Musical Meowing


February 2013

Uncommon Time: Three

Mew – The Seething Rain Weeps For You (2005)

I love Mew, and although they have slightly been suffering from diminishing returns with each album, they get away with it because the magnificent Frengers (2003) set the bar so high. They combine saw-toothed guitars with a Scandinavian sense for soaring melodies (see also: Sigur Ros) and aren’t afraid to go all prog once in a while.


Uncommon Time: Seven

Mark van Hoen – She’s Selda (2010)

I’ve no idea who Selda is, but this is a lovely bit of brooding, drifting electronica in seven time. This is a great introduction to the style and ambiance of Mark van Hoen, who really came to my attention in a big way last year.

I couldn’t find a link to the song on YouTube, unfortunately, and I think uploading it myself is probably illegal, so the best I can offer at present is a Spotify link – if you have access to Spotify hopefully this will work; if you don’t, maybe it will anyway?

Uncommon Time: Five

Sufjan Stevens – Come On! Feel The Illinoise! (2005)

The title track from Sufjan‘s 2005 masterpiece (to give the full track title: “Come On! Feel The Illinoise! (The World’s Columbian Exposition / Carl Sandburg Visits Me In A Dream)“) is like a microcosm of the album, showcasing his precocious song-writing and arranging talents in all their virtuosity. It doesn’t stick to one time signature, of course, but the first two minutes or so are joyously orchestrated 5/4 before the song settles into 4/4 for its remaining sections.

Albums Of: January

I bought four albums that came out this month. Here are my initial thoughts after a few listens:

Dutch Uncles – Out Of Touch In The Wild

Full of funk and inventiveness, with a tastefully bright production sheen that makes it pop out of the speakers. The Dutch Uncles sound less whimsical here than on their previous album (Cadenza) with a more assured bearing, but having lost none of their song-writing ambition.

Ulrich Schnauss – A Long Way To Fall

Ulrich Schnauss is undoubtedly a master craftsman, his work as a sound engineer giving him an unrivalled knowledge of how to fill a sound-field with enveloping waves of delicious noise. His main problem since releasing the stupendous A Strangely Isolated Place has been sounding increasingly like himself. In an attempt to head in new directions here, he has made an LP focussed solely upon the synthesizer and its versatile sound-producing ability (as opposed to the sampled guitars and drums he used to create the electro-shoegaze style he became famous for). Unfortunately too much of his palette has remained the same (as he has always used a lot of synthesizer!) but the structure of the tracks feels different and he is using more ‘hard-edged’ electronic sounds – including some uncharacteristically elastic basslines. Some of the beats are quite novel, veering the sound more in a techno direction at times. Overall, although I don’t think it is a masterpiece (Pitchfork has rather uncharitably described it as “an ill-at-ease collection of midtempo electronic cheese” and there is a sliver of truth to that), there is a lot to keep coming back for.

Mountains – Centralia

I’d occasionally heard/read about this group over the last few years but never taken the plunge. The overwhelmingly positive reviews for this tempted me in. This is electro-acoustic ambient music, combining instruments – cellos, picked guitars – with waves of synthesizers. It’s a great combination and the album is paced beautifully, with 20-minute monolith Propellor as the centre-piece. It perfectly fits Brian Eno‘s definition of ambient music: “Ambient Music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting.”

Pantha du Prince & The Bell Laboratory – Elements of Light

Stylistically this was a perfect fit – techno auteur Pantha du Prince already used plenty of bell sounds in his work, making great use of their percussive/melodic capabilities and unique timbre. Here he hooks up with a bell-playing ensemble and a three-tonne bell carillon for a short symphony of minimalist techno. It is relatively slight (two longer segments flanked by three ‘palette cleansers’) but builds nicely on the legacy of Steve Reich and Philip Glass.

Uncommon Time: Three

Dutch Uncles – X-O (2011)

I know I’ve already had a track by the Dutch Uncles on here but I’m going to sneak this one in because it isn’t really by them anyway – it’s credited as a ‘version’ of Steve Reich‘s Electric Counterpoint, although they are doing far more than simply covering that venerable piece. This was also the track that first brought them to my attention, from their 2011 album Cadenza. Is it in 3 or 6? I’m not sure, but it’s great anyway…

Uncommon Time: Seven

Bark Psychosis – Shapeshifting (2004)

Bark Psychosis‘s 2004 album Codename: Dustsucker is a deliciously uneasy listen, difficult to pigeon-hole genre-wise. This track from it popped up in my memory as a good 7/4 contender. The beat at the start actually has a rather stark, ‘upright’ quality to it, making the choice of time signature seem purposefully awkward but, as the song gathers layers, the offbeat ride cymbal helps to smooth out the groove and propel it forwards.

Uncommon Time: Fifteen

Mike Oldfield – Tubular Bells (intro) (1973)

I just couldn’t resist including this. Forty years on and still spellbinding, in 15/8…

Uncommon Time: Five

The Album Leaf – Until The Last (2010)

Jimmy LaValle’s The Album Leaf project was becoming a little stagnant by the time of his fifth album, A Chorus Of Storytellers, in 2010. However, it did include this gem in 5/4 – one of his best. There is something quintessentially American about the melody and harmony that I can’t quite put my finger on – it sounds to me like wide open spaces and rippling prairie grass, with the credits rolling at the end of a film. Lovely stuff.

Uncommon Time: Eleven and Nine

Oceansize – Commemorative 9/11 T-Shirt (2007)

Oceansize, who sadly split up in 2011, were a staggeringly talented group, able to combine ambitious song-writing with ear-catching melodies, spine-tingling progressions and genuine emotional punch. This, the opening track of their 2007 album Frames, is actually listed as “Commemorative ___ T-Shirt, apparently because it really doesn’t have anything to do with 9/11 and (I think) the band wanted to avoid controversy – they chose the name originally because it’s in 11/8 but the final section alternates between 9/8 and 11/8. It was probably a name that stuck informally but then looked a bit harsh in print. Anyway, this is Oceansize at their very best – heavy at times, but technically brilliant and viscerally stirring.

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