Category Archives: Music

Acclaimed Albums – Paul’s Boutique by Beastie Boys

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 230/250Title: Paul’s Boutique
Artist: Beastie Boys
Year: 1989
Position: #90

Over five years have gone by since I listened to Licensed to Ill and, finally, I am covering the second of the two Beastie Boys albums on this list. Since then, as of writing this, my prediction of The Streets dropping out of the Top 250 has yet to come to pass – meaning that I still have albums by both him and Eminem coming up before finishing off this particular challenge.

Unlike the previous album, there were no songs that I recognised on the first listen. I guess that this goes on to support how while Paul’s Boutique is the critical darling of their first two albums, it was still less commercially successful than the debut and as such there are fewer songs that average person like me will have heard.

Compared to the their first album, Paul’s Boutique is definitely more focused on beat crafting and filling it chock-a-block with samples. They also remain one of the few rap artists from this area that I can listen to without feeling a bit dirty afterwards because they don’t feel the need to make homophobic or overly misogynistic lyrics.

I know that this may still be a bit prudish on my side and that maybe I should just accept this in the music… on the other hand no. Hip-hop albums like this are proof positive that you can do this genre justice and not have to go into those territories over and over again. Probably means I should be okay with The Streets when I eventually get around to them, but not too sure about Eminem…

🎻♫♪ – The Bells by Sergei Rachmaninov

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
96/501Title: The Bells
Composer: Sergei Rachmaninov
Nationality: Russian
Year:
1913

Three and a half years, that’s how long it’s been since I listened to the last Rachmaninov piece for the classical list (The Isle of the Dead). It feels like I start a lot of these classical music posts with a similar sort of sentiment, but wow this list is taking a while. Probably should listen to more than one a week if I want to make proper headway.

So let’s get to The Bells a choral symphony – based on a Russian adaptation of an Edgar Allen Poe poem of the same name – in four movements. Each movement is based on a verse of the poem, which get darker and darker as the piece progresses and feature different sets of vocalists.

We start with sleigh bells (which was my favourite because it was remotely Christmassy) and then get to a darker more melancholy piece which, on first listen, had a repeated section that reminded me of ‘Moon River’. Most interesting of the bunch are the penultimate set of bells. This movement, where the male voices take over, it titled ‘The Loud Alarm Bells’ and that’s a pretty accurate summation of how it sounds. Actually makes for a more effective contrast when the pieces ends on the downbeat of the ‘The Mournful Iron Bells’.

Acclaimed Albums – Untrue by Burial

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 229/250Title: Untrue
Artist: Burial
Year: 2007
Position: #179

When Untrue came out, I was the right age and starting to get into enough diverse music in order to actually try this. Must have had it on my iPod for 13 years and yet today was the first time that I actually played it. Maybe it was meant to be that I waited this long before I finally listened to this, or maybe this could have been an album that helped shape my musical development.

Honestly, I think it was probably for the best that it took me this long. When I got it I saw it being referred to as an electronic album and I only really knew electropop, which this is not. I don’t exactly know much about this sort of electronic music. Aside from Ms Dynamite, this is the only dubstep or garage album I have ever heard. Anything else that I have listened to, like James Blake or the xx, are just developments from that sound.

What previously put me off a lot of this genre was that it could be a bit bombastic, whereas Untrue is a lot more insular. It’s the sort of dubstep made to be the soundtrack to a rainy midnight walk through an abandoned city – like something you’d get in Black Mirror but without the mindfuck.

Other than a spin of Sawayama around lunchtime, this was pretty much the only album that I ended up playing today during work hours. The beats are at times very trip-hop, but then the atmosphere has a chilled ambient feel to it. Even when you get the more upbeat tracks like ‘Archangel’ there is still an almost cozy detachment (does that make sense) that really works for me.

