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  • I Am Not A Robot

    17 août 2010, 3h17m

    For the full post (music + images) head to http://malleusincus.wordpress.com/2010/07/26/i-am-not-a-robot/

    Like my compatriot JAW, I too have begun to notice the preponderance of men with acoustic guitars on this blog. As opposed to reacting by needing filth, however, I thought it might be good to pay some homage to the underrepresented gender on this blog (all of our writers seem to be male). I’d argue that a little bit more estrogen might be good for malleus&incus. And while I’d be very happy going for some piano and guitar driven artists like Sara Bareilles or Tristan Pettyman (who are also worth checking out), I thought it might be better to go in a (slightly) different direction, and focus on some artists where, in my opinion, their voice is the most important quality of their music. Because of this, I’d like to also pair two artists you may know already each with an emerging artist based on similarity of vocals.

    Florence + the Machine

    If you haven’t heard of Florence + the Machine by now, you’ve probably been hiding under a rock. Though she doesn’t get all that much radio play stateside, her album Lungs was in the UK Top 40 for 52 consecutive weeks – a full year. The main power behind F+TM is Florence Welch, who combines rock and soul sounds with an eccentricity almost matching that of another popular female today (who I don’t think I need to name).

    That said, Florence has a bit of an obsession with terror, doom, and some other oddities. In a seemingly normal song ‘I’m not calling you a liar,’ Welch says ‘There’s a ghost in my lungs/ and it sighs in my sleep/ wraps itself around my tongue/ as it softly speaks.’ This kind of oddly poetic imagery frequents F+TM’s lyricism. However, I honestly listen to F+TM for the interchanges made by Florence’s voice and the rest of the band. Newsom-esque harp-playing is paired with heavy drumbeats. A kick drum mimics a heartbeat when Florence speaks of a beating heart – these kind of subtleties that are only appreciated on a close listen makes F+TM that much more worth it.

    I’m Not Calling You A Liar// Lungs

    Cosmic Love// Lungs


    Marina & the Diamonds

    For Florence, the machine is her backup band. But for Marina, the diamonds are her fans. To some, this might come off as rather egocentric, but in reality the name is probably derived from Marina’s surname – Diamandis. Interestingly enough, Marina cites Daniel Johnston (who I may speak of later) as one of her major influences – his outsider influences allowed her to transcend the spoon-fed pop formula despite her limited musical knowledge. However, this lack of musical knowledge does show in her music; it is largely composed of simple (albeit extremely catchy) keys parts with some limited synth/guitar/drum thrown in. But don’t be mistaken – her music is by no means amateur. Marina’s voice takes over in her songs, offering a listening experience that I’m hard pushed to describe as anything less than endearing. Her voice is a little less soulful than Florence Welch’s, instead having a little big more of an edgy feel that lends to her slightly faster tempo songs.

    Oh No!// The Family Jewels

    I Am Not a Robot// The Family Jewels


    Feist

    Winning seven Juno awards with two albums is no small feat. Canadian Leslie Feist is quickly becoming one of the most recognized indie musicians performing today. Between offering vocals to (and becoming romantically involved with) Broken Social Scene, contributing to several other popular indie acts (Kings of Convenience, Peaches, Wilco), and doing her own solo work, she has become prolific and loved in the past decade. Interestingly enough, Feist started out as a punk vocalist – a far cry from the soothing, romantic voice used on her solo albums, though it certainly speaks to her versatility.

    In addition, Feist is a capable guitarist, pianist, and drummer… though she often sticks to just vocals. I regret the fact that I have not yet been able to find her first album Monarch (Lay Your Jewelled Head Down), as what I have heard from it beautiful – simple production and soothing vocals. My desire to attain this album may reveal something about me: I tend to like Feist’s slower songs over her more catchy ones (I’m sure almost every one of you has had ’1234′ caught in your head at some point or another after it was in that iPod nano ad). After much debate, I selected one of her more retro songs along with a collaboration with Ben Gibbard (Death Cab for Cutie).

