Posts Tagged ‘Electronic’
26 Jan

Week 246: “This Means Something” by Hiatus



Sometimes I really wish that North America had adopted the siesta tradition.

While many Mediterranean cultures shut business down for an hour or two in the afternoon, in North America we have a tendency to equate sleeping with laziness, relaxation with procrastination. And the working world seems to have a restraining order against sleep; there’s no bigger sin as an employee than “sleeping on the job”.

Even when we do allow ourselves a bit of daytime sleep, we use clever language to make ourselves feel like we’re not being lazy; a “siesta” is far too luxurious for us, but a “power nap”…hey, that sounds like it takes some work ethic. Might even be good for the economy.

Meanwhile, there are all kinds of biological benefits to an afternoon nap. It can make you less cranky, more productive, it might even improve your memory. (Although it should be noted that a suspicious amount of pro-siesta research comes from scientists working in countries where the siesta is a tradition.)

The music of Britain’s Hiatus has all the ingredients of premium nap music: he makes brief, floating instrumentals, filled with hypnotic samples, easy-going but with just a hint of energy. In short, it’s highly recommended for the next time you need to take a hiatus from the busy-ness of life.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The piano sample, from the musical “Rent”, is a never-resolving cadence that will lull you to sleep.

2. The drum sample, from a funk track by The Meters, is a frenetic, syncopated loop that will ensure you don’t fall into a deep sleep.

3. The sampled dialogue (from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”) floats into the song like those half-formed dreams that only naps can provide.

Recommended listening activity:

Scheduling a “meeting” for tomorrow after lunch.

15 Sep

Week 227: “Passage” by Knowledge Of Bugs



Like many people, I spent a lot of time killing bugs as a kid.

The methods varied: there was the magnifying glass, the one-leg-at-a-time, and in moments of laziness, the standard shoe-stomp.

But then, in my early teens, I saw a French documentary called “Microcosmos”. It was a fascinating look into the lives of insects. No narration, no talking-head bug experts, just 80 minutes of up-close footage of various insects going about their business. Ants building stuff. Ladybugs being pelted by enormous raindrops. Dung beetles…doing what they do. (Side note – I saw this movie on a date, which in retrospect was a poor choice. It turns out that watching dung beetles pushing around giant balls of crap is not the way into a girl’s heart.)

By the end of the movie, I was wracked with guilt. I couldn’t stop thinking of all the tiny lives I had ruined over the years. Within minutes of leaving the theatre, I promised myself that I would never harm another insect as long as I lived. I would respect the microscopic world that exists just beneath our feet. All bugs would from henceforth be my friends.

Except centipedes. I will always kill centipedes.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The metronomic clicking, like a marching ant.

2. The echoing slides of the guitar, like a spider spinning a web.

3. The persistent beat, like a dung beetle bravely carrying out his unfortunate lot in life.

Recommended listening activity:

Cheering for the little guy.

11 Aug

Week 222: “Dry the Rain” by The Beta Band



I recently read that 1999 was the worst year in the history of music.

It’s not just with the benefit of hindsight that people are saying this. Even at the time, people were proclaiming it to be a forgettable year. And I have to admit, when you look at a list of the top-selling albums of 1999, you get the feeling you’re also looking at a list of albums most commonly found in boxes on the street outside people’s  houses in 2003.

The proliferation of musical mediocrity from that year probably has to do with sheer numbers. These were the last days of an era when people were willing to pay $20 for a CD that had one good song on it. The Internet hadn’t yet become the giant musical quality-control machine that it is today, so record labels could still afford to over-charge and under-deliver. The result was the watered-down quality bemoaned in the articles linked above.

But of course, there were some great albums released in 1999. (Including the album that produced the song featured in this blog’s very first week.)

“The Three EPs” is one of my favourites.  Along with DJ Shadow’s “Entroducing”, I listened to it constantly in 1999, and it’s the perfect end-of-century album. Recorded in 1997 and 1998, and finally released in the US in 1999, this album pulls together influences from previous decades in a way that makes it seem to float above other music of the time. It’s definitely…90s-ish, but it’s connected to that sound by a very thin thread, and it has aged much better than, say, Lou Bega’s Mambo No. 5

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The combination of samples and live instruments on this album that nobody (except maybe Beck) has ever done so seamlessly.

2. The slide guitar makes me think of a yawning cat.

3. There’s a really nice laid-back feeling to the whole thing, from the vocals to the bass line to the not-quite-in-tune horns that bring the song to its peak.