🎻♫♪ – I Puritani by Vincenzo Bellini

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
95/501Title: I Puritani
Composer: Vincenzo Bellini
Nationality: Italian
Year:
1835

Seems like the universe really does like to engage in some balancing. After having the last classical piece be a brief collection of brief pieces by Reynaldo Hahn, the music gods decided to send me a three hour opera. Not just any three hour opera, an opera set in England during the Civil War that features characters with well known English (and not at all Italian) names like Gualtiero and Elvira. I don’t really mind the name thing – I just find it a bit adorable and I know that the English are very much guilty of the opposite.

I Puritani (or The Puritans) is the final opera written by Sicilian composer Vincenzo Bellini, he died not long after it premiered… at the age of 33. Me, being 31, sees something like this and it terrified that at two years older than me, there is a classical composer who has a lovely tomb in the cathedral of his hometown (which I will have seen on my final day in Sicily).

Being his final opera, and that I haven’t heard any of his previous works, it is hard to judge this compared to his other works like Norma and others that I don’t actually know the names of. It’s hard to overplay how much of an initial success this was upon its Parisien premiere.

I guess there is something to the actual presentation to it other than the music, especially as I had no idea about the story without the occasional trip to Wikipedia. I don’t really know anything about opera, but compared to some of the others that I have listened to for this didn’t exactly make me want more.

 

🎻♫♪ – Mélodies by Reynaldo Hahn

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
94/501Title: Mélodies
Composer: Reynaldo Hahn
Nationality: French
Year:
1887-1947

It’s nice to be nearly 100 into the classical list and to find something that I haven’t come across before. With these Mélodies by Reynaldo Hahn it almost feels like I’ve listened to something that bridges the gap between classical music and popular music – whilst also being the completely natural modern form of those vocal pieces (oh, how many motets I’ve listened to) that make up a lot of the earlier sections of the list.

These Mélodies that Hahn wrote over the course of his life, are musical accompaniments to poems. Pretty much the classical music equivalent to what Bob Dylan does – only that Hahn didn’t write his own poems. What I really enjoyed about this was that within half an hour you have a lot of smaller 1-3 minute pieces, which is a nice change of pace from some of the concertos and sonatas that I have listened to recently. Wish there were more pieces like this to come.

Acclaimed Albums – Doolittle by Pixies

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 228/250Title: Doolittle
Artist: Pixies
Year: 1989
Position: #51

Well, it wasn’t quite a year since my last listen to the Pixies but I did a lot better this time compared to a lot of other artists. Doolittle is the last album that I had left within the Top 100. Since, as of writing, the update is meant to be happening soon I am trying to play it safe with albums… although I am pretty much out of safe bets between this and the album that I plan to do next.

The main thing that I noticed between this and the previous Pixies album is the same as with Pavement – polish. The production on Doolittle is so sleek that we’ve gone from an alternative rock group to something more like the noise pop of Psychocandy and the eventual shoegaze movement.

This sleekness and polish has just enhanced the music on Doolittle compared to Surfer Rosa. They are still doing their movements from quiet to loud – which you hear a lot in later grunge music – and the lyrics are, if anything, weirder and more esoteric. However, this album is also infinitely more sing-a-longable, with me starting to join in on the chorus of ‘Monkey Gone To Heaven’ before reading up on it being about the destruction of the environment and having many references to numerology.

As two albums produced so close to each other, it is crazy to have a band churn out two classics so close together, especially with their first two offerings. There’s no sophomore slump here, in fact it’s a sophomore soar with two more well regarded albums before their break up in 1993. Amazing to burn so bright and influential and then go away so quickly.

Acclaimed Albums – Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain by Pavement

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 227/250Title: Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain
Artist: Pavement
Year: 1994
Position: #183

Nearly six years later and I have finally gotten around to the second Pavement album on the list. That’s three times the actual length of time that passed between Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain and Slanted and Enchanted were released. The fact that it has taken my 6-7 years to actually get through though the 250 does make me wonder if my extending the list is a good idea.

Anyway, I have 20 more albums before I have to get to that – let’s look at Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain.

Looking at the surrounding rock albums of 1994 on the list, you have Britpop and industrial rock as a bit of context. Compared to that you have the indie rock stylings of Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, which helps it stand out from the crowd a bit. In the two years since their debut, there has been a definite progression in sound – and by progression I mean polish.

