Björk on Pitchfork, Björk on our shelves!

Not sure if you’ve been around the internet, but this interview that Pitchfork held with Björk has been making the rounds among those passionate about music & gender equality (two great things to care about, imo).

In this interview with P4k’s Jessica Hopper, Björk touches on several issues, all of which surrounding the release of her new album Vulnicura, out on One Little Indian. First of all, this album takes the role of Björk’s “breakup album.” For Björk, Vulnicura is a catharsis of the emotion of leaving her longtime partner. While all of Björk’s releases have contained songs touching on love and interpersonal relationships, this album narrows the scope, and the subject matter is now her love and her interpersonal relationships. It is far more personal than  her previous releases, and in this interview there are several times where the Icelandic artist begins to cry simply thinking about it.

While this alone would make for a great interview, Björk took it to the next level when beginning to discuss taking credit for her music. It seems that in the press release rollout for Vulnicura, co-producer Arca (a man) was given full credit for producing this album, while Björk had actually simply brought him in to collaborate at the end. While Arca tweeted about this attempting to rectify the error, this misinformation was still posted all over the internet.

Björk was upset by this but sadly not surprised, given that male collaborators had been unduly given credit for her ideas for her entire career. In this interview she laments the fact that female songwriters and artists often have credit for their music co-opted by male collaborators. With an album as personal as Vulnicura, it’s ridiculous that Björk wasn’t even given shared credit by many sites. Hopefully this interview will set off some sort of paradigm shift among music fans (and critics), and a mistake like that won’t plague Björk the next time she releases an album.

While we don’t have Vulnicura on CD (yet), we do have several Björk albums, her first three solo albums DebutPost and Homogenic and her most recent album Biophilia. If you’re inspired by this interview, come check ’em out!

Sweet New Arrivals: Shadow & Simon

As you saw yesterday, we just procured a large batch of new CDs. I’d like to take this time to highlight two personal favorites. These two CDs are very different from each other but both are tremendously important to the development of popular music. Each represents both a perfection of style and a watershed moment, shaping the sound of their respective genres while representing the best each had to offer.

 

DJ Shadow – Endtroducing….. (1996)

As far as sample-based hip hop production goes, it’s hard to top this album. While other great albums preceding it made use of extensive, creative sampling (Paul’s Boutique, Three Feet High & Rising, It Takes A Nation Of Millions…, etc.), their producers used the samples to create a backdrop for the featured rapper. Endtroducing….. features no rapper, and relies on scores of samples to provide a thematic narrative. DJ Shadow’s creative chopping of drum breaks, sampled rap lyrics, atmospheric pieces and movie dialogue keeps the album interesting throughout.

What truly stands out about Endtroducing….., however, is its compositional ambition. The songs stretch out into epic, jazzy expanses, often far longer than a traditional hip hop record. In fact, this album was such a jump from the traditional use of samples and breaks that it led to the new genre of “trip hop,” sort of a bridge between ambient music, psychedelia and jazz, anchored by rap beats. On this album the line was forever blurred between hip hop grooves and avant-garde musical exploration, and we can thank it for a wealth of creative hip hop that has since followed.

 

Paul Simon – Graceland (1986)

Ah, Graceland. The sight of it in our “new CDs” pile gives me an intense feeling of joy, as this is one of the best pop albums I’ve ever heard and (probably) that was ever made. Suffering from a failing marriage and a commercial slump in the early 1980s, singer-songwriter Paul Simon was inspired by a cassette of South African music and went to the apartheid-stricken country to record with some of the musicians there. After this trip he returned to New York City and wandered the streets, composing an incredible set of soul-searching, heart bearing, romantic but realistic lyrics. These lyrics rest among Simon’s best, often surrealistic, fantastical or futuristic, but all managing to hit upon beautiful understatements on the trials and tribulations of interpersonal relationships. They form a uniquely American point of view that meshes strangely well with the African musical background.

And what a background it is! Unstoppable percussion grooves and liquid bass lines anchor exuberantly twinkling guitar runs, conjuring a dreamlike state. Often the vocalists of South African a cappella group Ladysmith Black Mambazo sweep in, a tapestry of vocal timbre. These elements, previously unintroduced to American pop music, took Simon’s stellar set of lyrics to the next level, and paired with the occasional electronic drum kit and saxophone were able to create a pop sound that had never before been reached. Graceland truly represents the amazing possibilities of blending international pop styles, and it is a high watermark in pop musical history that has yet to be equaled- it’s hard to imagine such perfect chemistry occurring again.

Did I sell these well? Come check them out and see if they’re worth my hype. Or don’t, and I’ll keep listening to them during my shifts, it’s okay.

Sweet New Arrivals – The Disintegration Loops

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I can’t believe I’m writing this.  The AU Music Library now has The Disintegration Loops.  So weird to write that.

It’s true: the AU Music Library now has a CD set of the complete Disintegration Loops, by Mr. William Basinski.  I am beyond pleased that we get to share this incredible music with the AU community.

Most people haven’t heard of this piece – really a collection of pieces – and many won’t have too much of a reference point for something like this.  But I’m not worried, as this is, despite a good story about its creation, some of the most direct music I’ve ever heard, pretending to be nothing that it is not.  The sounds do not need explanation.  The few times I’ve put it on here in the library, almost everyone asks what’s playing.

 

 

 

The story.  In the early 80s, Mr. Basinski, interested in ambient sounds and ambient music and Brian Eno and somber tones, made some tape loops.  He recorded simple melodic phrases from pretty inexpensive synthesizers onto short bits of magnetic tape.  This was, of course, when all recording was done on tape, and Mr. Basinski was experimenting.  Nothing much came of these melodies, and a young Basinski put the tapes in Tupperware boxes and stored them away.

