Monday, 10 June 2019

The Very Shortest Instrumentals

In an earlier article I looked back at Dayglo Fishermen's epic instrumental tracks, but there are many very short tracks, mainly instrumental, that are often overlooked. They shouldn't be as they are well worth a listen and make essential contributions to the overall feel and tone of their respective albums. So here they are, in chronological order, and all are under three minutes long.

The early examples of those short tracks tend to be the oddest, and the first one, 'Mystery Artist' from the band's 1991 album, 'Strange Plaice', certainly fits that description.

The cover image for 'Strange Plaice', Dayglo Fishermen's second album, released in 1991. Design by David Fothergill

The track starts with a voice announcing 'This is a lush one' to an adoring background audience, and then a brief but alarming siren-like synth sound leads in to a rapid bass arpeggio. A synthetic voice starts speaking in the manner of a game show host and then a bass drum kicks in accompanied by a heavily flange-laden high-hat sequence. The siren synth sound appears once again, drowning out the game show host, and then everything comes to a halt as an echoing voice proclaims 'Mystery artist'. An energetic folk violinist plays for a while, before the synthetic game show hosts returns to bring things to a close. This track is seriously odd, which makes it a strong contender for the title of Dayglo Fishermen's strangest piece of work ever.

Interestingly, the track was originally much longer. Thankfully the full length version of 'Mystery Artist' was eventually released nine years later on the 'Dayglo Pizza' album. Unfortunately the mystery violinist is totally absent from that version.

Six months after 'Strange Plaice' the band released their third album, 'Fresh Gin'. It's a perplexing album, with much of it making use of backwards versions of previous tracks overlaid with new material. Amongst all of that, though, are a few very interesting short pieces that stand out as probably the finest works on the album.

The cover image for the 'Fresh Gin' album, released in September 1991. The photo is of Guglielmo Marconi, the inventor of  radio communications. The shades he's wearing were added by the band. If Marconi had really worn such sunglasses his sense of fashion would have been as revolutionary as his inventions.

The first example is the opening track, 'Fly's Eyes'. It begins with a gentle but mildly creepy voice introducing the band and the music that will follow. Meanwhile, in the background, the band can be heard chattering and laughing inanely while Isaac Asimov's laws of robotics are read out. And then a powerful and sustained synth sound begins, overlaid with a brass melody. This builds as a vibrato-laden saxophone joins the mix, which is then replaced by a high synth. Things soon drop back as what sounds like a distant timpani drum pounds out an ever quickening rhythm. And then a pounding drum and bass line kicks in for the final few bars. It's a weird and memorable introduction to the album.

At just over one and a half minutes in length, the third track on the album, titled 'Dayglo Aquarium (Opening)', begins with a percussive synth drum and bass sequence, which is soon layered with deep strings and staccato panpipes. As a distant organ melody begins to cycle round and round a couple of saxophones start playing in a seemingly random fashion. And then everything drops away to leave the deep strings, accompanied by the ever-present organ melody. After a few bars the strings disappear and the track finishes with the repeating organ melody as it fades away. With its unusual melodies and gentle percussion this track fits perfectly on the album. It could certainly have been extended to become a full-length composition, but its intention was to work as an introduction to the related piece that follows ('Dayglo Aquarium (Main Movement)'), and in that regard it works perfectly.

'Fly's Reprise' provides the introduction to side-two of the album (this was a cassette-only release), and as the name suggests, it's a remix of 'Fly's Eyes'. There is no spoken introduction this time. Instead a high-pitched and echoing synth start things off, followed by a heavily chorused keyboard sound playing through the chord sequence. A choir sample plays the main melody, replacing the brass sound of the first version. The twinkling sound that accompanies it suggests that a version of the Korg M1's famous 'Universe' sound is being used. The timpani sound is replaced by a deep organ, which stops abruptly before the drum and bass section begins. As the chorused keyboard plays a rather dissonant progression a sampled voice is heard, and then the track ends with screams and a round of applause. This version has a more ominous feel than the first, and it works well in the context of the album. Interesting indeed.

'S. F. Cart' lasts barely more than a minute, and is one of the shortest of all the tracks mentioned in this article. It's a frantic composition, featuring backwards drums and squidgy bass in a relentless tumble to the end where a panther's roar finishes things quite abruptly. It's all taken from 'Cast Adrift', the final track on Dayglo Fishermen's debut album, 'Drenched'. The use of reversed samples of earlier work is a theme on 'Fresh Gin', so in that sense this track fits in well. It certainly provides an energising interlude between the two lengthy and low-tempo tracks that precede and follow it.