    One Evening// Let It Die

    Train Song// Dark Was the Night (w/ Ben Gibbard, originally by Vashti Bunyan)


    Sara Jackson-Holman

    Sara Jackson-Holman has been garnering all kinds of comparisons. Adele, Norah Jones, and Feist are among the many that have come up, but sara has her own distinct style in both songwriting and vocals. Perhaps she is a little less jazzy than Norah or a little more soulful than Feist. It really doesn’t matter; she is good. Certainly the trajectory for the relative newcomer onto the indie pop scene will reach pretty high. Her songs are largely driven by catchy little piano riffs that show an obviously classical background, while subtler strings, a few simple beats, and unexpected vocal harmonies add complexity to the music. Honestly, Sara has one of my favorite voices of any current female vocalists. It has complex undertones that are made even more beautiful by the clever small-interval harmonies and tight production – the resonant qualities are such that she gets the kind of intricacies many artists only get while belting it while remaining relaxed.

    Cellophane// When You Dream


    California Gold Rush// When You Dream
  • Painting Houses and Bantamweight Boxing

    17 août 2010, 2h52m

    The full post with music and images here: http://malleusincus.wordpress.com/2010/07/21/painting-houses-and-bantamweight-boxing/

    It seems as though we at malleus&incus have a habit of avoiding posting on weekends. Whether that be a product of busyness or simply being lazy, I apologize on behalf of all of us and hope to correct the lack of posting in the near future. I wouldn’t doubt that once classes start again in September, the opposite trend will be apparent – we’ll be loading up on posts during the weekend and (hopefully) being productive during the week.

    However, I hope it is okay to assume that you’re here for the music, not the apologies. This time around, I’d like to draw some attention to one Mark Kozelek. The 43 year old singer-songwriter is no newcomer to indie, but is vastly under-appreciated. The Ohio native has been a contributor to the San Francisco indie folk scene since 1989, releasing albums as part of Red House Painters, Sun Kil Moon, and as a solo artist.

    Despite lots of favorable reviews, none of his projects have gained the kind of following that a band such as The National has, despite having music that is just as enjoyable and shares a lot of qualities (like the baritone vocals). To be fair, The National owes much of its popularity to the use of ‘Fake Empire’ throughout the Obama campaign.

    Red House Painters

    Kozelek’s first project released it’s first CD in 1992, but in my opinion didn’t reach full maturity until 1995′s album, Ocean Beach. Prior to this album, the band had a bit of a drone type sound and would more accurately be described as ‘slowcore’ than ‘folk.’ Though epic and appreciated by connoisseurs, the music is not nearly as accessible as the pastoral, folk-influenced style that characterizes almost all of Kozelek’s music since then. While listening, try to pay attention to the lyrics – highly introspective and autobiographical, the songs are extremely personal; they are filled with despair and the varying instrumentation in each song reflects what Kozelek believes to be appropriate for the story he depicts.

    Shadows// Ocean Beach

    All Mixed Up// Songs For A Blue Guitar

    Mark Kozelek

    Kozelek’s solo work is primarily collections and compilations of live recordings and covers. However, these covers are dramatically rearranged, often having little in common with the original song. To be honest, the main difference in sound between his solo work and the individual bands is almost entirely due to the fact that he does not have backup – the absence of drums and other backing instruments makes his songs seem even more personal, despite the fact that the covers are among the only songs that he doesn’t compose entirely on his own. Kozelek’s most interesting solo album is probably What’s Next to the Moon. The album is entirely comprised of covers of Bon Scott era AC/DC (1974-1980).

    If You Want Blood// What’s Next To The Moon

    Rock 'N' Roll Singer// What’s Next To The Moon

    Sun Kil Moon

    To be honest, I didn’t start listening to Kozelek’s other efforts until recently – Sun Kil Moon has been one of my favorite bands to listen to to relax over the past few months, but it wasn’t until recently that I learned of Kozelek’s legacy. That said, Sun Kil Moon is distinctively more focused on technical instrumentals than either of the aforementioned projects. Their newest album, Admiral Fell Promises, especially features long instrumental stretches of complex picking as Kozelek glides over his nylon strings. While fans of his older music may not appreciate the diminished importance of his entrancing vocals, the music is still extremely beautiful. Another thing worth noting is the fact that Sun Kil Moon is heavily acoustic guitar based – while Red House Painters features electric guitars, effects pedals, and pianos, all of the songs on Sun Kil Moon’s two most recent ablums are dominated by acoustic guitar.

