Yes, A Couple Of People Did Notice, Which Was Nice / Best Albums of 2013

It’s a while ago now, but happy new year!  And if it wasn’t a new year for you (see here for dates of new years for different calendars, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Year), then in any case all the best for the year ahead.

I appreciated the couple of responses and new followers I got after the last post, including a suggestion for the focus of the next one, which was favourite album of 2013.  After giving it as much thought as I want to I can’t say there is one album that really stands out above the rest.  However there are a number I strongly recommend, some of which you will have heard of and some you won’t, but don’t be biased by what you think of the artist, check their albums out – you may get a nice surprise.  The contenders in alphabetical order by artist name are;

  • Esben And The Witch, Wash The Sins Not Only The Face – part of the witch house genre, apparently; gothic guitars & drums, ethereal vocals, with disarmingly catchy tunes
  • Foals, Holy Fire – top quality pop songs with an epic prog rock sound
  • John Grant, Pale Green Ghosts – an odd mixture that shouldn’t work but does, and brilliantly; somber story-telling & soul-bearing Americana, sprinkled with self-depreciating humour, all to danceable mid-tempo electro
  • Jon Hopkins, Immunity – the soundtrack to a night out & the morning after, part club part ambient, intense & beautiful; reviewed in my blog of 14th Aug 2013
  • Lady Gaga, ARTPOP – fun and filthy, relentlessly bonkers and lots about bonking
  • Maps, Vicissitude – an album for any time of the day or night, that somehow always shimmers & shines even on the sad songs.

Thinking about all this great music brings a smile to my face.  And it’s a sunny day outside, finally, so I’m going to get outside now and make the most of the break in the wind & rain.

Have a listen to at least one of the above & let me know your thoughts, & share them around.

Until next time…

Advertisements
Posted in Music | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Had Anyone Noticed?

So, three months have passed since I did my last weekly blog entry.  Er, oops!  I feel like I should explain / make my excuses, and though I don’t need to when I sit down to write this blog it feels like writing a diary entry where you are working through events or problems you’ve encountered.  Or it could be like writing a list of things to do so you don’t have to carry them around in your head anymore.  So I have to explain, in part to re-emphasise to myself the lessons to learn from this year;

  1. The new job moved in to the post-honeymoon-period phase, which has taken quite a bit of energy to keep on top of.  The lesson there is to keep the work-life balance in perspective and not over-commit.
  2. Another big change has been my daughter going off to university – it’s great she’s gone off to do this, but I do miss her, and our son should be off in two years too!  With this one it’s made me think you shouldn’t under-estimate the affect change has on you, and it’s important to reconcile it with yourself properly.
  3. Thirdly, there’s been time spent assisting both my kidults with studies, which has been brilliant and I feel honoured they have asked for the help.
  4. And finally, my own new music, which I have to credit my wife for helping me with by being fine with me spending time on it and providing quality control on the music and particularly the vocals.

What of the new music?  Well for this week I will just post a link to the 1st of 4 tracks I have ready to share online.  This is Like The Colour Has Come From Within, track 4 from the Unnoticed EP, a song about lessons learnt and new beginnings which seems appropriate for what I was talking about above and with the New Year almost upon us;

https://soundcloud.com/night-owl-uk/like-the-colour-has-come-from.

Enjoy!

And hopefully I will be writing to you again next week… very early in the new year…

Posted in Music | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Promise Broken! Fixed?

Well, I should have known that as soon as I asserted I wasn’t going to break my commitment to a post every week, I would!  It’s been a tough and exhausting couple of weeks as a counter-balance to which I’ve been listening to either upbeat up-tempo songs or something very mellow, but nothing hard or heavy.  I’ve also been working on a lot of my own material.  I now have 5 tracks underway for the album I’m planning which is genuinely really exciting! – a smiley face might be appropriate but it would trivialize how good this feels!

Although I have only listened to it all the way through a couple of times, I strongly recommend Goldfrapp’s new album Tales Of Us.  It is a very soothing affair, and the videos they have released to go along with two of the tracks accentuate the sensuality that pervades all the songs.  Having only listened to it on my iPod, I see this as an introduction to the album – the download came through on email for those who bought the album on vinyl or box set from Goldfrapp’s online shop;

http://goldfrapp.sandbaghq.com/store/tales-of-us-deluxe-box-set-pre-order.html.

