Sunday, 23 September 2018

Popular Music - May 2018

Tori Amos
  • Little Earthquakes
  • Abnormally Attracted to Sin
  • Native Invader
Beyonce - Lemonade
Christine and the Queens - Chaleur Humaine
Paul Dempsey - Strange Loop
Missy Higgins - Solastalgia
Jars of Clay - The Eleventh Hour
John Mayer
  • Battle Studies
  • Born and Raised
  • Paradise Valley
  • The Search for Everything
Joni Mitchell - Blue
Janelle Monae - Electric Lady
Janelle Monae - Dirty Computer
Alanis Morissette - Under Rug Swept
R.E.M. - Automatic for the People
Simply Red - Picture Book
Thrice - Major/Minor

Assuming that anyone actually continues to read this blog, you would have noticed that the April entry for pop music talked about my purchase of two albums as soon as they came out, but only went on to discuss one of those albums.

That was partly for reasons of length, and partly because I knew full well that I had spent a considerable amount of May listening to Missy Higgins' Solastalgia  and could discuss it here.

Of the pair of new purchases, Solastalgia was the one that was a little unexpected and a very pleasant surprise. I already have Missy Higgins' first 3 albums, but had skipped her fourth which consisted of covers of other Australian artists. I might get back to it one day, as reviews indicate she did successfully place her own spin on the material.

Those first 3 albums are a slightly mixed bag for me. They are never poor, but also don't always seem to be quite as great as they could be. Her debut, a significant success at least in Australia, has a somewhat folk feel and some truly beautiful and powerful songs. The second album feels like a struggle in comparison, as if she didn't know how to avoid repeating herself. The third album's first half is a bit more pop and in my opinion has some of the best work she has done, but then the second half falls away a bit.

Solastalgia is something new again, and all the better for it. For one thing it has a considerable tinge of electronica. But the more interesting aspect of the album is how clearly thematic it is. The title itself is a term referring to distress caused by environmental change, reflecting how the album is a rumination on life, the state of the world and in particular the ways in which we seem to be destroying it.

It's the opening track, "Starting Again", that I think is a stunning success. It's a song to a child about all the reasons it's not a good idea to bring a child into the world, and how those reasons evaporate once a child arrives. It's a powerful, complex sentiment that I don't think I've ever heard put into song before, and Higgins' lyrics are fully up to the task.

Nothing that follows has quite the same impact, but the arc of the album is a satisfying one as it roughly moves from past to future, ending with "The Old Star" which imagines our distant descendants returning to the solar system to see what little is left.

The album as a whole is perhaps not a masterpiece, but it's always at least good, and worth hearing. And it means something. I think that was one of the pleasing things when I bought this alongside Dirty Computer: here are two singers both using the album format to present a considered artistic statement and to get listeners to think about things as well as being entertained.

Thursday, 20 September 2018

Classical Music - April 2018

Bach, J.S. - Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen (I will gladly carry the Cross)
Bach, J.S. - Ihr, die ihr euch von Christo nennet (You, who call yourselves of Christ)
Barber - Nuvoletta
Beethoven - Piano sonatas 27, 29 and 31
Beethoven - Es ist vollbracht (finale for "The Triumphal Arches")
  • String Quartet No.2
  • Where She Lies Asleep
  • Love Went A-Riding
  • Silhouettes
  • Ave maris stella
  • O Sanctissima
Haydn - Symphonies 61 and 66
Jersild - Il Cantico delle Creature
Liszt - Ce qu'on entend sur la montagne
Medtner - Romantic Sketches for the Young
  • Symphonies 33 and 34
  • Piano Sonata No.10
  • Oboe Quartet
Nielsen - Symphony No.5
Nørholm - Two Studies, op.113
Schubert - Symphony No.9
Schubert - String Quintet
  • Symphonies 1 and 4 (original version)
  • Overture, Scherzo and Finale
  • 12 Gedichte aus "Liebesfrühling", op.37 
  • Der deutsche Rhein "Patriotisches Lied"
  • Romanzen und Balladen, op.53
  • Belsatzar
  • 2 Ballades (fragments), WoO 11
Scriabin - 24 Preludes, op.11
  • Kyrie in G minor
  • Credo in E minor
  • Magnificat in G minor (1720s version)
  • Dixit Dominus in D, RV 594
  • Lauda Jerusalem

