Search This Blog


Saturday, 22 November 2014

Musical eye matchsticks.

Man, I’m tired.  I mean I am really shattered right now. It’s been a while since I wrote anything on here and that is largely due to the new job completely wiping me out.  I am working 6 day weeks and flat out to keep on top of things.  But you guys didn’t come here to hear me complaining about my work situation. (To be honest I’m not complaining too hard.  I may be tired and propping my eyes open with matchsticks, but the job is certainly rewarding and even enjoyable some days).

But more than ever I have realised again and again how music can keep us going when times get tough.  I have found it especially hard to gee myself up when I was working another early Saturday morning and made up an ‘Upbeat Mix’ on the ipod to blast out loud and proud as I work away.

It has taken some tweaking with some songs removed and others added over the weeks, but now I have about 6 hours of songs that keep me positive and bouncing along when my determination starts to waiver.

The problem I had is that while I adore some songs (like ‘Black flies’ by Ben Howard) the tempo is way too slow and the song is too atmospheric and moody to keep my feet tapping. So I had to choose songs that had enough oomph to give me a boost and which had a good tempo to keep pushing me onwards. Some people would refer to a list like this as an exercise list and I guess you could use it for that.  But for me this is a playlist that buoys me up and keeps me positive as I work away in the darker autumn and winter months.

I’ll give you a brief run down of some of the tracks.

So I start off with ‘Impressions’ by Wes Montgomery. A nice jazz number to ease me into things, before hitting a rock n roll section with Johnny B Goode by Chuck Berry, La Bamba and various tracks by The Beach Boys amongst others. This leads into some old skool soul, most notably various tracks from The Blue Brothers soundtrack. I then jump to rap and more modern stuff, this includes Will Smith, Eminem, Black Eyed Peas, some more dancy stuff from Moby and my one kitsch, camp indulgence ‘Call Me Maybe’ by Carly Rae Jepson (god damn it, I know I lose cool points for that last one, but I love that catchy little number!).
    We move onto the rock and metal section with AC/DC, Electric Six, Foo Fighters, Iron Maiden, Metallica, System of a Down to name but a very few. We now go onto a bit of a mish mash to finish things up. This includes Huey Lewis, Mumford and Sons, Two Door Cinema Club, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Imelda May and long list of other artists where I have chosen a single or maybe two tracks of each.

All in all this playlist does its job very well and not only does it push me to work harder when I am flagging, but I often finish it in a better mood than when I started. I know I have spoken about the medicinal benefits of music in the past, but this playlist is a perfectly tailored, aural neon pill that motivates and inspires me every time

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Playing everything I own.

What with recently moving house I’ve had certain financial restrictions in the past few months and my music purchasing has dwindled to zero.  As many of you will know this is unheard of for me and I have a wish list on Amazon that is growing by the day.

But to keep me going and stave off those musical purchase cravings I have been doing something that has been an interesting way to experience my music in a whole new light.  I have put my ipod onto shuffle for every track I have.  I started this on the 8th August and yesterday reached a quarter of the way through.  I have already heard so many tracks that I haven’t played in years and I love it when an old favourite pops up as well.  There are other tracks or artists that I’ve heard that made me think ‘what the hell was I doing buying that’, or made me realise how my tastes have changed over the years.

It’s made me realise that, despite my vast collection, I have a core of a few hundred albums that I play frequently.  There are certain artists that I play a lot and some I played once when I bought the CD and then never again.  The eclectic, sometimes ‘out there’ world music I own may be interesting to experiment with, but it is not something I play on a regular basis.

Many albums that sit in this core are ones that I grew up with, either listening via my parents or in my teenage years and strangely enough another handful come from albums in the past 3 years.  I may enjoy new music, but I have my old fallback options that keep popping up.

The only tracks I have skipped so far have been audio book tracks, language course tracks and the odd Opera track when it doesn’t flow without the wider composition.  Apart from that I have played everything.

As songs have come on and I’ve re-experienced them with a new mindset and view, I have been making mental note to play certain albums in their entirety when I go back to playing music in a more selective way.

I guess at this rate I have at least another 8-9 months before I have played my whole ipod through and I doubt I can hold off buying new music in this time.  I will play these new albums at home and continue with the shuffle at work and not update the ipod until I’ve reached the end.

