Monday, 26 November 2018

Popular Music - August 2018

Tori Amos
  • From the Choirgirl Hotel
  • To Venus and Back - venus orbiting
  • Night of Hunters
  • Unrepentant Geraldines
  • Native Invader
Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel
Kate Bush - Never For Ever
Janet Jackson - Janet.
Jars of Clay - Furthermore
Nichole Nordeman - Woven & Spun
Pearl Jam - Binaural
Pearl Jam - Lightning Bolt

It remains true that, if in doubt about pop music, I retreat to Tori Amos. But there are a couple of other things on the list that were not quite so predictable.

Picking up Janet. for the first time in a long time was a slightly left-field choice. Absence hasn't really made the heart grow fonder, though. It's still an album that rates as enjoyable without being stellar. There are good things on there, certainly, and nothing terrible, but I have no strong reaction to it. It did remind me that I want to explore her whole catalogue at some point, just to see what I've been missing outside of this album and Rhythm Nation.

Pearl Jam's Binaural is, if anything, dropping lower and lower in my opinion. Yes, there are a few good songs, and "Light Years" is gorgeous, but there are also some clunkers, killed by music or lyrics or production. I can never get over how "Sleight of Hand", one of the songs supposedly recorded using special techniques, sounds so lifeless.  Lightning Bolt, on the other hand, which I admittedly still don't know that well, leaves a much more favourable impression as an album.

As I work, very sporadically, through the Jars of Clay catalogue, I listened to both halves of Furthermore, one live (which I hadn't listened to in years) and one acoustic. Most of the known songs are not revelatory, with these versions tending to be similar to the original studio recordings. The real assets are the songs not previously on albums. Frankly, Furthermore is worth hearing for "The Valley Song" alone.

Monday, 19 November 2018

Classical Music - July 2018

Bach, J.S.
  • Liebster Jesu, mein Verlangen (Dearest Jesus, my desire)
  • Alles nur nach Gottes Willen (Everything only according to God's will)
  • Ich bin vergnügt mit meinem Glücke (I am content with my fortune)
Barber - Summer Music
Beethoven - The Consecration of the House (complete)
Beethoven - String Quartets 12 and 16
Brahms - Variations on a Theme by Haydn (orchestral version)
Bridge - A Prayer
  • Legends (orchestral version)
  • String Quartet No.11
  • String quartet movement in F
  • Moderato in A for piano 
Faure - Cello Sonata No.1
Faure - Piano Quintet No.2 
Haydn - Symphony No.63
Mozart - Symphony No.35 "Haffner"
Mozart - String Quartet No.16 
Nørgård - Symphony No.3
Schumann - Symphony No.2
Shostakovich - Symphony No.8
Sibelius - Six songs, op.88 (the "flower cycle")
Stravinsky - Orpheus

There hasn't been a lot of evidence that I've been progressing through Stravinsky's works chronologically, because I don't own very many recordings and my self-imposed rules for this blog don't include things that I stream.

I'm sure that I'll be increasing the size of my Stravinsky collection, but in the meantime Orpheus is one of the works that had already made me realise there was far more to Stravinsky than the few early ballets that are famous. It's a very appealing score, often gentle and melodious.

There were a few symphonies in the mix this month, and a general focus on orchestral music which isn't entirely typical for me. But much of this was simply due to where my planned explorations of composers were up to. And there was no lack of quality in the music I was hearing.

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Popular Music - July 2018

Tori Amos - Under the Pink
Beyonce - Beyonce
Agnes Obel - Aventine

Let's face it, this list is pathetic. The albums are good, but just 3 completed listens in 31 days? Pathetic.

I know the first half of the month was affected by the World Cup. The second half of the month, as far as I can remember, was affected by me working too damn hard.

It was not a great time. For one thing, Croatia was robbed...

