Monday, January 29, 2018

Popular Music - November 2017

Tori Amos - Night of Hunters
Tori Amos - Native Invader
Beyonce - Beyonce
Kate Bush - Never For Ever
Marc Cohn - The Rainy Season
Crowded House - Temple of Low Men
Paul Dempsey - Strange Loop
Bryan Duncan - Mercy
Peter Gabriel - So
Gotye - Making Mirrors
Elton John - Tumbleweed Connection
Nik Kershaw - The Riddle
Nik Kershaw - Radio Musicola
Joni Mitchell - Chalk Mark in a Rain Storm
Agnes Obel - Aventine
Simply Red - Picture Book
Talk Talk - The Colour of Spring
Thrice - The Alchemy Index

Early November was one of those times when I listened to quite a lot of pop music. The Tori Amos/Joni Mitchell comparison completely stopped in this period, and my focus was very much on established favourites. I was clearly out to enjoy myself rather than educate myself.

Which is fine. The purpose of the spreadsheets where I keep records of what I listen to, which led to this blog, is to stop myself from listening to the same things all the time, and I do set myself all these listening projects. But I also don't want to turn listening simply into a task with checklists.

Besides, quite a few of the albums on this list were things I had not listened to for over a year. In a couple of cases the gap between listens was several years. My collection is quite large enough for this to happen.

So here is the Beyonce album that made me a Beyonce fan, my favourite Kate Bush album, the Marc Cohn album that I've been in love with for a couple of decades, my favourite Crowded House, Bryan Duncan's masterpiece, the best EP in history disguised as a Peter Gabriel album, Elton John's best and biggest secret, and the best moments of Simply Red, Talk Talk and Thrice. That should be plenty to explore for those so inclined.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Classical Music - October 2017

Bach, J.S.
  • Ich armer Mensch, ich Sündenknecht (I wretched man, a servant to sin)
  • Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid  (Ah God, how much heartbreak) (BWV 58)
  • Also hat Gott die Welt Geliebt (God so loved the world)
  • Adagio for Strings
  • 3 Songs, op.10
  • Early unpublished songs
  • Egmont overture and incidental music
  • King Stephen
  • Violin Sonatas 2 and 6
Brahms - Piano Concerto No.1
Brahms - Serenade No.2
  • Isabella
  • Dance Rhapsody
  • String Quartet No.1
  • Phantasie Piano Trio
Chopin - Polonaise-Fantaisie
  • Serenade for Strings
  • String Quintet No.2
  • String Quartet No.7
  • Piano Trio No.1
Haydn - Symphonies 46, 47 and 51
  • Symphonies 2 and 8
  • Sinfonia in Memoriam
  • Violin Sonata No.3
Janacek - Violin Sonata
Mozart - Piano Concerto No.8
Mozart - Piano Sonata No.1
Rachmaninov - Symphony No.3
  • Arabeske
  • Humoresque
  • Piano Sonata No.2
  • Nachtstücke
  • 12 Etudes, op.8
  • 4 Preludes, op.22
  • Poème-Nocturne, op.61
Sibelius - 2 Songs, op.35
Snider - Penelope
Telemann - Violin Sonata in A from "Tafelmusik"
Villa-Lobos - Choros No.1
Villa-Lobos - Quintet in the form of a Choros 
Vivaldi - Violin Sonata in D minor, RV 15

There are times when you realise a piece of music is obscure for good reasons.  Beethoven's stage music provides an excellent example in King Stephen, a work that was apparently a great success when it premiered in Budapest, but that sounds pretty uninspiring when divorced from that very specific context. If you're not a 19th century nationalist Hungarian it's unlikely to be a favourite.

There's nothing particularly wrong with that. I mean, I've long held the view that different pieces of music have different functions and purposes, and it makes no sense to judge a piece of music as a failure if it doesn't meet criteria the composer was never trying to fulfil.

