Listen to this track by former Roxy Music member, producer, and ambient art rock forseer Brian Eno. It’s “St. Elmo’s Fire”, a song as featured on his landmark 1975 album Another Green World.
When not playing the songs on the album completely by himself, he is joined by some luminary musicians from the prog and art rock camp, including Robert Fripp (who plays the squiggly guitar break on this tune), John Cale, and Phil Collins of Genesis, one of the many bands to which Eno would lend his sought-after production skills.
Eno’s feel for texture in the producer’s seat would also inform this record, which was looked upon as a crossroads album away from rock songs, albeit ones with unexpected angles, and into a more experimental space where minimalist mood pieces were more central. This song is one of five out of fourteen that contains lyrics, for instance.
There is a lot of talk about experimentation when artists put out records that diverge from the pop song plot. But, the question in this case is, was the experiment a success? (more…)
Listen to this track by British singer-songwriter, producer, and neo-classical, electronica, art rock vessel Imogen Heap. It’s “The Listening Chair”, a single as taken from her latest record Sparks. That record began three years ago, when she began to collect sounds and subject matter to use as material to weave into its fabric, sourcing much of it directly from fans. The sounds themselves are field recordings of ordinary sounds, serving Heap as “sound seeds” for new songs. Even the cover of the album is a collage of footprints made by fans. The subject matter began to coalesce when she began to find common threads in the suggestions for songs made by fans her own age, and at the same stage of life.
On this song, a complex series of melodic and harmonic lines are created from her voice, with layer upon layer being added to create a song that can be described as being delicate, and full of existential darkness too, like that of a life itself. And funny that! This is Heap’s aural autobiography, from her early childhood to her 35-year old self, from talking to animals to making love, making money, and making a difference.
In any case, what does the listening chair represent beyond that? Well, it’s something that’s never been done before. (more…)
Listen to this track by synth-pop purveyors and technologically minded quartet from the Wirral in the northwest of England Orchestral Manoeuvers In The Dark, aka OMD. It’s “Tesla Girls”, a single as taken from their 1984 LP Junk Culture.
The album was the follow-up to Dazzle Ships, which had served to be something of a dip in their fortunes chartwise the year previous, a record that’s now celebrated as being ahead of its time, even if it was misunderstood by critics upon release. It could be that their work had drifted into darker political themes and more experimental textures that perhaps didn’t play as well on the radio by 1983.
This song was a definite move in a more pop direction after the more avant garde approach of Dazzle Ships.This single was the third salvo from Junk Culture as a whole after “Locomotion” and “Talking Loud and Clear”. And what a bright and chirpy song this is, although as usual the lyrics of this song make it angular and distant for contrast, and somewhat mysterious too. And to that point, who are the Tesla Girls of this song, anyway? (more…)
Listen to this track by former member of pub rockers The Motors and power pop proponent in his own right Bram Tchiakovsky, also the name of the band. It’s “Girl Of My Dreams”, a minor hit as featured on his 1979 solo album Strange Man, Changed Man.
The track scored attention on both sides of the Atlantic, with a sort of stylistic reversal at work. By that I mean that Bram Tchaikovsky was a British musician, playing American-style power pop, a style which had been influenced in turn by British musicians in the ’60s.
Influences in rock music had become pretty permeable by the end of the Seventies in that way, with an incredible and seemingly simultaneous shift back to the musical basics on both sides of the pond that made rock music so vital in the first place; hooks, lyrics that spoke to the experiences of an audience, and a simple is best approach to everything, from solos, to arrangements, to production.
All of that can be found here in this unassuming pop song. So where did it come from? (more…)
Listen to this track by Austin Texas rock auteurs Spoon. It’s “Jonathon Fisk”, a single from their critically-acclaimed 2002 record Kill The Moonlight, their fourth. The album would place them on track to be one of the most consistently great bands of the 2000s, establishing an artistic trajectory and momentum they continue to create for themselves today. The record would make all kinds of best-of lists across the music press.
The song is a childhood recollection by singer, guitarist, and writer Britt Daniel of being bullied by the titular figure; a kid who talks with his fists, and counts the narrator’s teeth every night. But, this is no act of revenge, the result of a songwriter lashing out through his art. It goes deeper than that, back into the primal fear of what it feels like to be persecuted by a school bully when you’re a kid, and to realize you’re still carrying it with you.
But, this being Spoon, the whole drama unfolds using the most basic of tools, and to the most precise effects. (more…)
Listen to this track by jazz saxphonist, arranger, and latter day TV soundtrack composer Oliver Nelson. It’s “Stolen Moments”, an established jazz standard covered by many since, and the centerpiece to his celebrated 1961 album The Blues And The Abstract Truth.
Nelson is joined on this song by a selection of some of the greatest musicians in jazz at the time; Paul Chambers on bass, Roy Haynes on drums, Eric Dolphy on flute, Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, and Bill Evans on piano. Nelson’s septet is rounded out by George Barrow, who holds down the low end on baritone sax, even if he doesn’t take a solo. With this tune, it’s the voices of the horns working together to bring out the harmonic beauty found in the theme of the song that makes it such a work of note.
Much in the same way horns would be tightly arranged later in the decade on significant jazz releases like Lee Morgan’s “The Sidewinder”, and Horace Silver’s “Song For My Father”, the horns here on this piece are interlocked in the same way they are on a lot of R&B tunes. Perhaps this sheds some light on where Nelson had come from as a musician, and perhaps pointed to where he was going, too. (more…)
Listen to this track by pop and jazz-inflected concern from Chicago The Sea & Cake. It’s “The Colony Room” as taken from their fifth record Oui released in 2000.
The Sea & Cake is something of a supergroup of sorts with each member stemming from local bands on the Chicago scene, including Archer Prewitt of the Coctails (guitar, vocals), Sam Prekop (vocals, guitar) and Eric Claridge (bass and synths) of Shrimp Boat, and John McIntire (drums) from Tortoise. The album was something of a comeback for the band, since all of the members had side projects to pursue after their last one from 1997, The Fawn.
But, what did all of those projects bring to this song once The Sea & Cake reconvened?