister. And, unfortunately for my work, its stop-start time signatures and free-form structure doesn't really do what I need.
Ah! A crazed donkey has just started braying. "Curare, curare," sings Scott. I'm just sitting here, a little dumbfounded. I pull myself together and input the salary information of someone in the Treasury department whilst a lone piper on a blasted heath toots plaintively - about what, I do not know. But it is scary.
"I'll punch a donkey in the streets of Galway! I'll punch a donkey in the streets of Galway!" yells Scott.
Five tracks in, and I think my productivity levels have been halved. Let's hope for a nice jaunty singalong that will not invade my headspace!
No. We get threatening Holst-style strings and Scott singing on the same notes he has for the past four songs. No idea what this song is about either. I think he might have just sung "Charmed like a muscle" or "Charmed like a mussle". Someone has started hitting a box. My colleague asks for a pencil sharpener; I ask him what he means. Turns out he just wants a pencil sharpener. This song is ten and a half minutes long. Sheesh.
Woah! Horrible, horrible Psycho strings! Over and over again! Scott is singing about a fat black crocodile. This is truly horrible. The strings slide down over and over again. "Slicing the swine!" bellows Scott. There was a regular beat for a while there, but it's now stopped. Someone is playing a bugle horn.
A long lull with nothing of note happening. Well, nothing of note but CONSTANTLY BUILDING DREAD. Which comes to nothing - the song comes to a quiet halt.
Hand Me Ups
Blistering, atonal cacophony is the order of the day in the intro to this song. Following the quiet end of the previous one, it is deeply unpleasant. Gritty, distorted sine waves and someone singing inaudibly in the background. "I tried, I tried," sings Scott, "Teeth taken out with a stroke / Rain running down a long spear… I felt the nail driving into my foot! I felt the nail driving into my hand!" There's a nice saxophone bit playing in the background. A screaming sound from either a woman or a violin.
It goes without saying, this is the most unpleasant one yet.
Some atonal harpsichord is accompanied by a lute. "The audience is waiting!" croons Scott. As is my boss, waiting for me to input these numbers. Sorry, boss. This is an important experiment.
Did he just sing "bat the rat"? Is this a song about a summer fete? Oh. Probably not. He just sung about "splintering white bone". I don't remember that at a summer fete.
Radio static! Brilliant. That's always helpful for data input. Now, some low singing about varnishing a fort (possibly), and someone hitting a wine glass. Someone in Marketing is doing terribly well with their salary.
Scott just came up with the first actual vocal melody on the album. It's track seven! True to form, it was over the lyric "Somebody dies!" After "Hand Me Ups", this is actually quite pleasant, although at the same time - of course - unbearably tense.
Oh. I've just worked out what that lyric is. "Stick the fork in him! He's done boys!" That's really put a crimp on my enjoyment of the song.
This title doesn't bode well. As it is 10.40am, I decide elevenses are appropriate. I avail myself of an over-ripe banana and a tiny can of executive lemonade and crash on with the song. This banana really is very ripe. "Jada! Jada! Jing jing jing!" sings Scott. The banana is too ripe to eat. You know when bananas are too ripe and they taste a little alcoholic, that's what this one tasted like. The lemonade is sweet and fizzy. It also claims it is "Made with real lemons!" Great.
"Here come the blankets!" sings Scott. I do like a good blanket. This song isn't so bad, perhaps because that banana was slightly more horrible than the song. The song is over. That wasn't so bad.
The banana, however, was awful.
Before this song starts, a colleague asks me to do some work for her when I've finished inputting. I obviously look a bit suspicious. To alleviate the tension, I give her a high ten. I'm not sure that's appropriate office behaviour. My guide to what is right and what is wrong has been skewed by Scott.
I start the song. Gentle, military tattoo and quiet, threatening, descending double bass. Ah, and now skittering treated violin whilst Scott sings "You and me against the world!" I think he might be covering that Space song.
There's only one track to go! This realisation gives me hope that everything will be okay.
Dear Christ! Horrible gremlin voices! Stalking strings! This is horrible! It's like Orville is coming to kill me!
A Lover Loves
The beginning of this sounds disconcertingly like "If You Go Away". Scott psst-pssts to get my attention. Leave off, Scott! I'm trying to do data input! It is gentle, and acoustic, and rather lovely. If it wasn't for the pssting, it would be fine, but the pssting is really distracting. And then it ends.
I've been fortunate enough to be given a copy of Kat Flint's forthcoming album "Dirty Birds", and I hereby attempt to influence you to purchase it, when you can. It's very good. Songs such as "Ohio" and "Lonesome Crowd" contain an emotional sucker punch in the same vein as Sufjan Stevens' "John Wayne Gacy". Like Stevens, Flint is a storyteller, detailing the journey between a rural idyll and the grimy city - the title track namechecks Soho before commenting knowingly that this "is where TV came to die". She is an exemplary lyricist, often seeming to write in character - a commentator on her surroundings, with the confidence to raise a weary eyebrow at the weaknesses and foibles of a screwed-up world. Some points in the album are exceptionally upsetting - always beautiful, charming, and welcoming, but incredibly emotional and heartwrenching. For the album, Flint has welded her Aimee Mann-ly glumness to a powerful musical engine, crisp string arrangements, tinkly glockenspiel and lovely picked guitar, and the songs occasionally launch into Bright Eyes-esque choral sing-a-longs. There are lots of highlights - my personal favourite track is "Saddest Blue Dress", a tender and raw song about an extra-marital affair that concludes, agonisingly, "all my children will smile like the first time we met / It's alright…" - it's blisteringly sad.
I believe it will be out soon, but do check her myspace for details of when - it is a silvery disc to cherish.
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