Björk Sings “Hidden Place”

BjorkVespertineListen to this track by Icelandic former Sugarcubes frontwoman turned electronica art pop maven Björk. It’s “Hidden Place”, the first single as taken from her highly acclaimed 2001 album Vespertine, released in the summer of that year. The album would go onto many a best-of-the-decade list, and stand as a significant change in artistic direction for its author.

The record was created while Björk was engaged in the creation of the soundtrack for the movie she starred in at the time, that being Lars Von Trier’s Dancer In The Dark. The movie was screened at the Cannes film festival in 2000, where Björk won an award for Best Actress. Along with the critical accolades however, her experience on the shoot was purportedly tense. Von Trier’s tight control of the project rankled against her own creative impulses in the lead role. As a result, Vespertine could be looked upon as an equal and opposite reaction to the action of starring in her first (and possibly last) feature film with another artist in Von Trier at the helm.

This wasn’t just about control. It was also about tone. In the movie, Björk’s character Selma after whom the companion album Selmasongs is named is an extroverted and driven character who becomes the tragic victim of circumstance. If this song has a character at the center of it, then she could be considered Selma’s opposite; a langourously relaxed, insular, and contented person. This is due to another force in Björk’s life at the time; new love. Read more

Boards of Canada Play “Dayvan Cowboy”

Listen to this track by Scottish downtempo post-rock duo, and National Film Board obsessives Boards of Canada. It’s “Dayvan Cowboy”, a track that appears on their 2005 album The Campfire Headphase as well as the follow-up EP that appeared the next year, Trans-Canada Highway.

Boards of Canada The Campfire Headphase This track was the lead song of the whole record, released a few weeks before to give listeners a taste of what was to be the band’s third release. With their previous releases, they’d become known for heavily treated instrumentation that obscured the original sounds of the instruments used to create the parts.

The result was pure analogue electronic texture that translates into warm atmospheres with a sense of spaciousness, and an ineffable nostalgia for the hazy memories of childhood. That’s their genius.

But, on this track and on many of the others, they changed their tack a bit.
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Mark Hollis Performs “A Life (1895-1915)”

Mark Hollis solo album Listen to this track by former Talk Talk creative honcho and minimalist composer Mark Hollis. It’s “A Life (1895-1915)”, what he considered to be the centerpiece of his only solo album, Mark Hollis. The record was released in 1998 without much fanfare, since its author asserted that “fanfare” of any kind didn’t really match with the material on the record. That meant no gigs. It would be an entity of the studio only, a one-shot deal.

The approach wasn’t exactly out of the ordinary for Hollis, who wasn’t your standard frontman in a not-your-standard band in Talk Talk. One-off records by former frontmen are often associated with contractual obligation, particularly when there’s no follow-up. But here, there is a definite sense of artistic continuity. Like his work under the Talk Talk creative umbrella, the use of space plays a pretty big role on his solo record and in this piece. And to Hollis’ point, it would be hard to really take this music in while in a live setting. Imagine how many intrusive conversations, clinking glasses, and inebriated guffawing it would have to cut through.

Another aspect of this is the sources where this material is derived. To my ears, the first one that leaps to mind is late ’50s Gil Evans. Minimalist composition in a classical context also seems to be the general sonic neighbourhood here. But, despite my feeling that it’s hard to attach the word “song” to this piece of music, it really is one. But, what is it about?
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Interview with Vancouver Electronica Artist-Producer Adriane Lake

Listen to this track, a slice of warm, ambient electronic goodness by Vancouver electronica artist and producer Adriane Lake. It’s “So Beautiful”, the lead track taken from Lake’s full length 2009 album Morning Glow. The track mixes intertwining vocal lines with subtle, popping beats, and washes of electronic ambience, in places evoking Kate Bush, Bjork, and ’90s drum ‘n’ bass. It has the quality of pop music while being unafraid to go off the path in places, too.

Before this project, Adriane Lake lent her vocal and instrumental talents to other projects, going under the name ‘Adri’ in many places. Lake has been an avid DIY producer of electronica for this solo project, but also as a re-mix artist for Fidgital and Landscape Body Machine, a keyboardist for an experimental rock trio, worked with a world music choir, and even scored music for video games.