I am really looking forward to receiving the LP as it should sound exquisite played through my lovely old hi-fi.

Similarly delicate is an old ballad of mine, Hadn’t You Noticed?, that I’ve been working on amongst other things.  Originally imagined as a vocal accompanied simply by piano, it has only ever existed in a version with acoustic guitar.  A university friend came up with a melody on his guitar for this track and several others, which we did very rough recordings of and I still have on cassette tape.  That version is in a lower key and faster than I’d really like, so I’ve been transposing it and coming up with a melody that works on the piano.  A work in progress still, but it sounds and feels very positive.

These last two week’s musical activities have been very cathartic…

Have a peaceful week.

Posted in Music, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

No Broken Promises Here

Last week’s blog was a relatively mammoth effort to put together and it’s been a tough week at work since then, so it would be a boon to pass on this week’s installment.  Yet I’m determined to keep it up, though I’ll have to keep it brief.

First off I think the track I uploaded last week via this blog deserves another plug.  It’s a 3 minute demo of a more electro–sounding track than the Wondrous EP I “released” earlier this year.  It’s called Delirium and is a bit of a grimy number in both the sleazy and urban-music-genre meanings of the word;

https://soundcloud.com/night-owl-uk/delirium-tremens-demo.

The second and new part of this piece is that I’ve discovered a guy at work who is the lead singer of a proper band, called Broken Links – they have a proper website, a CD out, their album on itunes, they tour and even have merchandise!  And they are a band that have the influences I empathise with and a style I appreciate.  What are the chances of that?!  And after some music sharing I am pretty chuffed that this band are now following me on Soundcloud!  So this is a plug for them.  You can find them at

http://www.brokenlinksmusic.co.uk,

buy all their releases on physical format at

http://brokenlinks.bandcamp.com

and buy the digital version of their album, Disasters: Ways To Leave A Scene, at

https://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/disasters-ways-to-leave-scene/id576523068.

So that’s it for this week.

Be well.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Acid Reign

A month or so ago there were really positive reviews going around of the compilation Acid Rain, Definitive Original Acid & Deep House 1985-1991.  I’ve always liked the trademark acid sound of squelchy, modulating electro bass, and there have been some top quality acid-influenced mainstream tracks and albums over the years… like the Pet Shop Boys’ 1988 album Introspective album that I mentioned a few weeks back – there, that’s my need for linking between posts satisfied.

So I purchased a physical copy of the Acid Rain compilation, purely for research purposes obviously.  I’ve listened to the whole 6½ hours of 60 tracks several times since, walking to & from work, at the gym, at home! – I think I might have had too much acieeed.  Most people will think of D-Mob’s We Call It Acieeed when anyone mentions acid house, and while this is a fun song it doesn’t represent what the genre was really about.  It does have a funny video though, to my sense of humour anyway;

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FEdiOBz4zeM,

Unsurprisingly then this track is not on Acid Rain.  Actually I would have called the collection “Acid Reign” as it is an epitaph to the years when Chicago and acid were at the forefront of house music worldwide.  Acid Rain is a track in its own right by Victor Romeo that fuses the acid house and deep house genres the compilation covers.  Purer acid house is more earnest and uncompromising, an excellent example being Phuture’s Acid Trax.  If you haven’t heard this kind of thing before I would listen to it in a pitch black room, and I mean really listen, as this music really does weave and wind itself inside and out, and around you – it is intricate and hypnotic…  I would even go as far as getting yourself a strobe and some friends round to recreate that night club feel;

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OeHmTzB-ztU.

To my ears acid house also has a dark insidious quality, and some of the tracks on this collection have reinforced that perception.  I had never before heard Bam Bam’s Where’s Your Child?, which you could interpret on several levels.  You might want the lights on the first time you listen to this one;

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BYhixCDMNPA.

House music got its name from The Warehouse club in Chicago where it was born in the early 1980s, but it wasn’t until 1987 that acid house fully emerged.  Yet five years before and on the other side of the world Bollywood musician Charanjit Singh had produced an album called Synthesizing: Ten Ragas to a Disco Beat, which is now cited as the first acid house record.  He had used the same type of Roland synthesisers the DJs and producers in Chicago went on to use, and clearly there was also common ground in terms of melody.  Charanjit’s album was a commercial failure when released in 1982, but since being rediscovered in 2002 has received justified recognition.  The opening track Raga Bhairav gives you the flavour;

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=conwt8Dy27Y.

