I spend a lot of time listening to music, but rarely find people to talk with about it. This may be because I am convinced my ramblings on music wouldn’t be of interest to anyone else. I am no music journalist and want to talk about the way music affects me as an incredibly subjective experience. I’ve never been sure of the value of this to anyone else so, sporadic blog posts about my latest playlist aside, I don’t openly venture my opinion.
However, I’ve been inspired and encouraged by a friend to enter into dialogue on the subject. This post is a response to http://teknostatik.co.uk/2013/12/24/albums-of-the-year-2013/ shared by @teknostatik. I recommend an exploration of his suggestions as I find his taste in music a useful guide into what is both current and good, though he can absolutely keep the hip hop. I like Ghostpoet, but Jay-Z really doesn’t do it for me 😉
My albums of 2013 are not necessarily all from 2013, but are the albums that have shaped my world this year and they are all recent-ish.
Trouble Will Find Me – The National
I am indebted to Andy for recommending this to me. I’d heard a couple of tracks on the radio, but hadn’t really registered the band. I like this for its introspective mood and the feeling I get of being enveloped by the richness and texture of singer Matt Berninger’s voice as I listen. Unusually, I really like nearly every track on this album and haven’t been able to pick favourites. One track a like a little less than the others is ‘Pink Rabbits’ which I find it a little musically trite (rather than lyrically – I rarely emotionally respond to lyrics) and a little obvious. It doesn’t seem to go anywhere and I prefer to experience more movement in the music I listen to. Having said this about the track as an individual entity, it is completely the right thing to come after ‘Humiliation’ – a track on the album that I particularly love. Note to self: think more about albums as a journey rather than a sum of individual tracks.
As I’ve written this I’ve realised what a kinaesthetic experience listening to music is for me. I am aware I rarely use my auditory modality, but I hadn’t realised just how strongly I interpret music as texture, soundscape. That would explain why I’m often drawn to music that has clear layering, syncopated or otherwise obfuscating beats and a heavy, but not monotonous, bass line. All of these make for a three dimensional, textured experience of listening to music (for me, anyway).
Which brings me onto the next album I wanted to mention. Andy recommends ‘Julia with Blue Jeans On’ by Moonface as fourth on his list. I love the piano, both as a player and to listen to it so was curious to have a listen. This doesn’t do it for me, however. I find it too sparse, the piano too predictable and I don’t enjoy the singer’s voice. I don’t find the experience three dimensional enough to maintain my interest. What I thought of while listening to this was …
What We Saw From the Cheap Seats – Regina Spektor
… because I loved the combination of piano and vocals (and various other bits) in ‘Begin to Hope’ by the same artist. I had tickets to see Regina Spektor earlier this year and had to cancel, which was galling. I didn’t actually get round to listening to this album until about a week ago and this is my answer to Andy’s recommendation of ‘Julia with Blue Jeans On’. I fell in love with it instantly, pulled in by the quirks and discipline of how she uses her voice in the same way you can fall into conversation exactly where you left it with a dear friend. I love the stories and characters conjured in Spektor’s music as well as the chaotic, colourful soundscapes she creates with an idiosyncratic use of voice and diverse array of instruments, sounds and pacing.
(Regarding a focus on the beauty and intimacy of piano, the other musician that I’d choose over Andy’s recommendation, and possibly closer to the sparseness a and intimacy Andy finds in it, is Ludovico Einaudi and I recommend his ‘I Giorni’ as a starting point. That album moves me to the point of tears without fail.)
Arc – Everything Everything
This album really has shaped my 2013. I saw Everything Everything when they played in Brighton back in February. In fact, lets go back a little further – I discovered Everything Everything back in 2011 when browsing in (the now sadly only remaining independent record store in Brighton) Resident. A friend had played me an album I liked that I was searching for and on my travels I found Man Alive. The lovely folk at Resident write short descriptions of their top pick albums and the description for Man Alive sold it to me immediately. Something about electronic synth and syncopated beats … I bought both (the other was It’s Frightening by White Rabbits), fell completely in love with Man Alive and for the first time in a long time, declared myself a proper fan of a new band. Hence I bought tickets for the gig in February which was fantastic and then bought Arc.
I spent almost all the time I was in the car during my Cornwall holiday in March (which was quite a lot of the holiday) listening to the album. The first track I really liked was Cough Cough and Everything Everything’s hallmark infectious chaotic energy, which I love, shines through it. However on further listening, Kemosabe ranks higher as a favourite. I enjoy the precision in the (off beat) placement of the sounds underneath the vocals and the use of repetition in the vocals, because this encourages me to listen differently. A bit like the way a repetitive, mechanical task often distracts my conscious brain enough for me to allow myself to just be without over-thinking for a bit.
The other track that deserves a particular mention is The Peaks, which I struck me at a very deep level at the gig. I couldn’t remember the lyrics or in fact much about it, except that it hit me at a very intuitive level and induced tears. I found out which track it was by listening to the whole album many times and trying to compare the feeling each track gave me to the feeling I remembered from the gig. I can’t put it into words, but the way it builds slowly but inexorably, particularly experienced live and heightened by clever lighting, is just beautiful. My favourite live music moment from 2013.
I find myself coming back to Arc whenever I need to shift my head space and I’m not in the mood for anything hideously upbeat.
Torches – Foster the People
This is another album that has very much shaped my 2013. I came across this randomly when browsing music in Brighton and bought it for one track ‘Pumped Up Kicks’ and an interest in finding out what else they’d written. ‘Pumped Up Kicks’ brings back fond memories of attending a conference with two friends a while ago. I fell in love with the whole album and this is definitely something to listen to when I want unarguably energetic, movement inducing music. I am tempted to say this is something I consider to be upbeat, except the lyrics aren’t upbeat. Not upbeat, maybe defiantly driven? I am aware that says a lot more about me than the music 😉 I love ‘Call it What You Want’ and it usually has me spellbound from the texture of its opening bars, again the precision of its layering and it has an intriguing video. The other track that really speaks to me is ‘Waste’ which, despite feeling a little slower is no less defiant, but more understatedly so.
I am also indebted to Andy for recommending Vampire Weekend’s Vampires of the City and Los Campesinos’ No Blues. For music that conjures and fits with feeling positive and energised, these both fit the bill. I’d not taken time to listen to a whole album by Vampire Weekend before and I’d not even heard of Los Campesinos so I am deeply grateful for the tip off. I’m also finding Autre Ne Veut growing on me, despite my initial reaction being that it wasn’t for me. I will echo Andy – the joy of this is listening to the whole of it and letting it take me where it will. Sometimes that is towards the off button.
I should also mention a recommendation this year from another friend @therug (yep, is a different person) who suggested Goldfrapp’s Felt Mountain to me a few weeks ago. I shared with him that I love the bits I’ve heard from the recent album ‘Tales of Us’ as well as the earlier stuff from Goldfrapp that been popular in the mainstream. Andrew described Felt Mountain as a little more sultry than the poppy stuff and this is something I love about it: it is indeed more sultry, brooding and gently seductive than, for example, ‘Strict Machine’ (which I also love).
I am intensely curious to know what anyone else has been listening to, or indeed your thoughts on what I’ve written above. Please drop me a line in the comments, if you feel so inclined, as I’d love to hear anyone else’s thoughts 🙂