Friday 31 January 2020

Popular Music 2019

There are various ways of counting these things, but on the best measure I listened to 95 different albums and EPs of popular music during the year.

Which is holding at the same lowish level as the previous year. I guess I'm relieved it hasn't sunk any lower.

As before, this doesn't count any material I don't own a copy of. Even though I increasingly use streaming (primarily Deezer) to listen to music, the goal is still to purchase things that I really respond to. And that did actually occur a couple of times during the year, as well as some requests for Christmas gifts.

Most Tori Amos albums were heard at least once, though Midwinter Graces missed out again. More interesting is the large amount of Pearl Jam that I listened to in a fairly concentrated burst, including buying more albums post-streaming. I certainly won't claim to have got to know those additional albums properly, but they're now in the library.

Patty Griffin also received a decent airing (5 albums), as did Something for Kate along with Paul Dempsey's solo albums. Radiohead was supplemented by purchase of Amok by Atoms for Peace and a couple of digital Thom Yorke singles.

I also bought my first Sarah Blasko album. I know I want to buy at least one more. The first choice was just a question of which one I found in a shop.

Chronological listening to Depeche Mode albums confirmed that Violator, which I'd picked up a couple of years ago in Germany, really was the best one to own, so that worked out well.

The full list:

Tori Amos
  • Little Earthquakes
  • Under the Pink
  • Boys for Pele
  • from the choirgirl hotel
  • To Venus and Back - venus orbiting
  • Strange Little Girls
  • Scarlet's Walk
  • Scarlet's Hidden Treasures
  • The Beekeeper
  • American Doll Posse
  • Abnormally Attracted to Sin
  • Night of Hunters
  • Unrepentant Geraldines
  • Native Invader
  • Live in Sydney 11/11/14
Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel...
Tina Arena - In Deep
Atoms for Peace - Amok
The Badloves - Get on Board
Beyonce - Beyonce
Sarah Blasko - What the Sea Wants, the Sea Will Have
Kate Bush - The Sensual World
Toni Childs - House of Hope
Toni Childs - Keep the Faith
Christine and the Queens - Christine and the Queens
Christine and the Queens - Chris (English version)
City on a Hill - City on a Hill
Marc Cohn - Marc Cohn
Tim Corley - Anywhere But Here
Tim Corley - Like Stars
Elvis Costello - Extreme Honey
Crowded House - Together Alone
Paul Dempsey - Everything is True
Paul Dempsey - Strange Loop
Depeche Mode - Violator 
FKA twigs - LP1
Brooke Fraser - What to do with Daylight
Garbage - Garbage
george - Polyserena
Gomez - Liquid Skin
Gotye - Making Mirrors
Patty Griffin
  • Flaming Red
  • Children Runing Through
  • Downtown Church
  • American Kid
  • Servant of Love
Missy Higgins - Solastalgia
Incubus - Make Yourself
Jars of Clay
  • If I Left the Zoo
  • The Long Fall Back to Earth
  • The Shelter
Billy Joel - River of Dreams
Elton John - Tumbleweed Connection
Elton John - Madman Across the Water
Nik Kershaw - Human Racing
Jennifer Knapp - The Way I Am
Wendy Matthews - Cafe Naturale
John Mayer - Continuum
John Mayer - The Search for Everything
Joni Mitchell - For the Roses
Joni Mitchell - Court and Spark
Janelle Monae - The Archandroid
Janelle Monae - Dirty Computer
Katie Noonan and the Captains - Emperor's Box
Over the Rhine - Ohio
Pearl Jam
  • Vitalogy
  • No Code
  • Yield
  • Binaural
  • Riot Act
  • Pearl Jam
  • Backspacer
  • Lightning Bolt
  • OK Computer
  • Kid A
  • Hail to the Thief
  • A Moon Shaped Pool
Seal - Human Being
Simply Red - Picture Book
Something for Kate
  • The Official Fiction
  • Desert Lights
  • Leave Your Soul to Science
Talk Talk - The Colour of Spring
Talk Talk - Spirit of Eden
Tears for Fears - The Seeds of Love
  • The Alchemy Index
  • Beggars
  • Major/Minor
Suzanne Vega - Tried and True
Washington - Insomnia
Washington - There There
Rachael Yamagata - Happenstance
Rachael Yamagata - Heavyweight
Thom Yorke
  • Feeling Pulled Apart By Horses
  • Tomorrow's Modern Boxes
  • You Wouldn't Like Me When I'm Angry

