Monday, 30 September 2013

September's Soundtrack

A strange and unexpectedly dramatic month, as well as being beautiful and autumnal, what with being autumn and all. most of the soundtrack has tended to be comforting & mellow but it's a mixed bag as usual.

1. Ihsahn - Rec (from Das Seelenbrechen, 2013)

One among many highlights from my album of the year (so far), Rec is equal parts Scott Walker and Yurei; Ihsahn's trademark sense of calm unease gives way to untrammelled intensity. Moody, strange, unique.

2. Vàli - Gjemt Under Grener (from Skoglandskap, 2013)

Another consistently great album that I could have chosen any song from. Beautifully atmospheric acoustic, folk-influenced autumnal instrumental music, timeless and

3. Simon & Garfunkel - Kathy's Song (from Sounds of Silence, 1966)

 Just a lovely, sad song.

4. Alanna - Reasons to Live (from Under the Open Sky, 2002)

Another beautiful sad song, this time from the sadly now split-up folk-ish group from County Kerry.

5. Andres Segovia - Sor: Study in B Minor (from Masters of the Guitar, 1955)

A lovely mellow and reflective piece of music, beautifully played.

6. My LIttle Airport - Victor, Fly Me To Stafford (from The Okay Thing to do on Sunday is Toddle in the Zoo, 2004)

One of the outstanding songs from a great debut album; quirky and possibly even twee, but there's nothing twee about the wistful feeling.

7. Hanny Steffek (as Amore) - Gli Sguardi Trattieni (from Orfeo ed Eurodyce Vienna State Opera, dir. Charles Mackerras, recorded 1966)

One of the prettiest bits from Gluck's beautiful baroque opera.

8. Black Sabbath - Anno Mundi (from Tyr, 1990)

Not a great Sabbath album, but a great song; dramatic and slightly pretentious.

9. Buffalo Tom - Tailights Fade (from Let Me Come Over, 1992)

Just a great song from a band who tend to be underrated because they came to prominence along with lots of the grungey dross of the early 90s.

10. Ihsahn - M (from Das Seelenbrechen, 2013)

One of many surprising songs on Das Seelenbrechen, M segues from the restrained menace of the Bladerunner-esque intro to a surprisingly lyrical, bluesy, almost Dave Gilmour-like solo.

11. Ozzy Osbourne/Blizzard of Ozz - Goodbye to Romance (from Blizzard of Ozz, 1980)

Surprisingly lovely and poignant restrained Beatles-influenced ballad from what was recorded by band 'Blizzard of Ozz' but which became Ozzy's first solo album. A shame really since it seems to have been far more of a collaborative band experience than Ozzy had had with Black Sabbath.

12. Tom Waits - Eggs & Sausage (in a Cadillac with Susan Michaelson) (from Nighthawks at the Diner, 1975)

Lovely late-night bohemian romanticism.

13. The Smiths - Back to the Old House (from Louder than Bombs 1987)

Yearning autumnal loveliness.

14. the Byrds - My Back Pages (from Younger Than Yesterday. 1967)

Probably the best Dylan cover among the Byrds' many Dylan covers.

15. Morrissey - The World is Full of Crashing Bores (from You Are the Quarry, 2004)

One of Moz's best ever performances, and great lyrics too.

16. The Beach Boys - Gettin' Hungry (from Smiley Smile, 1967)

Smiley Smile may be one of the high points of The Beach Boys' psychedelic period, but in terms of its instrumentation the album is surprisingly sparse, nowhere more so than on this great track, dominated by its groovy organ.

17. Aviary - Mystic Sharon (from Aviary, 1979)

Pop-flavoured, Kansas-style prog, Aviary's neglected debut is a somewhat Marmite-ish acquired taste but this song shows the band at its most eccentric-yet-accessible.

18. Ihsahn - Pulse (from Das Seelenbrechen, 2013)

Probably the most atypical song on Das Seelenbrechen, but also the most accessible for non-metal fans, this piece of low-key moody electronica has some of the best and seemingly most personal lyrics of Ihsahn's career.

19. Bessie Smith - Baby Doll (1926)

Pretty much a 1920s pop song, but made into an immortal blues thanks to Bessie's expressive vocal.

20. Donovan - Season of the Witch (from Sunshine Superman, 1966)

Creepy psychedelic classic.

21. Funkadelic - Can You Get to That (from Maggot Brain, 1971)

There is very little that is stereotypically funky about the music to this song but the whole is nevertheless 100% soulful funk.

