Category Archives: Music

Acclaimed Albums – Silent Shout by The Knife

List item: Listen to the 1000 Most Acclaimed Albums
Progress: 328/1000
Title: Silent Shout
Artist: The Knife
Year: 2006

When I was doing the Top 250, Silent Shout was always bubbling away nearby. I was hoping it would one day make a leap up so I could have a nice easy album to cross off as it is one of my favourite albums of the 2000s. When I first started this blog, I made a list of my favourite albums of 2000-2014 – Silent Shout appearing at #12. It still feels like the right place for it.

This is an album that I listened to as I completed NaNoWriMo and even quoted once when I was very ill and in a delirium and declared myself a fancy man. ‘Neverland’ and ‘Marble House’ are both tracks that would likely rank incredibly highly if I ever loathed myself enough to even attempt a top songs of all time list. Both are exceptional pieces of synth-pop, much like the rest of this album.

Coming across Silent Shout late like I did, it showed me that my musical taste still had a lot of room to grow and was probably a gateway towards me eventually getting into darker pop like early Grimes and Jenny Hval – especially the latter. I don’t think Blood Bitch would rank among my favourite albums of all time if this album hadn’t opened some doors for me. Granted, I already enjoyed Fever Ray so this wouldn’t have been too big a leap for me.

Compared to a lot of music I listen to Silent Shout is still on the darker side of things. At first there were parts that were near inaccessible, but now I cannot imagine how I ever found listening to it difficult. It’s a consistently brilliant piece of techno and synthpop that, for me, remains the pinacle of their career.

I will later get to write about The Knife’s final album Shaking the Habitual as well as the Fever Ray eponymous solo album – but nothing will quite equal that lead into ‘Neverland’ from the title track, the bombast of ‘We Share Our Mother’s Health’ or the spookiness of the ‘Marble House’ duet. Stories of escaping into the woods from invaders rendered with electronic soundscapes in the same way they talk about reconnecting with an old friend. God I love this album.

🎻♫♪ – Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen by Gustav Mahler

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
111/501Title: Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen
Composer: Gustav Mahler
Nationality: Bohemian

Time for the oldest of the Gustav Mahler pieces, a very brief song cycle whose title has been translated as either ‘Songs of a Wayfarer’ or ‘Songs of Journeyman’. These four songs, with lyrics also written by Mahler, tell four stories about a working man who has lost the love of his life to another man and how he gets over them.

We begin with a lovely flourish before hearing him mourn his loss, we go via some lightness under a tree and him wishing for a knife to end the pain before ending with things possibly being okay again. The whole piece goes by in what feels like an instant – so by the time I got part way through my writing set-up it was nearly over. Not that I cared, listening to this a few more times was a pleasure.

By the looks of it, this won’t be the last I hear of these particular pieces of music. At some point, when Mahler’s ‘Symphony no. 1’ comes out of the bucket, some of these themes will be making a return. I do look forward to seeing how it works for the second song in the cycle, it had such a lightness and a positivity to it that it would be nice to hear a longer classical work take more of a lead from such a good place.

Acclaimed Albums – ( ) by Sigur Rós

List item: Listen to the 1000 Most Acclaimed Albums
Progress: 327/1000
Title: ( )
Artist: Sigur Rós
Year: 2002

There was a while when I was in university where I would listen to a fair bit of Sigur Rós for the purposes of napping. If I am unable to sleep on an airplane, I will still reach for some of their albums with a preference for Agætis byrjun over ( ). Where Agætis byrjun is definitely a perfect listen if you want to drift off to some beautiful post-rock, ( ) doesn’t work as well as given the greater use of percussion and distortion – the percussion really kicking in during the more downbeat second half.

( ) does something that very few albums do though – have the entire thing sung in a fake language. Well, I say language – it’s not like Hopelandic has any meaning, instead this is very much an ethereal version of scat singing whose syllables are used to fit the melody. It makes for a brilliant contrast to have something so otherworldly being sung to something that, at times, gets closer to being a type of rock than being ambient.

One difficulty about talking about this album is… what do you call it. I guess you can refer to it at The Brackets Album in the great tradition of The White Album and most of Weezer’s output. But given the style of music, that name feels just too bog-standard. Then you have the tracks which are officially untitled, although we do have their nicknames. 

Do I prefer the more uplifting first half? Yes I do, they feel like a magical human whale song – especially ‘Untitled #3 – Samskeyti’. Do I prefer Agætis byrjun as an album? Also yes, but I do think ( )  is better than their follow-up despite how amazing ‘Hoppípolla’ is. This is one of those bands I just circle back to every few years and I think it means I really should be giving the Jónsi solo works more of a go. Like, if I like Sigur Rós I should enjoy those works… right?

Acclaimed Albums – Reckoning by R.E.M.