I spoke to Adriane via email after a brief exchange on Twitter. We talked about warmth in electronic music, about the false dichotomy between acoustic and electronic, and about the idea of pop music’s possible futures. Read more

Steve Reich’s ‘Section IIIA’ from Music For 18 Musicians

Listen to this track from ambient music pioneer and minimalist composer Steve Reich.  It’s a brief section from his 1976 composition Music For 18 Musicians; “section IIIA” to be exact.  Where much of pop music, and even some classical and jazz relies very heavily on musical “events”, this brief section of a larger, organic piece proves that music doesn’t have to move all that much to be moving, if you see what I mean.

Where experiments with phasing, which is a specialty on which Reich has built a reputation, can be viewed as coldly mathematical, the exact opposite appears to be true here.  This is warm, and even inviting, appealing to the avant garde listener and to the casual listener too, although maybe in different ways.

Perhaps it’s the warm multi-tracked instrumentation – marimbas, clarinets, strings, female voices –  that does it.  Or maybe there is something innately comforting in the repetitive pulse that this music delivers. Read more

Zero 7 Play Their Song ‘Likufanele’

zero_7_-_simple_things_-_album_cover_frontListen to this song by British ambient soul-jazz duo Zero7 with a prime cut off of their 2001 debut album.  It’s “Likufanele”, and the album in question is one of my favourites of that year, Simple Things.

It’s been argued that this band created some momentum in a new form of easy listening.  I suppose that can be argued pretty well.   It’s true that Zero 7 can now be heard in places that you once found a lot of easy listening stalwarts.   Yet, if this is the case, then maybe easy listening just got more interesting.  Let’s take a look at this piece which seems to be mixing African choral music, with 60s Burt Bacharach orchestral pop, with 90s trip-hop.   As much as I hate the idea of ‘functional’ music, if you’re stuck in a dentist office waiting to be fitted for headgear, you could do worse than hearing this piece.

But, before you think I’m damning this tune with faint praise, I’d like to say that there is something about this song, and the whole album in fact which just resonates with people – even with music snobs like myself.  Here’s my theory.

There are people who go about their lives not noticing music playing.  When they’re at the supermarket, the coffee shop, the gym, the spa, wherever, if there’s music playing they don’t notice it unless it’s innocuous enough to cease to ‘function’  wherever  it happens to be playing.  Zero 7 works for them, creating a mood for them to ignore the music to.  Then, there’s people like myself.

Zero 7 are Sam Hardaker and Henry Binns, two former record studio tea boys with some ambition to make records of their own.  They had an initial career remixing the work of others, including Radiohead and Lambchop. In teaming up with vocalists Mozez and Sia Furler, their debut album was an immediate success.

I notice music everywhere.  Every place I go, I am distracted by it.  I can’t ignore it.  So, for me it has to be good, not just functional, not just aural wallpaper as I go about my daily life.  It can’t be boring, either.  Zero 7, and ‘Likufanele’ (translated from the Zulu, meaning ‘it suits you’…) work for me, too.  I love the enmeshing of the voices as they build-up, the warm sounds of the flugelhorn and the vibraphone, the sumptuous strings,  the jazzy 70s flute, the spacey synths, and the Fender Rhodes piano.  And I like the repeating chord structure, that seems to activate a memory of childhood which I can’t quite put my finger on.

Some types of music are easier to listen to than others. But, just because its ‘easy’ like this, it doesn’t mean it has to be uninteresting too.  I think it takes a certain amount of skill to be able to strike that type of balance.  And that is the key to Zero 7’s success.

For more information about Zero 7, check out the Zero 7 official web page.


Beth Orton “Central Reservation” Ben Watt Re-Mix

Here’s a clip of Beth Orton’s ‘Central Reservation’, the title track to the 1999 album of the same name, and re-mixed here by Ben Watt, the album’s producer.  This song appeared in many forms, including re-mixes by Orton’s former collaborator William Orbit.

Two versions of the song appear on the album as well, one being the original track, and the other being an alternate take, with a decidedly Sowetomeets-disco lilt.  It’s the latter which you’re hearing here,  re-mixed by Ben Watt who is known as one half of Everything But the Girl (you guess which half…).