Many months before commencing on this rediscovery of acid house I had started working on some new songs of my own, and was experimenting with the sounds that suited them best.  One of the tracks, currently with working title Delirium, was high on the beats per minute scale, 140 BPM to be precise, and I felt suited a more clubby sound than the atmospheric feel of the EP I finished in May this year.  The subject matter for the song lent itself to a grimier urban feel, hence the choice of beats and percussion, but then I needed something to reflect the lyrical climax of the verse/chorus which I decided was a break out of acid-like instrumentation.  Maybe the resurgence of interest in acid house is because of producing this track…

As a “treat” to those few people who have been asking for some new material from me, I’ve uploaded the first 3 minutes of the demo of Delirium Tremens for you to listen to.  Note that this has been done on an 8 track recorder, with the vocals done in 1 take and no mastering, so it is best listened to through headphones or earphones.  So after all that anti-hype, here is Delirium (Demo);

https://soundcloud.com/night-owl-uk/delirium-tremens-demo.

I don’t know about you, but I now feel the need for something more wholesome in next week’s blog.

Have a wholesome week.

Posted in Music, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What’s Your Name?!

In last week’s blog I posted a link to the DJ mix Jon Hopkins did for FACT magazine two months ago.  I have listened to it several times again since, and this hour-long continuous mix continues to impress.  So as it is still available to download for free and I think you should listen to it repeatedly until you appreciate the quality, here is the link that will take you to the download and lists the tracks within it;

http://www.factmag.com/2013/06/24/fact-mix-388-jon-hopkins/.

One of the tracks within the mix is Ascending by an artist called Actress, which is taken from his 2012 album R.I.P. and was a favourite album of mine from last year.  And yes I did say “his” album.

Actress is the most-often-used pseudonym for electronic musician Darren J. Cunningham.  Originally from West Bromwich, a town in the UK’s English Midlands, he was set on a career as a professional footballer about 15 years ago, but injury put an end to that.  From interviews I’ve read it was like he was looking for solace and something to focus on after this “crushing decision”, and he found them in music, initially Detroit techno and classic house, the start points from which he developed his own style.  And while this style has the earnest, driving sense of those genres, he uses melodies and sounds to achieve that in place of those genres’ hard, uncompromising beats.  His songs are of hugely varying length and structure, and the complexity of the music indicates Darren Cunningham would have been one of the most intelligent footballers of his generation.

Moving to East London and going under the name of Actress, Darren Cunningham has released three albums, including the latest R.I.P., and several EPs, as well as becoming a highly rated DJ in the capital’s cooler club scene.  With the footballing background and the style of music you wonder where the moniker came from, and I haven’t found it explained on the internet anywhere – and the name Actress certainly doesn’t make searching out information easy…  It also leads me to wonder how important the choice of name is, but that is for discussion another time.

R.I.P. is released by Honest Jon records whose website describes the album as “a suite of electronic laments, tone structures and dreamtime rhythms, with a conceptual arc taking in death, life, sleep and religion”.  The cover art is consistent with this theme also, and reflects how the music was developed using mathematically-based methods, as it is an abstract image of a praying man in black-and-white made up of geometric shapes.  It is an album that works well either played loud at some future-dance festival or quietly to soothe your soul.  This link takes you to a 14 minute preview of the whole album, with a minute or so from each track;

https://soundcloud.com/experimedia/actress-r-i-p-album-preview.

Having listened all the way through this preview I am not sure now whether to go to the gym for a work out to R.I.P. at high volume or to head off to bed to be lulled to sleep with this beauty…  I think I will do both.

Be rested.

Posted in Music | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Immunity From Monsters

After last week’s retrospective piece, I feel the need to bring things bang up to date.  This leads to the question of how does one find out about new music these days.  There is of course still the radio and there are many stations out there catering for every genre you could think of.  But if I’d been writing this only 2 years ago I would have been talking about trips to the local “record shop”, chain or independent, for the latest release.  Alas they are few & far between these days, with only chart-entering releases available to buy locally in supermarkets.  So one of my regular weekend pursuits is to scour broadsheet newspapers’ arts sections, online music reviews and independent record store websites for pointers to interesting new music, and then sample the tracks wherever I can hear them most in full.  This is modern life, and it is good and bad.

