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face of the forest

Discoveries from the forest floor and beyond.

Category: Music

Songs for October: A great Introduction to Gregory Alan Isakov

by amy – April 27, 2019 in Music
Gregory Alan Isakove – Songs For October (2005).

This short, 26-minute album by the now well-known Gregory Alan Isakov contains seven great little country songs. It’s got well written, down-to-earth lyrics, a feeling of countryside simplicity and a dose of autumn melancholy. It’s perfect for sitting around the campfire, thinking, reflecting and remembering.

I’ve chosen this album out of Isakov’s discography to review because it’s the first one I sat down and listened to, and even if there’s plenty of subsequent songs worth hearing (I highly recommend ‘The Stable Song’), I feel this early release is a perfect introduction to his music.

Isakov writes good, honest songs with acoustic guitar and voice. On certain songs he’s chosen to add a subtle, tasteful accompaniment in the form of violin, drums, a shaker, or a slight effect on his voice. I think of his music not so much as indie or folk – terms that I veer away from since they’ve been widely overused and diluted by now – but as modern country music. I lean toward this definition because Isakov is a musician from my generation who seems to have roots in the truely soulful music from America’s past like old time blues and country.

It’s worth noting that the words on this album are exceptionally well-written, infused with the musing and mystery of a poet. He writes tales about travelling, life on the road and searching for lost love, among other things. These wistful, sometimes sorrow-laden concepts always remain grounded with textures and imagery of everyday things, the mundane objects like “the rubber floor mat in your car” or the “rusty truck” that might serve as reminders of the people we’ve known and the eras we’ve lived. The feeling is always clearly felt in his verses, even when the meanings are a little more obscure (as in the mysterious ‘Crooked Muse’).

The music man sings his mystery songs
He tries to put his finger on
There’s things unfelt that he’s always longed to feel

The things we all are destined to loose
While I seek out that crooked muse
You stole my heart and filled it up with blues

Though Songs for October was only Isakov’s second record, it’s clear that even back then, he was no newcomer to his craft. And indeed, before focusing on his solo work, it seems he had already toured with a band as early as age 16. Yet despite his practiced hand and voice, the songs on this early release are understated in their presentation, just like the cover and the title written across it in a handwritten font, and this is what actually makes this album so appealing. This little, curated collection of well-worked songs is well worth an evening listen.

Highlight songs: Freeway Searching, Black & Blue, Crooked Muse.

Dreams of Quiet Places – A Polish Black Metal Gem

by amy – April 19, 2019 in Music
Mord’a’Stigmata – Dreams of Quiet Places (2019). Pagan Records.

Mord’a’Stigmata‘s fifth studio album Dreams of Quiet Places grabbed my attention when its elegantly designed, esoteric cover and intriguing title showed up on my Instagram feed, accompanied by the compelling description offered by @calligraphed.sins:

“Polish infused black metal…a thoroughingly modern and forward thinking album of blackened musical landscapes…depth and subtance…dissonance and melody.”

Sold.

As it played through in my headphones for the first time, I was intrigued. The intro on the first track, Between Walls of Glass, builds a gentle, enigmatic atmosphere in a calm space. Then, craftfully, the drums and the guitars enter to add consecutive layers until at a certain point, the song launches into full gear with powerful force. Across the album, this band excels at clever builds and a controlled release of a strong, momentous energy that sustains. Your attention never has a chance to stray from beginning to end of this 44-minute release.

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No Drum No Moog: Keep Calm and Bring More Synthesizers

by amy – April 16, 2019 in Music
Course-Poursuite, released in 2018 on Chez.Kito.Kat Records.

If No Drum No Moog is lacking anything, it’s neither drums nor synthesizers. They bring both in equal measure to their unique brand of synthwave space rock, and not digital ones, either – real, acoustic drums and real, analog synths. In an elegant fusion of these principal elements they’ve crafted a great instrumental soundtrack to either your next highspeed interstellar chase or your more laidback suborbital flight.

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Bob Moses – Battle Lines: Vocal House Music That Moves

by amy – April 3, 2019 in Music

Battle Lines is the 2nd studio album from the electronic dance music duo, Bob Moses. At once captivating and relaxed, their brand of vocal-driven house music moves me with the genuine feeling behind it. Their synergy as musicians blossoms on this album.

The duo is composed of singer Tom Howie and producer Jimmy Vallance, two Vancouver-born guys who knew each other in school and started with similar tastes in music but never worked together until they crossed paths years later in a Lowe’s parking lot in NY. This was after Howie had studied music at Berklee College of Music in Boston for a year and Vallance had already made something of a professional name for himself in trance and progressive house music. Not long after their reacquaintance, they moved in together and began making music as a duo. (Wikipedia)

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Favorite album discoveries of 2017

by amy – February 7, 2018 in Music

I’ve聽finally gotten around to publishing my year-end list of albums for 2017. What an incredible year it was for me, musically speaking. There are just so many more albums in my life now that I can’t imagine being without. I explored a few different genres, including French trip-hop, Chicago blues, Finnish hippie rock, modern classical, and so on, so here I am putting this weird, incongruous list out there in the hopes that someone finds something good in it. I would be thrilled to get any comments and/or recommendations for music I should be listening to. Cheers and happy 2018 馃槑 read more

Dans Dans – I/II

by amy – October 8, 2017 in Music

i/ii - front coverDans Dans is a Belgian聽trio聽that performs聽聽an experimental kind of instrumental jazz-rock with bass, guitar and drums. This album has been my sole introduction to their music, and it took time to grow on me, unveiling its beauty late one quiet evening (as good music often does) during what I realized halfway through was a cover of Tom Wait‘s “Yesterday Is Here.” And what聽a brilliant cover it is – deep, soft and rich. On this song and others, there is a lovely reverberant twang on the聽Western-flavored guitar with doom-laden overtones, calling to mind both the country/jazz/drone of Earth and the ambient doom jazz of Bohren & Der Club of Gore. But the pure sound of Dans Dans is less dark and weighty聽than聽those聽bands, and therefore appeals聽to a wider audience. read more

Mounika

by amy – October 1, 2017 in Music

mounika - how are you?I’ve really been digging this French artist lately. I listened to last year’s Seagulls a couple times and it didn’t really catch. It wasn’t bad, but it just didn’t make a tangible impression. At one point in passing I almost removed it from my playlist entirely. Then last week when I noticed this year’s How Are You? on Spotify, I played it, and the moment must have been right. It just grabbed me.

Maybe this album finally struck a chord because as an artist he has matured. Or perhaps his style has unconsciously grown on me so that this new release already sounded familiar. Or maybe it’s the d茅j脿-vu effect his music seems to possess inherently. I’ve always thought it sounded like something I’ve heard before. I thought it was just tapping fragments of my memory, until my partner reported the same thing out loud when I played it for him. That’s when I started to suspect something like art.

This album is a sweet and dreamy collection of electronic trip-hop vignettes. It’s multilayered and richly textured. I love the hissy/scratchy worn-out vinyl sounds; they are like Q-tips gently swabbing the insides of my ears. And the samples are so well-chosen. There are some old French songs. He plays with vocal pitch a lot to good effect (try Love You Sweet It’s What I Do). This is music that really sets a mood. It’s electronic, but it’s very human. It’s great for working or quiet time at home.

Slowdive, a reoccurring dream

by amy – June 3, 2017 in Music

slowdive album 2017Slowdive have released a new album?? This was the first question that popped into my head when I heard the news. The second element of surprise was that it was their self-titled album! I found it on Spotify and put it on immediately, feeling a sudden nostalgic urgency for that old dream pop sound that seems to have disappeared into the mists of time. Bands like Ride and Cocteau Twins… where did they all go? I love that stuff – I need it! I pushed play on this new album, so oddly self-titled and so incongruously 2017. And then my questions were answered, because Slowdive delivered.

Slipping聽into that first song like a pair of warm, rediscovered socks, Slowdive launches into聽their first album in over two decades as if it were nothing out of the ordinary, just them, the same as always, a shoegazing quintet with a聽driven聽rhythm that sweeps you along, and pretty voices聽shining demurely through the electric haze. A pleasant curtain of shimmering reverb drapes over their entourage.

slowdive-young

Slowdive in the early 90’s

As always, their music speaks with yearning and nostalgia, like a forgotten聽childhood friend that comes looking聽for you in your dreams. It聽is sad, it is ageless, it is love. It’s聽propelled by an energy that will never run out. That is what Slowdive sound like to me. It seems聽fitting that Rachel and Neil, the founding members that sing often in unison on their songs, have known each other since they were very little.

This album plays beautifully from start to finish, in a short but perfect collection of eight songs. It ends contemplatively on a slower note with the repeated chorus, thinking about love… As unassuming as they ever were, this album comes and goes without even a hint of ceremony or explanation, but with the self-assurance that typifies experienced musicians who know what they want to say. People given to reflection will find something beautiful in Slowdive.

slowdive.bandcamp.com

Musing on Words and Music Genres

by amy – December 30, 2016 in Music, Words

Music map from Music Popcorn

Music map from Music Popcorn

I was thinking the other day about the meaning of words. I’m in the middle of reading a rather old tale: the English version of The Count of Monte Cristo published in 1844. Because the book is old, and certain words are preserved in their native French or Italian, I have to look up the definitions of words now and then. I realized that words and their meanings are malleable, inconcrete things.

When you look up a word in the dictionary, a lot of times there is more than one definition listed, and these are listed for you (1, 2, 3…) so you can quickly find the meaning that applies to your situation. So words can have various shades of meaning. Through time and use, the meaning of certain words gets nudged in different directions depending on how people choose to use them. So words change as people change. They are not, as I have often thought of them, inscribed in stone since the beginning of time, with definite definitions. I guess my brain tends to think of them that way because I like categorizing things. I like languages because they adhere to a grammar; because they follow ordered systems that can be learned and memorized. My left brain adores this dependable structure of language, and I’ve always absorbed the definitions of words easily into my memory. Yet words are far from being concrete. Words are nothing more than empty symbols until people prescribe meaning to them, and these meanings can be as nuanced as people’s feelings. Words are our imperfect attempt to describe sensations that defy categorization.

And this brings me to the topic of genres in music. I’m not alone in my love of categorizing things. As people we like to categorize our art into so-called genres, and these genres are really just words we use to refer to an artificial grouping of things. When we talk about rock or jazz music, for example, we are using a simple four-letter word to contain what is really a vast history too complex to fit into such an absurdly small box. When we talk about rock, we’re referring to a roughly century-long tradition in music history that involves, well, a guitar. But a guitar is pretty much the only thing that rock musicians share in common. Every other aspect about their music can be widely different. What we try to do with music genres is take every individual musician that pertains to a particular style, at least to some degree, and shove them in a box and put a one-word label on it. But if we open the box and take a good look at the artists inside, we discover a world of differences between them.

In my last post I reviewed Seth Chapla’s music, which is a kind of instrumental rock. His style reminded me of Steve Vai, and Steve Vai was taught by Joe Satriani. There is a clear connection between the three musicians as you travel backward in time. But the connection is only clear because their style is singular and hasn’t been copied a thousand times by other musicians. And they are all fairly contemporary. One night I went even further down that path of music history. I found that Joe Satriani (born 1956) was influenced by Jeff Beck, the English guitarist who played with The Yardbirds (born 1944), and he in turn cited Les Paul as an influence (born 1915 in America), and from there I landed on Rosetta Tharpe, a black gospel singer from Alabama who played an electric guitar like nobody’s business, and who clearly made an impact on Elvis and probably a whole generation of musicians who picked up an electric guitar in the 50’s and 60’s and created what we now think of when we say “rock music.” I watched a great documentary about Rosetta, and it was great because she has a sensational biography. I highly recommend it. She blew me away because I had never heard of her. And I’m American and listen to a lot of rock music! Check out this great video of her playing “Didn’t It Rain” at a train station.

What’s also interesting is that she was never inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. How can the curators of rock history not recognize that聽this rockin’ gal聽deserves聽a place in its annals?

Take any of the guitarists I mentioned above, and you will find that all of them play a different style of music. And you’ll find that they were influenced by not one musician, who was also unique in his/her own way, but many. So we can forget about the term “rock.” How can we really come up with a word that sums up a musician’s style when they are expressing themselves from the heart? I endeavored to learn about the history of rock music, but when I dug into it, I found that there was simply music. Genres are not particularly useful except to give a vague gesture toward a trend in music history, but in reality there are just people making music. We can’t create a word for what they create. But we can talk about how we feel when we hear it, and if we talk from the heart, then we are saying words that have聽meaning.

November 2016 Music Digest

by amy – November 26, 2016 in Music

During the past few months, a lot of new and varied music has been crossing my radar. I love discovering new music. It’s inspiring to be reminded that there is so much creation happening聽in the world; so much that it’s impossible to keep up with it all. The聽discovery of a new artist聽or sometimes an entire new genre is always invigorating, both because of my appreciation of music itself as a listening exercise but also because of the intellectual exercise of opening a new window onto聽a piece of culture and history. And when I say “new” music, I聽don’t mean new in the temporal sense, but new to my ears. Regardless of when it was created, music聽is my connection to people and聽to the world.

I聽tend to focus on albums more than individual tracks when it comes to music. Everyone has their own way of enjoying music. My preferred method is to put on an album and let it play聽from start to finish, so that I become immersed in the mood and flow of it. This way I can聽properly engage the work as a whole, listening to the songs in the order that the artist intended, reading the lyrics, if they exist, and looking at the cover art. I think of an聽album as a gift from the artist; a carefully prepared package of image and sound that you sit down and devote time to. read more

S贸lstafir – 脫tta

by amy – December 1, 2015 in Music

ottaOnce upon a night, I discovered the brilliance of this album. There is a soulful, nostalgic feeling to it. A feeling of reaching back to one’s origins.

S贸lstafir is an Icelandic band. Their name means crepuscular rays in Icelandic, referring to those rays of sunlight piercing through dark clouds that you often see near dusk. 脫tta is an album revolving around an old Icelandic system of timekeeping called Eykt, a monastic system that divided the day into eight parts of three hours each. Accordingly, there are eight songs on the album, one to represent each eyktar. It starts at midnight with the opening track, L谩gn忙tti (low night). 脫tta, the second track, refers to the time between 3-6 a.m.

The cover is a black and white photo of an old man with white hair. He’s positioned on the left side of the photo, and behind him is the sea, with big rocks jutting out of the shore, shrouded in mist. The wind sweeps the man’s hair to the left as he looks in that direction. His face is somewhat haggard. It bears the creases of time. His expression is quite unreadable. He’s wearing black, nondescript clothing. He could be from any time. The photo well conveys the timeless feeling of this album. It speaks of a connection between a particular kind of landscape and the person who belongs there.

Twilight shore

The vocalist has a strong presence in all the songs, his raspy voice often belting forth Icelandic like a driving wind. Or, I imagine that maybe he is shouting into the wind in order to be heard, using the force of both wind and voice to direct the music that accompanies him. Icelandic being a Germanic language of a Nordic flavor, it has that ancient feeling that hearkens back to the Vikings. Language has always intrigued me for being intertwined with the culture and history of a place. The sound of a language, the words themselves but also their intonation, convey a feeling of the geography and character of the land. Iceland is a land of mystery to me, to which this album lends further mystery, and invites one to feel and hear its nature through the elements. For this reason, without having to understand the words being spoken, S贸lstafir’s music is powerful in providing an Icelandic immersion.

While the vocals tend to drive the songs at their most energetic points, they don’t epitomize the album. Long instrumental interludes also occur. The album opens gently with piano and violin (or strings of similar nature). Elsewhere, later, a banjo enters. These stringed instruments come back again and again throughout the album to twine beautifully with the guitars, drums and vocals. There are time changes that rise and fall like tides. Times of noise and wind and rain, then quiet times of contemplation and reflection. These moods transition naturally. There is a consistent energy that builds and subsides, always seeming to flow from the same source. The drums and guitars will often interrupt a slow intro with a strong and steady tremolo rhythm, gathering momentum to launch brilliant crescendos that eventually wane back into silence.

The atmosphere created on this album is impeccable. A folk feeling is conjured by the banjo. Heavily distorted guitar paired with the distant crashing of a cymbal routinely combine to create a misty atmosphere, thanks to the delicate handling of the production. Violin or keyboard melodies ease through the fog to lend soul, sincerity and longing. A beautiful combination.

On Rism谩l, the drums shine and twinkle through a white fog of distortion, calling on the organic sound of a tambourine to accent the cymbal. If the twinkling were sunlight, it might lend meaning to the title, which means sunrise. There is an awesome part in N贸n (noon) where a knife-edged lead guitar rises up out of the sea and dances for an instant with the ghost of heavy metal.

脫tta shines like the burning flame of an old candle that refuses to die. Through the timeless veil of wind and fog and sea, it reminisces of a time forgotten. It’s humble and heartfelt, almost balladic. It’s an ode to the heartland and the homeland. An offering.

Ulver – Childhood’s End

by amy – November 2, 2014 in Music

Ulver - Childhood's EndThis nineth studio album by Ulver shows them experimenting once again, this time with 60’s psychedelic rock.聽Childhood’s End: Lost and Found From The Age of Aquarius is an hour-long collection of 16 cover songs by obscure psychedelic rock groups from England and the United States. Before hearing this album I was unfamiliar with the original groups except for Jefferson Airplane, of which Ulver has done a brilliant cover of Today – arguably the聽best song on the album.

On the cover is a famous photo that came out of聽the Vietnam War. What significance this photo bears in regards to the album is not clear to me. The photo poignantly聽conveys聽the devastating effect聽of war, but seems to have little in common with the actual subject matter of the songs. My guess is that it’s an homage to the memory of the 60’s, perhaps carrying with it a note of melancholy or nostalgia.

Garm’s voice shines exceptionally on this release. He embraces the chorus-oriented rock style of the genre with its light mood and sometimes playful lyrics. In doing this he casts aside the brooding shroud of mystery and profundity that has often characterized Ulver’s music. It’s appealing to hear him adopt the attitude and charisma of a rock singer comfortable with the stage. There is even some seductive hip-shaking on numbers like 66-5-4-3-2-1. It makes me smile to hear Garm singing, “If ever you need me, baby, there’s a number that you can call, it’s double 6, 5-4-3-2-1, yeah I’ll be there and I’ll be on my own, ’cause I know what you want.” Many of the songs are a sweet, short length of 2-3 minutes long, which makes me more compelled to throw the album on any time聽of the day. As another review aptly described it, this album is sunny and infectious. read more

Cocteau Twins – Lullabies To Violane

by amy – October 11, 2014 in Music

Lullabies to Violate [Vol.1]Lullabies to Violane, Vol. 1 is a two-disc compilation of songs from the Twin’s singles and EPs released in the 80’s. This disc sat unplayed in the glovebox of my car for years. I don’t even remember exactly how I came upon it. It may have been a gift, or a chance find in a used cd store. This year as the leaves started to turn color and the cool smell of fall was in the air, I decided to pop it in.

I have listened to Cocteau Twins for years. It was only after many casual listens that I became captivated by聽their music. My love for them聽blossomed one sleepy autumn afternoon, long ago, as it played in my headphones at work. There is something highly addictive about Elizabeth Fraser’s voice. Her melodies catch in your head and echo in your memory, drawing you back again the more you listen. In the beginning I was never particularly fond of Guthrie’s music. He writes a kind of聽dreamy rock made with layers of guitars that are affected with聽shimmering reverb, as if the sound waves are surfacing聽through water, bending and聽rippling read more

Months

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