So far I’ve come across some lost classics and realised my core listening may not be as varied as I’d once thought, but I guess this is probably true for all of us.  We don’t mind an experiment now and then, but we like to come back to what is comforting and familiar.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but just maybe playing everything I own in this way will push my core of music out that little bit further.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Organising your music collection.

It’s been a hectic few months that’s for sure.  What with starting a new job and selling my house, I have been up to my neck in work and various chores.  But, now we are getting closer to the moving date, I have been packing and organising my music collection.

A big part of this is making sure everything is packed in a way so that it won’t get damaged.  I have had to ensure the boxes are thick enough to protect the CD jewel cases and tall enough so I can store my vinyl correctly.  It has been interesting finding some gems that I forgot I owned and enjoying seeing my complete collection of certain artists as I pack them securely in their boxes.

Once I move I will have to think of a way to store and display my collection in a suitable way.  Over the years it has kind of grown out of the various shelves and became jumbled and now I need to impose some order upon it again.  My father recently helped my brother build some bespoke shelves for his music collection and maybe that is something he’d be willing to do again.

Now the old question.  Do I display everything alphabetically and risk having Mozart being bed fellows with Madonna (I‘m not sure how either would feel about this arrangement)?  Or Seasick Steve and Sepultura next to each other vying for the dubious honour of most outlandish guitar sound.  Or even Will Smith with his modern rap style nestled next to Winston Churchill and his traditional English language during his war time speeches, each mildly offended by the other.  Or do I do it (as now) by genre and have my blues, jazz and metal collections all sitting in their own respective niches?  Never the musical twain shall meet on the shelves, as is often the case in real life. 

If I do it this way I get into another dilema. Is Gary Moore filed under blues or rock?  He has done both styles in his career.  Would you class a classical film soundtrack as classical or soundtrack?  Is Aretha Franklin soul or gospel when both styles are covered, often on the same album? And so the questions go on.

A part of me relishes the idea of sitting on the floor in my new study over the coming months as the seasons move from autumn to winter.  I’ll brew up a nice cup of tea, have a plate of biscuits and play various albums and songs as I organise my vast music collection.  There is something comforting in this task, although I’m sure it may be frustrating at times.

The funny thing is, in time I hope to build an extension on the house I’ve just bought  and have a proper study with built-in shelves and CD racking.  And then I’ll have to do it all over again.  I hope by that time Mozart and Madonna will have resolved their differences and will know if they’re willing to be shelf mates or not.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Sharing New Music

To my mind the only thing better than finding new music is sharing it with someone you know will love and appreciate it as much as you do.

Often my brother, dad and I will text and email each other with  the latest musical gems we have found and occasionally when finances allow it I will send over a copy of a CD that has so moved me, so they can appreciate it straight away.  We have all found some great music in this way.

A lot of my early music listening came from my brother, dad and step-dad and it gave me a solid grounding in classic rock and classical music that has stood me in good stead to this day.  But, there is a certain special feeling when you start to discover music for yourself and you’re able to return the favour and pass the music back.

A friend of mine used to introduce me to new music on a regular basis and he was part of that time I have written about before (‘Getting Hooked on Audioslave’) where my work colleagues and I shared music a lot.  I remember he was very conscious never to hand hold me exactly to a particular track or album and he’d often lend me an album and say afterwards ‘did you like any song in particular’ and then delight when I was as moved by one specific track over all the others.

One time he did this was with the Alice in Chains EP ‘Jar of Flies’.  I borrowed the album and listened to it a few times as I worked and one song in particular hit me full force.  The second track ‘Nutshell’ is an example of stunning song writing and brooding melancholy that I just love sometimes.  I recall it was early autumn when I first heard it and it was perfect for the change in seasons and feel in the air.

Afterwards my friend asked his usual question of which song I liked most and when I told him it was Nutshell he was so happy that I had ‘chosen’ the same song that moves him the most too.  We spoke about it for ages and how much impact it has on first listen and he told me it only gets better with repeated playing.  Needless to say I went and bought the EP that lunch time and I have to say he was right, that particular song only gets better each time I hear it and I play it frequently throughout the year.

It is great to see that not only do I get great pleasure from sharing powerful, emotive music, but so do other of my friends and family who feel the power of music as much as me.  At its most basic it is a form of social bonding to share these emotions and feelings via the shorthand of music and it is a unique gift I am thankful for every day.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

My second try of Moby

I’ve been listening to Moby a lot lately and it has got me thinking.  The four main albums I have been playing are ‘Play’, ‘18’, ‘Hotel’ and ‘Destroyed’ and of these ‘Play’ is the most well known and is classed as his break-though album. 