    Heron Blue// April

    Sam Wong Hotel// Admiral Fell Promises

    On a side note, some of you may be wondering the significance of ‘Bantamweight Boxing’ in this post’s title. The truth is that Sun Kil Moon’s name is not an prophetic statement about the possibility that the Sun may eventually swell large enough during a supernova phase so as to envelop the moon. Instead, it is a play on the Korean bantamweight boxer, Moon Sung-Kil. The amateur boxer took two world titles with 164 KOs over his career, but like Kozelek, recieved little attention for his achievements. In fact, Kozelek seems to have some sort of soft spot for Korean boxers – one of the songs off Ghosts of the Great Highway, Duk Koo Kim, is named after the lightweight Korean Boxer who died after a match with Ray ‘Boom Boom’ Mancini. The song exemplifies the transition from RHP to SKM – there is more mixed instrumentation, and the dual purpose of the song of paying tribute to Duk Koo Kim and telling an elaborate personal story.

    Duk Koo Kim// Ghosts of the Great Highway
  • Ragni: Lost at Sea

    7 août 2010, 21h20m

    Full post (video, images, music): http://malleusincus.wordpress.com/2010/07/16/ragni-lost-at-sea/

    There are a few gems in my music collection, but for me none is as treasured as Ragni’s sole EP. To be honest, I found Ragni completely unintentionally: my discovery was the result of a random Google search for the word ‘somnambulist.’ A technical term for a sleepwalker, I had merely searched because the word seemed so cool. Since then, despite Ragni dropping off of Google’s front page, it has become one of my favorite words, mostly because ’The Somnambulist’ is the beautiful second song of the Ragni EP and I want as much as possible to do with that song.

    The twenty-five minutes of music included on the EP may be all the recorded music of Ragni’s that the public ever gains access to, but in reality, it is enough. The EP is one where the songs can be listened to individually, but the recording really becomes its own when listened to collectively. Because of the importance of each part to the whole, I will post all five songs given that you promise to listen to them all.

    While Ragni only surfaced for a brief time, creating their myspace in 2006, releasing their EP in 2007, and then vanishing after a short European tour, they certainly knew how to make music. The EP itself was recorded in vocalist Brenden Fletcher’s grandparents house, and suitably features hints of old home recordings, creaking floorboards, and the overall ambience of a shoreline home. Subtle melodic developments in the piano parts get to know Brenden’s peaceful yet somehow powerful voice. Together, piano, guitar, and voice dance under the candlelight accompaniment of beautiful strings and dream under the blanket of coastal fog.

    Minden// Ragni EP

    The first track, Minden (Hungarian for ‘everything’), is a short two minute intro defined by a high pitched tone that phases subtly throughout the song. The timbre of this tone is beautiful – as opposed to the grating sound of some drone music, it soothes. The cyclical building and sinking of the tone is almost indiscernable, but amplifies the building effect of the strings. Layers upon layers of strings add on over the jingling of bells, the tone, and a later on repetitive synth keys line. Overall, it creates an atmosphere that is completely entrancing and perfectly performs its task of getting the listener prepared to absorb the coming tracks.

    The Somnambulist// Ragni EP

    My favorite song on the EP, and one of my favorite songs of all time, The Somnambulist is absolutely haunting. It is important to realize that Fletcher’s choices with his vocals are entirely intentional: when you can’t understand the lyrics, he doesn’t want you to know exactly what they say. Instead, the vocals are muttered ambiguously, the musings of a sleepwalker. While you may be able to understand some of the words that are uttered, the meaning of the full sentence is left up to you as Fletcher trails off towards the end of each phrase. The only clearly articulated words in the song are the chorus “All alone everywhere/ I have no more control/ I have no self control.” This lamentation signals developments in the instrumentals both times it is repeated, suggesting that the dreamer has more control than they realize. But beyond the ethereality of the vocals, the way the strings and piano complement each other is simply sublime: themes are repeated by one instrument just a fraction after the other, adding a whole extra level of complexity and demonstrating artisan compositional skills.

