Music

Spain: Spirituals: The Best of Spain

Jason Korenkiewicz

Spain

Spirituals: the Best of Spain

Label: Ryko
US Release Date: 2003-10-12
UK Release Date: 2003-10-20
Amazon
iTunes

The concept of compiling a "best of" album for a band that released only three albums prior to their demise seems to be a foolhardy decision. In many cases this would be viewed as an exploitive move by a record company to capitalize on the dwindling value of the band's meager catalogue, but given the musical pedigree of Spain's songwriter and lead singer, Josh Haden, the release of Spirituals: The Best of Spain is understandable and even welcomed. Son of jazz bassist Charlie Haden and brother of left coast musical luminary and indie hipster Petra Haden, there is no question that Josh Haden's musical family tree alone makes him a subject of curious interest. The pleasant surprise is that Josh's compositions stand on their own merit and frame him as a pensive and gifted songwriter who leans heavily on the jazz, blues, and chamber pop genres as the vehicles for his moody compositions.

Collecting tracks from all three official Spain albums, an out of print 7" release, and a number of previously unreleased live recordings, Spirituals can be best be summed up as a collection of elegiac musings on the existence of god, death, love, and the nature of the world. Although Haden's group has received more space in the music press than in the shelves of record shops, this should not stand as a statement about the accessibility of these songs. This compilation carries new material for diehard fans as well as documentation of an important chapter in the slow-core movement for fans of groups like Low, Luna, Mazzy Star, the Cocteau Twins, and others like them. There is a purity in these songs that traverses these genres and carries universal themes that will ring true with all listeners.

The one thing that is immediately evident upon listening to three or four tracks consecutively from each Spain album is the consistency of the band's performances, the production and songwriting from one release to the next. Languid torch songs like "Untitled #1" and "It's So True" from their debut, The Blue Moods of Spain, sprawl out comfortably alongside the inexplicably non-radio hit "Easy Lover" from She Haunts My Dreams, and the sultry piano-and-percussion-focused gem "Long Time Ago", from their swansong I Believe, ties together the themes and sonic vision from all three albums. Haden's smoke-infused, hazy vocals waft along over time with the band from one album to the next. If it wasn't spelled out in the liner notes, the mistake could easily be made that this was one album full of songs recorded during the same session, rather than a collection of songs recorded over three albums and six years. This timelessness is part of the quintessential beauty of Spain. The uniformity of their vision in a quickly mutating musical community is reassuring and something to cherish.

The key tracks here for collectors will be the live recordings, which are taken from in-store performances during the final years of the band's career. While many may complain that these performances cover little new territory since they are so similar to the studio tracks, this should be taken as a marginal slight. The same consistency that is illustrated from one album to the next in their arrangements and compositions holds true during live shows as well. Under Haden's leadership his bandmates seem to hold firm that the album versions of the songs are the true ones, and thus must be represented in a live venue. Although it may seem strange for the son of a jazz musician to perform songs live in such a strict fashion, there is a precedent for this amongst Spain's peers in the sad-core movement as both Low and Mazzy Star were not known for much improvisation in their live sets.

One of the finest ways to envision the sound of Spain for new listeners is to imagine Leonard Cohen covering a Jeff Buckley original to return the favor for Buckley's gorgeous version of "Hallelujah". Only this will convey the proper sense of enormity that exists in Josh Haden's songwriting. Brooding, delicate, and career spanning, Spirituals is the only Spain release the casual music fan will need and a must for devoted followers.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Music

GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".

Music

Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".

Music

Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.

Music

Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.

Music

The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".

Music

Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.

Books

Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.