the magic of a blackened night

A while back, the former proprietor of the lamentably no-longer-updating Mystical Beast, Dana, sent me one of his periodic e-mails pointing me toward something he’d been listening to lately. In this case it wasn’t a new song, but a rather old one, “Sands of Time” from Fleetwood Mac’s 1971 album Future Games. (Incidentally, is there another band with such an odd history? No singers, main songwriters, or even guitarists in common, the sole connecting thread in the band’s long history is its namesake rhythm section, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie.) This album is from Danny Kirwan’s tenure with the band, and “Sands of Time” is probably his best song on the album.

One reason Dana e-mailed me with this track is that we’re both fans of Scott Miller’s work in Game Theory and the Loud Family, and Dana noted that something about this Fleetwood Mac song reminded him of the Loud Family’s apparent valedictory, the closing track from the last album of new material the band would release for six years, Attractive Nuisance‘s “Motion of Ariel.” And I have to agree: not only are there surface similarities in the instrumental textures of the two songs, particularly the electric piano underneath “Ariel”‘s verses, but they share a similar rhythmic approach, syncopating three-beat phrases atop a four-beat measure while occasionally shifting into six-beat measures to accommodate those three-beat phrases. (Typically, Miller’s far more irregular in this, whereas the Fleetwood Mac song settles into a regular alternation of 6-beat phrases and two bars of 4 beats each.) And surprisingly, there are lyrical similarities as well: each song is a farewell of sorts, though what’s being bid goodbye is unclear. The narrator of “Sands of Time” says, “we will go right down to the sea / Bathing in light, we will be free to wander” – while Miller’s narrator, alluding to Prospero setting free Ariel in The Tempest, says “I will sing to the motion it’s going to take / to set you free, Ariel.”

After releasing the promising if uneven What If It Works? CD with his sometimes ill-matched complement Anton Barbeau in 2006, Miller’s made a few noises lately about beginning a new recording. I certainly hope that happens, even if he thinks he doesn’t know “what songs keep time”: why should music with the spirit of air be bound to the earthly sands of time?

Fleetwood Mac “Sands of Time” (Future Games, 1971)
The Loud Family “Motion of Ariel” (Attractive Nuisance, 2000)

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