When I listened to Slanted and Enchanted, I likened it to Murmur due to the lo-fi sound. With this album, they’ve applied some polish which not only means some of the songs are actually radio-friendly but also there are some pop edges. I mean if you just listen to ‘Cut My Hair’ you have a perfect indie rock nugget, with a bit of a Dandy Warhols feel to it. These songs have some good contrasts, like the the extended instrumental ‘5-4=Unity’, which stop this album from being one where could be excused of selling out.

It’s still weird to me that a group with two albums places fairly highly on the list are completely unknown to me. I guess that, if I am to expand the list, this is something that I will be experiencing very frequently.

🎻♫♪ – Piano Concerto no. 1 by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
93/501Title: Piano Concerto no. 1
Composer: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Nationality: Russian
Year:
1875

The beginning of this piano concerto is so famous. I remember when my nan used to watch quiz shows on Challenge TV, there was recurring advert for a classical music collection and this beginning would always play when Tchaikovsky appeared on screen. I think it would always be followed by ‘Morning Mood’ by Grieg (I’ll get to that eventually when I listen to Peer Gynt).

Given how the beginning is all brass and string, it’s difficult to immediately see how it would become a piano concerto. Then suddenly in comes the piano and my word doesn’t pianist Martha Argerich do amazing work with this. It’s one of those concertos that I think most people would know, although it is more than the pomposity of the beginning – a beginning that makes up the most of the piece. It’s a good one, but I do miss the whimsy that I hear in his ballets.

Acclaimed Albums – Rust Never Sleeps by Neil Young & Crazy Horse

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 226/250Title: Rust Never Sleeps
Artist: Neil Young & Crazy Horse
Year: 1979
Position: #158

As of the time of writing this, I know that the update to the acclaimed music list is imminent. By the time this post goes up, that update will have likely happened 2-3 months ago and I will probably be further away from my target. Thanks again summer from hell for putting a stop gap on my ability to do much with my challenges.

I’ve been so scared of albums falling out of the list that now I really have very few that are not significant dropping risks. So here I am with Rust Never Sleeps… because I started mt first play of this at gone midnight and that really is not the time for Beastie Boys or the Pixies.

As an album that was mostly recorded live (as can be heard by the crowds at the beginning) with corrections and overdubs made later in the studio, Rust Never Sleeps is an interesting hybrid within this list. The setlist features a mix of acoustic, rock and then some distorted guitar music that some have extrapolated to be a precursor of what would be the grunge movement some 10-12 years later.

This music is quite a bit of a shift from Tonight’s The Night and After the Gold Rush where it was far more focussed on blues and alternative country. I guess that this is where you can really hear Crazy Horse exerting their own influence over Neil Young. Sure, his voice is still there but this is now a very different tone from what I’ve heard him do before. It feels like I’ve missed a stage of development in between the albums I’ve listened to – maybe that’ll be found when I eventually expand this list outwards.

🎻♫♪ – Nocturnes by Frédéric Chopin

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
92/501Title: Nocturnes
Composer: Frédéric Chopin
Nationality: Polish
Year:
1829-1847

It’s been two and a half years since I saw a Chopin recital in Krakow, which was also the last time that I listened to Chopin for the classical list. Since then I have almost tripled the number of classical pieces that I’ve heard and still the Chopin pieces rank as some of the best that I have come across so far. Guess this makes him one of my favourite composers – although I probably need to get further into the list before I can say that with any conviction.

This piece, well a collection of pieces as it’s made up of 21 individual that was composed over nearly 20 years, made for a perfect background as I played a game of Heaven’s Vault and did some glyph translation. These are all written as solo piano pieces and, as the name Nocturne would suggest, are inspired by the night.

Listening to all 21 in succession, you start to notice how they are thematically in groups of 2-3  and that there is a development in how they’re composed. By the end, some of the individual Nocturnes begin to sound like something that you would hear played in classic Hollywood movies. So, in the end, it was a good two hours of a listen and helped me solve a lot of glyph puzzles.