The Road – Cormac McCarthy

It’s been a “bookish” day today. I sped up to town when I found out that Foyles in London had some work in stock by a poet I’ve been wanting to read for some time. I want to blog about her later this weekend, once I’ve had a chance to actually read some of her work in depth. But browsing amongst the books today got me thinking about those that have really had an impact and whose words have stayed with me, echoing inside. There are, as you can imagine, quite a few. And yet I’ve been a little reticent to mention books on my blog. And I’m not sure why. So perhaps that’s something I should remedy.

One of the books that really slammed into me (metaphorically speaking) was The Road by Cormac McCarthy. It wasn’t simply the harrowing story of a post-apocalyptic world that stirred the emotions but the central relationship at the heart of the story – that between a father and son. I’m a sucker (as they say) for anything remotely connected to fathers and sons. And The Road is a particularly moving account of a deep and abiding love; one which is surprisingly tender despite the savagery of the bleak and desolate landscape in which the father and son journey across.

If you’ve only heard of or seen the film I urge you to try the book. As is often the case, watching the film isn’t a patch on reading the book. McCarthy’s prose is nearly radically minimalist – even the dialogue is almost desperately sparse:

“Just remember that the things you put into your head are there forever, he said. You might want to think about that.
You forget some things, don’t you?
Yes. You forget what you want to remember and you remember what you want to forget.”

Yet because of their brevity every sentence seems to count. It’s this minimalism and the intensity of the images that the author paints in your mind that are almost impossible to translate to a screen and much of the quiet, contained power of those swift sentences is lost in the translation.

Where that power, intensity and tenderness have translated well though has been into the incredible sore for the film. Composed by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis the music is really quite beautiful and is almost a perfect evocation of the soul-stirring words contained within the book. Below are two of the standout tracks. And as for the book? It may sound utterly depressing and it’s true that it’s no easy read in terms of tone but it’s very far from maudlin or morbid and for something to tug at the heart-strings it’s very hard to beat…

Play track: The Road

Play track: The Beach

A Winged Victory For The Sullen

This could well be the late-night album you’ve always dreamed of. It’s a collaboration between the composer Dustin O’Halloran and Adam Wiltzie (from Sparklehorse). It’s entirely instrumental, consisting primarily of drone like strings, and it slips between neo-classical, ambient and post-rock spaces like honey. It’s like a balm for everything that hurts.

If ever music demanded that time-worn cliché of turning the lights down low and lighting the candles – then this is it. It’s beautiful, haunting and incredibly evocative. But you need to turn those lights down…

Sun’s Gone Dim and The Sky’s Turned Black

Here is the original video for the music I found whilst watching a trailer for a trashy Hollywood movie earlier this week. I’ll be posting about the album from which it’s taken soon.

The song is called, Sun’s Gone Dim and The Sky’s Turned Black. Director, Nikolai Galitzin was commissioned to make the video. Instead of creating a singular vision he asked four of his filmmaker friends to journey to Iceland and shoot five different stories, one story for each filmmaker. The five films were then combined into one, in a variation of the game of Cadavre Exquis.

On first viewing the result doesn’t quite seem to work – the disparate strands seem…well, just a little too disparate. But watch again and you start to see the connecting threads emerge. Whether you get the visuals or not, the music is undoubtedly powerful and the project as a whole brilliantly original. Take a look and see what you think…

Standing in Silence

My it’s been one hell of a week. Long, despite the bank holiday Monday. And so, at its end, here is what I am sitting back and enveloping myself in. It’s by Rhian Sheehan (a composer from New Zealand who is better known for his compositions for TV). The recording is from a live concert he gave in Auckland this year – Standing in Silence.

I hope you enjoy it.


Jóhann Jóhannsson – And In The Endless Pause There Came The Sound Of Bees

I stumbled across a remarkable soundtrack yesterday by the Icelandic composer, Jóhann Jóhannsson. I came across it in the unlikeliest of ways. I was watching the trailer to Battle: Los Angeles (yes, yes I know) which looks utter tripe but the music was really compelling (as you can hear if you click on the link) and I just had to find out who composed it. It was Jóhannsson.

As I was heading in to London anyway I thought I’d drop in at HMV to see which of his CDs they had in stock. And this is what I came away with. It isn’t the music featured on the trailer but it’s an achingly beautiful album. And as it’s available on soundcloud I thought I’d embed it here.

It’s an outstanding mix of choral, orchestral and electronic elements creating a truly haunting, nakedly emotional work. Some of it is very dark. In fact the track, Escape is one of the darkest things I’ve heard in some time. It begins with a drone of strings, a cello drags itself from the mire and then the most extraordinary electro-acoustic moan bellows forth before a choir joins to pull the track back into the darkness. It is a vividly spectral listen.

If you’ve been a little stressed lately (as I have) then this hugely satisfying collection of tracks could be just what you need to hear. Set the lights low and turn the volume up – this is a truly moving and memorable piece of music…

Explosions in the Sky

Listening to Codes in the Clouds this week galvanized me to find similarly majestic and inspiring music. I needed to escape. And I found quite a few bands that are new to me and whose CDs are now winging their way to my living room. One I’m really keen to hear in particular is Explosions in the Sky. For more than a decade this four piece instrumental rock band have been creating music that, in their words,”immediately grabs your attention and gets to your emotions”. And the songs I’ve heard so far do exactly that.

Despite having played together for so long they’ve only just released their first video. It’s truly gorgeous. And here it is. Plug in the headphones and take a trip…

Codes in the Clouds

Yesterday I bought a raft of new music from the record label, Erased Tapes. It was discovering this label that helped to inspire this blog. Hearing the music the label puts out for the first time just made me want to rush out and tell everyone about it, “listen to this!” I wanted to cry. “Isn’t it beautiful…” And so this blog was born. And now, here I am again saying the same thing.

It’s difficult to convey the impact some of this wonderfully crafted and curated label’s music has had on me. It goes with me everywhere. It has, almost literally, soundtracked quite a large proportion of my daily travels. And that’s quite fitting because some call much of the label’s output, “cinematic music”. And yet it’s wonderfully free of the restraints that traditional cinematic music or soundtracks can have; with their pre-determined narrative and structure which become indelibly glued to them. With this music you are free to create your own narrative, your own soundtrack, your own story.

One of my favourite bands on the label is, Codes in the Clouds.  I plug myself into their world of roaring highs and simmering lows and just for those few snatched moments on the way to work or after a long day as I make my way home, I dream…

Play track: Don’t Go Awash In This Digital Landscape (feat. Paul Mullen)

Play track: Distant Street Lights (iambic remix)

Play track: We Anchor In Hope (Tom Hodge remix)

You can buy the album these tracks feature on by clicking: this link