A gifted and respected musician and songwriter, Beth Orton has been known for her collaborations with artists ranging from Ryan Adams, the Chemical Brothers, Bert Janch, Emmylou Harris, and Johnny Marr, among others. She is a long-standing sufferer of Crohn's Disease, which she has managed to overcome although it flairs up when she becomes stressed. Yet, it doesn't seem to have stopped her from performing and recording.

Beth Orton straddles the stylistic lines in a lot of her work, gaining ground as a folky singer-songwriter with touches of world music while also seemingly at home in the world of electronica.  This could have something to do with her early work with William Orbit on his Strange Cargo III album which established her as an effective ambient vocal presence.  She’s adopted a similar tone for her own records, while also expanding her skills as a songwriter.

And the result is a great balance of the best of both worlds.  Her debut album Trailer Park, and the single “She Cries Your Name” rightly established her as a singular talent, and an up and coming singer-songwriter by the mid-90s, a particularly welcome musical presence as something of a soothing “comedown” for dawn-greeting ravers after evenings of glowsticks and E.

This track is one of the most striking things she’s ever done, with lots of erotic imagery that never crosses the line into the world of the crass.  The remix makes the song a bit more celebratory, and I actually prefer it to the original, as good as the original is.  And I love her voice – very understated, and unique in how down to earth it is, almost like a missing connection between the voices of Sinéad O’ Connor and Sandy Denny.   There is something very warm about Beth Orton’s voice that kind of draws you in.  It sounds like the voice of someone you know, a good and reliable friend.

For more music and information, check out Beth Orton’s MySpace page.

And for further insights, read this interview with Beth Orton from Britain’s The Independent.


Lambchop “Up With People” Re-Mixed by Zero 7

Listen to this track of the Zero 7 re-mix of Lambchop’s “Up With People”, a track featured in its original form on the Nashville collective’s Nixon album from 2000.

Lambchop emerged in the mid-90s, a collective of musicians under the musical direction of vocalist and songwriter Kurt Wagner.  With an eclectic mix of styles, the group are identified mainly by the sort of brittle beauty to be found in the arrangements, and in Wagner’s impressionistic lyrics, delivered in a hushed sung-spoken baritone, as if being whispered in your ear.  Although in the centre of it all in Nashville, the band’s major appeal is in the UK, which may be how British duo Zero 7 came to serve as re-mix producers on this tune.

It’s hard to place exactly where this song fits in terms of genre.  It certainly touches on the restrained sub genre of Americana, with some orchestral pop overtones, choral gospel and smooth soul thrown in. This is true of most of Lambchop’s music, which may be one of the reasons it’s so compelling.

Ultimately, “Up With People” is a mood piece about the state of the world, about our lack of perspective as to where we’re steering our own destiny.  The cool lounge-jazz that vaguely evokes a 70s feel brought out in the re-mix really bring out some of the contrast in it.  The song itself is successful in mirroring what many consider to be a pervasive form of delusional optimism that the world will take care of itself, even as ‘we are screwing up our lives today’.  If the sound of the song embodies the optimism, then Wagner’s lyrics undercut it by revealing the foolhardy choice of not taking responsibility for the excesses of our culture.

For more about Lambchop, check out their MySpace page

And for Zero 7, you’d do well to check our their MySpace page too


Boards of Canada, “Roygbiv” from Music Has the Right to Children

Boards of Canada Music Has The Right To ChildrenHere’s a clip of Boards of Canada’s song “Roygbiv”, a favourite of mine for reasons I’m not entirely sure of. This sounds a bit derogatory, maybe. But I mean it in the best of senses. There’s something about this track, which is true of many tracks on the album off of which it comes, Music Has the Right to Children – it reminds me of my early childhood. There is something ineffably early 70s about this. Perhaps this is easily understood, given that much of the output, and the very name of this electronica outfit was inspired by Canadian National Film Board shorts and the accompanying soundtracks produced in this era. Somehow, they must have made their way to Scotland, where Boards of Canada hail from.

“Roygbiv” (a acronym for the color spectrum – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet) was a single of the album, which really isn’t about the singles. This is a record to be listened to in one sitting, with an overall effect to be experienced ranging from these sorts of vague remembrances of the past, with some humour, and not just a little bit of menace too. Perhaps this is what makes this record such a standout from the late-90s Warp Records scene. This is an album meant to be listened to for its subtleties, an ambient record that will not be ignored – a contradiction in terms that proves to be utterly compelling.