Sunday 17 March 2019

Classical Music - December 2018

Bach, J.S.
  • Brich dem Hungrigen dein Brot  (Break with the hungry your bread)
  • Gott fähret auf mit Jauchzen (God goes up with jubilation)
  • Siehe, ich will viel Fischer aussenden (See, I will send out many fishers)
  • Academic Festival Overture
  • Violin Sonata No.1
  • Two Rhapsodies, op.79 
  • String Quartet No.2
  • Berceuse in B flat (solo piano version)
  • Pensée Fugitive
  • Scherzettino in G minor
  • Moderato in E minor
  • 3 Poems for piano
  • Arabesque
  • 3 Improvisations for piano left-hand
  • Miniature Pastorals, Set 3
  • 3 Songs with Viola
  • All Things that we Clasp and Cherish
  • Love is a Rose
  • Dear, When I Look into Thine Eyes
  • Isobel
  • O That It Were So!
  • Strew No More Red Roses
  • Where She Lies Asleep
  • Love Went A-Riding
  • Thy Hand In Mine
Debussy - Fêtes galantes, set 1
Debussy - Proses lyriques
  • Piano Quintet No.2
  • Cypresses for string quartet
  • Psalm 149
  • Two Little Pearls for piano
  • Album Leaf in E flat 
Falla - Psyché
Mozart - String Quartet No.17, 'Hunt'
  • String Quartet No.2
  • Violin Sonata No.1
  • Romance in D for violin and piano
  • Romance (arranged for violin and piano)
  • Two Fantasy Pieces for oboe and piano
  • Symphonic Suite for piano
  • Five Pieces for piano
  • Humoresque Bagatelles
Schubert - Klage der Ceres
  • Three Romances for oboe and piano
  • 3 Gesänge, op.95
  • Lieder und Gesänge aus Wilhelm Meister
  • Requiem for Mignon
Scriabin - 10 Mazurkas, op.3
Shostakovich - Two Fables by Ivan Krylov
Shostakovich - Four Poems of Captain Lebyadkin 
  • Four Legends, op.22
  • 10 Pieces for piano, op.58
  • 3 Sonatinas, op.67
  • The Maiden in the Tower
  • Cantata for the Coronation of Nicholas II
  • Serenad for baritone and orchestra

In summary: lots of new recordings of Bridge (not least because each piece is fairly short) and Nielsen, some new Debussy and Shostakovich. Mostly new Sibelius, though the Four Legends I've had for a while. Brahms and Dvorak chronologies that are still rolling along, and... after over 6 years I still haven't finished going through Bach's cantatas, so those are all first listens.

I don't want to mention anything specifically except to say that getting to know Debussy's songs is proving very rewarding. This is a side of the composer that should be better known.


The total number of works in my collection listened to during 2018, large and small, was 525. That's slightly down on last year, but not particularly low on longer term trends.

Calculating the top 10 composers for the year throws up the following:

1. Bridge (67)
2. Dvorak (57)
3. Schumann (45)
4. Sibelius (43)
5. Scriabin (38)
6. Nielsen (28)
7.= Beethoven (26)
7.= Mozart (26)
9.= Bach (23)
9.= Haydn (23)

Bridge's top place is to a large extent due to counting lots of songs as single entries, because that's the way they are presented rather than in collections. Scriabin also scores highly from having a lot of very short opuses. The high numbers of Dvorak, Schumann and Sibelius works more genuinely represent very strong interest. These are now undoubtedly among the composers I most enjoy listening to.

Debussy just missed out on the list again, along with Brahms and Faure. It was an extremely lean year for Holmboe, with just 8 works. Chopin was listened to only once.


This might be the point at which these monthly lists end. I haven't decided for certain, and the more obsessive side of my personality might refuse to let me finish when I'm still a couple of months behind...

This doesn't mean that I won't be keeping records of what I listen to. That's an exercise that I find valuable for my own purposes. But reporting on it for the blog can be a bit of a chore, not least because it means I have to make sure I have a clean break each month in my data (something that tends to be more effort for popular music, where I'm more likely to listen to something a number of times over a period of a week or two).

So I might try writing about particular things instead, discussing music that is getting my attention. Which actually might look a fair bit like the parts of the blog entries that have been below the lists.

It might make posts more frequent, or less frequent. I'm not sure. I haven't thought it through before now.

There are in truth only a handful of people who actually read entries on this blog (and if you do, thank you), so I doubt anyone besides me will be perturbed about changes. But I'm hoping any changes are for the better.


Monday 11 February 2019

Popular Music - December 2018

Tori Amos - Under the Pink
Tori Amos - Abnormally Attracted to Sin

Whatever I was doing in December, it wasn't listening to pop music. Perhaps occasionally it was in a form that doesn't count for this blog, where the music needs to be a complete album (or other work, as conceived by the artist) that I own.