An example of good occurred a couple of months ago when I came across a review of the album Immunity by Jon Hopkins.  While I hadn’t heard of this artist before I was intrigued.  There was a premise to the album of a musician locking up his London studio after a hard day’s work, going out for a night of clubbing and then heading home through the city streets in the early hours.  And then the article mentioned his previous work, the soundtrack for Monsters, a British independent film from 2010.  I remembered how evocative the music was, being largely ambient pieces for a very different aliens-on-Earth movie.  So I had a listen online to only a couple of tracks from Immunity and I was convinced it was a good buy, and I have listened to it a lot.  And I’ve bought the Monsters soundtrack also and enjoyed that too.

As for Immunity itself, the lead single Open Eye Signal is the best place to start to get the feel of it;

http://www.jonhopkins.co.uk/Audio.html.

This is one of the tracks that form the first half of the album, where we are in some subterranean club and are being carried along by deep chords, bass beats, clicks, crackles and shuffles, with only strobe lights to see by.  I particularly like Collider, a track towards the end of this sequence, which is built around a pulsing beat and single-note bass line – yet it is almost like a classical piece of several movements.  The second half of the album is the trip home from the club, which does really evoke the feeling of a town or city in the hours before and at dawn.  And then after seven purely instrumental tracks, the last song, Immunity itself, has these whispered hopeful vocals reminiscent of Mark Hollis from Talk Talk.  Listening to the album from start to end you truly get the sense of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.

If you can’t afford to buy anything right now then here is a link to an excellent mix Jon Hopkins has done for FACT magazine, incorporating tracks of his own tracks and from other artists;

https://soundcloud.com/factmag/fact-mix-388-jon-hopkins-jun.

At time of writing you can stream and download this for FREE!

The film Monsters is worth checking out also.  The trailer is here;

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QmR-l3y_coo.

It might be classed as science fiction, but I like it more for the very touching tale it tells in several aspects and without being sentimental.  The Mexican setting makes a change also.  And by the end of film you end up asking yourself who actually were the monsters?

Well, I’ve actually taken you from Immunity to Monsters, but why out of all that is great and good in the musical world this year did I choose to highlight Jon Hopkins?  Because, as well as being about something bang up to date, there had to be a link from last week’s blog, and it is that he has been supporting the PSBs on their Electric tour this year.  I like threads, and themes… and purpose.

Have a purposeful week!

Posted in Movies, Music | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Let The Music Play Forever?

The first question I felt I should ask myself following last week’s post was did I practice what I’d preached and do something different every day.  Well, I managed it… and it was an effort I can tell you;

  1. Thurs – went in to London & took the bus rather than the underground, which meant we saw so much more of London-life than usual.
  2. Fri – rather than having movie night, watched the documentary Churchill’s First World War from BBC Four, which was very informative.
  3. Sat – had a sort out & finally threw away lots of old VHS tapes.
  4. Sun – spent the whole day doing manual labour in the garden (not my thing!) + evening trip to the pub = 2 different things in 1 day
  5. Mon – had my own private little rebellion & didn’t go in to work for the mandatory 08.30 meeting, although did go in for the 09.00 one
  6. Tues – rather than crashing on the sofa after a very long day at work (06.00-21.00) I took our old dog out for a walk… & then we both crashed on the sofa!
  7. Wed – got in touch with an old friend from school who I haven’t spoken to in years

While they might not be life-changing, some of them proved really rewarding.

To the main purpose of this week’s post then, which is to wrap up the introduction to this blog by explaining the tagline “Let The Music Play Forever!”   Twenty-five years ago this October the album Introspective was released, an album that combined the euphoria of dance music with reflective lyrical themes, and all as a homage to the 12” single – there are only 6 tracks on Introspective, each clocking in at between 6 & 10 minutes.  It’s Alright is the 9½ minute uplifting finale, the first 4 minutes of which could have been edited in to a single, with the next 3½ mins being an instrumental build up & break down, and the remainder of the song being a choral climax – brilliant!  This song has the lyrics “And the music plays forever / It goes on and on and on” and “Let your body move tonight”.  However, having searched out the lyrics I’ve realized I’ve been misremembering for some time now that the line is sung “Let the music play forever”, like some kind of devotee’s plea!  I still like this idea though and it seemed appropriate for the tagline.  The best quality version I’ve found online is this one, which someone has ripped from the vinyl LP;

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ArI1twPW7do.