So many tracks from this album were used in adverts and in films and TV shows that at one point after its release you heard snippets of this album everywhere.  For me this album will be forever linked with some time I spent in New Zealand where I bought the CD and played it as I drove around this stunning and memorable country.

For a long time this was the only album I owned by Moby, for despite liking the music on offer, it didn’t really move me or inspire me to go out and buy any more.  That is until I heard a song in a film and when I looked on IMDB I found out it was a Moby song called ‘Be the One’ from the ‘Destroyed’ album.  I bought the album at a reasonable price and fell in love with it. 

The other songs on the album were as moving as the ‘Be the One’ and I loved the way most songs gradually built and increased in intensity and emotion.  After a few listens I was hooked and I quickly bought ‘18’ and ‘Hotel’ shortly afterwards. 

My general feelings were the same and both of these albums are excellent.  I especially like the track ‘Lift me up’ from ‘Hotel’. 

It is funny how a particular album from an artist is the one that everyone knows and buys and sometimes they can be unfairly (and sometimes fairly) judged on this one commercial success.  Their earlier albums may be just as good, if not better and that applies for subsequent albums, but if we restrict ourselves to just the album that we know best we will never know.

My brother mentioned he had experienced a similar thing when I mentioned this to him. He said he had been disappointed by an album that was an artists break-through album, but loved their other work and conversely he has loved a break-though album and nothing else before or since.

I guess the lesson here is to explore an artists output in more depth before we pass judgement and if you aren’t overly enamoured with one album, give another one a try and see how you get on.  With the advent of YouTube, Spotify and preview functions on online music stores, it is much easier to sample music than when I started off buying music on cassette and vinyl all those years ago.

So whilst I truly like (but don’t love) ‘Play’, I can say I love and heartily recommend ‘Destroyed’.  Give some songs a try online and if you like what you hear, buy it and enjoy some of the beautiful tracks on offer.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Laughing with my Music.

Although I am very serious about my love of music, not all music has to be serious for us to enjoy.  I can think of numerous albums and artists that have created funny or humorous music that I enjoy listening to.

One album my wife and I love is the debut from Electric Six.  Not only does this have some great rock, but the lyrics are hilarious too.  Most people know their hit ‘Gay Bar’, but ‘Danger! High Voltage’ and ‘Naked Pictures (Of Your Mother)’ also crack me up too.  The whole album doesn’t take itself too seriously and is a quick blast of upbeat, fun music.

Steve Poltz is a musician I have interviewed on the blog before (Musical Influences: Steve Poltz) and his humour is zany, offbeat and infectious.  If you follow him on Facebook you will often read his hilarious little stories and thoughts and whilst his earlier albums had more serious lyrics, some later songs are hilarious and he often posts them on YouTube for us to enjoy.  He also does small skits on YouTube that I love.  One were he teaches you to say ‘dude’ under various circumstances is a lot funnier than it sounds.

Tenacious D’s first album was great for it’s mix of music and the brief interludes in-between where Jack Black and Kyle Gass joke around and act out various segments.  It adds to the songs, most of which have funny lyrics too.  So not only do you get some cracking rock songs (I’m thinking of ‘Tribute’ here), but you also get some tongue in cheek humour to boot.

Will Smith also uses brief humorous interludes between tracks on his ‘Big Willie Style’ album and it works to keep the whole album upbeat and fun.

Jeffrey Lewis is another artist in the Steve Poltz vein, where his music is credible in its own right, but also manages to be funny.  Their styles aren’t too dissimilar either. On one song Jeff tells us to ‘Never Let the Record Label Take You Out To Lunch’ as they’ll make you pay at the end of the day and he also teaches us how to kill Zombies on ‘If You Shoot the Head You Kill the Ghoul’.  Both good advice wrapped up in a musical package I’d say.  I adore the title of the album these songs come off of, ‘It’s the Ones Who’ve Cracked that the Light Shines Through’, couldn’t put it better myself.

So, as you can see, music doesn’t have to be brooding or serious to be credible and I can think of other artists who use humour in their music or performances (like Chas and Dave who I’ve written about before) and I’m sure you can think of many more and can suggest your own. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this one.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Hating and loving Kings of Leon

Have you ever bought an album that on first playing you absolutely hated and then after subsequent listens you ended up loving?

Many years ago I had exactly this situation.  I was in a supermarket with some friends from work buying lunch.  I walked down the CD aisle and bought the new debut album from Kings of Leon, ‘Youth and Young Manhood’, based on a magazine recommendation.

I returned back to work and after eating lunch put it into my CD player and gave it a try.  My knee jerk reaction was not good.  I didn’t like the singers voice (I felt he was trying to rip off Tom Petty badly) and the music didn’t really impress or grab me.  I admit I felt it was too sloppy.  I immediately started telling everyone what a load of rubbish it was and to not bother buying it. 

I took it home and gave it another couple of listens that evening and over the next few days my feelings towards it softened and I started to appreciate individual songs and how the album sat together as a whole.  I even started to enjoy the singers voice which suited the music perfectly and where before I thought the music was sloppy, I realised it was delightfully loose and free.  By the end of the week I was back at work telling everyone I was wrong and they should give it a try.

I felt a bit sheepish and everyone laughed at my expense, but at least I could admit my mistake and recommend it.  Over the years I have listened to this album many times and I always enjoy it (I‘m playing it now as I write this).

The only other time I can think of that something similar has happened was when Red Hot Chili Peppers brought out ‘By the Way.  Up to this point I had been used to ‘Californication’ and ‘Blood Sugar Sex Magik’ and the sound to my ears was very different.  I could not gel with the album at all and lamented the fact that a great band had lost it’s spark and drive.

Again I gave the album a fair chance and a few more listens and after I warmed to it I could see it had some incredible songs on it.  Now I am slightly embarrassed to say it is probably my favourite album of theirs and I have listened to this album more than any others.

The lesson here is a) not to judge an album on first listen, b) don’t judge it based on past works and c) give any album a fair few listens before you make any judgement at all.  Thankfully I learnt this lesson reasonably quickly and even now when I get an album that doesn’t hit me first time I give it a fair chance before making up my mind. On the odd occasion I’ve even come back to an album many years later and realised how good it is.  I guess sometimes it is as much about the time in your own life that you first hear an album as the album itself.  And sometimes you were right and an album is just bad and you have to trust your own taste!

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Judging John Lennon.

I recently read a book that collected together all the known letters that John Lennon wrote throughout his life.  It included letters to family and friends, business letters, as well as letters to fans.

One of the most obvious things to me from the early letters was that he didn’t seem to be the nicest or warmest person.  Sometimes it was just the way he phrased things, rather than what he said.

You also noticed a more spiritual and peaceful way of thought after he married Yoko and during their life together.

It got me thinking that it is strange how we think we know someone from the music they create and then get a completely different view once we learn a bit more about them. 

I also thought that it is harsh for us to read letters he wrote when an adolescent and still forming his own thoughts on the world and then judge his character on them.  I’m sure if some of our own young letters or thoughts were captured for public consumption we would feel embarrassed or even ashamed at some of our early beliefs.  Yet we find these interesting and judge celebrities and musicians by the things they wrote at all stages of their life. 

In today’s cult of celebrity where some people actively court the media I have little sympathy for those celebrities that get caught out by the things they’ve blogged or tweeted.  But for those musicians in the 60’s or in past years before the internet was invented or even those today who wish to maintain some privacy, it must be hard to live under the public glare of scrutiny when you think you are writing a letter that you believe is for private consumption which then becomes available for everyone to read.

It is strange how we form our beliefs of John Lennon from the letters he wrote throughout his life from a young age until his death, when it is obvious he was growing and developing his world view his entire life (as we all do). 

I find books about music and musicians fascinating as it gives me a deeper insight into their lives and what may have shaped the music I love so much.  But just maybe I should be more selective in what I read and remember that these musician are people who struggle with their own demons and ways of relating to the word as much as the next person.  Or maybe I should even let the music speak for itself and not delve any deeper than that.  It is something I will think more about and I wonder what your own views on this are.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Inspired by Music

Only a short blog post this week, but I’ve been thinking that one of the things I enjoy most about music is how it can inspire me or inspire others to new ways of thought and creation.