    Rather Be You// Ragni EP

    Whereas Minden melts into The Somnambulist, Rather Be You strikes of in a completely different direction. Accompanied by alien noises – it is impossible to discern whether the sounds are from a record player, steam, electricity, or something completely foreign. While the piano begins are the dominant instrument again, it starts to share the spotlight with an acoustic guitar. The song is another building song – maracas and shakers enter the song along with some subtle drumming, and some of the melodic instrumentation becomes more synthetic. Here vocals play a minimal role again, becoming another layer of music while the other instruments speak.

    Photo

    The North Sea Epoch// Ragni EP

    In Ragni’s longest song, the ambiance come from the sound of wind and waves. Here, the vocals finally become distinctive. Despite Fletcher’s claim that ‘The hardest part is saying goodbye,’ he is quick to repeat the word again and again. The epoch is to which Ragni is saying goodbye to is the one where the band is lost in dreams – instead, the music drifts out into the waves, taking its final rest at sea. Guitar gains a larger role in the beginning of the song, before the vocals are overwhelmed by the sea, at which point waves of sound become almost overwhelming, and whispers from unidentifiable sources are mixed in. In the outro, another voice says “I know the road to home/ it’s not so easy,” suggesting that the 22 year old character has the option, but ultimately chooses not to leave.

    Kołysanka// Ragni EP

    Polish for lullaby, I imagine Kołysanka to be the song that plays as the character is reflecting on their life as they sink deeper into the sea. Subtle hints of whale-like sounds and bubbles popping are interspersed with crickets, creating an illogical rift and showing yet another disconnect from reality. Though different voices speak throughout, the Polish lullaby only comes after the sounds begin to fade away – it is the lullaby that brings on the final sleep. Throughout the song, an atmospheric buzz develops and falls away only to return, and most of the melodic elements come from a disparate array of seemingly unrelated noises that nonetheless weave a beautiful sonic tapestry. The track slowly descends into silence for the perfect closing to what is in my opinion, a perfect EP.

    My biggest regret with regards to Ragni is the fact that I was never able to purchase a physical copy of their record. It is accompanied by a 72 page graphic novella by Karl Kerschel, an artist who worked on Teen Titans and Superman as well as the amazing “The Abominable Charles Christopher” that you should check out here. Some of the novella can be seen in the above video… check it.
  • Jazzing Up the Indie, Smoothing Out the Rock

    7 août 2010, 21h09m

    Songs and images here: http://malleusincus.wordpress.com/2010/07/14/jazzing-up-the-indie-smoothing-out-the-rock/



    It has come to my attention that some people may find 1400+ word posts a little hard to get through. I’d be very glad to receive some feedback on that point in the comments, but for the time being I’ll assume that there is some legitimacy to the claim. As a result, this post is going to be my attempt at a speed post: I’ll brief the general idea and each artist, but leave it up to you to listen to the individual songs, and try to be a little more succinct with my writing.

    That said, jazz and indie are two genres that are not commonly fused. Sure, lots of indie/ alt rock artists have jazz influences, but few artists have continued in the legacy of 70s Jazz Fusion like Return to Forever of King Crimson, fusing jazz rhythms and improvisation with rock instrumentation (and vocals). However, a few artists have begun to fill this niche in the last decade, replacing the progressive rock roots with indie qualities, and altering the formula for how much of each influence to take in to create some very unique sounds.

    Karate

    Karate is one of those bands you’ll either love or hate at first… but even if you hate them, if you listen more, they’ll probably grow on you. Karate has a reputation for being one of the most calculated musicians on the indie scene: while self taught, Geoff Farina and other band members were compulsive in their control of song arrangements. The band loves jazzy improvisation, but when recording, requires perfection. The laid back instrumentals are complemented by Farina’s lo-fi voice, which in itself takes a little getting used to. Sadly, after 695 live shows, Karate disbanded because of Farina’s hearing problems. While listening, check out the jazzy guitar riffs, subtle cymbal-driven drumming, and especially the beautiful, almost ethereal solos.

