Have you ever been moved by the yearning blends of classical motifs with electronic atmospheres composed by the likes of Max Richter, Ólafur Arnalds, Jóhann Jóhannsson, Nils Frahm, and Peter Broderick? Does the thought of what their aesthetic might sound like if relocated to warmer climes and infused with the passion and counterpoint of the tango sound intriguing? If so, then you need to listen to Sebastian Plano’s debut album.
The Arrhythmical Parts of Heart was released last year with little fanfare, but is an album that should not be allowed to slip quietly by. Across seven short tracks Plano, a young San Francisco-based composer and multi-instrumentalist who plays everything on the album himself, weaves together an array of sounds including cello, keyboards, bandoneón, wordless vocals, and electronic effects and percussion into a compelling and emotive suite of compositions charged with tantalizing twists and turns.
This mixtape recipe is not just a collection of songs, but a collection of films with music, and the connection between the pieces is one of visual feel. Long gone are the days when a music video was strictly a promotional accompaniment to a new single release. A growing array of film makers choose existing musical material as a stimulus for creating loosely related short pieces of visual art. Other projects emerge in which film-making and music-making are parts of a larger artistic project, each carrying its own weight. In many cases the resulting film has little to do with showcasing a band or titillating with cavorting divas; the focus is rather on exploring another dimension of the aesthetics of a piece of music. Below are three recent videos that are worth a look and that share a common wintry palette and a certain captivating forlornness.
Pjusk – Sus Pjusk are a Norwegian electronic duo who specialize in tense, icy soundscapes and have a new album due March 12 on the Glacial Movements label. A song from their 2010 album Sval was recently made the subject of a short film by Till Nowak, a German digital artist. The video works with snowy aerial footage of the Nordic landscape that indwells Pjusk’s music, but springs some visual surprises, taking things off-kilter enough to match the track’s uneasy ambience.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I confess to being a skeptic regarding best-of-year lists, though I suspect I am far from alone. The general arbitrariness of the exercise (my own list might look different if you asked me in a different week*) combines with inevitable comparison of apples and oranges (is it really possible to say that a given ambient release is slightly “better” than a given rock album?). What’s more, I usually fail to find my own listening reflected in most published lists (this year I trawled several prominent top 50 and top 100 lists and found almost zero overlap with my own personal list). Adding another may well be simply adding to the futility.
I’m going to go ahead though, largely because of the small chance that as a result someone might discover one of the titles listed below and come to love it. After all, I discovered several of them through the gratefully received recommendations of others. Moreover, each of these releases deserves to be noted on a list somewhere. I make no claim to judge cosmic significance, attribute enduring worth, or arbitrate taste. The following albums are simply 2011 releases that I’ve played many times each and that have left me delighted or fascinated and wanting to keep hearing them in 2012.