Continuing a running theme of January releases, last month saw the release of the third album from Belfast artist and composer This Ship Argo. Flowers, Sparks, Fireworks picks up where last year’s Always the Bees: Never the Honey left off, and following a handful of singles last year. A work of self dedication and craft, these eight songs are again self-recorded, produced, mixed and mastered in Aileen McKenna’s home studio. Each track stands on its own merit but taken as a whole, it’s a hugely immersive album that clearly inhabits the world of This Ship Argo. McKenna’s vocals are embedded in a world of subtle and melancholic piano, synths that sway from shimmering softness to buzzing atmospherics. An ethereal listen, with the blend of analogue introspection and the extra-terrestrial instrumentals a perfect match.
This Ship Argo selects some of the eclectic influences that have found their way into her music over the years.
Elliott Smith – In The Lost & Found
I’ve talked at length about how much of an influence Elliott Smith has had on me so I’m getting it out of the way here at the start: I really, really love Elliott Smith. Like most things, I’m never really sure which parts of his influence shine through on my own tracks: I certainly rarely think about making something that consciously tries to sound like something else and there’s no way to even begin to emulate Elliott. For me personally, hearing him play piano (in various tracks) in a subtler way than say, Ben Folds, made me fall in love with keys again after walking away for a few years. This was the first song of his I ever learned to play, sitting bored during university holidays in a town my parents retired to, that I was relatively unfamiliar with and where I knew no one. I spent a lot of time trying to work it out by myself (I like a challenge) so it holds a particularly special place in my heart and also because I’m a secret romantic (probably).
RM & NELL – everythingoes
This song is from one of my most listened to albums of 2021/22 and I completely fell in love with it when I first heard it. I’m a real sucker for a repeating phrase (as many of my own songs will show) and if you throw in the different languages then it’s like catnip for me. It’s just one of those albums that came along at the right time and it’s lovely. So go listen to it.
Low – Venus
I think Low are the band I have seen the most over my lifetime and – once again – I totally fell for this song when I heard it for the first time. I have a habit of playing things on repeat until I’m nearly sick of them but I don’t think I could ever sicken myself of Low. I was truly gutted to hear of Mimi’s death last year too, but so grateful I got to see them so many times.
Broadcast – You and me in time
Until I first really starting playing around with synthesizers (in 2015ish) I had heard of – but not really paid much attention to – Broadcast. Which should probably be a criminal offence, let’s be honest. This was the first track that really pulled me in and made me want to know more about everything synth-related, and also made me realise there’s way more to electronic music than ambient or dance: the two categories that seem to get assigned to electronic music by default.
eAeon – SCLC(Sugar Caffeine Liquid Cloud)
Probably (definitely) not eAeon’s most known song, ‘SCLC’ is from his 2012 Guilt-Free album which has an overall significantly lower listenership than 2021’s Fragile. Honestly, it was almost impossible to only pick one song of his to put in the list (and I changed the one I wanted a dozen times) and between his solo records – and as part of the bands Mot and Night Off – I’m a big fan. I’d suggest going to listen to his whole back catalogue in all his various guises!
Electrelane – To the east
I’ve loved Electrelane for years and only recently realised that they are kind of like a mash-up of so many of the other artists in this list. I never had a chance to catch them but maybe if that reunion happens…
Anna Meredith – moonmoons
At one point over one of the lockdowns (who even can tell the difference any more) I attended an online conference/webinar type even where Anna Meredith talked through her writing process for songs from start to finish and it was truly fascinating. ‘Moonmoons’ was one of the songs she talked about and I actually took her method for coming up with pieces and tried to apply it to my own stuff at one point. I only did it for one song because it’s just not how I think, but there are elements that have stuck nevertheless and that will pop into my head as I’m working on tracks. (Also I just love this song)
John Field – Nocturne No. 5 in B flat major
I know this is the odd tree out in this forest, but it would be remiss of me to not acknowledge the role my years upon years of classical piano lessons had in what I do. I hated most of the pieces I ever had to learn to play: really, really hated them. This one was one of the last I ever learned for grade exams and the only one I loved so much that I learned it from scratch in a week or two. It remains the only one of my grade pieces that I can, will and still play to this day.
Mogwai – Take me somewhere nice
Succinctly for this one: Mogwai taught me it’s perfectly fine to have instrumentals and songs with vocals all in one record (though I did find it odd at first). This song is also just really lovely, and from one of the first records of theirs I ever owned.
Sleater-Kinney – Oh!
One of the things I always loved the most about Sleater-Kinney – and it’s not the usual reason: I know – is how well they could pull off contrapuntal vocal lines and melodies in so, so many songs. No matter how many times I try to do it I’m never satisfied but Sleater-Kinney are one of the big reasons I’ll keep trying. Teach me, Corin and Carrie: teach me.
Idiotape – Melodie
This song had the most influence in this record my simply making me feel energised enough to get up and do something. Just listen and you’ll know.
Charli XCX – Good Ones
Charli is getting included not only because this is a great pop song but because I have been repeatedly singing this song through a karaoke mic in my kitchen (yes, really. Apologies to all my neighbours) and it’s really helped me work on my singing technique and lung capacity. Again, yes really. Anyway, I love pop music and I have been listening to a lot (and I mean a lot) of it over the last few years. Charli gets included as a representative of it all because I truly and honestly pop is one of the reasons why so many of my newer songs are substantially shorter than the older ones.
The Smashing Pumpkins – Muzzle
Truly one of the first bands I discovered for myself as a teenager was the Smashing Pumpkins. Probably from a compilation CD stuck to the front of (the very, very long defunct) Select magazine. When I started to play guitar it was actually ‘Bullet with Butterfly Wings’ that I learned first but ‘Muzzle’ always crops up as a favourite.
Thee Silver Mountain Reveries – More Action! Less Tears!
As with all the GY!BE and subsidiary releases there is something very hypnotic about this track. I don’t really know what to say about this except for that I could listen to/zone out with this on repeat for hours. And probably have to be honest…