Recommended listening activity:

Walking past an empty storefront that used to be a Blockbuster Video.

21 Jul

Week 219: “Solace” by Aether



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.”

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

- 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.

23 Jun

Week 215: “Liquid Summer” by Diamond Messages



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.

06 Jan

Week 191: “To Build a Home” by The Cinematic Orchestra



My parents were never keen on spending a whole lot of money on fancy toys. I don’t say this out of bitterness; in fact, some of my most cherished toys were ones that didn’t involve batteries, screens, bells, or whistles.

One of my favourite things to play with in our basement playroom was our set of wooden blocks. I’m not talking about polished, painted blocks from a store. I’m talking about irregular hunks of wood that were left over from my dad’s DIY renovations. All shapes, all sizes. Some were smooth and sanded, others were just waiting to surprise you with a sliver right underneath your fingernail.

But I loved them. I loved seeing how high I could stack them before they would fall. I loved making castles for my He-Man figures. And most of all, I loved making skylines of imaginary cities with them. I would stand all the pieces on end, covering the playroom’s entire floor space, until I had a mini-Manhattan all of my own in the basement.

Then I would knock them all down and start again.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. I like the contrast between the slow-moving verse and the double-time piano in the chorus.

2. The double-bass that comes in at 2:33 gives the track the low end you were waiting for.

3. It’s supremely nostalgic without being overly sentimental. Go here to listen with lyrics.

Recommended listening activity:

Building something.

02 Dec

Week 186: “Unspoken” by A.M. Architect



The last time I wrote about a song called “Unspoken”, it was Four Tet’s epic, organic, sprawling masterpiece. This one is much shorter, less intense, and somehow more synthetic sounding, despite the obvious presence of live instruments.

Maybe it’s because I was recently watching clips of one of my favourite robot movies of all time, but listening to this track, all I can think of is robots. I can picture a robot wearing a beret playing the soothing organ that opens the song. An older, rusty robot strumming the gentle guitar chords. A shiny, chrome-plated robot DJ cradling a set of headphones and nodding his robot head.

So if (check that; when) I build an all-robot band, this will be the first song we perform.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The percussion. It’s glitchy and punchy, and somehow makes me think of robots fighting.

2. The high keys that come in at around 1:12. This is the tiny robot ambulance coming to pick up the injured robots.

3. Having sat on the 1-4 chord progression for the first half of the song, it switches to an ascending sequence of chords just after 2 minutes. Kind of hopeful. Makes me feel like the robots will learn to get along after all.

Recommended listening activity:

Making something low-tech look more high-tech by wrapping it in tinfoil.

08 Jul

Week 165: “Daydream” by Tycho



When he’s Tycho, Scott Hansen creates dreamy, textured electronic soundscapes. When he’s Scott Hansen, he’s a photographer and designer whose work provides the perfect visual accompaniment to his music. Or maybe it’s the other way round. I’m not sure whether he was a musician or a designer first, but he’s a great example of an artist who doesn’t hem himself into one medium.

I wish more artists would follow his lead.

I’ll admit, I laughed when Madonna wrote a children’s book. I chuckled at the idea of Keanu Reeves in a rock band. But why should my first reaction to this type of unusual branching out be dismissive? Why should I look down my nose and say, “stick with what you know”?

“Stick with what you know” is a way of thinking that flourished in the industrial age, when specialization ruled the world. Schooling was designed to lead students down an ever-narrowing path, with the goal of making them fit into a specific part of society. This isn’t to say that everybody should be a generalist; specialization still has its place, and you can’t know everything.

But I get the feeling that the more artists experiment with different forms, the better they become at their own specialty. Imagine if some of the industrial age’s prominent artists had branched out. What would a line of clothing designed by Debussy be like? How about a lullaby written by Van Gogh? A painting by Dickens?

If the audio-visual ties between Tycho’s music and Scott Hansen’s design are anything to go by, museums around the world would be a bit more fascinating if some of those artists had been encouraged to venture from “what they knew” into something new.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The repeating guitar line gives the impression of a swinging hammock.

2. The deep kick drum gives the impression of a relaxed heartbeat.

3. The high-frequency noise (which reminds me of Boards of Canada) has a hazy, sunset-like feel to it.

Recommended listening activity:

Re-imagining your resumé.

