Category Archives: album

Colours

ColoursAaah… my first non-reflective post. It’s good to return to blogging, having kept an eye on my stats during the period I wasn’t writing. Having had 40, 50 or more visits per day during the period in which I was initially writing (having stopped in late September/early October to focus on study), it was a bit disappointing to see the number of visits steadily decreasing as people realised there was nothing new.

But now I’m back and hope to turn all that around. Firstly, I’d like to promote some music I’ve recorded during the study period, a short concept album of sorts. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to embed the music player directly into the blog, but you can listen to (and download) these recordings at my Last.fm page. The idea of a colour-themed concept album (EP, really) came to me when my brother was studying musical general knowledge for his violin exam and was learning about Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov, a Russian composer of the Romantic era who had colour synesthesia, a condition which caused him to “experience” colours when hearing music played in certain keys.

I casually remarked to my mother that I associated certain colours with various keys and we soon realised that though I did not have synesthesia (I did not vividly “feel” the colours), some of my colour associations were the same as Rimsky-Korsakov’s. This gave me the idea to play with some musical ideas and record a set of improvisations in keys with which I associated colours, using colour-related ideas.

Red is in D minor, a key which I associate with the colour red and contains a lot of arpeggi and sequence passages, which sort of made me think of some exotic or ornate object, returning to loud and powerful tonal notes in the bass. Yellow is in triple time and meant to sound a bit Eastern European in its chord structure, which made me think of old Russian cartoons and storybooks with a big yellow sun. I also associated yellow with A minor. The image underlying Green (G minor) was one of a forest, and so I worked in some (admittedly simple) cross-rhythms to give the sensation of the complexity of the forest, of the trees in three dimensions, randomly scattered. Blue (E minor) is an ocean, with a lapping, repetitve bass line; the waves rising and falling with cresendo and diminuendo. Finally, White is in C major, more conventional and ballad-y with a recurring tonic note in the higher registers. When I was playing around with the ideas on my upright, the image was one of ice and its cold purity, especially through the harmonics that it caused; but unfortunately these were lost when I recorded it on my electronic piano.

I wanted to record a collection of pieces that meant something to me as a whole, unified by the concept and I found this difficult to do as music without words is quite an abstract medium. So I chose the theme of colour to unify the tracks, and the structure of the album as a whole is sort of like a tierce de Picardie, being in minor but ending in major.

The quality of the playing is far from perfect as these were essentially improvisations, but the actual recording quality turned out all right considering I connected an electric piano directly to the microphone plug of my laptop computer and recorded in Audacity without editing the sound (mainly because I don’t know how to). I would be very grateful for any feedback and hope you enjoy listening to the music (it’s available for free download). Hopefully, it’s something I will be doing more of in the future.

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Siren

Easily my favourite Roxy Music album, Siren contains so many fantastic songs. There are other albums that I love to bits yet are not so consistent. Yet with Siren, all but very few songs are excellent. With the possible exception of End of the Line, I never skip its songs if they come up on Shuffle.

Although, being a member of the iTunes generation, I rarely listen to albums straight and always play tracks on Shuffle from a large (1000 tracks or more) playlist, I really enjoy listening to Siren straight. Take Shuffle off, play Love is the Drug and don’t stop until Just Another High (well, unless there’s something really pressing!). The album just works so well as a coherent and continuing whole (although I am often tempted to repeat tracks).

Definitely my favourite song on the album would be She Sells. There are not many songs that I know of that grab the listener in the first picosecond and actually continue into a song (rather than a jingle). For me, the piano intro is just the best thing there is and the short bursts of syncopation in the verse is powerfully driving. The double-time towards the end also works, although the fade-out at the end of the song is a tad unsatisfying considering its powerful beginning.

The next favourite is Sentimental Fool, which begins a bit like something by The Mars Volta. A lengthy (about two and a half minutes!) introduction leads into silky smooth, almost dreamy vocals. The middle of the song is nice but nothing fantastic; however, the last bit (from spooky piano bit on) is hypnotic, mesmerizing. The ending is a bit of a suprise and terminates while you’re waiting for a bit more. But hey! That’s what the next song, Whirlwind is for (provided you are listening to the album– one of the main reasons this is more satisfying than Shuffle).

I could go on about every song, but I’d rather not, because then I’d never get to sleep (and only a masochist would read it all anyway). Readers please note just because I haven’t detailed each song on the album, it doesn’t mean they’re not as good. I just don’t feel I could say as much about them. It suffices to say that Siren is a very good album (have I said that before?). In short, Bryan Ferry‘s voice and music is fantastic, all the songs on the album are favourites of mine (apart from End of the Line, which I consider nothing special)– they are both interesting musically and have a good feel. I think that’s important; because you can have music that is “interesting” from a theoretical viewpoint, but they don’t “feel good”. Ferry hits the note (literally and figuratively) with the songs on Siren. 5 Stars.

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Viva La Vida

I find it hard to form an opinion on Viva La Vida, Coldplay‘s fourth album. On the one hand, some of the songs were catchy and it was good enough to listen to; but it somehow felt unsatisfying, forgettable almost. It is certainly a step up from X&Y (their third album), but not as good or memorable as A Rush of Blood to the Head (their second album). 

I feel that Coldplay‘s desire to make music that will reach more people: the review from Spin commends Viva La Vida as “an album meant to connect with the masses”. But then again, they gave the album four and a half stars, where as Rolling Stone gave it three and a half: an assessment I’m more inclined to agree with.

