Soundtracks For Winter Departures is a new release on English label TXT Recordings, from Italian experimental musicians Sergio Calzoni and Andrea Bellucci.
It begins ominously, in the low hum of ‘The Arrival’, then slides into ‘Burian’, a subtle building up of tension. ‘A Prayer for the Departed’ continues the theme, and it’s beginning to sound as though this Soundtrack is one for consoling the listener on grey, misty winter days.
But that’s clearly too quick a judgement. ‘In Every Place’ begins to gently throw some warmth into proceedings, adding gentle, delicate synth sounds to the mix. Perhaps this is not so much intended to support the listener through the winter months as to hint at moving through cold, dull days towards somewhere better. There is – slightly perversely – a warmth about this album which coddles the senses.
Standout track ‘Returning after leaving’ is a case in point. Heavy, blanketing layered string sounds are washed by a wave of soft static, running just ahead of a gradually introduced steady pulse and droplets of tinkling ice (and is that a tiny fragment of broken sax I hear in the background?). This is cold and heat combined, like an Icelandic hot spring on a spring morning.
Later, ‘Lux Ephemeral’ begins in darkness, with heavy clouds of sound, but ends up soaring and leads into the final three tracks, each lighter than the last, and concluding with a sweet piano riff on ‘Springtime Returns’.
The Independent called this album ‘stunning’, and who I am to disagree with that august journal?
You can hear the influences – Mike Oldfield on the title track, Ryuichi Sakamoto on ‘Closed Eyes’, Steve Reich on ‘Iztac’ – but each track does more than simply ape another artist. ‘Iztac’ moves from ‘Different Trains’ era Reich to finger picked guitar and muffled drone. ‘Barely Above’ cuts its minimalist single piano notes with electronic sounds and (I think) violin, then what could be the sound of soft footsteps on snow.
Apparently the artist walked across a frozen lake every day from his cabin in in the Colorado mountains to the recording studio, and that seems quite apt. It’s an album which is autumnal as it starts and becomes more wintry as it progresses – the perfect soundtrack for these ever colder days.
It’s presumably the bits and pieces, the warm ups and run throughs, leftover from Martin Rossiter’s debut album The Defenestration of St.Martin (which everyone should definitely listen to), or maybe it’s deliberate EP which Rossiter put together for fans of the LP. Who knows, but either way it’s a fantatsic companion piece,with four piano led over versions very much in the style of St.Martin.
My favourite track is the opening ’27 Strangers’ by a band called Villagers, who I’d never heard of (and whose other songs turned out, sadly, not to be quite so good), but all four tracks are great, and the cover of Prince’s ‘if I was your Girlfriend’ gets bonus points for unexpectedness).
If you only listen to one track, listen to this:
Digital only, sadly.
Oh, and here’s the Villagers original, just because it’s ace.
Accoridng to the only description I could find online ‘United Bible Studies is an experimental and improvisational folk band from Ireland, with members in the UK.’ I think (could be wrong) that it’s basically David Colohan of Raising Holy Sparks and a variety of talented occasional contributors, recording a pretty eclectic mix of trad and non trad folk, rural psych and drone. Whatever it is specifically, it can be very good indeed.
Given that, this mini album is definitely from the more trad end of the UBS spectrum. It’s a mix of traditional folk ballads and original tracks, and begins with An Cailín Gealach (‘The Irish Girl’), which is in Gaelic and which, consequently, I understand barely a word of ((it does dip briefly into English, incidentally, as the singer presumably quotes an English speaker), but it doesn’t matter; there’s something in the quality of the singing which makes the meaning of the lyrics less important than the sound of them.
The next track ‘With Ravens On Our Wrists’ is the first instrumental, a pleasant if fairly standard slice of rural folk enlivened by the switch to a jig in the last forty seconds or so. If I was being a bit arty, I’d say these instrumentals work a bit like sorbet at a posh dinner – cleansing the palate for the next song.
And the next song in this case is perhaps the most traditional song on the album – ‘The Roving Ploughboy-O’. Don’t be put off by the ‘-O’ though, even if it suggests that Rambling Sid Rumpo is about to launch into song. With something of the air of the 90s Alisdair Roberts, it’s a straight-forward, and excellent, version of the traditional ballad, played ans sung without much ornamentation.
The best of the original tracks, entitled ‘Ghostwritten’, follows. I don’t know if this was recorded live, or if the muddy vocals are deliberate but either way it works well for me. It’s a short song (only 01:42) with minimal backing and a pair of voices, and leads into my personal favourite song on ‘Huntly Town’, a version of one of my favourite folk songs, ‘Bogie’s Bonnie Belle’. The singing is fresh and sweetly done, the instrumentation lush and layered, and the combination – listen out for the little crescendo as the narrator and Belle let their feet slide away down by the banks of Cairnie – is one I could listen to over and over again. The finest version of the song I’ve heard.