It could be how the lyrics in a song make me want to go off and explore more behind what inspired them.  A good example of this is ‘Mercy Street’ by Peter Gabriel.  This is based on a poem by Anne Sexton and I didn’t know of her work before I heard this song.  But after hearing it and being moved by the music and lyrics I tracked down some of her poetry and have since enjoyed it in it’s own right.

I also like how certain music can inspire me to go and write about it or how it has made me feel.  To be moved by something so much that it makes you go off and express yourself creatively is a precious gift.  To feel that emotion so deeply that you want to share it, or just sit at your computer and write about music in general is a wonderful feeling.  My whole blog came from this very motivation.

Sometimes it can be a simple as inspiring me to keep working out harder and with full effort.  If I didn’t have music playing when I sat on the exercise bike or did other exercises I think I’d struggle a lot more and the music bolsters my flagging resolve and keeps me going.

At it’s most basic level music can inspire me to get up and dance or just sing along with full gusto.

I know this to be true of other people and artists.  Marc Cohn writes on Facebook about how other songs and musicians inspire him to write particular songs or just create in general.  Plus some of my friends also feel moved to write poems, or work harder or more effectively due to the influence of music in their lives.

It goes to show how music has the power to affect us at our core, but also affect the way we behave and act.  When you think of it in these terms then it is a powerful gift to have music in our lives and whilst some of the light frothy music may inspire us to shake our tail feathers and have a good time, some of the more brooding ‘serious’ music may inspire the thoughts behind great physics, or other society/cultural changing works.  Not bad for a string of notes and some infectious beats.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Admiring the music of Hans Zimmer

I’ve mentioned in one of my early blog posts (‘Film soundtracks and Early Ego boosts’) that I particularly enjoy the film score music from Hans Zimmer.  Of all the film music I have listened to and added to my collection over the years his albums seem to be the ones I most come back to.

I have my favourites like ‘The Last Samurai’ and I have listened to this album so many times over the years that I know it by heart and hear it in my dreams!  I love the blend of Japanese instruments and western orchestral music and the way the albums builds and the overall feel leaves me breathless.

I also adore ‘Tears of the Sun’ and again the mixture of African singing and orchestral score is very moving.  The themes of the film are particularly harrowing and when I listen to the music I relive some of the emotion of the film.  It makes for a powerful experience.

The music for ‘The Thin Red Line’ is a very dark, brooding piece and whilst I never fully gelled with it I enjoyed the Polynesian chants so much that I bought the companion album that comprises just the chants and other hymns sung by the group that contributed to the film score.  The hymn used in the film ‘God Yu Tekkem Laef Blong Mi’ has a repeating phrase that gradually gets louder as more of the choir join in each time and the deep bass voices that mix with the higher treble voices make your hair stand on end by the time the hymn has finished.

It’s funny how I will watch a film and halfway though think ‘I like this music, I must find out who it is’ and then when I look at the end credits I find it is Zimmer again.  The music for ‘Inception’ was one of these instances and it goes to show Zimmer manages to add to the tension in the film and also be consistent enough that I admire his work even across many films.  I like how the music for this film has a futuristic, racy feel to it, yet remains unmistakably Zimmers style.

I was told by a friend that if I like Zimmer I must buy the Gladiator soundtrack and whilst I do like it, it doesn’t move me as much as other music Zimmer has created.  Maybe this is because I saw the film many years ago and I can’t associate the music to the film any longer, but to be honest I listen to the scores as music in their own right anyway, so maybe it just appeals less for some reason.  Also the music for ‘The Dark Knight’ seems aimless and has no definite crescendo.  It is certainly dark and brooding (rather like the film in places) but it seems to be rather flat compared to the soaring emotion in other music Zimmer has created.  But these are the only scores of his I can think of that have impressed me less.

What I also admire is unlike other film composers who sound similar from film to film (I’m thinking of Danny Elfman and James Horner here), Hans Zimmer manages to tailor the sound for the particular film project he is working on.  You get Polynesian chants, African singing, Japanese instruments and phrases or a futuristic feel, which all contribute to the film they are composed for.

Overall Hans Zimmer manages to create stirring, emotional film scores that compliment the action and emotion on the screen perfectly and even better, the quality is so high you can enjoy them as works of musicianship in their own right.  Getting that balance right must be like walking a tight line sometimes and whilst occasionally the music is better when watched with the film, like with ’The Dark Knight', generally Zimmer manages to walk that line exceptionally well.