It seems like it was a fairly busy month, progressing through my various listening projects and throwing in a few other bits and pieces when I felt like it. But nothing is particularly standing out as something to write about. Not when I still have some more entries to catch upon.

So, April is duly catalogued.

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Popular Music - April 2018

Tori Amos
  • Boys for Pele
  • From the Choirgirl Hotel
  • American Doll Posse
  • Unrepentant Geraldines
  • Native Invader
Marc Cohn - The Rainy Season
Crowded House - Temple of Low Men
Peter Gabriel - So
Patty Griffin - Downtown Church
Patty Griffin - American Kid
Missy Higgins - Solastalgia
Elton John - Tumbleweed Connection
Wendy Matthews - Ghosts
John Mayer - The Search for Everything
Joni Mitchell - For the Roses
Janelle Monae
  • The Archandroid
  • Electric Lady
  • Dirty Computer
Pearl Jam - Binaural
Talk Talk - The Colour of Spring
U2 - Rattle and Hum
Thom Yorke - Tomorrow's Modern Boxes

Something rather unusual happened right near the end of April. I bought two albums right on the day that they were released.

Yes, it's true I occasionally manage this for very favourite artists like Tori Amos, though in that particular case I'm usually after some special edition with bonus tracks, so in fact I don't walk into a store on release day anymore.  In any case it's a rare event, and what was perhaps more unusual this time around was that I'd already listened to both albums on Deezer late at night (releases appear at midnight) and over breakfast. In one case in particular, that was an important part of my purchasing decision. I'm still very much of the view that I should spend proper money for music that I appreciate, rather than tossing a fraction of a cent to the artist via a streaming service, but streaming has created a "try before you buy" environment I make extensive use of.

The first album, and the one I already had a fair idea that I wanted from the previously released singles, was Janelle Monae's Dirty Computer. At the time of writing I'm actually playing it for the first time in a couple of months, having utterly devoured it upon release.

Part of that release (and from memory it might have been my introduction to the full album) was a film version, an "emotion picture", available for free online. It doesn't completely match the audio version but is very close, and contains videos for the majority of the songs as well as some important linking narrative that helps express the themes and ideas.

And what themes and ideas.

Much of pop music can be dismissed as little more than a catchy tune. There's never been any doubt, though, that Janelle Monae intends to say things with her music. There's been an ongoing kind of story in her previous albums about being different and not belonging, wrapped in references to androids. I've frequently loved it (as can be seen in some previous blog entries), but one criticism some reviewers have had is that her style tends towards intellectual and slightly arch. Personally, I don't have the slightest problem with these qualities. I actually like my music to be intellectual.

Dirty Computer, though, is something different. It is unabashedly pop music, full of hooks and singalong tunes. It is unbuttoned, uninhibited.

And to be honest, some of it initially made me a bit uncomfortable and disappointed for those very reasons. I was worried that I wasn't going to warm to the first half of the album in particular. "There's not much there", I found myself thinking. It felt shallow.

But I was completely wrong. What's there is a grand celebration of difference, queerness and freedom. A statement that it is better to live than be in hiding. A declaration that being 'other' is not the same as not belonging.

I still struggle to some extent with taking on the message and "letting go" while listening to the album. I continue to prefer the more subtle and restrained songs on the album, though none of the brasher ones actually put me off now. I wasn't sure I'd ever enjoy "Pynk", essentially an ode to lesbian love. It's a song that is so emphatically not about something I can relate to. But now I do enjoy it.

