Can you believe it’s nearly winter. How time flies by. So, whilst we’re on the cusp of ever darker and colder evenings it seemed fitting to revisit one of my favourite winter albums, which is called (rather fittingly) Wintermusik. It’s by the contemporary composer Nils Frahm. The songs were originally a Christmas present for friends but it was then put out in a limited edition on CD. It’s a beautiful record –  uplifting, yet with a tinge of sorrow. And it’s perfect for a Sunday evening as the dark creeps in and the temperature drops. Here is one of the 3 tracks. It is well worth finding a copy if you can – there are 5 copies left on amazon at the time of writing this, which you can find by clicking: here

Frahm has also just released a new album called Felt, which The Hype Machine is streaming in its entirety. It ‘s much more minimalistic than Wintermusik but there are some lovely moments. I can’t seem to embed the stream here but you can find it by clicking:
The Hype Machine – Nils Frahm: Felt

The Magical World of the Strands

The Guardian is running a brilliant column in their music section. Each week one of their writers picks their favourite album and this week’s choice is particularly good.

Journalist, Andy Capper has chosen The Magical World of the Strands by Michael Head and the Strands. It’s a great record and I couldn’t do it any more justice than he does in his brilliant write-up, which you can read by clicking here

So, why am I blogging about it here? Well, because the CD of the album is long out of print and two of the key tracks (especially Something Like You, which Capper talks about so poignantly in the column) deserve to be heard (right now!) So here they are. Hope you enjoy them.

Ólafur Arnalds – Living Room Songs

The brilliant Icelandic musician/composer Ólafur Arnalds is creating and releasing a new song each day for a week starting on Monday. As the name suggests, these songs will be filmed and recorded in his living room and then made available for free as downloadable MP3’s and streamed videos.

Now I grant you, the prospect of someone releasing songs from their living room doesn’t necessarily fill one with anticipation and wonder but this is no ordinary musician we’re talking about here. The last time he did something similar was in 2008 when he composed, recorded and released a song a day for a week as part of a project called Found Songs. The result of that project was a brilliant album and one of my all time favourite songs, which inspired an equally amazing video.  I blogged about the video back in December 2009 and you can click here to watch it if you like. It’s pretty beautiful.

To watch the videos and download the songs just go to the Living Room Songs project website. Despite the rather stilted intro video that’s up at the moment, from Monday there should be some magic…

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…

Mogwai – Earth Division EP

Scottish post-rockers Mogwai’s new EP is out on September 12th but it’s already available to listen to via soundcloud.
It’s really rather a lush EP favouring chamber instrumentation and a hint of neo-classicism with just a sprinkling of twinkling guitars and woozy harmonicas.

The first track is a particularly fetching piano ditty whilst the second introduces those harmonicas and, unusually for Mogwai, a vocal track. The third sees the band back on all too familiar territory with some scratchy guitar noise but stick with it because about 2 minutes in and boom – the guitars fall away and in come the strings with gorgeous effect. The set finishes on a classic post-rock note and a typically catching melody. It’s a great EP and the tracks are well worth a listen. So here they are…

A Sonnet

Sonnet XVII

I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz,
or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off.
I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that never blooms
but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers;
thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance,
risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.
I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;
so I love you because I know no other way

than this: where I does not exist, nor you,
so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,
so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.

– Pablo Neruda

Click to listen

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…

Zoë Keating – Voice of the Cello

The cello. One of my favourite instruments. It is said that it is the one which most resembles the human voice. Perhaps that accounts for how emotive and haunting it can be to listen to.

Zoë Keating is an incredible cellist. Classically trained from an early age she actually cut her teeth playing with a variety of rock bands  but is now regarded as a one-woman orchestra thanks to her use of sampling technology. She samples her playing and solo performances to create multiple layers and textures of sound and the results are often quite stunning and sublime.

She takes, as she says, a “label-less” approach to releasing her music and does so via Bandcamp (the site I talked about in my previous post). Although you can buy her CDs from amazon and itunes as well. Below is a track from her first EP, One Cello x16 and her latest album, Into The Trees. They’re both fantastic.
If you love what you hear, I urge you to click on the links and buy a copy so that she can keep making beautiful music. I think she’s an amazing talent.


Is the Internet Killing Culture?

A new book has been published recently called, Free Ride: How Digital Parasites Are Destroying the Culture Business, and How the Culture Business Can Fight Back. It’s by Robert Levine who used to work for Billboard magazine, so he should know a bit about cultural content. And I am certain he does – but his book is flawed.