And then, as I keep looking at this list, Rachmaninov's 3rd symphony jumps out as a work I've never quite embraced (unlike almost every other later Rachmaninov work). I couldn't tell you why just at the moment, it being several months since my last listen and probably a few years since the one before that. I just don't like it as much as I would expect.

So why am I focusing on the things that I listened to and didn't enjoy? I don't know. It could be that I'm trying to create some variety in the blog. It could also be I'm generally grumpy at the time of writing. The world is an annoying place right now for several reasons, including the weather. Let's just leave it at that and move on.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Popular Music - October 2017

Tori Amos
  • The Beekeeper
  • American Doll Posse
  • Abnormally Attracted to Sin
  • Midwinter Graces
  • Native Invader
Fiona Apple - When the Pawn...
Christine and the Queens - Christine and the Queens
Missy Higgins - The Ol' Razzle Dazzle
Level 42 - Running in the Family
John Mayer - Battle Studies
Mike and the Mechanics - Mike and the Mechanics
Joni Mitchell
  • Don Juan's Reckless Daughter
  • Mingus
  • Wild Things Run Fast
  • Dog Eat Dog
Roisin Murphy - Overpowered
Megan Washington - There There
Megan Washington - Saint Lo (single)

The Tori Amos/Joni Mitchell face-off continued in October, though at a slower pace with only 4 pairings of albums. Both artists were, at this point in their careers, changing styles and becoming less popular than before.

While most Tori Amos albums get a hearing pretty frequently, it sometimes surprises me how long I haven't listened to something. Which I guess is one reason I keep proper records in the first place, but it was startling to discover that these particular Missy Higgins, John Mayer and Roisin Murphy albums were all last listened to in 2014. All of those albums seem familiar, as if I've heard them pretty recently. And apparently, this was the first time I'd listened to Mike and the Mechanics since I began keeping pop music data.

Not only does a lot of time elapse between listens, but sometimes a lot of time elapses before I discover music. Yes, it can take me years to buy an album, but it turns out that it's possible for me to miss the existence of music, even from artists I like a great deal.

And so it was that it took me almost a year to realise that Megan Washington (who has reverted back to calling herself just "Washington") had released a new song, Saint Lo.

And it's heavenly.

I thought her last album There There was a major breakthrough and one of the best pop albums I'd heard in a long time. Saint Lo is just one song, but it's possibly even better. Certainly, I became utterly obsessed with it once I found out about it. I bought it on iTunes soon after first hearing it, and played it to death over the next couple of days.

It's moody, it's sensual, and it has a heck of a groove.

I won't go on a rant about the stupidity of an official YouTube account engaging in geoblocking, but the video below might not work for everyone.

So here is a link to a version on Vimeo which is more likely to work for everyone. If you find it as addictive as I do, don't blame me. You have been warned.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Classical Music - September 2017

Bach, J.S. - Falsche Welt, dir trau ich nicht (False world, I do not trust you)
Bach, J.S. - Ich habe genug (I have enough) (version for bass)
Barber - Symphony No.1
Barber - Music for a scene from Shelley
  • Coriolan Overture
  • Scene from "Vestas Feuer"
  • Original introduction to Act 2 of "Leonore"
  • Violin Sonata No.9
Brahms - Serenade No.1
  • Norse Legend (orchestral version)
  • 2 Songs of Robert Bridges
  • Adoration
  • 3 Idylls for string quartet
Bruun - Forårsang (Spring Song)
  • Symphony No.4
  • String Quartet No.6
  • Andante appassionato for string quartet
Faure - Songs, opp.72, 76, 83 and 85
Haydn - Symphonies 43, 44, 45, 48 and 49
Medtner - Skazki, opp.26, 34 and 35
Mozart - Symphonies 25 and 28
Mozart - Piano Sonata No.2
  • Symphony No.2, "The Four Temperaments"
  • Helios Overture
  • Suite from "Snefrid"
Prokofiev - Ten pieces for piano from "Romeo and Juliet"
Rachmaninov - Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini
Rachmaninov - Symphonic Dances
  • Davidsbundlertanze
  • Kinderszenen
  • Kreisleriana
  • Fantasy in C
  • Violin Sonata No.1
  • Piano Sonata No.5
  • Allegro de Concert
  • 2 Impromptus, op.12
Shostakovich - Symphonies 8 and 11
Sibelius - 5 Pieces for violin and piano, op.81
Sibelius - Erloschen
Villa-Lobos - 12 Etudes for guitar
Villa-Lobos - Bachianas Brasileiras No.8