List item: Listen to the 1000 Most Acclaimed Albums
Progress: 326/1000
Title: Reckoning
Artist: R.E.M.
Year: 1984

With seven albums in the 1000, R.E.M. are one of the better represented groups to appear on the list. Two of these, Murmur and Automatic for the People are in the upper 250 of the list in rather lofty positions. Whilst I am not looking at placements for the remaining albums on the 1000, Reckoning is one of the lower of the R.E.M. albums that I will be listening to – although still in a respectable position, which is rightfully higher than FutureSex/LoveSounds.

It’s hard for me to not think of R.E.M. as their Automatic for the People selves rather than this darker group that they were at the beginning. A little bit disorientating at first, but you get used to it eventually and then try to remember back to how they were on their debut.

As a second album, Reckoning is not a massive departure from their work on Murmur. It’s more a refining of what made for a great debut rather than them necessarily trying something new on for size. Is it missing the great single? Yes, there are no songs on here that quite reach ‘Radio Free Europe’. In fact, when listening to this I was beginning to feel a real need to listen to ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ – guess that there is a mood similarity between this album and that song.

This isn’t to say there aren’t really good songs on here. Me being me, I like it when R.E.M. go a bit more on the upbeat side like the alternative country stylings of ‘(Don’t Go Back to) Rockville’, the jangle pop of ‘So. Central Rain’ or the faster moving ‘Little America’ which has a bit of U2 in it. Reckoning is a really good album and it is over so quickly that you just want more.

🎻♫♪ – Chants d’Auvergne by Joseph Canteloube

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
110/501Title: Chants d’Auvergne
Composer: Joseph Canteloube
Nationality: French

A nice bit of a change of pace again with the classical piece of the week (which, looking back at how I originally prefaced the 1001 classicals list as being something I would do rarely, is neat to able to say) in that this feels about as close to a popular music album that I am likely to get. Chants d’Auvergne is a collection of traditional folk songs of the region that have been set to classical music by Joseph Canteloube. In essence, this is a songbook and an album of these reads similar to the acclaimed series that Ella Fitzgerald did in the 1950s when she made multi-disc albums of the composers of the Great American Songbook.

The songs themselves are still sung using the Occitan language, which is founded in the south of France with dialects of it spoken in Spain, Monaco and Italy. Given that most of the dialects of this language are endangered, there is something beautifully unique when listening to Chants d’Auvergne. 

As this is a collection of folk songs, rather than a purpose made classical piece, there is something different about these. For one, there is more levity to a number of these songs and they have a passing resemblance to a sung verse-chorus structure. Others start to get more ethereal in the same way that ‘Donna Donna’ by Joan Baez or ‘Forward, Oneroi’ from Over The Garden Wall. So yes, this was a nice and varied listen for an hour and a half.

Acclaimed Albums – FutureSex/LoveSounds by Justin Timberlake

List item: Listen to the 1000 Most Acclaimed Albums
Progress: 325/1000
Title: FutureSex/LoveSounds
Artist: Justin Timberlake
Year:  2006

I think I missed the memo about FutureSex/LoveSounds getting a bit of a re-evaluation. Like, enough of a re-evaluation that means it has ended up being ranked this highly among all the non-classical music albums ever released. At the time it got moderately positive notice and was in some end of year lists, but it was more one of those albums that did very well commercially than critically. Well here we are anyway and I thought that, given all the furor that came out since the Britney Spears documentary, I might as well try it on for size.

Before this listen I knew three of the four singles. I loved ‘What Goes Around/Comes Around’, quite liked ‘My Love’ and was left moderately unmoved by ‘SexyBack’. Like I can’t deny the influence that ‘SexyBack’ temporarily had on discourse to the point that cable news presenters were using the formula that ‘X is bringing Y back’ in a strange attempt at relevance – but as a song it is repetitive, non-sensical and to me just a bit dull.

Now I am listening to this as a whole album, ‘What Goes Around/Comes Around’ and ‘My Love’ stand out a lot. On this more recent listen, my thoughts around ‘My Love’ have really improved to the point that I think it’s actually a really good song I could imagine dancing to… if I was so inclined to have gone to clubs instead of staying at home and playing Mario Kart Wii. I promise I was fun in my uni days, it’s just that being teetotal kinda limits your options when you have a base level of social anxiety.

The rest of the album, however, is just a bit blah. Like from the beginning you see Timberlake trying to bring in some new wave elements to bring forth some favourable comparisons to early Prince – and to some extent it works, but the album is a bit too much hodge-podge with word salad lyrics to work for me. I also don’t think it helps that this album is almost a double act between Timberlake and Timbaland – and that does not work for me. At least there are some songs on here that I legitimately love, not many albums can say that.

Acclaimed Albums – Mellow Gold by Beck

List item: Listen to the 1000 Most Acclaimed Albums
Progress: 324/1000
Title: Mellow Gold
Artist: Beck
Year: 1994

Mellow Gold has always been on the lower tier of Beck albums for me, so have ended up listening to Guero, Sea Change, Modern Guilt and Mutations. I know that two of those four will be subject of posts in the coming years, but I like to go chronologically where I can. Also it has been 13 years since I last listened to the album from beginning to end, so it’s time to go back again.

