Posts from 16th September 1999

16
Sep 99

71. PIANO MAGIC – “I Am The Sub-Librarian”

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Tom Ewing’s Top 100 Singles Of The 90s

It is the fourth track on a four-track EP. There is no chorus, and barely any melody. The voice is flat and preoccupied, the lyrics muted to the point of being muttered, the whole song gives an air of terminal introspection. But for the three or so minutes that “I Am The Sub-Librarian” lasts, it creates a world with enchantment and absolute conviction, as self-sufficient and fragile as a snowstorm paperweight glass.

I first heard the track late at night, over the radio: I stopped what I was doing, stopped thinking, and let myself sink right into the song. The soft, insistent piano phrase, the breathing-as-rhythm, the half-heard referencing on North London and of Brautigan, all this seduced me through its intensity and its economy. What Piano Magic were doing, I thought, was taking the sad measure of a little, local life. But “Sub-Librarian” is far more tribute than condescension – what I read as introspection is really a low-key strength, and every note is brimful of quiet pride.

It’s often the delicate songs which affect you most – and when Piano Magic’s tiny masterpiece is playing, it’s like a cough would shatter it. (In that sense it’s not like any of the librarians I’ve actually met, who are rumbunctious and hearty types. But we bookish sorts need our myths.) I’ve not done it justice, I’ve not even described it very well. It’s too modest for writing, perhaps, the kind of song you best meet by chance, and not after all by browsing.