The other day I spent a while listening to a couple of free ambient netlabel releases that turned out to be just OK. Don’t get me wrong, there are many, many excellent free netlabel releases. These were just not two of them. They brought some interesting sounds together, but lost any sense of the space between them, ending up projecting a kind of mushy hum with various little noises floating stickily in the porridge as it gurgled thickly by. Returning after that listening foray to Kane Ikin’s new EP on 12k records was an exercise in contrasts. Anything that comes out on 12k is going to be painstakingly assembled and mastered, and this recording is no exception. It too works with stretched tones and assorted small sounds, but especially on headphones it opens them up into a delicate and spacious conversation.
On January 24, 2005, Minnesota Public Radio launched 89.3 The Current with the playing of Atmosphere’s hidden track off the Seven’s Travels album, “Shhh”. “Shhh” is an ode to Minnesota and being proud of where you’re from regardless of what others think of your hometown. It was an incredibly appropriate first track to air on a station who’s mission is to bring its listeners the best new local and national music alongside the music that inspired it.
There seems to have been a recent flurry of new creative partnerships between established solo artists working in the generous borderlands between neo-classical, electronic, and ambient music. In fairly quick succession we’ve been treated to lovely debuts from A Winged Victory for the Sullen (Adam Wiltzie and Dustin O’Halloran) and Oliveray (Nils Frahm and Peter Broderick), with the first Orcas release (Benoît Pioulard and Rafael Anton Irisarri) on the horizon. Now add to that list Aaron Martin and Dag Rosenqvist (who has most commonly recorded as Jasper TX). Their debut album as From the Mouth of the Sun is to be released at the end of January on Experimedia, and is recommended listening.
Underneath the Stars, the engaging new release from Tom Honey’s Good Weather for an Airstrike project, is immediately pleasing to the ear even as it perhaps takes some risks with its image. The release notes remind us that Honey began recording in connection with his aim of relieving his own tinnitus, and the tone of the new album is consistently soothing and almost entirely free of dissonance. The Goldberg Variations notwithstanding, if music was composed for therapeutic purposes it’s easy to wonder if it will also succeed as art. Add to that an ambient concept album based around the phases of sleep and including field recordings of gentle rain and thunder, and casual associations with faceless New Age collections of nature sounds and insomnia aids rather than serious listening might be forgiven. The fact that the album is released on the estimable Hibernate label, however, is considerable cause for optimism, and indeed there is more here than might first meet the eye (or ear). You can stream it below as you read.
Here as elsewhere, 2011 finished with the customary best-of-year lists, inevitably confronting the dedicated music lover with large numbers of as yet unpurchased albums said to be the cream of the crop; catching up would cost a small fortune, even if 2012 held no new promises. Well, 2011 also saw the release of some excellent albums offered for free download, and a few of the Music is Good authors have put together a list of their favorites across several genres. All of the albums listed below can be downloaded either for free or on a “name your own price” basis (donations encouraged, but with no minimum) from the artists or labels or at bandcamp. You can also stream some of them below. Our thanks to these artists for making such good music freely available.
No, this is not about the old American television sitcom series that stations occasionally re-run late at night. It is a series, though, and the sitcom title is fitting. This is about a different ‘70s Show – a “music show” that was inconspicuously (at least to me) being performed just outside the limelight during the 1970’s. It is only recently that I came to discover some of the outstanding works from a few stars of that ‘70’s show. In a completely just world, their albums would have received the full recognition they deserve. Even now, some 30+ years later, they are remarkable. Here’s one of the best of them (more albums will be discussed in Part 2):
Silent Passage – Bob Carpenter, Warner Reprise 1975 (re-issue 1984 by Stony Plain Records, and 2007 by Riverman Music) “Bob still lives within all who hear his unforgettable Silent Passage.” - Ed Ochs, former music editor for Billboard Magazine (from Rising Storm).