And it’s not as if the band is “stagnating” or anything. They have moved in another musical direction (and certainly a positive one from X&Y!), which may be interesting theoretically; but what does that matter when the music doesn’t excite you? I’m almost inclined to compare it to the direction Muse took with Black Holes and Revelations, in that both albums were intended to reach a wider (some may say more main-stream audience); but that would be unfair to Muse in that Black Holes was a pretty good album and unfair to Coldplay in that they did move in a positive direction.

Probably the most catchy song on the album is Violet Hill (which was the first single released), but the song is by no means an excellent song destined to be considered a classic down the track. Its simple chord structure and driving rhythms make it something you’ll get stuck in your head and certainly a song that would be good live; but certainly not a song to make you go “wow”.

Other good songs on the album are 42, which is reminiscent of A Rush of Blood with its soft piano, ostinato chords and simple elegance; moving to a fuller sound and then effectively returning; as well as Yes, which has a quite interesting Middle Eastern sound and works well as a song as a whole (unlike several other songs on this album).

On the other hand, most of the other songs don’t really work for me. Cemetaries of London sounds a bit like something by Eskimo Joe and Lost! makes me think of Arcade Fire (keep in mind, both of those bands bore me to tears). Lovers in Japan sounds like something from a Sony ad but otherwise not terribly exciting; Strawberry Swing and Death and All His Friends don’t do it at all for me: completely forgettable, non-songs. 

On the whole, Viva La Vida is not a bad album. If I heard one of its songs on the radio, I wouldn’t change the station. While certainly better than than the tedium of X&Y, it doesn’t quite reach A Rush of Blood to the Head and is certainly not an album that I listen to a lot or would recommend to friends. While the Internet joke “Coldplay? I thought all their fans died years ago!” is a tad unfair, I wasn’t altogether pleased with the album as a whole. Luckily, the few songs I do like salvage the album to a respectable degree and with it, my opinion of Coldplay. 3 Stars.

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Ghosts I-IV

An interesting album, and an example of artists moving with the times, Ghosts (link to official album website featuring free download of Ghosts I- the first part) by Nine Inch Nails first caught my eye with some minimalist advertising: posters with just the album cover (see left).

This album is both a continuation and a marked change from Reznor’s previous work: a continuation in that he has been exploring sounds and concept albums previously (in fact, the previous album Year Zero was a fascinatingly complex paranoia-themed concept album marketed primarily with an immersive Alternate Reality Game), a change in that it was the first album released after the band left Interscope Records after disagreements about commercialism. 

Entirely instrumental, Ghosts is much more experimental than previous albums and features a variety of sounds, from heavy, industrial music to minimalist piano/xylophone to distorted, computer-created soundscapes. Reznor’s focus in creating the album was: “10 weeks, no clear agenda, no overthinking, everything driven by impulse. Whatever happens during that time gets released as… something”.

Another interesting aspect of this album was that it was released under the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike license, enabling and encouraging others to work with the music, to remix and collaborate- to create and share (examples of such collaboration can be found here— Barett Hiatt, who calls himself Halo33– free to listen online). I think this should be seen as the forefront of a new musical movement, along with developments such as Radiohead‘s free experimental release of In Rainbows and the video design contest that followed that. With major record labels threatened by the propagation of music download on services such as BitTorrent, artists must re-think the way they conceptualize, create and distribute their music. As with Radiohead‘s video contest, NIN have created a user-created “film festival“, providing an oppurtunity for fans to interpret and manipulate the music and share this with others.

Being entirely instrumental, I find Ghosts to be very good background music: just turn on the iPod, turn off Shuffle and start the album– sort of like a soundtrack to your life. When I first got the album, I listened to it straight through, but I find it works extremely well as incidental music, especially on the train in gloomy weather. I would recommend this to anybody who wants something interesting to listen to, even if you hate the rest of their albums. And since the first half of the first CD of this double album is available for free (legal) download here, its well worth a shot. An interesting experimental album that also offers clues for the future of the music industry. 4 stars.

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Dig Lazarus Dig!!

Dig Lazarus Dig!!!, the fourteenth studio album by the incredibly cool Nick Cave and his band The Bad Seeds, is a welcome change to some of his more depressed (not necessarily depressing!), piano-heavy music (i.e. The Boatman’s Call).

Don’t get me wrong… I love most of his stuff. But this is that sort of music that defines Cave as “cool”, rather than your run-o’-the-mill talented musician. Cave has stated that this album is similar in sound to his side project Griderman; a more “garage rock”-type sound.

The music on this album tends to have a repetitive feel with lots of noise happening and a driving, cool beat. It also has an epic feel to it, thanks to the use of instruments such as the organ. It seems most similar in musical style to Let Love In. Vocally, Cave takes on a sneering, Bowie-like quality.

Like pretty much all of Cave’s music, the lyrics are fantastic and a welcome departure from the flaccidity of much Western contemporary lyrics. In the great importance of lyrics to the overall feel of its songs, Dig Lazarus Dig!!! is similar to the Bad Seeds’ previous studio (double) album Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus, in which Cave’s inventive lyrics could conceivably function as stand-alone poetry.

However, in my opinion, Dig Lazarus Dig!!! takes a step further. Its as if Cave has written a book and decided to read it along with some musical backing- often putting way more syllables in a line than we are used to with Western music. This has a similar feel to the operatic tradition of recitative: a focus on lyrics, with a sparse basso continuo accompaniment, to tell a story in between the arias. This makes the choruses even more effective, such as in We Call Upon The Author, where the recurring and driving chorus is especially dramatic compared to Cave’s recitative.

A very cool album that was well worth downloading again when the first copy was a dud. 4 stars.

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