04 Mar

Week 147: “Undiscovered Colors” by The Flashbulb



My favourite thing about the camera I had as a kid was the flashbulb it came with.

The camera was a Kodak pocket instamatic, and it was designed to be compatible with a crazy contraption called a “flip flash”. The flip flash was almost as big as the camera itself; a clunky, wasteful hunk of plastic that allowed you to take just ten washed-out photos before it joined the junk pile. I remember even as a kid wondering how humans could be clever enough to invent strobe lights, but still have trouble coming up with a re-usable flash.

Anyway, knowing that my flip flash would die after ten flashes made me very selective with the photos I took. You didn’t want to waste one on a lousy picture. And then, after taking a photo, you could tell which of the ten bulbs had been used, because it went from being beautifully transparent to a cloudy gray in a split second. Sometimes, a faint sulfur-ish smell would linger after the flash, and I kind of got it into my head that I was mercilessly killing a family of bulbs one by one. It was very dramatic.

Modern cameras have eliminated the need for such bizarre 20th century technology, of course. And besides, today’s point-and-shoot cameras are so good at compensating for a lack of light that flashes are rarely necessary anyway. But I would like to thank Chicago’s Benn Jordan, aka The Flashbulb, for two things: reminding me of my beloved flip flash, and creating the wonderful track “Undiscovered Colors”.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The glitchy percussion that starts at 1:38. “Glitch” is an interesting subgenre of electronic, and it’s worth exploring if you like the energy of dubstep but don’t like migraines.

2. When the percussion cuts out at 2:33, we’re left with an interesting cross-rhythm between the piano and violin.

3. The official video is exactly what I would have suggested for a song that seems to combine fast-forward and slow-motion.

Recommended listening activity:

Hand-making a card for someone.

11 Feb

Week 144: “Silver Cruiser” by Royksopp


Have you ever had one of those strange moments when you realize that you’ve been reading a word wrong your whole life? Then you hear someone say it out loud, and your mind is blown?

A friend of mine spent years thinking that the Sealtest brand of milk was “Seleste”. Then one day I made some comment about how “Sealtest” was a weird name for milk, and she looked at the carton with a confused expression, as if she hadn’t quite understood what I said. Slowly, her eyes widened, and she laughed so hard that her Sealtest almost came out through her nose.

Well anyway, for years I had seen articles written about an electronic band called “Royksopp”…only I had misread it as “Royskopp”, as in “the-kopp-that-belongs-to-Roy”. I didn’t realize my mistake until I decided to Google them to try and find out the meaning of their unusual name. The search returned very few results, and Google gently asked me if I had meant “Royksopp”. I couldn’t believe my brain had been steering me wrong for so many years.

But whatever you call them, the eclectic Norwegian duo is worth listening to. Known mostly for happy dancey tunes, they do occasionally throw in a slow beauty like “Silver Cruiser”, from their 2009 album, Junior.

Oh, and in case you were wondering what the name “Royksopp” means, I was able to find an interview the band gave in which they answered the question with this:

“If you want to translate it in English, the one word would be “puff ball”, which is a small fungus which grows on pavements, a quite ugly little thing. If you step on it, it explodes in a small cloud and all the spores will spread around and they will grow other new mushroom. The way they have sex is if people step on them.”

So, yeah. Maybe “the-kopp-that-belongs-to-Roy” isn’t such a bad name after all.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. Fake drums & real guitar. The drums are typical of their euro-synth style, while the warm, slightly distorted guitar tone sounds more like something Radiohead would produce.

2. Casual bass & big strings. I love the bass line. It almost sounds like the bass is humming “do-be-do-be-do” as it strolls down the street. The strings, on the other hand, are big and soaring, with plenty of reverb to fill out the song.

3. A quiet ending. As everything else fades away, we’re left with a funny little synth noise that sounds a bit like a robot powering down for the night.

Recommended listening activity:

Throwing made-up words into an email to a friend just to see if they’ll notice.

14 Jan

Week 140: “Hold On (feat. Sampha)” by SBTRKT


The formula for musical success in the early 21st Century seems to be something like this:

  • Come up with a cool name
  • Take out the vowels in said name
  • Sit back and accept accolades

The pioneers of the no-vowels approach were classic rock bands like Styx and Lynyrd Skynyrd, but they were cheating a bit with their liberal use of the letter ‘y’. Modern electronic acts have perfected the formula with the key addition of writing their name in ALL CAPS. Bands like MGMT and MSTRKRFT have found commercial and critical success with their distaste for vowels…they’ve even led some people to imagine what a few classic albums might have looked like if the trend had started earlier.