Saturday, 13 October 2018

Classical Music - June 2018

Bach, J.S. - Der Friede sei mit dir (Peace be with you)
  • Melodies passageres
  • Hermit Songs
  • Souvenirs ballet suite
Beethoven - Piano Sonata No.30
Beethoven - Bagatelles, op.119
  • String Quartets 1 and 2
  • Liebeslieder-Walzer
  • Hungarian Dances 1, 3 and 10 (orchestral versions)
  • Two Old English Songs for string quartet
  • Thy Hand in Mine (orchestral version)
  • Mantle of Blue (orchestral version)
  • Blow Out, You Bugles
  • Symphony No.6
  • 6 Piano Pieces, op.52
  • 6 Mazurkas for piano
  • 4 Album Leaves for piano, B.109
  • 2 Waltzes for string quartet
Faure - Piano Quintet No.1
Haydn - Symphonies 62 and 68
Hindemith - Kammermusik No.5
Holmboe - Sinfonia II
Lorentzen - Tower Fanfare
Lorentzen - NUMUS Fanfare 
  • Piano Concerto No.12
  • Rondo for piano and orchestra in A
  • String quartets 14 and 15
Nielsen - Symphony No.6
Prokofiev - Piano Sonata No.9 
Ruders - Three Motets
  • Piano Concerto
  • Das Paradies und die Peri
  • Soldatenlied
  • Piano Sonata No.3
  • Preludes, opp.16, 48 and 74
  • Poèmes, opp.44 and 71
  • Pieces, opp.52 and 59
  • 2 Nocturnes, op.5
  • 2 Dances, op.73
Sibelius - 6 Songs, op.86
Vaughan Williams - Songs of Travel

This was a pretty active month in classical music. I spent more than one session juxtaposing a selection of Scriabin's fragmentary piano pieces. Once you're paying close enough attention to not miss them going by, you can notice they are of consistently high quality.

I also played some of the my favourite Barber songs for the first time in several years. Both Hermit Songs and Melodies passageres (in French, which is rather interesting for an American composer) contain some real gems and are among the Barber works I would recommend people hear.

But I think the real highlight for me during June was listening to Brahms' Liebeslieder-Walzer, which are for a quartet of singers with piano duet. This sequence of songs (and it's undoubtedly a planned sequence) fizzes with wit. Finally listening to the recording I had purchased a year earlier (the singers are Mathis, Fassbaender, Schreier and Fischer-Dieskau) was a total delight.

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Popular Music - June 2018

Tori Amos - Scarlet's Walk
Tori Amos - Native Invader
Fiona Apple - When the Pawn...
Bat for Lashes - Two Suns
Francis Dunnery - Fearless
Eurythmics - Be Yourself Tonight
FKA twigs - M3LL155X
Ben Folds Five - Whatever and Ever Amen
Gomez - In Our Gun
Patty Griffin - 1000 Kisses
Missy Higgins - Solastalgia
Lior - Autumn Flow
Joni Mitchell - Turbulent Indigo
Janelle Monae - Dirty Computer

Recent albums coupled with some old favourites and a few oddities. The latter category includes Francis Dunnery's album. It contains his one big hit "American Life in the Summertime", which once you understand his aesthetic is fairly consistent with the rest of his work, just a little more pop.

I own a total of three Francis Dunnery albums, and to be honest I'm not sure why. Well, I know that it was partly because a couple of them were very cheap opportunistic purchases, and I was curious. What I don't know is quite why I was so curious. The more I've listened, the more I've realised that Dunnery is a rather quirky songwriter, which could be interesting but the quirks are not the kind I embrace. There's a ramshackle quality, and I'm a listener who likes structure.

Fearless is probably the most conventional and organised of the albums that I have, but ultimately I still don't quite find the songs satisfying.

I suspect that nowadays, when I use the internet to sample music that I'm interested in, Dunnery might not have found his way into my collection, or perhaps Fearless would have but not the later more obscure albums. These CDs are relics of an age where I worked from memories of the radio and, when available, sampling in a shop.

Monday, 1 October 2018

Classical Music - May 2018

Bach, J.S. - Ich habe genug (I have enough) (Soprano version)
Beethoven - Piano Sonata No.32
Beethoven - "Gratulations" Menuet
  • Summer
  • Lament
  • Two Poems for Orchestra after Richard Jefferies
Dvorak - Eight waltzes for piano
Dvorak - Eclogues
Haydn - Symphonies 67 and 69
Holmboe - Concerto No.9, for violin and viola
Medtner - Skazka, op.31/3
Medtner - Skazka (1915)
Mozart - Piano Concerto No.11
Mozart - Piano Sonata No.13
  • String Quartets 1 to 3
  • Piano Quartet
  • Piano Quintet
  • Allegro appassionato
  • 4 Preludes, op.37
  • 2 Pieces, op.57
  • 2 Poèmes, op.69
Not a long list by classical standards. I think I was spending a lot of time with those new pop albums I've discussed in recent posts.

My Schumann chronology reached the point where, after a year of song and then a year of orchestral works, there was a year of chamber music. The results of which were rather good.

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.