I first learned of Silent Passage by the inclusion of its title track on Midlake’s 2011 album, a mixtape contribution to the Late Night Tales series. Late Night Tales is a series (ongoing since 2001) of “music and stories worth staying up for” in which one artist is invited each year to compile a mixtape of their favorite songs or inspirations. The contents of each Late Night Tales album are the original pieces by the original artists, with one cover chosen and performed by the invited artist. GQ Magazine describes the series as “the Rolls Royce of compilations.” Midlake’s mixtape opens with Bob Carpenter performing his song, “Silent Passage,” which immediately sent me scrambling to find Carpenter’s original album. Here’s what I had heard:
Every so often an area sees its scene explode not just locally, but nationally and internationally. This has happened before in the Twin Cities when the late ’70s funk scene exploded behind Prince and The Time, then in the early to mid ’80s the local rock scene had its turn led by Hüsker Dü and The Replacements, and the hip hop world of the early to mid 2000s was greatly influenced by Atmosphere and Brother Ali. Following developments in 2011 it is quite possible we are standing on the verge of the Twin Cities pop scene taking its place at the top of the heap.
The Twin Cities pop movement is led by three bands who started to break through last year, and now find themselves at the edge of stardom. All three are most certainly pop bands, but they come at the genre from very different perspectives. One is garage influenced guitar pop, another uses electronics to create a smooth dream pop, and the last features dark, smoldering synth pop. Each have an album due in 2012, though, and are set to make lots of noise locally and internationally.
This is part of a series suggesting ingredients for mixtapes or playlists on a variety of themes.
Trains are such a common theme in some genres of music (especially country and blues) that Smithsonian Folkways has a generous compilation, there are online guides to releases, and Wikipedia offers a lengthy list of train songs. But this piece is not concerned with songs about trains. I’m more interested in instrumental music, and in trains as instruments. I’m going to suggest below a short playlist, much of which can be had for free and all of which involve the sound of trains. First, however, I’ll turn to the “why?” question.
Train sounds and modern music have long gone hand in hand. In the mid-twentieth century, recordings of train sounds played a significant role in the development and marketing of high fidelity recordings and, a little later, of stereo. Cook Laboratories rose to prominence in the early high-fidelity movement after scoring a hit with recordings of locomotives at the 1949 Audio Fair – apparently “fevered audiomaniacs” were “blanching with ecstasy at the tremendous whooshes and roars.” (The quotation comes from Greg Milner’s fascinating bookPerfecting Sound Forever: An Aural History of Recorded Music, in which the story of these developments is colorfully told.) A special exhibit at the 1953 fair wowed and/or alarmed visitors with a three-channel recording that created the illusion of a locomotive bearing down on listeners.
Bang on a Can, founded in 1987, is a classical music collective based in New York City. They are likely best known for their live performances (and recordings) of Brian Eno’s Music for Airports or Terry Riley’s In C, but they have also performed the operas of Harry Partch and provided grants to newer artists like David Longstreth of Dirty Projectors.
Now as Bang on a Can turns 25, they are offering their new album Big Beautiful Dark and Scary for the cost of a memory, or simply letting them know how you heard about them. Can’t beat that price whether you’re already a fan or haven’t heard of Bang on a Can until this very moment. Just go here, enter your name, e-mail, and memory, download, and enjoy!
Thanks to Doofy over at emusers.org for pointing this out.
This is part of a series suggesting ingredients for mixtapes or playlists on a variety of themes.
Every December I put together a mixtape of what I find to be some of the best tracks of the preceding year. I say ‘some of the best tracks’ because in addition to including great songs I have two main goals: 1) For the mix to actually be a mix of sounds and styles; and 2) for the parts to make up a coherent whole.
As I noted in my best albums of 2011 post, I found the year somewhat weak when it came to top shelf albums. When I sat down to put together my favorite tracks that was not an issue, though, and I had to do some serious cutting. So while this list gives me a chance to recognize a number of bands that do not appear on the album list, tracks like Bon Iver’s “Holocene” (ridiculously good despite my indifference to the rest of that album), Tom Waits’ “New Year’s Eve”, Low’s “Witches”, and The Pains of Being Pure at Heart’s “Heart in Your Heartbreak” ended up being elbowed out.