Missed Music

Music you didn’t know you needed…until now.

Evocative and beautiful soundtrack music from Atticus Ross

I saw The Book of Eli a few weeks ago. I didn’t have high hopes. I’m not a huge Denzel Washington fan and although I like the idea of post-apocalyptic films, a lot of them have sucked. It was actually pretty good. The cast was all great (I didn’t realize Gary Oldman was in it and he is always watchable) the cinematography was beautiful and effective, the story was cool, and the action was exciting. Good stuff. The reason I mention it here, though, is that throughout the movie, I consistently noticed the music.

I like movie soundtracks, but usually I like the ones that are a collection of songs by different artists.

Noticing the music in a move is rare for me, particularly when it is just a score that backs up the action and doesn’t figure prominently in the story. “The Book Of Eli Original Motion Picture Soundtrack”  is varied, richly textured, and evocative throughout. Beyond just setting a mood and achieving a consistent feel, the soundtrack ranged from beautiful to ominous and featured an interesting mix of instruments, though I suspect most if not all of them were synthesized. I suppose this release would be shelved in the new age section of your local record store because of the use of electronic instruments and the ethereal quality of much of the music. New age or not, the music is cool.

Atticus Ross is a British musician who has worked a lot with Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails) as a producer and programmer and with other folks like Perry Farrell, Korn, and Coheed & Cambria. Given the heavy nature of a lot of those artists, you may be surprised at the richness and patience of this work. Listen to these, particularly the first one.

  • Panoramic – The title track is at once ominous and hopeful. Synthesized strings, electric guitar, occasional piano, and periodic industrial percussion set the stage for the film. You can see the windswept wasteland when you listen.
  • The Journey – Vibrating ambient synthesizers give way to tribal drums and a wandering piano melody. Eventually, wailing harmonica and more synthesized strings come in and the song gets pretty big.
  • Amen – This is a short piece, but the heavy brass of the beginning sounds like angry whale song before anxious percussion fades in and finishes up the song.
  • Safe – The eerie opening swells to a pensive chord progression, but this is a transitional piece from the movie and is only a minute and a half long.
  • The Passenger – Synthesizer, piano, and a little Middle Eastern flavor mark this dreamy two-minute piece. I could actually hear this piano line as the backbone of a Nine Inch Nails song.

There are other good tracks on the soundtrack, but some of them I probably like because they remind me of a movie I enjoyed. Check out the film and you will likely want the soundtrack too.

November 1, 2010 Posted by | Electronica, New Age | Leave a comment

Experimental beat poet performance art from Laurie Anderson

I frequent http://www.fark.com. It is a community on which people can submit news items with their own one liner about why the article is interesting and then people comment on the article and the submitter’s take. It’s addictive. Well, a while back, some thread got started about Laurie Anderson. If you’re not familiar with Laurie Anderson, she is a performance artist who plays violins and keyboards and sings weird and evocative lyrics in several experimental styles.

Big Science. Yodel-ay-hee-hoooooo.

To be honest, I hadn’t thought about Laurie Anderson in a long time. I bought her 1982 release, “Big Science” on vinyl back in the day and although I think I still have it in a box somewhere I hadn’t listened to it in literally decades. When I read the comments on Fark about Anderson, I remembered how much I loved that album and I picked up another copy.

It was every bit as good as I remember. The music throughout “Big Science” is really cool, but this album is all about the lyrics. I was surprised at how well the album had aged. I thought it was going to be purely a nostalgia trip for me, but I still genuinely enjoyed the disc and I think it still holds up to listens today. Be warned, Anderson is an odd bird, but her fearless creativity is engaging and just plain good. Check out these, which have found a new home on my iPod.

  • From the Air – Speaking of lyrics, this one has some of the funniest on the album. I love the sax on this track as well.
  • Big Science – Anderson seamlessly blends the lyrics with some compelling keyboard work on this track, though, to be honest, after all these years I’m still not entirely sure what this song means.
  • Walking & Falling – A hypnotically slow song about how walking is the repetitive process of falling forward and then catching yourself from falling over and over again.
  • Born, Never Asked – This track is an exception. There are almost no lyrics at all and Anderson’s violin does most of the talking.
  • O Superman – Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. I heard a car commercial in the mid 80s rip off this gimmick. Laurie is riveting as she performs this, similar to how you can’t take your eyes off David Byrne when he does a song. I would like to see a live show.
  • Let X=X – “It’s a sky blue sky.” This one is also quite weird, but I like it, particularly the last minute of this song when the brass kicks in.
  • It Tango – The last track flows right into this one. It’s a great closer. “Isn’t it just like a woman?”

