21 Jul

Week 219: “Solace” by Aether

aether

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Bandcamp.

My brother made up a word when we were kids: “cornery”. The dictionary entry for this word would look something like this:

cor·ner·y [kawr-nuh-ree; IPA kɔrnəri]
adjective, cor·ner·i·er, cor·ner·i·est.

Often used to describe something (usually a place) that has a comforting, somewhat hidden feeling to it. Ex: “The pond surrounded by willow trees at my cottage is very cornery.”

Origin: 
My brother, mid-1980s; adjectival form of “corner”, denoting security and pleasant seclusion.

Synonyms 
- comfortable, idyllic, peaceful, secluded, ethereal, solace-full

I can’t remember exactly when he first coined this term, but it quickly became part of our family’s dialect, and over the years we identified many things and places that deserved to be described as “cornery”. Eventually we stopped using the word; probably once adolescence made us too cool to use such a childish word. But starting today, I’m going to make an effort to re-introduce it to my vocabulary.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The bass is ocean-level deep, and with headphones on, it’ll vibrate your brain.

2. At 0:43, the piano has echoes of the Amelie soundtrack.

3. There’s something about it that’s just…I don’t know…cornery.

Recommended listening activity:

Visiting your favourite cornery location.

14 Jul

Week 218: “The Laziest Gal In Town” by Carsie Blanton

blanton

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Bandcamp.

Like most of Cole Porter’s songs, there are several versions of this one that deserve a listen.

The original, performed by Marlene Dietrich for Alfred Hitchcock’s “Stage Fright”, is pretty good, but there’s something about Dietrich’s delivery that I find a bit creepy. (To be fair, creepiness might be what they were going for, given that it was a Hitchcock film.)

I’ve always been a fan of Nina Simone, and her version of this tune is nice too, but with all respect to Nina, her rendition just doesn’t sound lazy enough.

So I’m happy to announce that Carsie Blanton’s recent recording of Porter’s classic gets everything right: it’s lazy, it’s lilting, it’s lovely.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The way she takes her time with the lyrics, especially on words like “laaaaaa-ziest”.

2. The way the brushes shuffle along quietly on the drums, like slippers along the kitchen floor on a lazy morning after a long sleep-in.

3. The way the clarinet yawns its way through the solo. The clarinet was a great choice; there’s something about the tonal quality of the clarinet that has always sounded lazy to me.

Recommended listening activity:

Cancelling something to make room for doing nothing.

07 Jul

Week 217: “I Can’t Stand the Rain” by Ann Peebles

Ann-Peebles-I-Cant-Stand-The-456677

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

 Amazon.
iTunes.

Watching a good thunderstorm is one of the best things about the summer. But like a lot of summer things (camping, UV-rays, people who love the World Cup), over-exposure is tiring. Too much rain can be a real downer, so here are some things to try if you find yourself caught in an overly-rainful stretch of weather this summer.

  • Re-read your favourite childhood book.
  • Watch this documentary.
  • Watch this movie.
  • Pick a friend you haven’t seen in a while, and show up at their house with some cookies.
  • Jump in some puddles.
  • Make some rain art.
  • Go for a long walk without an umbrella and enjoy getting wet.

And of course, there’s no better way to enjoy the rain than with some tea and a bit of classic soul music. Anything from the Hi Records catalogue will do, but if you’re looking to stay with the rain theme, Ann Peebles’ 1974 album “I Can’t Stand the Rain” is the way to go.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The way the guitarist opens the song by imitating the sound of rain.

2. The way the bass lick creeps up chromatically at the end of each phrase.

3. The way the horns sit in the background to make room for Ann’s awesome voice.

Recommended listening activity:

Parading on somebody’s rain.

30 Jun

Week 216: “Grace” by Keith Kenniff

branches

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Amazon.
iTunes.

If you have a Facebook account, you’ve probably heard Keith Kenniff’s music, even if you’ve never heard his name.

Remember a few months ago when Facebook turned 10, and provided all its users with “A Look Back” at their time using the platform? And you reminisced about how you had spent 10 years looking at photos of other people’s babies? Well, Keith Kenniff provided the soundtrack for that video.

In fact, he has provided music for several high-powered tech companies, and it’s easy to hear why. His music has a distinctly 21st-century atmosphere without sounding too alien or experimental. It’s the soundtrack for the very near future; the startup noise for a computer that doesn’t exist yet; equal parts Apple and Philip Glass.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The piano is recorded so closely that you can hear the movement of the dampers fluttering like wings.

2. The sudden shift to a major key at 1:50.

3. The slow settling back to the original key beginning at 3:14.

Recommended listening activity:

Learning to code.

23 Jun

Week 215: “Liquid Summer” by Diamond Messages

Smoke-and-Mirrors

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Amazon.
iTunes.

Here are some things I plan on doing this summer:

  • Going barefoot
  • Spending 48 consecutive hours without wearing a watch
  • Spending 48 consecutive hours without the internet
  • Reading at least one terrible mystery novel
  • Impulsively going to see a band I’ve never heard of
  • Riding my bike aimlessly
  • Getting a sandal tan

And whenever I can’t decide what to do, I’ll sleep on it.

In a hammock.

While this song plays.

 

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The contrast between the ultra-deep kick drum and plinkety-plink glockenspiel at 1:15.

2. Despite the pounding 4/4 time of the drums, the bass skips along in triplets, like a kid playing hopscotch.

3. Although it feels like it could loop forever, the song grinds to a sudden halt, like summers often do.

Recommended listening activity:

Catching drips of ice cream as they make their way down the cone towards your fingers.