Bashing the internet
Internet bashing has become the latest fashion – it’s killing culture, changing the way our brains work by feeding us content in little bite-size chunks rather than in enormous and suitably weighty tomes, or it’s  constricting our horizons (rather than expanding them) thanks to our experiences on the net becoming more and more tailored to our individual likes and dislikes.

Books like Levine’s have provocative titles and make compelling, emotive arguments but they’re actually pretty conservative, as this brilliant review of the book by the Observer highlights. Now I’m not advocating piracy by any means (I am totally against it) but one of the things I love about the internet is the amazing discoveries you can make – especially when it comes to content. Levine is wrong – the internet isn’t stifling creativity at all. It’s providing a platform to millions of people to unleash their creativity in ways that only a few years ago would have been unimaginable.

The delivery of art and culture 
Forms of art and culture have grown and morphed and adapted over thousands of years – from paintings in caves to sunflowers to concertos to beds and tents and neon signs. But the way they have been delivered to audiences has completely ossified. Stagnated. Typically housed or played behind closed doors in galleries, opera houses, concert halls with all of the barriers to entry and potential inconveniences one could think of – expense, parking, transport, opening and closing hours, not to mention that what you are seeing is usually curated, directed and programmed by someone else. Essentially meaning that they have selected, organised and decided what is of value for you to see and how you do so. This can be a valuable thing of course – expertise in any field is to be admired and respected and can teach us a great deal. And there is nothing quite like the thrill of seeing a Van Gogh in the flesh (so to speak) or hearing a live concert surrounded by the buzz of a live audience or seeing the glint of an actor’s eye as they command a stage. But it is not the only way, it is not even the best way. It is simply – a way.

The deomcratisation of the arts
There are so many inherent barriers to entry in how the arts have traditionally been delivered to audiences that it is little wonder that art and culture can be seen as being for the privileged few. But the internet has completely changed all that. It has decimated and destroyed many of those barriers. It has completely democratised not only the tools of artistic creation (think of all the things you can do now with apps with even the most rudimentary skills) but more importantly it has also democratised the tools of distribution. That’s where the real power lies. And a LOT of people don’t like that. Personally – I love it.

Of course there are those who abuse and take and steal – it is a sad fact of human nature. We covet and prefer to take what we cannot afford to buy. Is this a malaise of the internet or a reflection of the shifting values of our society and culture. I think the latter. The internet is, simply, a platform. One for all sorts of people – both with good and questionable motives. But not everyone steals culture and content. Despite what the doom-mongers would have us believe. The fact is that, as Evgeny Morozov points out in his review of Levine’s book, a 2010 report found that:

“films that could be purchased and legally viewed online are pirated far less often [than those that are not]”

Get off the soapbox
So, where am I going with this argument? Well, originally I wanted to share a video and an album that I’d found today via a site called Bandcamp. And then I got on my soapbox.

So let me get down from that box for a moment…

I like Bandcamp a lot. It’s a brilliant site on which bands and musicians share their music – you can listen to it for free (not just 90 seconds of each track but all of it).  However, if you want to take what you hear with you then some bands ask you to pay a set price for it, others allow you to set your own, some even let you have it for free – they only ask that you show your support by going to see their live gigs. It is a completely democratic and quite brilliant system. It allows people to find and stumble across music they otherwise might never have found. It creates new fans, new communities, new musicians and artists who, inspired by what they see and hear and discover, decide to make their own music. And it provides a platform for artists. I love it.

I don’t think sites like Bandcamp should replace record labels – that would be horrendous. Or that the internet should replace concert halls or theatres or galleries.You need curated content, you need exhibitions, and labels and editors and so on. But sometimes discovering things for yourself or coming together with others who share a similar passion (even in a virtual environment like this one) and sharing what you’ve found can be hugely satisfying and deeply rewarding. Why stifle that? Why fear it? Why posit that there is only one way:the traditional way where what we see and hear and experience is controlled by the few?

What art and culture is meant to do
Art and culture – however it is delivered – is meant to enhance our lives. To enrich our experience of the world and to make us look at our fellow human beings with generosity and curiosity.

The internet is a platform that surely only enhances our curiosity and understanding. The internet is a place of discovery, a place where I have found so much (music in particular) that I love that has enriched my life in many ways. And it has led me to buy a lot of that music – to put my money where my mouth is. I am sure it leads a lot of others to do the same…

Ah hell. Let’s watch a video. The aforementioned one that I originally wanted to share. It was made by a company called Onesize to accompany a song that they too had stumbled upon by a band called, The American Dollar. They weren’t asked to create the video or commissioned by the band. They just heard something they loved and were inspired by it. And then they put up what they created for free and said, “we loved this so much, we made this. And we want to share it with you – so here it is. Enjoy it”.

What could be better than that? And the result is really quite lovely. See for yourself…