More than anything, though, even with the songs that are not what I would consider a natural fit for me, I can feel the music urging me to feel differently, to open up to change. It's speaking to me.

That's art. And I like that.

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Classical Music - March 2018

Bach, J.S.
  • Gott der Herr ist Sonn und Schild (God the Lord is sun and shield)
  • Lobe den Herren, den Mächtign König der Ehren (Praise the Lord, the mighty king of honour)
  • Tue Rechnung! Donnerwort (Settle account! Word of thunder)
  • Cello Suite No.1
Barber - Knoxville: Summer of 1915
Bartok - String Quartet No.3
  • Cello Sonata No.4
  • "Kakadu" Variations for piano trio
  • Germania (finale for "The Good News")
Brahms - Horn Trio
Bridge - Dance Poem
Chopin - 24 Preludes
  • Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune
  • Nocturnes for orchestra
  • La Mer
  • Images for orchestra
  • 2 Dances for harp and orchestra
  • Premiere Rhapsodie for clarinet (orchestral version)
  • String Quartet
  • Czech Suite
  • String Quartet No.10
  • 2 Furiants for piano
Faure - Nocturne No.6
Haydn - Symphonies 53 and 54
Hindemith - Kammermusik Nos. 2 and 3
  • Viola Concerto
  • Concerto No.5 (for viola)
  • Sextet
  • Piano Concerto No.10 (for 2 pianos)
  • Symphony No.32
  • Piano Sonatas 7 and 8
Nielsen - Pan and Syrinx
Nørgård - Symphony No.2
Ravel - Le Tombeau de Couperin
  • Dichterliebe
  • Romanzen und Balladen, opp.45 and 49
  • 3 Duets, op.43
  • Piano Sonata No.2
  • 5 Preludes, op.15
  • Poeme, op.41
  • 4 Pieces, op.51
  • Vers la flamme
Shostakovich - Symphony No.9
Sibelius - Five Christmas Songs, op.1
Sibelius - Songs, op.72 (first two are lost)

March was a fairly active month for my classical music listening. The most notable exploration was of Debussy, as a couple of large box sets were released to coincide with the 100th anniversary of his death. I spent quite a bit of time sampling those sets, particularly for works that I didn't already own recordings of.

What's listed here, as per usual self-imposed rules, is what I heard from my own collection. It's not hard to see that I was focusing on the orchestral works. I listened to most of the 2-CD set that I have with Bernard Haitink as the main conductor, a collection that is consistently recommended.

I didn't, in the end, decide that either box set was going to meet my needs. One was too comprehensive (with a large number of discs given over to transcriptions and arrangements that I'm just not interested in) and the other was not comprehensive enough, with a handful of awkward gaps. What the exploration did was give me a better sense of Debussy's body of work and the areas where my collection was lacking. It so happens that, at the time of writing, I'm waiting delivery on 4 albums worth of his songs.

Monday, 10 September 2018

Popular Music - March 2018

Tori Amos
  • From the Choirgirl Hotel
  • To Venus and Back (Venus Orbiting)
  • The Beekeeper
  • Native Invader
Beyonce - Lemonade
James Blake - Overgrown
Kate Bush - 50 Words for Snow
Marc Cohn - Marc Cohn
Eskimo Joe - A Song is a City
Patty Griffin - Flaming Red
Patty Griffin - Silver Bell
Missy Higgins - The Ol' Razzle Dazzle
Jars of Clay - The Eleventh Hour
Moloko - Things to Make and Do
Janelle Monae - Metropolis Suites 1, 2 (from The Archandroid), 4 and 5 (Electric Lady)
Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool

The thing of most note here is that I spent some finally getting to grips with Patty Griffin's Silver Bell album, a long-lost gap in her career that was released in 2013.

For some reason it takes me a long time to completely engage with new Patty Griffin albums, after the four or so that I was initially introduced to by an American friend. I think that this is partly due to not being convinced in some cases that they are genuine albums, as opposed to a series of (often quite magnificent) songs that happened to find themselves on the same disc.

Anyway, Silver Bell does play quite well as an album, though it will always be hampered slightly by the fact that a couple of songs ended up being re-housed in the 13 years between recording and release. It's worth having.

And... that's all I'm going to say. Efficiency is the key here as I try to catch up. Again. Sigh.

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Classical Music - February 2018

The blog fell away again. In the interests of catching up over the next few weeks, I shall present lists with a minimum of comment, unless something really catches my attention.


Bach, J.S. - Ich bin ein guter Hirt (I am a good shepherd)
Barber - Medea ballet suite
Bartok - String Quartets 1 and 2
Beethoven - Piano Sonata No.28
Beethoven - Cello Sonata No.5
Brahms - Cello Sonata No.1
Bridge - The Sea
Dvorak - Slavonic Dances, Series 1 (orchestral version)
Dvorak - Hymnus ad laudes in festo Sanctissimae Trinitatis
Faure - L'horizon chimérique
Haydn - Symphony No.60
Holmboe - Egilskvad
Koppel - 3 Pieces for mixed choir with texts from the Psalms of David
Mozart - Piano Concerto No.9
Nørholm - Fanfare-Intrada
Ravel - Gaspard de la nuit
Schumann - Frauenliebe und -leben
Schumann - 5 Lieder, op.40
  • Piano Sonatas 4 and 9
  • Preludes, opp.17 and 35
  • Prelude and Nocturne for the left hand
  • Poème satanique
  • 2 Poèmes, op.63
  • Scherzo, op.46
  • Quasi valse, op.47
  • 4 Pieces, op.56
Sibelius - Arioso (piano version)
Stravinsky - Jeu de Cartes

The one thing I will comment on here is the Stravinsky. Not so much about the particular piece, more the era that it comes from.

I've been exploring Stravinsky chronologically, and realising there is so much of his work after The Rite of Spring that I know almost nothing about (the Rite actually being rather early in his career)... and then realising just how good a lot of that later work is.

Jeu de Cartes happens to be one of the later ballets on a disc that I bought in 2015, and so one of the things that motivated the exploration I'm now undertaking. Because I own a recording, it qualifies for these blog listings. But it's just one representative of a "neoclassical" period that represents a very large slice of Stravinsky's career. And I've heard a lot of very good things from that period which I intend to add to my collection in the future.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Popular Music - February 2018

Tori Amos - Boys for Pele
Tori Amos - Native Invader
Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel...
Nik Kershaw - Human Racing
Wendy Matthews - Ghosts
Mike and the Mechanics - Mike and the Mechanics
Radiohead - Amnesiac
Sting - Mercury Falling

Okay, let's call it. My popular music listening is in a rut.

I know I'm not listening to the same albums all the time. That is to say, there are albums on this list that I hadn't listened to for a couple of years. But they're still the same albums. I don't make a lot of new popular music purchases. I'm not exploring.

Well, actually that's not entirely true. One of the rules of this blog is that I only post recordings that I actually own, which means that it misses out on things that I explore on Deezer or Youtube but haven't purchased. Those explorations do in fact sometimes lead to purchases, but that's often a slow process.

One of the problems with popular music in particular is that when I do purchase something, it can be some time before I listen to it. This is partly caused by my old-fashioned beliefs. I like the first listen, at least, to be using the CD (though for popular music in particular it's highly likely most subsequent listens will be on my iPhone), and I like to engage with the words as well. That's an investment of time I'm not always in the right frame of mind for, and pop albums are longer than many of the classical works that I do this for.

So there's my litany of excuses, in an essence a response to a list of albums where I think, "do I have anything to say about these". I suppose I can say that after years and years I still think Boys for Pele is stunning, that Ghosts is truly excellent, that The Idler Wheel is pretty well perfect and that these are all just about the best things those 3 women have done. Which is I like listening to them.