But I do also remember some difficult circumstances at work, where I normally do a lot of my pop music listening, which meant that I wasn't getting comfortable and listening at my desk.

So let's just move onto the yearly summary, shall we?


I listened to only 96 albums during 2018 (including one greatest hits and a couple of EPs), which is a bit low.

Within that list are 12 Tori Amos albums (a couple of hers did miss out), 7 Jars of Clay albums, and 6 Patty Griffin albums.

My pop music listening continues to stagnate, really. I didn't make a lot of new purchases, though the ones I did make were thoroughly rewarding. I am in fact trying, at the time of writing, to push myself to explore a bit more. However that won't be reflected in this blog as currently conceived unless it leads to purchases.

It's possible I might change the way this blog works, though...

Sunday 27 January 2019

Classical Music - November 2018

Bach, J.S. - Violin Concerto No.1
Bach, J.S. - Keyboard Partita No.4
Barber - Piano Concerto
Barber - Canzone for flute and piano 
Brahms - Violin Concerto
Bridge - Four Characteristic Pieces
Bridge - Miniature Suite 
  • Saint Ludmila
  • Slavonic Dances, Series 2 (piano and orchestral versions)
  • Terzetto for 2 violins and viola
  • Miniatures for 2 violins and viola
  • Romantic Pieces for violin and piano 
Haydn - Harmoniemesse
Mendelssohn - Cello Sonata No.1
Nielsen - String Quartet No.1
Nielsen - String Quintet 
Schumann - Introduction and Allegro appassionato for piano and orchestra
Schumann - Der Handschuh
  • Valse in F minor, op.1
  • 2 Nocturnes, op.5
  • 2 Impromptus a la Mazur, op.7
  • The Wood-Nymph (tone poem and recitation versions)
  • Cantata for the University Graduation Ceremonies of 1894
  • Menuetto for orchestra
  • Two Rondinos for piano 
Snider - Penelope

This list isn't as long as for some months, but some of the works are rather substantial. Dvorak's Saint Ludmila runs for over 2 hours. Unfortunately it's also one of his less appealing works. I tried this time to listen to the music without paying much attention to the horribly outdated plot, but this strategy was only mildly successful in improving my impression.

The Wood-Nymph is one of Sibelius' early tone poems that doesn't seem to be performed very often. I already knew the tone poem version, which has a quite astonishing passage depicting a rider going through a forest. However, at the same time Sibelius also produced a considerably shorter (and even more rarely performed) version where the poem that inspired the work is recited over the music. This version is in the BIS Sibelius Edition box of works for voice and orchestra that I purchased recently.

Reading descriptions of what the tone poem depicts in liner notes is one thing. Having a chance to hear and read the full text is quite another. Not only did it make the recited version a rewarding experience, it enhanced my enjoyment of the tone poem when I listened to it shortly afterwards.

Saturday 26 January 2019

Popular Music - November 2018

Tori Amos
  • Under the Pink
  • From the choirgirl hotel
  • American Doll Posse
Christine and the Queens - Chris (English and French versions)
Paul Dempsey - Everything is True
Jars of Clay - Good Monsters
Jars of Clay - The Long Fall Back to Earth
Nik Kershaw - Human Racing
Radiohead - In Rainbows
Something for Kate - Leave Your Soul to Science
Suzanne Vega - Tried and True
Rachael Yamagata - Happenstance

Once I had a little bit of familiarity with the English version of Chris, I turned to the French version. Really, with the songs that appear on both versions the effect is pretty much the same. When it comes to the songs that differ, my initial reaction was that the English listeners got the better music.

The (rather slow) excursion through the Jars of Clay discography reached the last two albums I'm familiar with. Good Monsters was raved about in some quarters when released, but struck me as disjointed. Over time it's gradually rehabilitated itself in my ears, and this time I found that I was consistently enjoying myself. I still don't love certain parts of certain songs, but I can cope with them. The Long Fall Back to Earth had already been rehabilitated more quickly, possibly because it is unashamedly a pop album and my expectations are different.