The album closes with ‘Pillars of Cloud’, another almost intrumental guitar piece, with just a quiet chat by an unknown elderly artist, content with his position in the world and wary of the effects of power, dropped into the background.
‘the forgotten time’, a delicate piano line under a layer of oscillating synth sounds segues into the insistent driving of ‘maybe you will find me’, which in turn morphs into ‘we walk long distances through silent sleep’, a seven minute combination of mellow, rolling piano and hazy interference, before ‘you can still be beautiful’ surprises with the inclusion of a soft vocal – and I find myself intrigued by the images which prompted this release, four photographs by Heidi Kuisma (who, the internet informs me, is a Finnish born photographer now resident in Glasgow).
They’re not included in the digital download, which is a shame, but raking about in Google Images throws up the photo of a branch at the top of this post and this one and I can’t help wonder which photo links to which track…
It’s a bit of a strange concept – an album of songs based on a single episode of the tv series Doctor Who, and not even the modern wildly successful show, but the old one from the 1980s. But hey, I love 20th century Doctor Who, so I’m not seriously complaining on that score.
The story it’s based on – The Caves of Androzani – is a bit of an acknowledged classic, famous in equal parts for marking the death of one incarnation of the Doctor and for one scheming characters asides direct to camera. In Doctor Who terms it’s both pretty grim and pretty layered and even poetic. so there’s plenty of scope for The Sevateem (another Doctor Who reference) to stretch themeselves creatively.
That they don’t really do so isn’t entirely their fault, though. Part of the problem is that they very literally try to tell the story from television – and while a ballet dancer in a black and white face mask is a striking visual image, it loses something when you have to actually say the description out loud.
Maybe the album is a bit too ambitious for its own good, in fact. It starts very strongly with ‘Anywhere in the Universe’ which, vocally and musically at least, is reminsiscent of something damn good by Ladytron, but the fact that the band employ a variety of different vocalists means that this height is only occasionally matched elsewhere. Styles too change a bit too often so that three tracks in we get the slightly lumpen school disco beat of ‘You Work for Me’ where more tracks along the same lines as the opener would have been far more welcome. Sometimes ‘just like the last one’ is a legitimate approach.
The album’s like that throughout, in fact – a series of highs and lows, often in close proximity to one another: ‘Pay for this’, a just about adequate stab at Pet Shop Boys style 80s pop, is followed by the far superior ‘Is it Wrong?’ and so on. Basically if (I assume) Janey Winterbauer is singing, then it’s one of the better tracks.
To be clear thugh, there’s nothing awful and much which is excellent – and proceeds go to ‘Doctors without Frontiers’, and there’s enough good stuff on here to make it more than worth a fiver of anyone’s money.
If you only listen to one track, listen to this:
Available as a digital download: https://thesevateem.bandcamp.com
It’s an interesting idea – record unrehearsed piano pieces direct to the Voice Memo software that comes with an iPhone, then allow a second artist to make such additions as they see fit afterwards. It’s also an approach which leaves itself open to claims of ‘flippancy’, a notion rightly rejected by label Crow Versus Crow, who say the recordings are “considered, concentrated distillations of reflected emotional experience, precise and lyrical.”
Which they are. Short, one and two minute pieces by Euan Alexander Millar-McMeeken aka glacis, contemplative but never slow, introspective but completely accessible, across which Fraser McGowan of Caught in the Wake Forever pastes and interweaves snippets of sound, abrading the edges of the piano with domestic backgrounds and the muted refrain of repetitive mechanics and misfiring electronics. The additions range from mere hints of rough interference to distinct instrumentation given equal weight to Euan’s piano, but in every case the collaboration works to create something greater than the individual elements.
If you only listen to one track, listen to this:
Available on digital download and as a limited edition cassette.
I can’t remember how on earth I first heard this, or where. Not on bandcamp, because I was pleasantly surprised to find a bandcamp download voucher in with the vinyl release when it arrived, Wherever it was, thank God I did, because this is a truly astonishing record.
I’ve also no idea what Ms Coltrane et al are actually singing – presumably some Krishna chants and the like, but it doesn’t really matter. The combination of, by turns droning and soaring, keyboards, sitar and understated percussion, nestled beneath a series of different …well, yes, ecstatic, voices, is one which is designed to sweep you away.
There’s so much beauty and serenity in these tracks that’s it actually breath-taking at times, and me trying to describe them is a fool’s errand. Just go to the bandcamp page and listen to ‘Om Shanti’. You wont regret it.