Anderson has worked with some amazing talent. Hers is the soothing voice in Peter Gabriel’s ‘This is the Picture (Excellent Birds)’ from “So.” She worked with new age pioneer Jean Michel Jarre on his weird opus “Zoolook” and on “Metamorphoses.” Her long career has included collaborations with Adrian Belew (King Crimson), Arto Lindsay, William S. Burroughs, Spalding Gray, Brian Eno, Phillip Glass, Bobby McFerrin, and many more. In 2008, she finally married long-time life partner Lou Reed (Velvet Underground).

Anderson is a multi-faceted, multi-talented artist whose genius has been recognized by many. She has done a lot of interesting work over the years but this one remains my favorite of hers because it is so good from beginning to end.

March 18, 2010 Posted by | Alternative, Indie, Jazz, New Age | Leave a comment

Challenging but appealing Psychedelic Pop from Animal Collective

Animal Collective is a band out of Baltimore, MD that consists of Avey Tare (David Portner), Panda Bear (Noah Lennox), Deakin (Josh Dibb), and Geologist (Brian Weitz). Their music is not for the faint of heart. They play way, way outside and although the songs are often beautiful, they can be very challenging. Their music typically features keyboards that are often the most disciplined instrument, atmospheric guitars and other affects, and meandering vocals that frequently wander up into falsetto. These are not Pop songs. Well, maybe they are Psychedelic Pop songs. The Wikipedia article on Psychedelic Pop includes them along with accessible, mainstream acts like The Shins, MGMT, and The Polyphonic Spree. Animal Collective isn’t really cut from the same cloth, though.

"Strawberry Jam" from Animal Collective is even better than it looks.

So after all those caveats and warnings, let me say I really like Animal Collective. I don’t like every song I’ve heard, but I really enjoy a lot of what they’ve done. For all its weirdness, their music is usually melodic and appealing. The guys are talented on their instruments and play them fearlessly. It’s a potent combination that has led to some very interesting sounds over the years. Today, I’m going to recommend a few tracks from a couple of late releases. They have put out 8 releases to date, though not always with the same lineup. A CD credited to Animal Collective might feature any or all of their members so there is a lot of variability in the music.

First, a couple tracks from “Feels,” released in October of 2005.

  • Did You See the Words – This track is unorthodox, but still pretty accessible. Piano, drums, and guitars are used for traditional purposes. The melody is also catchy, if a bit strange. I suppose, though, that the strangeness is a lot of the appeal to me. It doesn’t sound like anything else I own, but it rocks out a bit before dissolving to a finish.
  • Bees – The singer meanders through this ethereal tune, backed by noodling piano and what I think must be autoharp. The song never really goes anywhere, but it’s a beautiful composition.

These three are from their 2007 release, “Strawberry Jam.” If you thought ‘Bees’ was weird, have a seat.

  • Derek – I am reminded of some joyful African folk song, though after the first half of the song, more instruments kick in. The melody remains the same, but the song sounds bigger. As for this video, live footage, studio audio.
  • Cuckoo Cuckoo – The feel of this track is dreamy, but I’m not altogether sure it’s a good dream. I couldn’t assign a time signature to this song, though I suppose it can be counted in 4/4. Moments of quiet piano are punctuated by spikes of punching, chaotic percussion and wailing and warbling vocals. I can’t explain why I like this song.
  • #1 – A descending keyboard arpeggio is the basis of this song, behind which an incomprehensible poem is chanted with accompanying singing voices and clicking percussion. This song is entirely experimental but it reaches me. What can I say? I have listened to a lot of cutting edge New Age music for a long time and this closer to that than any Pop music.

Apparently, Animal Collective is working on a new album that will be released in conjunction with a film. The film is to feature abstract visuals and some live action footage to accompany their music, which the band claims is some of the most experimental stuff they’ve ever done. The film has been submitted to the Sundance Festival and they would like to see it shown in movie theaters before it is eventually released on DVD. If that happens, I may invest in some LSD futures, because I have a hunch psychedelic drug sales would spike.

November 17, 2009 Posted by | Indie, New Age, Popular | Leave a comment

Challenging but appealing experimental music from Anata Wa Sukkari Tsukarete

‘Sweetness and Light is an experimental EP from Anata Wa Sukkari Tsukarete (Japanese for “You are completely tired”), a multi-national trio comprised of artists Gnomefoam, Bunny, and _. From the opening moments of the first track, “Forsake,” you know it is going to challenge your ear. A synthetic voice (a la Stephen Hawking) and cricket noises greet you before the song is taken over by heavily echoing noises and arrhythmic percussion. “Forsake” never gets easier, remaining mostly noise and atmosphere.