    Pines// Pockets

    The Halo of the Strange // Unsolved

    A Great Big Pile Of Leaves

    A Great Big Pile of Leaves is a relatively new band – their first EP was released in 2007. The band’s music features some progressive rock elements, but is certainly more aptly defined by their jazzy guitars. They may not have the freeform style or tendency to improvise typical of jazz musicians, but the influence of jazz on their music is very obvious. Personally, I think they’ve got struck just the right balance of different influences, and crafted their own unique style. If I did have to compare them to other bands, Minus the Bear and Look Mexico come to mind, but such a comparison barely eludes to what AGBPOL sounds like. I would strongly recommend checking out “Have You Seen My Prefrontal Cortex?” Right now, it is one of my favorite albums of 2010 – the songs sound a little too similar if listened to individually, but as a whole, the album is very cohesive and powerful.

    Conscious and the Fiery Works // The Fiery Works

    Bicycles in Sleep Cycles // Have You Seen My Prefrontal Cortex

    The Reign Of Kindo

    These guys are releasing an album August 3rd. I’m already pretty sure it is going to be my album of the year, and I’ve only heard one song: Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind. They really are that good. Formed from the remnants of This Day and Age and now signed to CANdYRAT (I told you I’d come back to this label), TROK has branched out in a very different direction from their TDAA roots. Vocals are contributed by three of the five band members (four after this album sadly), and the instrumentals are absolutely unbelievable. The complexity of each instrument’s part is impressive on its own, but the way they fit together so naturally is absolutely mind-blowing. Honestly, if you can’t at least appreciate the musical and compositional talent these guys have, there is something wrong with your ears.

    hard to believe// The Reign Of Kindo EP

    Hold Out// Rhythm Chord & Melody

    The Bad Plus

    By far the jazziest and most eccentric of artists in this group, The Bad Plus leans more on the side of freeform jazz than indie rock: in fact, I only go so far as to include them here because of the album ‘For All I Care,’ where the otherwise instrumental group collaborates with female vocalist Wendy Lewis, and exclusively is composed of cover songs. Included in these covers are covers of Nirvana, Wilco, Pink Floyd, and the Flaming Lips. Keep in mind that The Bad Plus uses these songs as more of a jumping off point than something to actually cover – the connections with the original songs sometimes only seem to be in the vocals (and at times the drums).

    Radio Cure// For All I Care

    Feeling Yourself Disintegrate// For All I Care
  • Distant Stars

    4 août 2010, 21h43m

    Full post (images, songs) here: http://malleusincus.wordpress.com/2010/07/10/distant-stars/



    People use very different tools for music discovery. These days, Pandora seems to be a favorite choice. Others use last.fm similar artists, the radio, their favorite blog, hype machine, or word of mouth – really, anything goes. But all too often when I try to find some new jams, I find myself going down roads I can’t even remember, clicking on link after link. I float through the network that is the network in a dazed state, floating through the haze aimlessly until I find something that pleases my ears.

    That said, I don’t know that I can explain how I found myself listening to any of the artists I’m about to share with you. However, I do know that they are talented artists that deserve a little more exposure. I doubt any of them will end up on national radio any time soon, but that hasn’t stopped me from giving them a lot of play time in the last couple of weeks, and hopefully it won’t stop you from appreciating them. In selecting songs from these artists, I noticed many of my favorite songs have something to do with stars.

    Benjamin E. Morsberger

    Citing his father as his main influence, the younger Morsberger delivers music much different than his father’s TV scores and smooth alternative vocals. Instead, Morsberger utilizes his slightly boyish, wavering voice and draws on a legacy of indie folk to provide his own fresh contribution to the scene. Though he planned to release an LP in March, only a few songs from the album seem to have made their way into the public (and some are freely available). However, these songs show quite a range and quite a bit of promise – ‘Near’ displays catchy hooks and a summery feel, while ‘I’m On My Left Side’ features only acoustic instrumentation, instead using Morsberger’s voice to build the song from a groggy dreamlike beginning to a riveting, emotion driven ending.