16 Jun

Week 214: “Hello My Old Heart” by The Oh Hellos

ohhello

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Bandcamp.

I really like the name of this band. It’s the perfect expression of the small but happy surprises that make life fun.

You’re leaving your house in the morning and (oh, hello!) a neighbourhood cat has decided to greet you by weaving its way around your ankles. You put on a pair of pants you haven’t worn in a while and (oh, hello!) there’s a crumpled $5 bill in the pocket. You make a quick trip to the grocery store and (oh, hello!) the item you were going to buy anyway is on sale for super cheap.

It’s those tiny detours from expectation that can brighten your day.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The “ba-dum bah” vocals at the beginning.

2. The way the guitar counts itself in at 1:18.

3. After three soft-spoken, thoughtful minutes, it suddenly (oh, hello!) turns into a toe-tapping, hand-clapping joy-fest at 3:24.

Recommended listening activity:

Being pleasantly surprised.

09 Jun

Week 213: “Driftwood” by Menahan Street Band

the-crossing-hr

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

iTunes.
Daptone.

Most of the Menahan Street Band’s music, like most of the music produced by their label, Daptone Records, is funky beyond belief. The type of music that makes you nod your head vigorously and make a face like you just sucked on a lemon.

But then, towards the end of their 2008 album “The Crossing”, they toss in this little beauty. A melancholy, introspective track that will make you nod your head gently and put your hand on your chin.

From the song’s title, to its instrumentation, to the art on the album cover, this song is a beautiful brief meditation on loneliness.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The slide guitar. For some reason, nothing makes a guitar sound lonelier to me than a slide.

2. The organ. It pulses along in the background before nervously poking its head into the foreground at 1:21.

3. The horns. They really give the song a “strolling alone through a small town in Mexico” kind of feel, especially at 2:01

Recommended listening activity:

Throwing a twig into a river from a bridge and watching it float away.


Tags: , ,
02 Jun

Week 212: “Prelude #1″ by Charles-Valentin Alkan

alkan

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Amazon.
iTunes.

Alkan was a piano superstar in Paris at the same time as his good friends Liszt and Chopin, but he hasn’t enjoyed the same lasting fame as his two contemporaries. It might be because a lot of his music is difficult to play, and some of it pretty much impossible to play unless you have forty fingers.

But every once in a while, Alkan would come down from his caffeine high and put together a piece of beautiful simplicity, such as this brief but expressive prelude.

This is the first of the 25 Preludes in his Op. 31 from 1844. Usually, composers would write 24 preludes in a set; one for each major and minor key. Alkan had to go one better and make 25. His set of preludes begins with this one (in C major), and ends with an equally beautiful one, also in C major. They make great bookends for a spring day.

One day I’ll make the time to listen to all 25 in one sitting, but for now I’m happy to start my day with a cup of tea and Prelude #1.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. It really feels like the start of something. The way the left hand spends so much time on the same note in the first few bars gives it a sense of beginning.

2. One minute in, it jumps into a minor key and kicks up the volume a bit. It’s like a reminder not to fall asleep…after all, you’ve got 24 more preludes to get through.

3. It’s simple enough that the average living-room piano player could learn it.

Recommended listening activity:

Opening all the windows in your house first thing in the morning.

26 May

Week 211: “If You Can’t Sleep” by She & Him

354_sheandhim_digipak.indd

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Amazon.
iTunes.

Remember when you were a kid, and you’d been at some kind of family event that went so late you had to be carried back out to the car, in a state of semi-sleep?

More specifically, do you remember the way your mother’s voice sounded as she carried you to the car?

It didn’t sound the way it normally did. As she said goodbye to everyone and apologized for her child’s inability to stay awake, her voice sounded strange, because one of your ears was pressed against her chest. It made her voice sound kind of muffled, deeper than usual. You could literally feel her voice as soft vibrations, even if you couldn’t fully make out the words.

Listening to this song (especially through headphones) is the closest you’re likely to get to that unique and fantastically relaxing experience.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The opening chords are gorgeous. Really reminds me of this sleep-related song by Sarah Slean.

2. There isn’t really a tempo; it slows down and speeds up as it needs to.

3. The cathedral-level of reverb on the voices. Insomnia doesn’t stand a chance.

Recommended listening activity:

Getting comfy. Like this, if possible.

19 May

Week 210: “Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding

otis

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Amazon.
iTunes.

To me, this song is simultaneously relaxing and eerie. Relaxing because, well, who wouldn’t want to be sitting on a dock, wasting time? But it’s eerie because of the backstory.

By the late 1960s, Otis Redding was successful enough to be touring in his private plane. One foggy day, his good friend James Brown advised him not to fly, since conditions weren’t great. Redding and his band took to the air anyway, and the plane ended up crashing into Lake Monona in Wisconsin. Only one passenger survived, and Redding’s body wasn’t found until the lake was searched the next day.

At the time of the accident, this track had been recorded but not released. So you’ve got to figure there must have been plenty of discussion about when to release it. And you’ve got to imagine that somebody would have thought that opening the song with the sound of waves was a bit eerie, considering the circumstances of Redding’s death. But the sound effect is still there, and as lovely as the song is, it creeps me out just a bit.

Anyway, the song went on to reach #1, a first for a posthumously-released record.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The chords in the verse slowly rise and fall, like the tides that Redding is describing in the lyrics.

2. If you listen carefully, you can hear a bird that tweets quietly at 0:55, and again at 1:50.

3. Otis’ whistling at 2:19, which he did because he hadn’t yet come up with lyrics for the final verse. They decided to keep the whistling, because sometimes a whistle is worth a thousand words.

Recommended listening activity:

Planning a (road) trip.