You are completely tired.

You are completely tired.

The second track, “Cataract” is a bit more musical, with keyboards and vocals picking out a meandering melody while scratching percussion and buzzing guitar keep things from getting too grounded.

‘Sweetness and Light’ is like this throughout. Anata Wa Sukkari Tsukarete are uninterested in traditional music forms, beyond how they can use and distort them to serve entirely new purposes. They compose pretty melodies to use as backdrops to atonal sounds and use traditional instruments mainly to twist their voices to new purposes. The effect can be haunting and even beautiful, but don’t expect to put this disc on with a roomful of friends and have everyone enjoy it – unless you and your friends are under the influence of some heavy psychedelics.

The first movement of the third track, “Bearskins,” features recited poetry and some demented keyboard work until it gives way to a more traditional New Age sounding synthesized song. It still shifts rapidly between musical sounds and effects until the third movement, which is a dreamier and even more melodic – beautiful, actually – than the rest of the song. This 8 ½ minute song is my favorite on ‘Sweetness and Light.’

The fourth track, “Sweetness and Light” is mostly solemn piano and distorted vocals. The melody is pretty and the vocals give way to effects as the song progresses, adding color and depth to the track. The lyrics that I could understand were dark, but it was still a pleasant and pretty song.

The closing track, “My Drive” uses an out-of-tune piano to start us out on a jarring, atonal note. Whispered, distorted vocals are sometimes accompanied by and sometimes obscured by synthesized effects. It definitely sets a mood, but the track is slow and not much happens, making it probably my least favorite.

It took a couple times through before I began to get this disc more. I have said before that the #1 thing I ask of musicians when listening to their music is don’t bore me. There were a few times on ‘Sweetness and Light’ that Anata Wa Sukkari Tsukarete lost me, but even then I was never bored. I did enjoy most of this disc and if you find yourself bored with the traditional music forms of Rock, Pop, and even Jazz, this disc will expose you to some new ideas that might even make their way back into popular music.

I was able to get this entire release here free yesterday. I found a link to this download while I was looking for a track listing (the copy I got to review for AltSounds wasn’t factory and had no track listings). I don’t know if the free download is supposed to be here or not. I figure if you hear it and like it, you may go purchase some of their other music so have at it.

http://www.myspace.com/awsts

September 28, 2009 Posted by | Alternative, Indie, New Age, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Friday Mix: My favorites from New Age pioneer Jean Michel Jarre

Even if you’re not a fan of New Age music, read on for a moment before you bail on this post. Jean Michel Jarre has been making music for 40 years and for most of that time, he’s been at the cutting edge of synthesized and electronic music. His spectacular outdoor concerts draw hundreds of thousands – and on a few notable occasions 1 to 3.5 million – people. In fact, he holds the record for the largest outdoor concerts.

One of his city-wide concerts, here projected over most of the Houston skyline.

One of his city-wide concerts, here projected over most of the Houston skyline.

I have heard his sound imitated everywhere from Rock music to car commercials and every time he releases a new album, I sit down with a pair of headphones to check it out. You may not like New Age music; lots of people don’t. This guy is pretty much the acknowledged master, though, and I’ve been following his career since I was 14 so here’s a sampling of his work.

  1. Arpegiateur – The Concerts in China
    This one was never released in the studio, but this live version is fantastic. Great syncopation built around a cool melody.
  2. March 23rd – Sessions 2000
    This is a very accessible tune. If you like Chillout music, there is nothing too outside about this. Some nice trumpet, cello, and some atmospherics.
  3. Oxygene IV – Oxygene
    This is probably his most famous song, released in 1976. He produced this album in a modest home studio on a small budget. After having some initial trouble even being published, the disc went on to sell over 12 million copies.
  4. Chronologie Part 5 – Chronologie
    I couldn’t decide between this and Part 8 from this album. The first movement of this track is two minutes long, then it kicks in.
  5. Night in Shanghai – The Concerts in China
    When the British embassy gave Radio Beijing copies of a couple Jarre albums, they were the first pieces of foreign music to be played on Chinese national radio in decades. A series of concerts followed, recordings of which were released in 1982. This one is pretty cool.
  6. Equinoxe 2 – Equinoxe
    This one is from the follow-up to his breakthrough album Oxygene. It’s a patient, oozy, ambient tune that highlights his skill at creating an atmosphere.
  7. El Dorado – Images: The Best of Jean Michel Jarre
    Jarre is able to add such color and texture to simple melodies that they’re interesting to hear. The video’s a bit goofy, but then I’m not sure who made it.
  8. Miss Moon – Metamorphoses
    A steady but cool tune. Again, it’s a simple melody but the stuff he adds in production is fantastic and lets it hold up to repeated listens.
  9. Oxygene 11 – Oxygene 7 – 13
    21 years after the release of Oxygene, Jarre released a sequel to the album. The goal was to create a seamless composition of all 13 songs. Amazingly, he succeeded. He used the same instruments and sounds and created a disc that flows perfectly when played after the first album. This is my favorite cut from the newer release.
  10. Fifth Rendezvous (Ron’s Piece) – Rendezvous
    A tragic history to this song. Jarre was invited to play a concert in Houston. He was inspired by the city’s skyline and history of space flight and wanted to integrate it into his show and the album on which he was working at the time. Astronaut Ron McNair had taken a saxophone with him on the Challenger shuttle mission to play this composition during the concert via a live link. Of course, the shuttle exploded and McNair was killed. The concert went as scheduled, but with Kirk Whalum on sax. The song was retitled Ron’s Piece.
  11. Tokyo Kid – Revolutions
    Funky percussion, foggy atmospherics, and occasional muted trumpet make this a great song. Industrial Revolutions off this album is also great, but I could only find live versions and covers on YouTube.
  12. Ethnicolor I – Zoolook
    This is by far his weirdest album, and that’s saying something. Most of the sounds on this disc are modified recordings of human speech and song. There are a few exceptions. Chicago beat poet Laurie Anderson provides vocals on a couple tracks. The bass in the second half of this song is played by King Crimson’s Adrian Belew (though not in this video). Here is an edit of four live versions that sounds remarkably like the studio version.
  13. Magnetic Fields Part III – Magnetic Fields
    This is not my favorite track but it is a good one off my favorite Jarre album. The transition between tracks 2 and 3 (of which you hear the very end in this clip) is actually my favorite, if you ever get a chance to listen. It’s creepy, then uplifting before an abrupt change to this up-tempo synth piece. This is a representative track from the album, though

I pretty much picked one song from each of his albums I own (I believe there are a few I don’t have). There are no Jarre albums on which I like every track, but all the albums have several outstanding songs. Perhaps start with Oxygene or Magnetic Fields if you’re interested in exploring his catalog.

June 19, 2009 Posted by | New Age, Uncategorized, World Music | Leave a comment

Sweet and beautiful music from Shadowfax

I’m going to shift gears a bit today and recommend one of my very favorite albums. This is a New Age disc from the band Shadowfax. WAIT! WAIT! Stay with me here a minute. It’s worth it. New Age gets a bad rap because of people like Enya and Yanni, but there really is some great, vital music that gets shelved with that stuff. This is one such disc.

Because you wouldn't be reading this if you didn't have an open mind.

Because you wouldn't be reading this if you didn't have an open mind.

The album Shadowfax was released in 1982 and hit # 19 on the Billboard Jazz Albums chart. The band has had as many as 13 members, but only 5 of the regulars appeared on this disc. This is the most peaceful, relaxing disc I have and it is full of beautiful songs. I like it start to finish and have introduced it to my daughter, who likes to put it on at bed time.

Every track on this disc is on my iPod. Here they are, briefly:

  • Angel’s Flight – Acoustic guitar backs up Chuck Greenberg’s Lyricon on a pretty little melody.
  • Vajra – More acoustic guitar, saxophone, and all kinds of percussion: marimba, rhythm log, bell tree, and tambourine.
  • Wheel of Dreams – The Lyricon is back on a dreamy and wandering tune.
  • Oriental Eyes – The mood is completely set by the percussion in this song, but the electric piano, saxophone, and Lyricon each have their own sweet melody that they take turns playing.
  • Move the Clouds – This song is a sunset to the sunrise of the last song. This one might be the least interesting track by itself, but it fits very well into the sequence of songs on the disc.
  • A Thousand Teardrops – As sad as the title suggests but not as heavy handed. They do more improvisational work on this track than most of the others.
  • Ariki (Hummingbird Spirit) – Another song that hangs on the percussion, it features saxophone and an occasional bird-like whistle
  • Marie – The disc ends with a very sleepy tune with inventive saxophone and guitar solos.

Listening to a series of samples may not do this disc justice. Pick up a copy of the disc and listen to it in order. I would almost guarantee that at the end of your night or on a Sunday morning, this will hit you right.

March 25, 2009 Posted by | New Age | 2 Comments