This is one of those times when I look at the list and think, do I have anything I want to talk about?

It turns out the answer is, I want to talk about Haydn symphonies. It's taking a long time to work through the box of symphonies I bought in November 2016, but there's scarcely a disappointment in there. It's possible to argue there's a somewhat standard formula to Haydn's symphonies, but first of all Haydn practically invented that formula, and secondly there is a lot of invention and wit poured into that formula. So listening to each new work is always enjoyable.

And in September I was reaching the so-called Sturm and Drang period, where the symphonies are perhaps a touch more dramatic than before. Of the 5 symphonies listed here, 3 are in minor keys (though not all of them stay in the minor for long), which is as many as there were in 40+ symphonies before this. They're also larger in scale than before. So there's a great deal of interest in the music even after hearing a lot of Haydn over the previous months.

30 CDs of new Haydn is an awful lot to take on, but so far it's undoubtedly been worth it.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Popular Music - September 2017

Tori Amos
  • Y Kant Tori Read
  • Little Earthquakes
  • Under the Pink
  • Boys for Pele
  • From the Choirgirl Hotel
  • To Venus and Back
  • Strange Little Girls
  • Scarlet's Walk
  • Abnormally Attracted to Sin
  • Native Invader
Bat for Lashes - Two Suns
Deborah Conway - Bitch Epic
FKA twigs - M3LL155X
Patty Griffin - Living With Ghosts
Joni Mitchell
  • Song to a Seagull
  • Clouds
  • Ladies of the Canyon
  • Blue
  • For the Roses
  • Court and Spark
  • The Hissing of Summer Lawns
  • Hejira
Thrice - Major/Minor
Rachael Yamagata - Happenstance
Rachael Yamagata - Chesapeake

Buried at the end of one of these long lists is the arrival of Tori Amos' new album, Native Invader. Which I am not quite ready to talk about.

Shortly after it arrived I made a small observation, that I now had 17 Tori Amos studio albums and 17 Joni Mitchell albums. This isn't strictly correct unless you use some slightly creative counting (one example appearing in the next paragraph), but it was good enough for me to start on another one of my "projects", pairing albums from the two artists. During September I got through 8 such pairs.

What happened shortly before Native Invader arrived was the surprise re-release of Tori Amos' first album Y Kant Tori Read (strictly speaking, the self-titled album of a band) on iTunes. Which I bought immediately, not because I think it's something amazing (it's enjoyable, but over-earnest and occasionally embarrassing) but because this was the first time owning a genuine copy was practicable. Tori had indicated shortly beforehand that the album would be released in a few months (which, given how long it's taken me to write this, I can say turned out to be referring to a physical CD release), so the progress of the album from embarrassing past history to officially embraced album was quite sudden.