    From Where We’ve Fallen// Untitled Album

    My favorite track at this point, though, is ‘From Where We’ve Fallen.’ The background strings sing like a choir behind Morsberger’s voice, and somehow the rather pessimistic lyrics still get me to put on a smile. Some of my attraction to his music is that every song sounds familiar, but different. In this case, I find myself thinking of Rocky Votolato and Elliott Smith, regardless of the fact that when I go back and listen to songs by those artists, I find them as different as they are similar. Morsberger claims that “our love is like a distant shining star.” I doubt my love for his music will stay too distant for long.

    1,2,3

    Maybe I lied about there being no chance that any of these artists get big any time soon – 1,2,3 is damn good and pretty consistently catchy. While I only own two of their songs, perusing their myspace has made me very thirsty for their LP, Going Away Party. Though only composed of Nic Snyder and Josh Sickels (as far as I know), the enumerated musicians pulls off a full band sound. I won’t even bother making comparisons here. Just give them a listen.

    Confetti// Confetti

    In Confetti, 1,2,3 manages to combine a slow tempo, a head-bobbing foot-stomping drum line, and a repeated proclamation that ‘we’re all gonna die here’ into one cohesive song that has repeatedly occupied my headspace over the past few weeks. Perhaps some of this allure has to do with all the priming I have received for the song in the past few weeks: among the topics touched upon are oceans of oil and blades of grass – thanks BP and beautiful Stanford lawns – not to mention the requisite (for this post) mention of stars.

    Glass Rock

    Glass Rock is the fusion of Soft Location and Tall Firs… two other bands you probably haven’t heard of. The two bands got together and produced a record in under a week, yet came out with a product that has been praised (by the few reviewers that have actually reviewed it as): one claims that if the “released two decades ago, chances are this band would be playing stadiums.” This reviewer certainly has one thing right – Kathy Leisen’s voice sounds like it belongs in another era.

    Possession// Tall Firs Meet Soft Location

    I had a very difficult time picking a song from the album; it is torn between beauty and darkness, some songs display the soul influences while others show more post rock riffs. The album shows a level of maturity that is hard to beat – I can’t wrap my head around that this is truly a collaboration. Eventually I settled on Possession. Though the song doesn’t have the post-soul bass-lines, I feel that song perfectly exhibit’s Leisen’s vocals. While the song does not mention stars, I feel that Glass Rock themselves are the distant stars, trapped in the wrong time.

    Jonathan Vassar (and the Speckled Bird)

    Regardless of whether he is with his band or not, Jonathan makes very compelling music. Certainly the presence of fiddles, accordions, harmonicas and banjos present indicates that Vassar is heavily influenced by a country legacy, but his song-writing indicates a more complicated formula than that. While much of his music is pastoral as first glance, much of it has an additional urban edge. Vassar’s band shares Glass Rock’s anachronism, but perhaps has the timelessness of a figure like Sam Beam (Iron & Wine). His songwriting is absolutely marvelous, and whether or not he appears in duet with his wife’s voice – which could do opera as well as it does folk – the vocals have an endearing earthy quality.
    Holy Roller// The Hours and Days

    One of my favorite songs by Vassar, Holy Roller, speaks of the ‘panic in the distant stars.’ I love the instrumentation on the song, with piano and strings coming in and falling away at exactly the right moment. Adding to this, the lyrics seem to have some hidden meaning which I have yet to figure out. ‘What you do in the dark will be brought to the light/ and buried beneath a tall white pine.’ I have my suspicions that Vassar writes his lyrics for a reason, and the fact that he repeats this chorus so often makes me curious to learn the significance.

    Mimicking Birds

    Mimicking Birds has gained a little more recognition than the other artists in this post – the make-or-break Pitchfork even did a review. Story has it that Nate Lacy was contacted by Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse; Lacy had planned on keeping his music private, but a mutual friend showed it to Brock, who insisted that he did a recording with Glacial Place. I’m glad he agreed. Though the demos present on Mimicking Birds’ virb are downright amazing, I would have never heard them (nor would those people who are attending Lollapalooza… jealousy surges within me) if not for this slight commercialization. Lacy’s music is hard to draw comparisons to… perhaps if you tranquilized Modest Mouse fused it with a dream and a Sci-Fi film, you would get a similar result.