But no matter what you think of this strange trend, you’ve got to hand it to London-based DJ and producer SBTRKT; not only has he subtracted the vowels from his name, but in this gorgeous song, he’s also subtracted the extra synth noises and beeps characteristic of dance music, creating a minimalist masterpiece.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The thumb piano. For an instrument that’s probably been around as long as the pyramids, not enough songs feature it.

2. The kick drum. Compressed so that everything gets slightly quieter when it hits, it adds an edge to the otherwise soft song.

3. The vocals. The singer is Sampha, and not only does he have two vowels in his name, but his soft voice is a nice counterpoint to the insistent kick drum in SBTRKT’s music. He slurs his words somewhat, which (appropriately) places the emphasis on the vowels.

Recommended listening activity:


19 Nov

Week 132: “Two Hearts In 3/4 Time” by The Avalanches


We’re three-quarters of the way through Southern Hemisphere Month, so it’s only fitting that we take a listen to a song in ¾, a crazy, schizophrenic blast of sample-based beauty by Melbourne’s Avalanches.

I discovered this band in 2000. I got home late from a night at the bar, dazed and sleepy, and I thought that a little MTV and a nice tall glass of water would be a nice nightcap. I sat on the couch, took a swig of water, and turned on the TV right as the video for the Avalanches’ “Frontier Psychiatrist” began to play.

If you’ve never heard that song, it’s a weird one. And the video is weirder. I spent the next four minutes staring dumbly at the screen, a trickle of water dripping from my lip, with one eyelid twitching. It was one of the weirdest videos I had ever seen, and the music had me hooked. The next morning, I bought the album.

Thankfully, not all the songs were as crazy as “Frontier Psychiatrist”. But it was (still is) a brilliant piece of work. While most of it is dancey and frenetic, it slows down just enough for this fun little number.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The constant vinyl crackle. This is an album of samples, the way DJ Shadow’s “Endtroducing…” was, and with all the crackle and hiss you can almost smell the stacks of forgotten records that went into making it.

2. The vocal sample. It’s from “Yu-Ma” by Marlena Shaw, and when it’s taken out of context like this, it seems almost ridiculously happy to the point of being borderline creepy. Kind of makes me want to start skipping.

3. The e-piano sample. Not sure where this came from, but it’s great. A bit aimless, like it might have been improvised.

Recommended listening activity:

Sitting on a chair that’s high enough to allow you to swing your feet.

05 Nov

Week 130: “Last Tango In Paradise” by Goldfish


Up to this point, this blog has been heavily biased in favour of bands from the northern hemisphere.

Considering that only 10% of the world’s population lives south of the equator, a surprising amount of good music has come from the world’s lower half…and yet, by my count, I have only ever featured two artists from that part of the world (a measly 1.5% of my total posts). So if you’re down there and you’re listening, please accept my apologies.

To make up for it, I’d like to declare November 2012 to be “Southern Hemisphere Month” here at BSOTW.  Let’s get right to it with a hypnotic song by South Africa’s electro-jazz duo Goldfish.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The piano. Dreamy and soft, and not really in time.

2. The drums. Pretty straightforward, but tight, to counteract the laziness of the piano.

3. The horns. They’re used very sparingly, and they sound like they’re yawning more than playing.

Recommended listening activity:

Studying an upside-down map of the world.

22 Oct

Week 128: “Sweet Unrest” by Apparat


I went to the watch store the other day.

The battery in my watch had died, and to get it replaced, I went to a clock/watch repair shop near where I live. And I don’t mean the appliance section of a department store. This was an old-school, mom-and-pop, smells-like-a-clock-store type of place. I didn’t even fully realize that such stores still existed. It was a bit of an out-of-century experience to be surrounded by technology that hasn’t changed since the 1800s.

But the thing that struck me most as I walked into the place was the sound: the ticking of dozens and dozens of clocks of every imaginable size and style, each one clicking at its own pace, telling its own time. I couldn’t spot a single one that had the actual time on it. It was weird.

And it made me think of this song. So here it is.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The cross-rhythms. This is a very percussion-heavy song, in that many of the instruments are important for their rhythm as well as the actual note they’re playing. The further you get in the song, the more 3’s against 4’s you start to hear…and the more you start to feel like you’re living in a clock repair shop.