Monday 14 January 2019

Classical Music - October 2018

Brahms - Piano Pieces, op.76
  • Capriccio No.2
  • A Sea Idyll
  • Lean Close Thy Cheek
  • Fair Daffodils
  • Adoration
  • So Perverse
  • Tears, Idle Tears
  • The Violets Blue
  • Come to me in my Dreams
  • My Pent-up Tears Oppress my Brain
Debussy - Fêtes galantes, set 2
Debussy - Three Ballades of François Villon
  • From the Bohemian Forest
  • Violin Sonata in F
  • 2 Waltzes for string quartet
  • Polonaise for cello and piano
  • Bagatelles for strings and harmonium
Haydn - Symphonies 100 and 104
Holmboe - To the Unsettled Weather
  • Piano Trio
  • String Quartet in D minor
  • String quartet movements / possible quartet in F
  • Violin Sonata in G
  • Duet for violins
  • Fantasy piece for clarinet and piano
  • Humoresque Bagatelles for piano
  • Erinnerung (Totenopfer)
  • An die Natur
  • Lied (Ferne von der grossen Stadt)
  • Täglich zu singen
  • Ganymed
  • Die Erde
  • Wehmut
  • Die Mutter Erde
  • Die Allmacht
  • Das Lied im Grünen
Schumann - Lieder-Album for the Young
Schumann - Konzertstück for 4 horns and orchestra
Shostakovich - Seven Romances on Poems of Alexander Blok
Shostakovich - Six Poems by Marina Tsvetayeva
  • Kullervo
  • En Saga
  • Karelia Suite
  • Overture in E
  • Scene de Ballet
  • Rakastava (choir and orchestra version)
  • Two Chorales for choir and orchestra
  • Pensées Lyriques
  • Kyllikki
The focus in October was very much on new purchases, both the ones that arrived in September and a few more.  The new additions were several albums from Hyperion's set of the complete Schubert songs (which I decided were more interesting to get as the single recitals, a decision that might lead to years of frustrated hunting on eBay), and 2 different collections of Sibelius' orchestral music.  After a very protracted period of research I worked out that these particular boxes would provide 80 to 90 percent of the works I wanted to add to my collection.

Sibelius is, in my opinion, one of the greatest orchestral composers. I've decided to explore this part of his work chronologically, which does present some very interesting early works. Kullervo being the exceptionally large and grand example. Not every work is a masterpiece, but they are certainly instructive. For example, the Overture and Scene de Ballet started life as the 2 movements from Sibelius' first attempt at writing a symphony.

Apart from the Sibelius, one of the other highlights of this list was Dvorak's From the Bohemian Forest. It's the only one of his piano duet works that he did not orchestrate. It's also perhaps the finest of them.

Saturday 12 January 2019

Popular Music - October 2018

Christine and the Queens - Chris (English version)
Amy Grant - Lead Me On
Jars of Clay - Who We Are Instead
Jars of Clay - Redemption Songs
Level 42 - Running in the Family
Wilco - Star Wars

There aren't many albums on the list (yet again), but some of them were listened to multiple times  Either on the grounds of being new, or on the grounds of being old and not as familiar as they ought to be.

Chris was the brand new album that I was very much looking forward to. Having taken some effort to get both the original and English versions of Christine and the Queens' debut album in order to hear how it was originally envisioned and what was done to it, I was very pleased indeed that Chris offered parallel English- and French-based versions in the one package. Not all the songs are the same, with a handful only being available in one of the languages, but that's fine when it's equally easy for me to hear both.

Having said that, I decided to focus on just the English version initially to try and get familiar with the music. I'm not sure I know all of it equally well yet, but (as with the debut album) there is some very accomplished and catchy pop music here. Enjoyable riffs are abundant.

One of the older albums was Redemption Songs. I'd never connected with this as well as other Jars of Clay albums, until now. Essentially it consists of hymns and spirituals, but with many of them recomposed to some extent. It often has a quite old-fashioned feel to it, particularly in the words. I think I listened to it a few times when I first bought it, but not much after that. Apart from the two songs I had previously heard, the album tended to blend together for me. There was a lot of steady mid-tempo music.

This time around, though, by concentrating more, and splitting the album into two halves (CDs might have physically killed A- and B-sides, but I firmly believe that most albums are still conceived with them), I felt more shape to the music. There is a sort of basic, traditional "niceness" to Redemption Songs that means it doesn't plumb the emotional depths, but it's still a good listen.

The other album that was metaphorically picked up and dusted off was Star Wars, which I only have as a download because that was the way that Wilco offered it entirely free back in 2015. My records indicate I hadn't listened to it since 2015, and I suspect that might only have been once. Twice at the most. The collection of mostly 2- or 3-minute songs, and a total playing length under 34 minutes, simply hadn't the weight to make an impact.

But the same strategies I used for Redemption Songs also worked for Star Wars. It wasn't enough to make me think this is a great album, but it was definitely enough to make me think it's an album I will enjoy listening to, and so I will try to do that a bit more often from now on.