Bastille are a four-piece (although these days are often joined by a fifth, Charlie Barnes) band from London, fronted by lead singer Dan Smith. But they are much more than a band. Their art is rich with culture and politics and seeks to educate in every possible way. Couple this with some crazy vocal talent and lovable melodies and you’ve got yourself some chart-toppers.
The band’s work, especially their music videos, is littered with quirky concepts and visually interesting depictions of their music. Smith has often spoken out about his love for David Lynch, and how he has been inspired by him. This shows through in many such videos, and one of the band’s most popular singles is called Laura Palmer.
As a long-term fan of Bastille, I hope I have done them justice with my picks here. This playlist was very thoughtfully put together to not only display what I believe to be their best work, but also order it into a succinct and natural-flowing playlist. I hope you enjoy listening!
Laura Palmer (Bad Blood, 2013)
This is an excellent place to start. From the band’s first album, Bad Blood, ‘Laura Palmer’ – named after the tragic Twin Peaks character – is punchy, energetic, and lyrically stunning. No matter how long I go between listens, this song always gets me pumped up.
The introduction of the song has strong drum beats made to sound like a heartbeat, and these continue throughout the song, alongside the lyrics, “this is your beating heart, can you feel it?” – it feels like a plea to Laura to stay alive.
The lyrics are about the spirit of Twin Peaks character Laura Palmer, although they fictionalise events that were not in the series. There is not too much to examine about the track outside of this, but it is an incredible song for its energy and life.
The music video is eccentric, and features a young girl getting on the back of a man’s motorcycle. This is reminiscent of Laura Palmer’s actions in Twin Peaks the night she goes missing.
Durban Skies (Bad Blood, 2013)
From the same album, ‘Durban Skies’ is about the life Smith’s mother lived in South Africa. Through this song, Smith is connecting to his family and his heritage whilst creating a wonderful piece of art. The track is a pleasure to listen to, with gentle, deep drums and vivid imagery.
The opening lines to this song, “in this town it all went down, our chromosomes in sepia tones in my mind”, introduce us so delicately to how much this song means to Smith. Of Durban itself, Smith sings “it’s alive when I see it through your eyes”. It brings home the tracks real meaning and creates a depth to the song without making it too heavy and ruining it with too much moodiness. The balance is perfect.
Musically, the track is flowing and interesting, and gives so much to the lyrical meaning. The steady drums create almost a lullaby type atmosphere in the background, whilst the accompanying ornaments keep things interesting. Everything comes together to make a beautiful song.
Poet (Bad Blood, 2013)
This track is a creative, light, upbeat adventure. There are some really interesting rhythms in the backing track, and despite having an apparently quite personal meaning, it’s a fun, funky tune.
It reads as a poem to a poem… that is, it embraces all that poetry is and all that it can tell long after its writer is gone. As a poet myself, I love the idea behind this.
Dan Smith, Bastille’s frontman, writes the majority of the lyrics and music for the band independently. Although in recent years his bandmates have had more input, certainly back when ‘Poet’ was written, the work was almost exclusively Smith’s. I imagine a lot of his inspiration for writing this song came from his feelings towards his own art.
Writing lyrics must be very similar to writing poetry, and Smith sings, “I have written you down now, you will live forever”, and tells us poems will far outlive their authors, “you will live forever, in eyes not yet created, on tongues that are not born”.
While the song is called ‘Poet’, this concept applies to all kinds of art, not least music and lyrics. Art can be everlasting, and this song is a testament of love to that fact.
Oil On Water (Wild World, 2016)
This song is a great example of the band’s insight into deeper issues. There were so many examples I could have picked – ‘Four Walls’, and their cover of City High’s ‘What Would You Do’, are probably the best examples. However, this song fits perfectly into this playlist as a transition from the lighter, pop style music into more serious topics and songs with more depth musically.
Social commentary and political subtext in music isn’t a new concept, but Bastille does this differently. With ‘Oil On Water’ specifically, the band uses a beautiful metaphor to describe the actions of a man (oil) having sex with a woman (water). There are undertones that address domestic violence, forced prostitution, and imply an awareness of the widespread issue of sexual abuse. That is what makes this song so powerful.
I find the word play and metaphor stunning. Using oil to represent dirt and impurity in the emotional and psychological sense creates a powerful image, and it’s impossible not to visualise a crystal clean ocean with rainbows of oil on top of it. It makes you think of tragedy and photos of birds covered in oil spills.
Aside from the messages inside the music, this song has a powerful violin score the swells up in all the right places, and uses brass instruments to emphasise the countermelody in the background. At just shy of three minutes long, this song is not particularly lengthy. This makes me want to listen again and again and it captures me fully every time. I feel as immersed in the song as I do in the hypothetical ocean I’m imagining.
The Driver (Other People’s Heartache, 2014)
This song was written to accompany the BBC’s re-scored version (overseen by Zane Lowe) of the film Drive, where they re-recorded a new soundtrack with artists they wanted to promote on their radio channel. Bastille wrote and performed ‘The Driver’ for this reason, which is something to bear in mind whilst listening.
The song itself stands alone very well. It speaks about the expectations set upon men about how they are expected to express their emotions and how they are supposed to behave publicly. This song examines those stereotypes, and talks about what strength really is.
With lyrics like, “big boys don’t cry”, and, “real men, always thinking with their fists”, there is a lot of thought about the way men are ‘supposed’ to act in order to project ‘masculine’ values and ideas. The song shifts the focus away from the idea that men have to be strong for their physical aggression, and into “my turn to be the victim”: a strength that comes from acceptance. The final lyric reads, “the sun will rise with my name on your lips, because everything will change tonight”. Taking this out of the context of Drive the movie, this sounds a lot like the man the song is being written about is going to stop behaving in the stereotypical way and that, although this will cause a lot of people to start talking about him, it is for the best and he is doing it for himself.
I am sure there are scores of alternate interpretations of this song, but I have always seen it as a statement about moving away from the behaviours you think you should be exhibiting and instead expressing whatever is healthy for you, and drawing strength from that. If nothing else, this song brings attention to the words we use when we speak to men who are in distress or are going through something.
Warmth (Wild World, 2016)
A song about the strength of human connection and how important it is to be there for one another, ‘Warmth’ makes me feel, pardon the pun, very warm inside. It is a song about human connection, how comforting it can be to be held by someone, and how crazy it feels like the world is getting. But it isn’t only about the warmth we can get from other people. The lyrics also note that, “in your heat I can feel how cold it can get”. I think this is a suggestion that even when you are physically close to someone, emotional distance can get in the way.
This song is structured very typically like a pop song. It has verses, a catchy chorus, a bridge near the end, and a final crescendo into a powerful final chorus. This recipe has worked well to make this song a hit, and it always makes me feel like dancing.
There is also an orchestral version of this song that is even more stunning than the album recording.
Another Place (Doom Days, 2019)
Unfortunately, this was one of only two songs that I actually enjoyed from ‘Doom Days’, the latest Bastille album. It seems like the band has gone full circle. They started out in the early 2010s with pop style songs, moved into more experimental sounds through their Wild World era, and now are back to standard pop tracks. However, where in their early work there were clear references to culture and politics, these seem subdued and lazy, with the exception of the title track.
‘Doom Days’, the title track, is, in all fairness, a song that leans very heavily on literary, cultural, political and social references. The lyrics are laced with these on almost every line. There is criticism about inaction on climate change (“crazy that some people still deny it”), support for the European Union (“we’ll be the proud remainers”), and especially noticeable criticism focused on social media, with lines like, “don’t read the comments”, “let’s pick the truth that we believe in”, “this echo-chamber’s getting loud”, and, “no surprise we’re so easily bored”.
Despite this, or perhaps because of this, the other songs on the album feel bland in comparison. They are broadly one-dimensional and lack deeper meanings and subtext. While the pop-style songs of Bastille’s past were always based upon complex social inspiration, these newer tracks seem oversimplified.
This being said, ‘Another Place’ struck a chord with me. Its exceptionally catchy chorus and relatable lyrics about how we treat one another made this song stand out to me. I think it’s composed beautifully, and the collaboration with Alessia Cara works well with Dan Smith’s vocals.
This fits in well to this playlist at number 7, a nice blend of the energy we get from ‘Warmth’ and the slow pace and thoughtfulness of ‘Winter Of Our Youth’ that we are about to experience.
Winter Of Our Youth (Wild World, 2016)
‘Winter Of Our Youth’ is a song with a simple concept and a self-explanatory story. It speaks clearly of the fears about growing out of youthfulness, fearing the aging process, and denying that you’re ready to stop living the way you always have done because of your developing age restraints.
There is a lot of fear and regret in the track, and laced throughout are lines such as, “I re-live it all”, “I let myself bathe in the past”, and, “I’ve got nostalgia running through me and I don’t like it”. Age is treated like a season, and Smith, the writer, is going further and further into winter and is scared of never having experiences like he did in the summer. He tells us that the winter is getting colder and he doesn’t feel prepared yet.
Getting older is inevitable for us all, so this fear of aging and wasting time is very strongly relatable. This humanises the lyrics and connects us to it for more than its musical quality. This might well be the most vulnerable track on this list.
The Currents (Wild World, 2016)
With a more electronic sound than much of Bastille’s music, ‘The Currents’ is a song that captures the unique way the band uses percussion to punctuate their statements. This song is very upbeat despite its downcast take on current events (to the time of writing).
When Bastille performed this song at Radio One’s Big Weekend event in 2016, Smith introduced it by telling the crowd, “It’s about people misusing the podium they have to be divisive…this song is about wanting to get the hell away from that”. 2016 was a big year for politics, and in some live performances Smith even changed the lyrics he sang to directly reference the election of Donald Trump in the United States.
The lyrics of this song address politicians in general, telling them, “we’re living in the currents you create, we’re sinking in the pool of your mistakes, won’t you stop firing up the crazies […] I can’t quite believe my ears”. This song is a perfect story about how our actions have consequences. Like ‘Winter Of Our Youth’ it examines past actions, but instead of reminiscing, the focus is on what past actions can mean not only for yourself but for those around you.
In the middle of the song, Bastille use an audio clip from a 1948 political propaganda cartoon to emphasise the need for unity and freedom. This abundance of awareness and context behind their work always makes me appreciate it so much more.
World Gone Mad (For ‘Bright’, 2017)
Dan Smith wrote this for the Netflix original film ‘Bright’, starring Will Smith. ‘Bright’ is about an LA police officer who gets sucked into a turf war. The music video for this song contains clips from the movie, but with Dan Smith also in them. In the movie, this song is incredibly powerful and rises to the emotional moments. For example, a slower version is recorded to accompany a street shooting scene in the first half of the movie.
Smith told Billboard that the themes of social justice in the film really “hit home” for him as he was writing the track.
As for this perfect ten playlist, how could I not end on this track after the last couple of years we’ve all had? This song is the perfect close—it showcases the vocal range of Smith, is relatable to almost everybody, and has a cool background, especially if you’ve already watched the film.
And this wraps up my Bastille perfect ten list. I hope you have enjoyed reading and listening as much as I have enjoyed putting this together. Taking my own trip down memory lane for this piece has helped me to re-discover how brilliant some of these tracks are.