Tag Archives: history

Emperor Yes: An Island Called Earth

12 Dec

“People like to say, always sing about what you know. So we sing about science and history. They also say, put in your vinyl what you love to most. So we put a piece of outer space that collided with earth in the 16th century. Science and history.” Emperor Yes, on their BandCamp page

An Island Called Earth is the first album this year to have me grinning from ear to ear.

An Island Called EarthEmperor Yes combines euphoric, upbeat synth with lyrics relaying interesting scientific and historical facts. It’s a lot like the slick electronic music most indie kids are into these days, but packed with great conversation starters – there’s only so much you can say about heartbreak and existential crisis in the 21st Century, after all.

“Wasps” – made known as the theme song for the QI podcast, No Such Thing as a Fish – is about how honeybees can defend themselves against Japanese giant hornets by swarming the hornet and vibrating together, raising their collective body temperature enough to cook the hornet in a kind of convection oven. “Carl Sagan” tells us how “Carl Sagan calculated [that] the number of probable planets in the universe is ten billion trillion”, and “Paramesse to Tanis” is based on how in 1060 BC, the Egyptian city of Pi-Ramesses – including stone structures like statues – was moved 20km to the North to follow the shifting Nile tributary on which the city depended.

Tramsmitted through Emperor Yes’ music, these pieces of information take on a poignancy you don’t often find in science or history textbooks, though. The bees in “Wasps” sing:

It’s time to get together,
show what we can do
You hold onto me
and I’ll hold onto you

“Carl Sagan” concludes “so even if we’re really not alone, in all practical terms we are”, and the upbeat chorus of “Paramesse to Tanis” proclaims:

If you help me pull this mountain across the burning desert
If you help me, there’s nothing we cannot do.

The uncommon combination of hip electronica with unpretentious history and science geeking, as well as the refreshing inclusion of emotive upliftment in conversations about science, make Emperor Yes delightfully unique.

An Island Called Earth is not currently available in South Africa via iTunes or Amazon, but you can listen to it on their bandcamp page, or have a go at acquiring one of their space-infused vinyls.


British Sea Power: From the Sea to the Land Beyond

8 Dec

You listen to From the Sea to the Land Beyond for the reason you listen to any soundtrack: because the film was the most amazing thing you have ever seen, and you want to re-live it in your heart and your mind’s eye.

From the Sea to the Land Beyond

The 2012 BBC Documentary From the Sea to the Land Beyond, directed by Penny Woolcock and compiled from over 100 years of footage from the British Film Institute, is a celebration of the British coastline and the role played by the Sea in the development of Britain. The film traces both world wars and continues through the increasing industrialization of Britain, eventually meditating on the Sea in contemporary Britain, simultaneously as a symbol of humanity’s mammoth industrial achievements over the 20th century, and as a beautiful, timeless being who, although she has seen us through so much, looks after so many more creatures than just humans. It is now of devastating urgency that we do all we can to prevent harming the Sea more than we already have.

This already poignant collection of footage is condensed into tears by the ingenious musical sensitivity of British Sea Power: the Brighton-based British band whose music quietly encapsulates all the tempests and lullabies of the Great Blue Yonder. It is incredible that a mere combination of images and music – with no dialogue or narration and, indeed, very few lyrics – can be so simultaneously historical, anthropological, emotional and poetic. And yet this it is.

From the Sea to the Land Beyond displays British Sea Power’s talent and insight to a new extent. The band has interwoven sound effects from the film into the music so seamlessly as to be using them as extra musical instruments more than anything else, and the surging, industrial instrumental buildups surrounding the footage’s portrayal of the beginning of World War 2 and the acceleration of post-war industrialism alike mirror scenes from Pink Floyd’s The Wall in a way that is striking for its use of real footage.

I was most impressed, however, with the unexpected musical tone the band adopted in many places, seeming initially to contrast with the scenes on the screen, but in fact causing one to contemplate such scenes in a new way. My favorite example of this is the ominous, suspenseful, quiet instrumental coupled (in the first 20 minutes of the film) with humorous footage of men playing silly games, like blind wrestling and races on all fours. This detached, contemplative music adds an air of anthropological reflection to otherwise lighthearted, frivolous footage.

From the Sea to the Land Beyond is a visually-enchanting collection of some of the most phenomenal real things you will ever see captured on film, and as a whole an emotionally-rousing homage to the triumph and shame of Britain and humanity.

From the Sea to the Land Beyond Soundtrack CoverThe soundtrack, released just a few days ago, although a centrepin of this visual production, can stand strongly alone as a layered journey through music and sound as diverse as the Sea itself. Established British Sea Power fans will delight in catching fragments of both classic tracks like The Land Beyond and brand new tracks like Machineries of Joy.

Just go and find this and watch it and cry, and then listen to the soundtrack later and cry some more. If you’re anything like me it’ll be one of the best things you’ve seen or heard all year.