2. The choir. They sound separate from the rest of the song because they don’t seem to be tied to the beat in any way.

3. The organ. As the song ends, the chords are sustained by the stuttering organ, which slowly fades to silence.

Recommended listening activity:

Synchronizing all the clocks in your house.

23 Jul

Week 115: “Midnight Feast” by Mr. Scruff



About ten years ago, I was mindlessly sprawled in front of the television eating something unhealthy and scratching various body parts when a commercial for the 2002 Lincoln Navigator came on. I immediately sat upright. I maxed the volume. I stared dumbly at the screen while a forgotten fragment of potato chip hung precariously from my lower lip.

This reaction had nothing to do with the urge to purchase an SUV, and everything to do with the song that accompanied the ad. It was “Get A Move On” by Mr. Scruff.

Introducing me to Mr. Scruff’s music is easily the most useful thing luxury vehicles have ever done for me. He’s produced a lot of quality stuff over the years, most of it simultaneously upbeat and offbeat, with that typical British sense of humour that makes music fun. The highly danceable “Get A Move On” is followed directly on the album by this great sleepy track, and the two couldn’t be more different from an energy point of view.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The percussion sounds like crickets cruising the strip in a convertible.

2. The piano sounds like a ballerina coming home late and stumbling into bed. (Actually, it’s a brilliant use of a sample from this song.)

3. The shifts from minor to major (at 1:10, for example) give it a particularly drowsy feel, as if the song is unsuccessfully fighting off a nap.

Recommended listening activity:

Unsuccessfully fighting off a nap.

04 Jun

Week 108: “Teardrop” by Massive Attack


I discovered this song while on a YouTube tangent recently. It was a long and bizarre tangent that somehow ended with me watching a French magician performing a card trick on the Penn & Teller reality show “Fool Us”. The trick was cool, but I was more fascinated by the song that accompanied it.

Upon finding out whose song it was, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard it before, since Massive Attack was pretty popular in the late 90s, when I was into similar bands. Somehow I’d never heard it. Once the 90s were over, the song continued to gain popularity as the opening theme to the TV show “House”, and was covered by a wide array of artists, from Brad Mehldau to Simple Minds. Oh, and these guys.

But my favourite fact about this song is that Andrew Vowles, the primary songwriter for Massive Attack, originally wanted Madonna to record the vocals. Madonna loved the track and was up for it, but the other two members of the band wanted Scottish singer Elizabeth Fraser of the Cocteau Twins. Being a democratic bunch, Massive Attack turned down a willing Madonna and went with Fraser.

Right or wrong, you’ve got to admit: it takes serious guts to say no to Madonna.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The percussion. I love the combination of deep kick/rim snare. It was a staple of mid-90s trip hop, giving a simultaneously driving and chilled sound.

2. The harpsichord. If you can name another song written in the past 100 years that features the harpsichord, place your open palm on the screen and accept my high-five from across the internet.

3. The vocal melody. The opening line of each phrase is slightly unusual, throwing in an unexpected major 6th on “Love, love is a verb”.  The rest of the melody contains just enough major and minor moments to keep the song content, but slightly on edge.

Recommended listening activity:

Bobbing your head while driving way slower than the speed limit.

14 May

Week 105: “Wishery” by Pogo

Name your own price here.

Pogo, aka Nick Bertke, makes music that burrows into your ear, opens the part of your brain labeled “nostalgia”, and throws a belated birthday party for your inner child.

Much like Kutiman, Bertke is a master remixer. But rather than using YouTube for source material, he cuts and pastes from (often but not always) old Disney movies, creating songs that are at once completely original but strangely familiar. Many of the music and accompanying videos found on his website are worth your time, but this one, made of bits and pieces from Disney’s 1937 classic “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”, is easily my favourite.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. Despite being composed of split-second sound clips, it doesn’t sound choppy or disconnected.

2. It’s the only song I know of that uses a turtle biting a stair as percussion.

3. It emphasizes the simultaneous creepiness and beauty of that iconic 1930s style of singing. There’s something about the way she sings “I’m wishing…” at 2.21 that makes me a bit scared that if I look at Snow White the wrong way I might end up at the bottom of a well myself.

Recommended listening activity:

Staring into the night sky and inventing your own constellations.

