[30 June 2014]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
When I interviewed Wire frontman Colin Newman in 2012, he referred to the forthcoming album by his wife Malka Spigel as “very special”, adding “I’m blown away by how good it’s developing to be.” Indeed, Every Day Is Like the First Day turned out to be pretty special, swirling high musicianship with psychedelic colors. And since an excellent album requires promotion to match, Spigel assembled a touring band including her husband and Uri Frost on guitar, Ronald Lippok on drums and Gil Luz on keyboards. The gigs went well and Spigel felt like she had a pretty good unit that would record well. Gliding is a 20-minute EP of four songs from Spigel’s back catalog: “Strum Gliding”, “Hacol Zaram Beyachad”, “Tall Grey Buildings” and “Dreamwalking”.
But we’ve been here before, with other artists that is. Some band or singer / songwriter will convince themselves and their paying audience that these new spins on old(er) and familiar favorites are truly worth people’s time and money. And often, these “reinterpretations” are slight, differing from the original only by switching their brand of guitar strings or something like that (Cracker, I’m looking at you with your Redux hits). I was even expecting that to be the case with Gliding, just one of those inconsequential “I’m still working!” tokens an artist throws at us from time to time. Happily, that’s not what Gliding is. These may be four songs that she already released, but their re-recording is justified. All the evidence I need is in the past.
When Spigel and Colin Newman began to buckle down on starting their Swim record label, her solo albums were born out of studio tinkering. Robin Rimbaud (Scanner / Githead bandmate) would stop by to add some “atmosphere” while Spigel and Newman spun synthetic beats, occasionally peppering them with jungle rhythms. Layers would be added and the ex-Minimal Compact bassist would have something more intimate and homegrown than Spigel’s old Israeli band. The four songs on Gliding are taken to the band level. Lippok doesn’t mimic a machine and the rest of the lineup, including guests Julie Campbell and Wire’s new guitarist Matthew Simms, neither replicate the old versions nor drag them into a garage. It’s the full band treatment, but it’s not done by just any band. If one were to draw parallels, Gliding closely resembles the sleek sounds of Githead, one of Spigel and Newman’s other projects.
The music comes wrapped in contradictions, like how a single song can be stoic yet touching. “Strum Gliding” is a good example of this. It’s played almost too perfectly, with not one note out of place. Luz’s keys hang overhead like the weather. Then Spigel begins to sing the song’s name as if it’s a fun activity in the afterlife, like skateboarding. “Hacol Zaram Beyachad” and “Tall Grey Buildings” sound positively organic, though Spigel’s alto renders a lyric like “here comes that feeling” a little flat. But that could be the point, for all I know. A building that’s tall and grey doesn’t have much to say to the world, just as the song’s narrator doesn’t have much to say about her morning routine in the urban grey. “Dreamwalking” gives the skeletal version from My Pet Fish extra meat thanks largely to Spigel’s fuzzed-out bass. It’s the most discordant song on Gliding and it’s oddly saved for last. It’s also probably the most radical transformation that any of Spigel’s songs has gone through for Gliding.
Back when I was first discovering popular music, I reveled in the differences between the live and studio versions of songs. It really interested me. Now it seems as if everyone wants to reproduce their studio sound onstage. It’s nice to know that there’s room left for releases like Gliding, featuring songs that actually take advantage of time passing and environments changing. If only others could follow suit.