Now you’ve gone to that page you’ll know it’s a Pet Shop Boys track, if you didn’t already.  I hadn’t mentioned the artist on purpose as I didn’t want to trigger any preconceptions that would stop you from clicking the link.  And if you didn’t play the track because it’s them, then make your different thing for the day to have a listen…

What even someone who is familiar with the PSBs might not know is that It’s Alright was originally a track from 1987 by Sterling Void, with Paris Brightledge on vocals.  They were both active in the Chicago house music scene in the late 1980s, who appear to have done little for 15 years and then started putting put records again a few years ago, including a new collaboration Let Loose The Light.  But back to It’s Alright, here’s their original;

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ArXtZ478nQI.

Listening to it you realize how close the first 4 mins of the PSBs’ version are to that, but also how much they added.

As with a lot of electronic music, there are a plethora of alternative mixes particularly when a track is released as a single, which the PSBs did with It’s Alright in June 1989, and they did a major rework on it.  Out of all 6 versions released across the various single formats there is one that is worth listening to in my view, and it isn’t the mix Sterling Void did in return – it’s the Extended Version of the single mix.  It’s free-form & hypnotic at the same time, and good evidence in the case for the defence of remixes – a topic in itself;

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ytb0RuWfpl0.

… Well I’m not going to go on forever (ho ho), so until next time… be alright.

Posted in Music | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Do Something Different Every Day

A couple of years ago I was given the same piece of advice from several different and completely independent sources.

The first instance was as part of a 360° feedback exercise on individual performance at work, & it was “Do different things”.  I took this as an interesting observation, but nothing more, as the person who provided this feedback didn’t know me that well.  There is a point to explore in there about perceptions, but it isn’t for now & I may come back to it in the future.

The second instance was a few months later in a support group workshop on how to deal with redundancy, which several hundred of us were subject to.  There was particular concern for the many people who had been with the same employer for several decades, even since school, that they were going to struggle with the much greater uncertainty in their lives, never mind the challenge of actually finding alternative employment.  The advice given by one of the workshop leaders was to “Do something different every day”.  The assertion was that our routines too easily turn in to ruts, and that we need to prompt or even challenge ourselves to do different things to our norm to avoid the rut.

It was one of those moments when an idea resonates, and while I haven’t applied this rule religiously (u-hum, by any means), it is a principle I refer back to & act on when I sense I’m falling in to a rut.

So my different thing for today is to start this blog!  It is my wife Alice’s idea, which she has suggested previously, so maybe one of my future different things should be to act on someone’s advice or idea the first time they give it!  Alice’s thought was that I should write a blog in which I review music I’m listening to, pulling on some years of knowledge I’ve built up, and to keep a record of what I’m doing with producing my own music (currently going under the name of Night Owl).  She says this isn’t in place of me talking to / at her about music… We’ll see.

As I like things to have purpose I wondered what I could achieve with a blog, and in thinking about that I recalled a conversation with a friend a few weeks ago about the EP I’ve produced.  Despite it not being of a style he listens to, he was really positive about what I’d done & had some very useful advice for improving the production.  But the best part of the conversation was when he said that after listening to my tracks he felt inspired to get back in to making his own music again which he hasn’t done in years.   I thought this was brilliant!  And it has given me the idea for my “manifesto”, which is to promote the inspiration that can be got from music, directly & indirectly, both listening to it (& I mean really listening, not just as background – a future theme) & creating it.  All that said, each blog, which I plan to be weekly, will have a music review of some kind, but hopefully with a bit of a different perspective.

One more point I want to explain is the tagline of the blog; “Let The Music Play Forever!”  But I’ll make that the subject of my next blog as it’s a lyric from a song with a bit of history to it.

In the mean time, be well & do something different, at least today.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments