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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.

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10

Jan

2012

That ’70’s Show

By Kezzie Baker. Posted in Folk, Rock, Vital Albums | 13 Comments »

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:

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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.

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6

Jan

2012

Mixtape Recipes: Trains

By David Smith. Posted in Ambient, Electronic, Mixtape Recipes | No Comments »

Transcontinental Railroad (Source: Wikipedia)

 

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 book Perfecting 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.

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5

Jan

2012

Bang on a Can turns 25

By Craig McManus. Posted in Classical, Free Music, Neo-Classical | No Comments »

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.


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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.

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Hoping for the Invisible to Ignite by Parisian collective FareWell Poetry is one of the more absorbing musical journeys of 2011. It is also an album that wears its ambition on its sleeve. A Super 8/16mm black and white film on DVD (trailer here), filled with images of compulsive self-absorption and erotic obsession (warning: nudity), accompanies the 20 minute opening piece, and there’s also an iPhone app to go alongside both. The lyrics take the form of extravagant spoken-word poetry boasting a lofty lineage:

‘As True As Troilus’ takes its title and mythology from Chaucer’s important 14th century poem ‘Troilus and Criseyde’, a retelling of a ‘faux’ Greek myth with Medieval origins, in which the main protagonist Troilus falls in love with Trojan Cressida who finally deceives and leaves him for the Greek soldier Diomedes. The narrator of ‘As True As Troilus’ (just as Chaucer’s narrator) uses this myth to explore his own romantic mythology, using the characters and their situation to recount his own plight, illustrating the destruction of his own failed relationship with tableaux from the Trojan tale.

Act 3, Scene 2 of Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida, which portrays the same doomed love affair, also plays a role, and Ovid is cited in the film. Described on the band’s site as a “bold and electrifying project,” we are left in no doubt that this is a work of substance.

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Of the 500 or so albums examined in the latest American Record Guide, here are those that received the best reviews:

Borodin: Symphonies nos.1-3. Seattle Symphony/Gerard Schwarz. Naxos 572786

“Here are all the splashes of color and soulful Slavic melody anyone could ask for at a price I know you can afford, and this is a treasurable introduction to the music of Borodin.” – Steven J Haller

Delius: Life’s Dance; Poem of Life and Love; Irmelin suite; A Village Romeo and Juliet suite. Royal Scottish National Orchestra/David Lloyd-Jones. Dutton 7264

“David Lloyd-Jones has established himself as one of the prime Delius interpreters. His dedication to the composer’s music has also brought forth treasures few of us would have believed possible a decade or so back.” – Alan Becker

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This is a part of a series on music that has influenced contributors to Music is Good.

I truly believe that music discovery is a life long process and one that should cross all genre barriers.  It is absolutely dumbfounding to me whenever I hear someone claim that “there isn’t any good music these days” or that a particular genre (usually hip hop or country) “is all crap”.  I certainly realize, mostly because my wife loves to remind me, I’m not a ‘normal’ person when it comes to music, but it seems elementary to me that if anyone explores a genre a bit they will find something that speaks to them.  Below are the 10 albums (in my personal chronological order) that have had the biggest impact on my life, and led me down my musical paths.

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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.

[*Addendum – as if purposely to prove this correct, two days after posting this list I discovered the album Hoping for the Invisible to Ignite by FareWell Poetry; had I heard it a week earlier it would have made my top five.]

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