Besides the fact that I don’t believe in jetlag as a concept or a scientific explanation for the effects of flying, a mere ten hour jaunt across the South China Sea and over the massive mother of a country that I call home has really reinforced for me that air travel is not something to be fucked with. With only Jeff Bridges’ impressive ‘True Grit’ and The Chemical Brothers’ wicked soundtrack to new film ‘Hannah’ to give me solace in the face of a screaming Spanish child who made what is widely regarded as one of the world’s most beautiful languages sound ugly like parseltongue, a pair of young travellers who, despite being quiet for the first four hours of the flight, decided that no, they really did want to share their respective life stories with each other (I thought that only happened in movies) (she was moving to Australia from London, he had graduated from uni in Holland at 25 and was travelling down under) and this really offensive groomed-to-the-shit guy who a) shouldn’t have been seated in economy to start with and b) made upwards of four flight attendants feel his wrath at the circumstances of a) by demanding more mushroom linguine on a quarter-hourly basis, HKG to SYD was not particularly enjoyable.
That said, Virgin Atlantic, who market the shit out of themselves as the cool kidz’ airline with their funky safety videos and their bright uniforms and their grating ingratiation actually lived up to the hype in one aspect (no, the linguine was shite, largely, mistakenly al dente) – music. Scrolling through their playlist, the names on offer read like a who’s who of good/relevant new albums with only a few necessarily evil parochially British choices – (wtf, name alone should have given you some indication Mister Chooser Man). Alongside Strydesmania we had Arcade Fire, A R Rahman, and the British-but-not-in-a-shit-annoying-way Friendly Fires. When Bridges had done annihilating people in ‘True Grit’ and The Chemical Bros had failed to fully rescue the simple ‘Hannah’, I turned to the St Albans trio – constantly reliable in the quest for what today’s paper’s live reviewer called ‘intoxication without the stimulants’. Which, when all you’ve got is linguine and ‘bueno! bueno!’ for company, makes all the difference.
‘Hawaiian Air’ is typical of the newly released ‘Pala’, follow-up to the group’s sensational 2008 eponymous debut, in that it is built on the foundational use of some strange sampling. Where ‘‘ literally revolved around cut-up spooling sounds, ‘Hawaiian Air’ presents a stranger sonic landscape still, constructed on what might be termed ‘seal synths’ for lack of a better descriptor. Friendly Fires doesn’t do straightforward music. This is a challenging, almost nauseating song for the first few listens but, almost as a reward for sticking through the early assault on your ears, it seems to grow into them, layers multiplying and thickening with every return to hectic verse. The chorus, too, is a thing of beauty, superbly contrasted in its urgent breathiness as the sample drops away for a second and you feel your stomach drop in that strange quietude before the turbulence returns. Travelling and listening to music are two activities almost surely designed to be done simultaneously but I have yet to find a song which so accurately defines the experience of travel or a travel not obviously informed by this song.
Friendly Fires – Hawaiian Air
The video is frighteningly reminiscent, too.