A few years ago, this book came out, listing the best or most influential or something 1001 albums of all time. It’s almost certainly full of rubbish, misses out all sorts of left-field greatness and about as much objective use as a chocolate teapot, but even so – I thought I’d give them all one listen each, five at a time…
Obviously, if it gets too rubbish, I’ll give up and listen to something else – but I do love a list…
1001 – In The Wee Small Hours – Frank Sinatra (1955)
I’m not a Sinatra fan. Best to get that out of the way at the start. That big band, bloke dressed like a waiter strolling about the stage with a mic held loosely in his hands is – along with very violent shouty grime rap – about the only sort of music I’ve never been able to engage with, and so I’ve tended to give Ol’ Blue Eyes a body swerve.
Which goes to show what a grade one twat I can be.
Because this is fantastic. This isn’t an old bald guy belting out ‘New York, New York’, this is a proper torch singer, bleeding all over a chunk of vinyl. This is smoky bars and whisky, too many cigarettes and too many women walking out the door. This is a revelation!
‘Why can’t we be friends?’ Sinatra sings on the finest track on the album – oh, we can, Frank, we can now!
1000 – Elvis Presley – Elvis Presley (1956)
Perversely, I love Elvis, but I’ve never really cared for this, his début album.
Don’t get me wrong, the voice is there from day one, but the early days of rock and roll more than any other musical period I can think of suffer now from a lack of being there – it’s impossible to grasp the impact this sound had on contemporary ears. Take something like ‘One Sided Love Affair’; presumably it blew listeners away in 1956, but to me it’s a pretty dull and formulaic slab of pedestrian rock and roll, full of scatty sounding piano and exaggerated vocals, or ‘I Got a Woman’, which is allegedly a classic but which seems to be so because it’s a white guy doing Ray Charles. And Christ but I hate ‘Tutti Frutti’.
I’m doing this a disservice, though, I know. Historical importance aside, even to my 21st century ears, there’s some gold on here – the best ever version of ‘Blue Moon’, the proto-Elvis balladry of ‘I Love You Because’, which has some great guitar work holding it up, and, most of all, ‘I’m Trying to Get to You’, which – slowed down, admittedly – Sinatra could have covered without shame on ‘In the Wee Small Hours’.
For me, Elvis achieved greatness in the sixties, after returning from the Army, but there are moments, even as early as this, when I can hear the brilliance to come. Just not all the time.
Tragic Songs of Life – The Louvin Brothers (1956)
Sure, they sound like the Everley Brothers (not the worst thing ever, to be clear, but not exactly dangerous), but don’t be fooled – if Nick Cave had been recording in 1956, this is the album he’d have put out. Murders, suicides, God, serial killers and dead soldiers – all of Cave’s familiar obsessions are here.
To be honest, the fact that Gram Parsons loved them is literally the only thing I know about the Louvin Brothers, but a glance at the cover of this album and then the title would have had me picking it up in a record shop.
I doubt I’d have played it all that much, though. At their best – on ‘Knoxville Girl’, say. or ‘Katie Dear’ – they’re certainly listenable enough, but generally speaking even a ‘Murder Ballads’ lp from 1956 is still pretty tame stuff.
The Wildest! – Louis Prima (1956)
The notes for this claim that jazz fans have called Prima a poor man’s Duke Ellington, and – having about as much knowledge of jazz as I do of quantum mechanics – I’ve no idea if that’s true, but if he is, then Ellington must be amazing!
Because this is brilliant from beginning to end – the most FUN record I can remember hearing. The title’s no exaggeration – it’s wild, bouncy and exuberant, never letting up for even a second, full of mad horn playing,scat singing, laughter and great tunes. I’d never heard any Prima before now – but I hope there’s more as good as this…
This is Fats – Fats Domino (1956)
It’s fine, maybe even good. It’s Fats Domino and it’s not ‘Blueberry Hill’, so that’s a positive. And ‘Valley of Tears’s sounds a tiny bit different from the others, so that’s also a good thing.
Eh..and that’s it. Harmless enough, pleasant enough, never likely ever to be played again by me…
Summons of Shining Ruin is Shinobu Nemotu, an ambient composer for whom the word ‘prolific’ was almost certainly coined. With hundreds of pieces released on a multitude of labels, it’s tricky to pick a favourite, but this was the very first work of his I heard, and I still play it a lot.
It’s called ‘Installed Teleportation Machine’ but for me its combination of tape loops and found sounds should be the soundtrack to a video tour round one of those abandoned cities you read about on the internet – empty tower blocks with trees growing out the windows and car show rooms full of orange and brown 1970s cars.
Sonically, it’s like a more accessible William Basinski, or the contemplative parts of the last Godspeed You! Black Emperor album, but with a gentle, melancholy feel to it which I hear in all of Nemotu’s work.
If you only listen to one track, listen to this one: