Today alt folk trio Until the Bird... tell us about the song "Collateral" which comes from their debut EP, "Dwelling". Here is the story:
Collateral is a sort of protest song about protest songs. I may well agree with the message of your standard folky protest song but the didactic way in which it is presented could be off-putting. Things are rarely that simple. In Collateral everything is mixed up: war, sex, tourism, aspiration, entertainment, technology... this is summed up most pointedly by the naked lines: 'now the fireworks are going off, take me in your mouth white phosphorous' (white phosphorous is a horrendous substance used by the Israeli military amongst others). You could argue that this is in extremely bad taste, and you'd be right.
The thrust of Collateral is that we're all complicit in some way in the global situation. This is a pre-apocalyptic post-Wikileaks song, where we should all know what collateral means, in many senses: (link). Collateral damage is what happens on the side, whether you're a direct spectator or just trying to keep your head down. And here I realise that maybe this song is just as didactic at bottom as those over-the-counter obvious songs I rail against.
However, Collateral is really too slippery for that. The main ukulele riff is wild, barely containable, but also very monotonous and repetitive. The trombone gives a jauntiness at odds with a lot of the subject matter, while in the choruses the euphonium adds a tone of the ominous and the martial. The violin screeches between music and noise. We are attempting to contrast the medium and the message by opposing the sometimes almost clownish music with the dark content of the lyrics.
There is a transformation at the end of the song as it slowly marches to dissolution. But although the music has shifted feeling to warmth and resolve the lyrics are a repetition of the first verse: we're right back where we started. And then it all falls apart anyway.
Collateral is the third track on our ep 'Dwelling', and is a really a companion piece to the next track, 'Triage', which is like a reaction to what came before. Where Collateral is mostly frantic and jokey, Triage is exhausted, yet contains a hard-won acceptance – but one that comes at a great cost.
Our friend the film maker Huw PW made this video for Collateral: (watch it here)– it plays on all those themes and complicates the vibe even further! But it also highlights the defiant sense of fun threaded through the whole thing.
Hearing is believing. Now that you know the story behind the song, listen for yourself right here!