Tuesday, 31 March 2009

It's turning into a vintage year for baroque pop

More CD reviews coming soon! Debut CDs by Gabriel Kahane and DM Stith (video above).

Both of these are extraordinary in the own ways. It's taking a while to digest them, but I'll write them up in the next week.

Beyond that, May sees the release of Patrick Watson's and Grizzly Bear's new CDs, the previews of both sound awesome.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Dark Was The Night, by Various Artists


The Red Hot Organisation’s AIDS-related charity has been releasing an annual fund-raising compilation CD since the 90's, initially a grunge-orientated offering, their roster of contributing artists has always moved with the times.

The 2009 double CD, Dark Was The Night, features two hours of music by many leading indie/baroque pop artists together with some more esoteric contributions. Curated and led by Bryce and Aaron Dessner of The National, they have given us a surprisingly cohesive collection. The various collaborations that occur on various tracks give the album of the feel of a team effort: Feist + Ben Gibbard, Feist + Grizzly Bear, Antony Hegarty + Bryce Dessner, Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) + Aaron Dessner, etc.

It kicks off brilliantly with a Dirty Projectors and David Byrne partnership, Knotty Pine. Bright and catchy enough to be a hit single. Grizzly Bear's Deep Blue Sea is a little more orthodox than much of their output but it charms. Antony's reworking of an obscure Bob Dylan song is the surprise success here. The first CD ends with 11 minutes of Sufjan Stevens wide-ranging aural assault on the Castanets' You are the Blood. If one track can be any indication of where an artist is going then Sufjan is going in multiple directions at once, a glitchy electronic start gives way to a huge band sound, trombones, guitar, keyboards and more. It also features one of the few piano cadenzas to ever appear in pop music, courtesy of the talented Gabriel Kahane! It brings to mind Rufus Wainwright's Do I Disappoint You, and Rufus might not have the field of bombastic pop to himself for much longer.

To my knowledge these recordings are all new on this collection, sometimes new compositions or covers, and a few reworkings of old favourites. It would take too long to list all my favourite tracks, but suffice to say the first CD ('This One') is very much the stronger and would be worth the price alone. The packaging, as can be seen in the picture, is a triple fold digipack with a separate informative booklet. Excellent.

This Disc
1 The Dirty Projectors & David Byrne - Knotty Pine 2:23
2 The Books feat. José González - Cello Song 3:54
3 Feist & Ben Gibbard - Train Song 3:02
4 Bon Iver - Brackett, WI 4:03
5 Grizzly Bear - Deep Blue Sea 3:46
6 The National - So Far Around the Bend 3:43
7 Yeasayer - Tightrope 3:18
8 My Brightest Diamond - Feeling Good 3:53
9 Kronos Quartet - Dark Was the Night 3:51
10 Antony & Bryce Dessner - I Was Young When I Left Home 4:55
11 Justin Vernon & Aaron Dessner - Big Red Machine 4:39
12 The Decemberists - Sleepless 7:53
13 Iron & Wine - Stolen Houses (Die) 1:06
14 Grizzly Bear & Feist - Service Bell 2:23
15 Sufjan Stevens - You Are the Blood 10:14

That Disc
1 Spoon - Well-Alright 2:45
2 Arcade Fire - Lenin 4:06
3 Beirut - Mimizan 2:42
4 My Morning Jacket - El Caporal 3:33
5 Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings - Inspiration Information 4:05
6 Dave Sitek - With a Girl Like You 3:26
7 Buck 65 - Blood Pt. 2 (Remix) (feat. Sufjan Stevens and Serengeti) 3:36
8 The New Pornographers - Hey, Snow White 4:25
9 Yo La Tengo - Gentle Hour 5:31
10 Stuart Murdoch - Another Saturday Night 2:55
11 Riceboy Sleeps - Happiness 8:37
12 Cat Power & Dirty Delta Blues - Amazing Grace 3:34
13 Andrew Bird - The Giant of Illinois 4:44
14 Conor Oberst & Gillian Welch - Lua 5:53
15 Blonde Redhead & Devastations - When the Road Runs Out 3:28
16 Kevin Drew - Love vs. Porn 3:57

Saturday, 21 March 2009

What is baroque pop?

Yes, the question is asked again, and I spend far too much of my life trying to answer this trivial question. If you've ever visited Wikipedia, you'll know what a mess this topic is. No-one agrees, and the list of baroque pop artists is frankly absurd. The media (music journalists) lazy usage of the term doesn't help!Witness the currently usage of 'freak-folk'. (btw freakfolk.com is safe in my possession :-))

So here's my latest thoughts on baroque pop:

Baroque pop is to pop music what progressive rock is to rock music.
It's a more complex form, likely to have more varied instrumentation and/or more ambitious song structures. Whilst the term baroque pop originated in 1960's music journalism during a fad for using a harpsichord in pop songs, the term as used by music journalists has come to mean something more ornate and complex than most pop music. In terms of modern artists, the two most often cited are the classically influenced ostentatious pop songs of
Rufus Wainwright, and the complex arrangements of Sufjan Stevens' music with their non-standard time signatures, instrumentation and harmonic counterpoints.

Dear readers, do you have any thoughts on what baroque pop is? interested in your views. Perhaps we can sort out the Wikipedia entry one day!

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Introducing Soren Anders

Here's an artist I'm keeping an eye on.

(With liberal cutting and pasting from Wikipedia!)

Soren Anders (born John T Fischer) is an American composer, singer, record producer and instrumentalist from southern Illinois. He is the creator of the multi-award winning band Shimmerplanet.

With its string backing it fits nicely into baroque chamber pop realm. I'm not sure he's found his voice yet, the tracks I've heard seem like ambition student works, unlikely to make an impact on a larger stage, but there's certainly enough here to grab the attention of baroque pop enthusiasts.

Ander's has gained much critical success as the creator of the band Shimmerplanet has been called “a breakthrough creatively” and “brilliant”. “It takes artistic courage to be this lyrically honest and musically experimental,” wrote Indie-Music.com[2]. Awards from The Songwriters Hall of Fame, The Independent Music Awards, and Talent In Motion Magazine followed.

Anders has worked with 60s recording icon Lesley Gore, 80s recording icon Chris Stein (of Blondie), and recently scored and conducted a choir for one of his favorite bands, Menomena. The recipient of numerous awards, international airplay and critical accolades, Anders is very busy, not just with Shimmerplanet, but with various other collaborations (Darren Ockert, Carolyn Eufrasio, Molly Bea).

No commercial releases yet, but plenty to listen to on his Myspace.