23 Jan

Week 89: “La Femme D’Argent” by Air


The pre-millennial brand of trip-hop popularized in the 90s by groups like Portishead and Sneaker Pimps was perfected, in my mind at least, by the French duo Air on their 1998 debut “Moon Safari”. By that point, nobody was calling it trip-hop anymore; the terms chillout, downtempo, and ambient were becoming more popular.

Whatever you call it, “Moon Safari” was an amazingly chilled album, and it starts with the all-kinds-of-chill song that I’d like to present to you today.

Incidentally, why is it that so many electronic acts are duos? Groove Armada, Justice, Lemon Jelly, Basement Jaxx, Boards of Canada, The Chemical Brothers, Daft Punk, Crystal Castles, The Postal Service…the list goes on. I’d like to imagine that there’s some sort of Electronica Association, a kind of governing body that won’t let you apply if you’ve got more than two members in your band, and will provide you with a free collaborator if you’re a solo act.

But I digress.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The bassline. They don’t come much yummier than this. Makes you want to raise one eyebrow, stick out your bottom lip, and nod your head approvingly.

2. The breakdown. Instruments back out at 3:50…a piano enters at 4:02…rain falls gently in the background…the bass goes up high at 4:26…then a tambourine comes in at 4:50, tricking you into thinking the song is about to go double-time…but don’t worry, you don’t need to get up and dance. You can continue your couch slouch/head-nodding, as it all falls back into place by 5:38.

3. The synth solo at 6:03. It keeps tailing off at the end of phrases, like a model airplane that’s just run out of batteries.

Recommended listening activity:

Chillin’. (To the max, if at all possible.)

21 Nov

Week 80: “Mondlicht” by Radio Citizen


Did you have a secret place where you hid stuff as a kid?

Mine was the cold air return vent under my dresser. Shove the dresser aside, take the grate off the vent, reach down and to the left, and you’d find a hollow space where I kept my box of treasures. These treasures included baseball cards, European coins from the pre-Euro era, notes from secret admirers, and possibly a letter to the future archaeologists who would, I imagined, one day stumble across this bounty.

During my teen years, the hollow space in that vent became a place to hide things from my parents; I remember one panicked evening when they came home early, and my friends and I had to hide illicit liquor bottles in there.

It was nice to have a secret spot, wasn’t it? If you had one, take a second to remember how much fun it was to hide things away where nobody except you (and those lucky archaeologists of the future) would find them. And while you revisit the covert side of your childhood, listen to this delightfully sneaky-sounding song by Radio Citizen.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The percussion. Although the drums aren’t crazy loud, the drummer is all over the ride, the toms, and the rim. I like to visualize their drummer as this guy.

2. The bassline. A nice contrast to the craziness of the drums, the persistent upright bass grinds away regardless of what the other instruments are doing.

3. The clarinets. Just after 3 minutes in, a nice group of clarinets enters. Nothing fancy, just some neat little dissonances and cadences to bring the song to its resolution.

Recommended listening activity:

Checking your bedroom for loose floorboards.

31 Oct

Week 77: “Violente Valse” by Caravan Palace


Decorations. Costumes. Candy.

Halloween is a day that’s usually all about the sights and the tastes. But I find that some of the sounds of October 31st are what bring back some of my strongest childhood Halloween memories.

The sound of leaves crackling under your feet as you approach the next house…the creak of an old screen door opening…the lovely rustling sound your hand makes as it swims through a bag of individually-wrapped goodies.

And of course, in the grown-up world, every serious Halloween party host knows that getting the right spooky atmosphere requires the right spooky music. So if you’re putting together a spooky playlist for tonight, make room between “Thriller” and “Ghostbusters” for this one by French electro-jazz innovators Caravan Palace.

What makes this a beautiful/spooky song:

1. It’s a waltz . I’m not sure why, but waltzes in a minor key always seem eerie and beautiful to me. If the cast of “The Nightmare Before Christmas” invited the cast of “Amelie” to a haunted ball, this is the kind of song they’d play.

2. The slow downward slide on the upright bass at 0:55. Imagine a guillotine in slow-motion.

3. The Theremin solo at 2:20. If you’re not familiar with it, the Theremin was invented in 1920 by Leon Theremin, a Russian physicist. His initial intention was to do research into devices that would sense proximity between two objects, but at some point he must have decided it was more fun to make devices that would scare the crap out of people.  The result is one of the spookiest, weirdest instruments ever created, and possibly the only instrument you can play without touching it at all.

Recommended listening activity:

Sitting on the porch pretending to be a scarecrow.