The cover image for the 1992 album, 'And So It Is'. Artwork and design by David Fothergill

Dayglo Fishermen's fourth album, 'And So It Is', recorded in January 1992, contains three tracks that are under three minutes long. Two of them - 'Forms Collide' and 'But Where Were the Mice?' - are fantastic songs (the latter being one of the band's most popular songs ever) but the focus of this article is instrumentals, which leaves us with the intriguingly titled 'This is Radio Dayglo'.

The track is actually a remix of 'Drenched', the title track of the band's first album, but without the synthesised voice. Instead two loosely played guitars strum away over the busy and heavily effected drum track. The deep plucked bass line of the original remains, giving a solid foundation that enables the off-beat snare to continue for the entirety of the track. For the final minute, as the guitars play off each other with a relaxed ease, an unusual pulsing synth sound enters the mix, which eventually finishes the piece awash with an ever deepening reverb effect.  As with most tracks on this album 'This is Radio Dayglo' is a largely forgotten and unusual pleasure. It's well worth rediscovering.

Short instrumental tracks take a back seat for quite a while after that. In fact, another one does not appear until the release of  'Queen of the Sunset City' 11 years later. Thankfully that album provides like no other.

The album opens with 'Strange Delight', which at a length of only 38 seconds is the shortest of all Dayglo Fishermen compositions. It begins with the eerie voices of two children, and then a simple monophonic drum and bass track starts up, reminiscent of the preset rhythms of cheap keyboards of the 1980s. A guitar-like keyboard sound plays throughout, its melancholic melody complementing the little voices that take the track to its sudden echoing conclusion.

The cover image for 'Queen of the Sunset City', released in 2003. Artwork by Richard Burton, design by David Fothergill. Richard's original acrylic painting for this now hangs proudly on the wall within the confines of Mammoth Studios, the band's London recording facility.

At about the half-way point of the album 'Selfish Bitch!' makes itself heard. It begins with a sparse piano and drum pattern as a distorted guitar fades in from the distance. A bass line quickly joins the mix. The piano melody reappears and is joined by a sci-fi synthesizer sound. Things very quickly drop back to drums, bass and guitar, before ending pretty much as it began. It leaves the listener bemused but wanting more, and it certainly has the potential to be a full length composition.

'Requiem I' follows immediately after. It begins with a rich string keyboard sound, accompanied by an almost wispy synth that plays in the upper octaves. The guitar melody begins, gently at first, but it soon becomes harsher and more sinister as the strings deepen. And then, as the strings bend even lower, an abrupt and dissonant chord signals the end of the guitar's work. The strings deepen even further, and then fade away. It ends far too soon, but fortunately there is a second part which we'll come across shortly.

Experimental and avant-garde jazz is not something Dayglo Fishermen are known for, but 'Cold War' comes very close fitting into both those categories. It begins with a rich and full-bodied deep bass, with a light and loose piano line joining in a bar later. Seemingly random cymbals then play. Other than the bass there is nothing to easily latch on to, which has a remarkably hypnotising effect, sending the mind free-wheeling to the edge of oblivion. As it fades out after less than two and a half minutes the listener is brought back to full consciousness at least ten minutes too soon. This track would still work at twice the length.

The penultimate  track on the album, 'Requiem II (A Song for Anja)', is a lighter version of the first part. Strings, this time gentle and soothing, bring us back into the Requiem world. An acoustic guitar plays freely, mesmerising the listener and taking them far away from the realms of reality. The wispy synth sound soon returns to drift around in the background. It is an astonishingly beautiful piece of music.

Instead of an album cover, something different: the teaser flyer to promote the album 'I Can See a Boat ... It No Longer Floats'. Despite what the flyer says, the album was eventually released in the autumn of 2006, not the spring. Artwork by Richard Burton, design by Peter Fothergill

The final example is from the band's 2006 album, 'I Can See a Boat ... It No Longer Floats'. Titled 'A Song to Say Goodbye', the track begins with the gentlest of keyboard sounds playing a slow and contemplative chord sequence. A very distant high synth fades in behind a rather pensive trumpet melody. A sparse and delayed guitar plays in the background, which continues after the trumpet vanishes. At the half-way point a new and more percussive keyboard sound joins the mix, adding a new layer to the chord sequence. A mournful wah-wah guitar takes the lead, before dropping away to let the original guitar become more prominent again. And then a deep and resonant synthesiser finally assumes control in the last section as all other instruments drop away.

As the final track on the album, 'A Song to Say Goodbye' is a very poignant way to finish the album. The touching, and even regretful, emotions it evokes in the listener are extraordinary considering the short length of the piece.

Listening to all of the above tracks is a fantastic demonstration of Dayglo Fishermen's ability to summon the strongest of emotions in the listener, even in the shortest of compositions. I recommend taking the (short) time to experience to them all.