Given the extended time, it’s fair to say that 18 year old me did not like this album on the first listen and rejected it outright. Well, 18 year old is an idiot. Mellow Gold is a great album and it really helps you properly contextualize Odelay. A lot of the music he’s made later in his career has a lot more of an electronic influence or goes slow – which really makes Odelay stand out as a bit of an anomaly. 

The big weakness of Mellow Gold is that it starts with its best foot forward. ‘Loser’ is one of those songs that was iconic for its generation and it remains as one of the best tracks that Beck has ever released. As such, the album has to come down a little bit after that – but it’s not too far of a drop at all. 

Mellow Gold, much like Odelay, feels like young Beck as he began to learn where to apply polish to his music. He isn’t the typical white male musician with a guitar, sure he brings in some influences from rock and alternative rock – but there are elements of distortion and hip-hop that he is playing around with that screams this being an album of a young artist just experimenting with all that they know.

This is not going to overthrow my top Beck albums mainly because they have at least a decade of plays and they are closer to the music I like, however I am completely turned around on this album. There are times where I want a harsher album, but still want a singer I really know well. Mellow Gold might help scratch that itch when it next emerges – and it means I can get back to singing along to ‘Loser’.

🎻♫♪ – Piano Quintet in F minor by Johannes Brahms

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
109/501Title: Piano Quintet in F minor
Composer: Johannes Brahms
Nationality: German

I am enjoying my weekly visits to the classical list, even if I am finding that this kind of music is especially potent in influencing my mood as it plays. Luckily for me this Piano Quintet by Brahms, whilst it didn’t end up with me getting delusions of grandeur like some recent pieces, was light and airy enough for the most part so that I could smile my way through some routine work tasks and took my mind off of the fact that I was having some pretty major meetings later in the day.

There is some variation in this piece, with it getting slightly more tense in the ‘Scherzo’ and then a bit melancholy in the ‘Finale’, but I think just by it being a chamber music quintet and having such a positive beginning you are just happily carried on through to the end.

Acclaimed Albums – New Day Rising by Hüsker Dü

List item: Listen to the 1000 Most Acclaimed Albums
Progress: 323/1000
Title: New Day Rising
Artist: Hüsker Dü
Year: 1985

Okay, so trying to find 1980s albums to listen to are getting a bit difficult. I’m to listen to artists in order and, where possible, listen to albums as my husband goes along. Wouldn’t you know that so many of these are either on the 1001 list or in 1970s… which I have slightly over-represented. So it may be high time to revisit Husker Du, even if it doesn’t feel like a particularly long time since I listened to Zen Arcade.

Moving on from Zen Arcade, New Day Rising is a slimmer album than its predecessor by about half an hour – to the point that despite it being just over 40 minutes long, it feels like it flies by so incredibly quickly. I know I must have an attention span issue when it comes to albums that are ‘longer’, but the editing that has been done here works to the albums favour. Like, I know Zen Arcade is meant to be their definitive album, and it does have a better stand out song, but I think I prefer New Day Rising.

Comparing the two, New Day Rising is not as melodic and does rely more on the distortion – so to find the actual melodies you have to work for them. However, there is something really satisfying in being able to enjoy the song first as a cool white noise with some of the melodies poking through and then, on a second listen, reap the rewards as you start to make things out.

I think it helps that this music is still not too heavy for my taste and is beginning to move away from the harsher punk sounds towards a more alt-rock vibe. Like, I can completely see that this is a transition record from Zen Arcade to their later more power pop sound – which is making me look forward to their next album a lot. However, for now that’s two good albums in a row and maybe, in a year or so, I’ll get around to enjoying more albums.

Acclaimed Albums – Paid in Full by Eric B. & Rakim

List item: Listen to the 1000 Most Acclaimed Albums
Progress: 322/1000
Title: Paid in Full
Artist: Eric B. & Rakim
Year: 1987

Okay, so it was really cool to hear where the sample for ‘Pump Up The Volume’ came from. Like, the phrase only occurs once in ‘I Know You Got Soul’, but it is so iconic that it sticks out so much. On the second listen of that same song, I clocked the phrase that was used in the intro to Aaliyah’s ‘Try Again’. Two pretty major samples from the same single on what is seen as one of the big influential hip-hop albums of this era.

What’s interesting about Paid in Full though is the differences between the highs and the rest of the album. Now, this might just be me being a novice, but it feels like in this album of 10 songs there are 4-5 incredibly strong songs and then the rest are okay. Maybe on other albums the remaining songs wouldn’t feel like such a dip, but against ‘I Ain’t No Joke’, ‘Paid in Full’, ‘Eric B. Is President’ and ‘I Know You Got Soul’, they just pale.

The thing that kept me listening to Paid in Full was Rakim’s words. I guess that Rakim is where a number of artists on the East Coast will have gotten inspiration for when it would come to their rhymes. Unlike Boogie Down Productions, there is no bravado and posturing, all the power is in the well spun words. Eric B’s beats are a great accompaniment and make this a really cool hip-hop album to listen to 34 years later.