    Subsonic Words// Mimicking Birds

    One of my favorite songs for the past few months overall has been Subsonic Words. Though it does not have much to do with stars (like many of the other songs do), I felt like I needed to include it because it is almost singlehandedly responsible for my addiction to Lacy’s work. Sure, the other songs are great, but the wordplay that Lacy engages in is unreal. Lines like “I’m down in the mean time/ wondering what time means” have become engrained in my brain, and the simple cyclical melody is wonderfully engaging, especially when it is layered with the innumerable other subtle samples present. If I had to listen to one song on repeat for a week, I think this would be the song.

    The Loop// Mimicking Birds

    However, the scientist (and star lover) in me is also drawn to The Loop, a track that appears both on the full album and Lacy’s home recordings. I wholeheartedly recommend you check out Mimicking Birds’ virb page… there are a lot of great tracks available for free. The Loop is a lyrical masterpiece seemingly describing the cycle of birth and death in the universe – energy transfers from one entity to another as stars swell and galactic clouds solidify into solar systems.
  • Radiohead Reimagined

    4 août 2010, 21h34m

    Full post (w/ videos + songs): http://malleusincus.wordpress.com/2010/07/02/radiohead-reimagined/

    Hi, I’m John, and I’ve been juggling a bunch of post ideas in my head. I finally settled on one on Radiohead, but I must warn you that my musical tastes are far more diverse than such an introductory post might indicate. I fully intend to blog about everything from the most popular artists of all time (like Radiohead) to artists who have barely few enough fans that all of those fans would barely fill up a neighborhood. But most of all, I’ll only post about music that has value to me. Hopefully that means something to some of you reading.

    Since the group’s inception in 1985, Radiohead has released album after album of musical gold. The band has been lauded as one of the greatest musical artists of all time, has been nominated for 14 Grammy awards. They draw on influences ranging from jazz to Krautrock, and bring to the table a unique sound that has provided an influence for artists by the masses. That said, I think any self-respecting music listener must own at least one Radiohead album, if not all of them. Hell, In Rainbows was available as a free download!

    Because of this prolificacy, however, I hope that it is fair to assume that I do not have to detail the power of Thom Yorke’s voice, the brilliant fusion of jazz timings into songs masterpieces such as “Pyramid Song,” or the impressive stylistic developments Radiohead has made over the course of the past 25 years while managing to maintain their own sound.

    Instead, the focus of this post is what other artists have done with Radiohead’s music. I have selected five covers in remarkably different styles that showcase how music can truly be transformed by an artist’s perception and playing style.

    Paranoid Android

    Radiohead’s longest song to date contains four distinct sections, and is said to be put together from three different song ideas, each from a different band member. This building block style of song-writing reveals that the song is influenced heavily by The Beatles’ “Happiness is a Warm Gun.“

    That said, the abrasive guitars, frequent key changes, and gritty lyrics lend next to nothing to an instrumental interpretation. Beyond that, even Radiohead took a year and a half to learn to play their song live.

    Paranoid Android//OK Computer

    However, Gareth Pearson, a fingerstyle guitarist on the CandyRat label (more on that in later posts) has managed to cover the song on a single instrument. Though this cover is liberal in its fidelity to the original song, it is nonetheless very impressive how Pearson changes the impact of the song while maintaining the same structure. I a soft spot for the sound of a skilled musician fingerpicking away on an acoustic guitar, and while many of the youtube comments seem to dislike this cover, for me it hits the spot. In fact, it was the fact that this video had recently been posted (I bought the album a few weeks back) that inspired me to write this post.

    Exit Music (for a Film)

    Inspired by a Chopin prelude, this song was used as the credit music for the 1996 film version of Romeo & Juliet, and features the eerie sounds of children playing played backwards and a mellotron choir.

    Story has it that Marilyn Manson once listened to Exit Music while standing over a cliff, and the song made him decide not to jump. Regardless of the validity of this tale, the sombre mood of the song beautifully showcases Yorke’s vocals and certainly has been the soundtrack to some of my deeper ruminations.