Another new purchase was FKA twigs' EP, M3LL155X (reportedly to be pronounced "Melissa"). It's electronica, and often weird and glitchy electronica at that. I think I find it to be the strangest of all of FKA twigs' work so far, but I also found it sufficiently compelling to buy.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Classical Music - August 2017

Bach, J.S. - Bekennen will ich seinen Namen (I will acknowledge his name)
  • Dover Beach
  • Overture to 'The School for Scandal'
  • Cello Sonata 
  • The Creatures of Prometheus
  • 12 German Dances for orchestra, WoO 8
  • 12 Contredanses for orchestra, WoO 14
  • Two arias for "The Beautfiul Shoemaker's Wife" 
Brahms - Piano Trio No.1
  • Mid of the Night
  • Serenade (orchestral version)
  • Valse Intermezzo à cordes
  • Chant d'espérance
  • Phantasie String Quartet
  • Novelletten
  • 3 Pieces for string quartet, H.43
Debussy - Cello Sonata
Debussy - La plus que lente (cello arrangement) 
Dvorak - String Quartets 2 to 5
Haydn - Symphonies 26, 42 and 65
Holmboe - Notturno
Holmboe - Hymn to the Sun 
Holten - Puder og skår (Pillows and Shards)
Lorentzen - National-Fanfare
Medtner - Skazki, opp. 8, 9, 14 and 20
  • Symphonies 29 and 30
  • Piano Concerto No.5
  • String Quintet No.1 
Nielsen - Symphony No.1
Nielsen - Two Fantasy Pieces for oboe and piano 
Nørgård - Symphonies 3 and 8
  • Cello Sonata
  • Serenade from Chanson Galliardes (cello and piano version)
  • Bagatelle from Le Bal Masque (cello and piano version)
Rachmaninov - Six songs, op.38
Rachmaninov - Variations on a theme by Corelli
Schoenberg - Pelleas and Melisande
  • Carnaval
  • Symphonic Etudes
  • Symphony in G minor, 'Zwickau' 
  • Piano Sonata No.7
  • 3 Pieces, op.2
  • 10 Mazurkas, op.3
  • Fantaisie, op.28
  • 4 Preludes, op.31
  • 2 Poèmes, op.32
  • Valse in A flat, op.38
  • 8 Etudes, op.42
Sibelius - Songs/Lieder, opp. 36, 37, 38 and 50
Villa-Lobos - Bachianas Brasileiras No.9 (strings and choral versions)

I've fallen behind again, so I won't say an enormous amount about this list. In a lot of ways it's a continuation of the July listening pattern, with the surveys of various composers. I also started a Brahms chronological survey, and possibly I started that in July with the others, but as the earliest Brahms work I own is opus 8 it might not have registered.

The Sibelius songs are worth mentioning, because I was surprised by how good they were. While I had no doubts about Sibelius' quality as a composer, his reputation is almost entirely based on his orchestral work. But there is more than enough in these songs to repay the listener, and I was often struck by how modern they are.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Popular Music - August 2017

Tori Amos
  • Little Earthquakes
  • Under the Pink
  • Boys for Pele
  • From the Choirgirl Hotel
  • To Venus and Back (studio and live)
  • Strange Little Girls
  • The Beekeeper
  • American Doll Posse
  • Abnormally Attracted to Sin
  • Midwinter Graces
  • Night of Hunters
  • Unrepentant Geraldines
  • Gold Dust
Kate Bush - The Dreaming
Tim Corley - Like Stars
Wendy Matthews - Beautiful View
No Doubt - The Singles (1992-2003)
Katie Noonan's Vanguard - Transmutant
Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool
Talk Talk - The Colour of Spring
K T Tunstall - Eye to the Telescope

Yes, there was a little bit of a Tori Amos festival going on. As a sort of preparation for what was then her upcoming album.

However, it's worth mentioning that the "festivities" were a bit sporadic and spread across the month, which means that I did listen to other albums in between rather than being 100% committed. Sometimes I went as many as 5 days without a Tori Amos album!

And of course there was classical music as well.  Mind you, the end result is still a pop music list that is over 50% Tori Amos.

So am I a creature of habit, and is this blog inevitably boring? Well... one thing that still doesn't show up here is the exploration I do with streaming services. My rule still is that one-off listens to music that I don't own does not qualify for these blog lists. But what it does do is create the shopping list. And I think the next significant binge purchase is more likely to be popular music than classical.