22. Oranssi Pazuzu - Reikä Maisemassa (from Valonielu, 2013)

Disorientating space rock with a flavour of Syd Barratt-era Pink Floyd on this excellent instrumental from the Finnish psychedelic black metal band's exceptional new album.

23. Focus - Sylvia (from Focus 3, 1970)

Over-familiarity can't completely take the shine off this lovely-if-cheesy instrumental by Dutch prog-masters Focus.

24.  Vàli - Morgenry (from Skoglandskap, 2013)

Another beautiful and wistful autumnal folk-influenced soundscape.

25. Týr - Sinklar's Visa (from Land, 2008)

Land is the most underrated album in the Faroese warriors' discography and this gem is the perfect blend of Viking metal and Faorese folk music.

26. The Rolling Stones - Tell Me (You're Coming Back) (from The Rolling Stones, 1964)

Although theoretically more 'rock' than The Beatles, this great song has an almost girl-group pop sound, albeit with bluesy feeling in the performance.

27. Wicked Lester - Keep Me Waiting (from Wicked Lester, 1972 (unreleased))

Paul Stanley & Gene Simmons' pre-Kiss band was, as they have often stated, unfocussed and lacking direction. But some of the songs aren't bad, like this pleasantly 70s sounding pop-rock song.

28. Ride - Polar Bear (from Nowhere, 1990)

Lovely, powerful-yet-fragile song (sort of) based on JD Salinger's Raise High The Roof Beam, Carpenters.

29. Satyricon - Phoenix (from Satyricon, 2013)

Satyricon have consistently been ahead of the game, and their assimilation of trad rock elements into their intensely focussed and dynamic black metal sidesteps most of the current BM trends for something more direct and effective.

30. Ihsahn - Regen (from Das Seelenbrechen, 2013)

Again, Ihsahn plays against his reputation for complexity with something (initially) simple and sad, before becoming a piece of overblown dramatic metal more consistent with perceptions of his music.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Musical Minutiae

Songs are all very well, but sometimes you just want to 'rewind' and hear a little bit of a song again and again; some bits -

Artist: The Smiths

Title: Pretty Girls Make Graves (from The Smiths, 1984)
Moment: 'outro' begins at 03:02
Duration: approx. 38 seconds
Description: Johnny Marr's beautiful little three note melody in the outro of this great song is a million times better than the tunes most people base whole songs around. Morrissey presumably liked it too, it seems to have influenced both The Lazy Sunbathers and Hold On To Your Friends from his great Vauxhall & I.

Artist: Ihsahn

Title: M (from Das Seelenbrechen, 2013)
Moment: beginning of guitar solo (beginning at approx. 02.06)
Duration: approx. 30 seconds
Description: This album is full of amazing moments, but the wholly unexpected entry of Ihsahn's Dave Gilmour-esque bluesy solo after a sinister atmospheric/electronic intro is immensely powerful.

Artist: Depeche Mode (from  A Broken Frame, 1982)

Title: My Secret Garden
Moment: bass noise at 0.08
Duration: 1 second
Description: The intro to this classic, cheesy synth-pop song mainly consists of some very chiming noises, but among them is this one note, pure, clean, warm electronic noise.

Artist: Falkenbach

Title: Hávamál (from Heralding the Fireblade, 2008)
Moment: Wise ones have spoken... (2:10)
Duration: approx. 12 seconds
Description: Vratyas Vakyas' superb setting of the gnomic words of Odin to music is powerful and atmospheric, and the acoustic break with Vratyas' perfect heroic vocal is the perfect break in the wall-of-sound of electric guitars, choirs etc.

Artist: Blondie (from Plastic Letters, 1978)

Title: Fan Mail
Moment: Debbie Harry's growl at 2.19
Duration: approx. 4 seconds
Description: This unheralded song is a masterpiece anyway, but the moments when Debbie Harry's 'in my ears a bell keeps ringing' becomes a strange growl that blends in with the guitars and synth is just great.

Artist: David Bowie

Title: We Are The Dead (from Diamond Dogs, 1974)
Moment: 0:00-1:09
Duration: 1 min 9 seconds
Description: From the first note up until it starts to build for the chorus this is just one of the greatest things Bowie has ever recorded. The sparseness of the sound with churchlike organ and spectral, echo-laden vocals makes this a masterpiece of understated menace and atmosphere. The chorus isn't bad either, but it doesn't sustain the drama created by the song up until that point.

Artist: Edgar Winter Group

Title: Free Ride (from They Only Come Out At Night, 1972)
Moment: Intro
Duration: 9 seconds
Description: The unadorned guitar intro played (I presume) by Dan Hartman and Ronnie Montrose entirely captures the spirit of happy, funky, post-hippy American rock in the 70s. The whole song is great but the intro is probably the best part.

Artist: Gene Simmons

Title: Burning Up With fever (from Gene Simmons, 1978)
Moment: outro (2:52 onwards)
Duration: approx. 1 min 40 secs
Description: Gene Simmons' '78 solo album has a surprising plethora of great songs in a variety of styles. Burning Up With Fever is funky rock featuring Jeff "Skunk" Baxter of Steely Dan/The Doobie Brothers on guitar. Already a great, loose, fun song, Gene makes it even better by bringing in the great Donna Summer to do some  untrammelled sexy vocals as the song fades out.

Artist: Hardingrock

Title: Huldreslåtten (Bygdatråen) (from Grimen, 2007)Moment: beginning of fiddle solo
Duration: approx. 8 seconds
Description:  This  beautiful song begins with nature noises before Knut Buen starts to narrate the story with minimalistic musical/vocal backing. Then at 01:37 he begins his amazing solo on the hardanger fiddle. The whole song is a masterpiece of atmospheric music, but the entry of the fiddle is the most powerful moment, and one of the best on an album that is excellent in all respects.

Artist: Iron Maiden

Title: Revelations (from Piece of Mind, 1983)
Moment: entry of guitar riff (00:29 - 00:37)
Duration: 8 seconds
Description: Maiden rarely play a rock riff as such, but when they do, they make it count.

Artist: Jonathan Richman

Title: Important in your Life (from Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers, 1978)
Moment: guitar break (0:56 and again at 2:27)
Duration: about 10 seconds each
Description: The whole song is just a lovely piece of timeless tongue-in-cheek sentimental whimsy, but  the point where Jonathan Richman announces this simple little guitar break and it happens is just perfect.

Artist: Starofash

Title: Crossing Over (from The Thread, 2008)
Moment: beginning of first verse after intro at 0:53 - 1:03)
Duration: 10 seconds
Description:  The key to this song's greatness is the way the excellent lyrics are enunciated clearly without sacrificing the expression and feeling behind them.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

August's Soundtrack

August flew by quickly, these are some of the things that made it more pleasant:

1. Ippu Do - Radio Fantasy (from Radio Fantasy, 1981)

Strange surf-music-meets-new wave-meets-techno from a Japanese band who looked like New Romantics.

2. Shining - (from V - Halmstad, 2008)

Most of Shining's work is pretty good - Halmstad is great, even if its epic, lush texture is too 'nice' for some black metal fans.

3. The Beastie Boys - Shadrach (from Paul's Boutique, 1989)

The perfect marriage of the Beastie Boys' wordplay and perfect timing and the Dust Brother's carefully layered, funky sampling.

4. The Beatles - I'm Happy Just to Dance With You (from A Hard Day's Night, 1964)

Happy, energetic, inventive and catchy rock-pop, from the height of Beatlemania. They may have been part of a whole movement of British rock & roll, but there aren't many records from 1964 that sound as fresh and ebullient as this. Which is why The Beatles were the biggest band of the era.

5. Pete Shelley - Yesterday's Not Here (from Homosapien,1981)

Buzzcocks frontman Pete Shelley's debut solo album is a patchy one, but it has some excellent, emotive post-punk/pop/synth tunes on it and this perky-but-wistful song is one of the best.

6. Tom Waits - Jitterbug Boy (from Heartattack & Vine, 1980)

Somehow sepia-toned Kerouac-esque drunken nostalgia; lovely.

7. Dissection - Where Dead Angels Lie (EP, 1996)

Even to a semi-Dissection-skeptic this is simply an excellent piece of melodic black metal, by far the best song in the band's discography.

8. Joy Division - Atmosphere (1980)

One of the best, least 'cold' songs from one of the key bands of the post-punk period. Bleak and (of course) atmospheric.

9. Blondie - Dreaming (from Eat to the Beat, 1979)

Eat to the Beat is often seen as the poor relative of Parallel Lines, but: Dreaming, Union City Blue, Atomic - it isn't.

10. The Cure - A Letter to Elise (from Wish, 1992)

Despite its hit status, Wish is a bit of a let-down after the run of albums The Cure released through the 80s. Sometimes (Friday I'm In Love) it's annoying too. But this song is great.

11. Eartha Kitt - Wear Your Love Like Heaven (from Not So Old Fashioned, 1972)

Ultra-creepy cover of an already slightly creepy Donovan classic.

12. The Smiths - Unloveable (1985)

B-side to Bigmouth Strikes Again is even better, almost a parody of The Smiths' perceived depressingness, perfect.

13. The Byrds - Turn! Turn! Turn! (to Everything There Is A Season) (from Turn! Turn! Turn!, 1965)

From the unmistakeable chiming guitar intro onwards this is everything that was great about The Byrds encapsulated in one song.

14. Grant Green - The Final Comedown (from The Final Comedown, 1971)

Classic Blaxploitation soundtrack theme by one of the great jazz guitarists of the era; cool, funky and tough-yet-delicate.

15. Morrissey - Alsatian Cousin (from Viva Hate, 1988)

Morrissey's solo career kicked off with a song as unlike The Smiths as anything he has released since; Vini Reilly's very un-macho guitar heroics are the opposite of Johnny Marr's understated cool, but none the worse for that.

16. Peter, Paul & Mary - Early Mornin' Rain (1965)

Lovely version of the Gordon Lightfoot classic; could hardly be gentler or more wistful.

17. Neil Young - Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (from Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, 1969)

Yes, I've playlisted this before, but it's great in every respect and I listen to it a lot so why not?

18. Iron Maiden -  Flight of Icarus (from Piece of Mind, 1983)

One of the great metal albums of all time, and one of the great songs from it.

19. Rodriguez - Like Janis (from Cold Fact, 1970)

Wistful, sardonic Dylanesque song with great lyrics and perfect orchestration.

20. Striborg - Light Anomalies in the Phantom Woods (from Ghostwoodlands, 2007)

Spectral, minimal black metal that sounds extremely easy to do but still has an atmosphere you don't find anywhere else.

21. Front 242 - Tragedy for You (from Tyranny >For You<, 1991)

Belgian industrial techno that sounds a bit less intense and oppressive than it did at the time. Still good though.

22. Old Wainds - Death Nord Kult (from Death Nord Kult, 2008)

Invigoratingly icy black metal from Murmansk. Pleasingly whirring and non-progressive.

23. Daniel Johnston - I Remember Painfully (from Yip/Jump Music, 1983)

Just what the title suggests. Too many words to fit into the tune, but he makes it work. Funny and anguished, a rare combination.

24. Steve Reich - Different Trains (1988)

Hypnotic, emotionally charged composition for 'string quartet and tape' in which minimalist master Reich pieces together bits of interviews about various train journeys, generating melody from the patterns of speech and adding almost percussive strings.

25. Uriah Heep - Bird of Prey (from Salisbury, 1971)

Salisbury is far less cohesive than its predecessor Very 'Eavy, Very 'Umble, but also more ambitious. Bird of Prey, the opening track, is probably the most straightforward hard rock song on the album & has excellent/ludicrous (depending on your taste) vocals by David Byron.

26. John Cale - A Child's Christmas in Wales (from Paris 1919, 1973)

Strange that such un-bluesy, atmospheric music could be made by (mainly) Little Feat, but the band's work on Paris 1919 underlines just what great musicians they (especially Lowell George) were. A delicate yet forceful song with Dylan Thomas-influenced lyrics.

27. F.U.S.E. - Into the Space (from Dimension Intrusion, 1993)

Pristine bleepy electronica from arguably Richie Hawtin's best period.

28. Archers of Loaf - South Carolina (from The Speed of Cattle, 1996)

"Grunge" to an almost retarded degree, this is nevertheless an excellent blast of mopey lumberjack-shirted rock.

29. The Rollers -Roxy Lady (from Ricochet, 1980)

By 1980 the ex-Bay City Rollers had musically morphed beyond all recognition, and Ricochet is a weird mix of hard(ish) rock, new wave and pop influences. This particular song is poppy, post-punk-glammy and catchy.

30. Daniel Sullivan - Reflections I (2011)

Lovely minimalist piano piece - simple and beautiful.

31. Eliwagar - Ice & Fire (from Memories of the Warrior Will, 2008)

Oddly percussive 'norse romantic folk music' made by a nature/myth/history-obsessed Viking age type of girl called Runahilde who plays all the instruments and writes and sings the strangely droning, archaic sounding songs. Her music now is more modern and rock/pop influenced but this album is uniquely remote and stark sounding.