    Exit Music (for a Film)// OK Computer

    The most compelling cover of Exit Music that I have heard is certainly Brad Mehldau’s jazz rendition. Again, it is entirely instrumental, but Brad’s grieving, crying, screaming piano is accompanied by a bassist and drummer, providing an atmosphere almost as entrancing as the original song. This is quite a feat, seeing as Mehldau achieves almost the same level of expression of Yorke though the vocals are supplanted by just the voice of the piano.

    To be fair, some readers may not like the extensive soloing. It is latent with occasional dissonance and quite a bit of cacophony, and his hands race where Yorke’s tempo slows. But for me, this show of creativity only enhances the performance’s power. I’ll leave it up to you to decide how you feel about it:

    Reckoner

    A song that was originally the coda/outro to another song that began with the same name, Reckoner has become one of the Radiohead songs I play most often. Beyond that, it is one of the songs in the Radiohead Remix program, where stems were given to remixers. This has caused it to be a favorite for mashups and remixes alike. Here, Yorke’s vocals just breach the barrier between being soothing and chilling. Simple chords and progressions are fit together in a complex, layered fabric of music that completely envelops you. To this day, I swear no more than a minute has gone by after listening, despite its nearly five minute duration. The lyrics tell me “you are not to blame,” but in listening, I completely forget if there is anything anyone could blame me for.

    Reckoner//In Rainbows

    Despite the wealth of remixes and mashups, I still find the most striking spinoff of Reckoner to be the cover by Gnarls Barkley. Though Dangermouse’s brilliant production isn’t exhibited to its full extent here – the cover is rather similar to the original song other than the last minute and a half (coincidentally my favorite part) – Cee-Lo’s vocals send chills down my spine. I can’t even imagine being their for the actual live performance: the low quality of the youtube audio leaves much to the imagination. But still, there is a great amount to enjoy.

    Creep

    Radiohead’s first single, released in 1992, is still one of their top songs. The odd thing about the song is that it was so popular that the band stopped playing it on tour – people came to the concerts just to hear the one song; Creep was completely dropped from the set list from 1998 to 2001. It is an odd phenomenon that a song that is essentially about a stalker has become so popular. It describes a man who lacks the self-confidence to face a woman and instead follows her around, but the lyrical lament lends the song some sort of accessibility: nearly any many can identify with this faltering self-image.

    Creep//Pablo Honey

    One of the most riveting performances I have ever seen is a cover of creep by Mustard, a homeless artist that was invited to The Opie & Anthony show. The gritty tone of Mustard’s voice fits the song like the glove – it is almost as if Yorke’s lyrics were written Mustard specifically. The video has brought me close to tears many a time. It truly saddens me that this kind of honest talent goes unrecognized while artists without a message (who can use autotune) become so popular.

    Nude

    Apparently nude was written in 1997, but was not included on an album until ten years later. It was originally called “Big Ideas (Don’t Get Any),” and has gone through an evolution in chord structure, instrumentation, and overall style. The version that appears on In Rainbows features a dub-influenced bass line, and acoustic guitar has been replaced by electric. This shift towards an electronic sound is matched by Yorke’s vocals, which seems distant despite how melodic it is – sometimes I forget to listen to the lyrics, and just hear his voice as another instrument.

    Nude//In Rainbows

    However, this increased electronic influence also serves to make James Houston’s take on the song that much more appropriate. If anything, the song becomes an art project. Houston’s use of electronic hardware to make all of the sounds from the song shows exactly how dehumanized and detached the song is: after a few times watching, it seems not that the hard drives sound like Yorke, but that Yorke sounds like a hard drive singing. The Houston version takes it so far that some people may be reluctant to call it music. Personally, I find the sound of the printers and hard drives oddly pleasing and beautiful. Also… you may want to skip a minute into the video unless you want to appreciate the aesthetics of the video.

    Well… there it is. When you combine an influential, groundbreaking artist like Radiohead with other brilliant musicians, you can end up with a very very diverse area of music. Feel free to link to any other Radiohead covers that you find to be compelling in the comments – I’d certainly love to hear them.