In the summer of 2001, an older Basinski found the tapes, and started playing them on his old tape machines, listening to the sounds of his younger self.  He had the idea to preserve the sounds on these loops digitally, so he hooked up the tape machine to his computer and pressed play.  As he was recording them, to his horror, the metals on the tape had oxidized over the years, and hunks of the metal tape began to fall off of the plastic, leaving holes and fractures in the melodies.  Whole pieces were reduced to metal filings left on the machine, completely disintegrating with the repetitious playback.  All he had left were the digital recordings of these disintegrated tape loops and small piles of metal dust.

 

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Basinski was continuing this process in late August and early September, and on September the 11th.  Standing on the roof of his place in Brooklyn on that Tuesday morning, he stared at the skyline in a daze, in utter shock, just the same as the entire nation.  The loops played on out loud and he could hear them from the roof.  Basinski dedicated this piece to the victims of that tragedy, and the two have been linked ever since.

I think what makes this music so special for me is how evocative it is, how utterly somber, sweeping, pastoral it is in its themes, and how this music can’t really be said to go anywhere.  It just decays, entropies out into fields of oblivion.  Simple and grand, this music seems to foretell the decline of our nation and our civilization: the decay of values, economies, the natural world, and politics, quietly and stoically.  The loops lovingly obliterate all sense of time, leaving the listener suspended in majestic a-temporality.

 

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You really just have to put these CDs on and see how they color your breathing, you mind, your walls, and our American sunsets.

The highest recommendation.

Sam

p.s. – This interview is a great place to start if you want to read more.  I met Mr. Basinski after a show of his in 2006 and he was a very kind soul.

 

Cool DC Event(s): Souleyman and Signh

Team.

A pleasant Tuesday morning to you; and we’re going to cut straight to the chase…

Not one but TWO rad DC events to tell you about today.

Omar Souleyman promo shot

First us is Omar Souleyman.  Souleyman is a wedding singer from Syria, and he made tons and tons of tapes of his music, pretty much to promote himself.  Anti-world world label Sumblime Frequencies brought his sound to American and European audiences maybe 6 or 7 years ago now, and he’s since toured a whole bunch, and made music with Bjork and Four Tet, among others.  Not sure how much of this kinda thing you have in your life right now, but we’re pretty sure you need more of it:

Souleyman is TONIGHT at the Howard Theatre.

Second, there’ll be a truly rare opportunity coming this Thursday.

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You have not heard of Charanjit Signh, most likely.  Signh was in the Bollywood film industry in the 70’s and 80’s, making music for movies.  As such, he had access to some pretty state-of-the-art audio gear for the time, including some now-classic analog synths: the 303 and the 808 and others.  A longtime fan of classical Indian music (and, folks, you need to get into classical Indian music – it’s pretty amazing stuff), Singh thought to try to promote or popularize or ‘update’ these older forms for the new, hip kids the films were being marketed to.  And what was hip in India in the early 80’s?  DISCO.

Thus, 10 Ragas to a Disco Beat, which was released in ’82.  And as a record, it failed.

Flash forward to a few years ago, this record gets “discovered” by dance music nuts.  It turns out Singh’s work sounds a heck of a lot like acid house, which didn’t arrive on the scene in Chicago until 1987.

Behold:

Singh will be at Tropicalia on U street on Thursday, so you have two days to prepare yourselves for this.  It will be quite the show, folks.

[Full disclosure: my friend’s techno unit Protect-U is opening for Signh]

Keep on dancin’, Team.

New Year, New Explorations

Hello, from your brand new hire at the Music Library! A quick note about me; I am a recent transfer student and a music major here at AU. Music has been a part of my life from the time I was born, and I enjoy listening to most everything. However, lately I have reconnected with classical music, so this is a bit heavier on that genre.

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Renée Fleming: “Signatures & Great Opera Scenes”

Call Number: 1942

Recently chosen to sing the national anthem at the Super Bowl XLVIII, soprano Renée Fleming has blazed a unique trail of success for vocalists everywhere to be inspired by. A graduate from Crane School of Music at SUNY Potsdam for undergraduate, and Eastman School of Music for her graduate studies, she has performed for various events such as the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2006 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony.

A four-time grammy award winner, Ms. Fleming was accompanied by Sir Georg Solti and the London Symphony Orchestra for her “Signatures & Great Opera Scenes” record. It includes excerpts from Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Dvořák, Verdi, Britten, and R. Strauss.

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Music from Baz Luhrmann’s film: “The Great Gatsby”

Call Number: 10106

No matter what you may have thought of the movie itself, the music used for the Great Gatsby is astounding in variety. With a stellar line up including Jay-Z, Jack White, Lana Del Ray, and Beyonce singing with Andre 3000, that’s just the beginning of what this record has to offer. The album was produced by Baz Luhrmann and Shawn “Jay Z” Carter.

Fun Fact: Jack White went on to produce a limited vinyl edition of this record through his label “Third Man Records.”

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Hector Berlioz: “Symphonie Fantastique”

Call Number: 9272

Berlioz’s “Symphonie Fantastique” was inspired by Beethoven’s new unconventional style of composing and it consists of five movements, each one describing a part of an artistic journey of an artist on a drug high. It is said that this piece was an attempt to woo and attract the attention of Irish actress Harriet Smithson. After several premiers, the piece failed to grab her attention, but eventually she understood that the piece was about her. They began courting, and in a desperate attempt, Berlioz took a lethal dose of opiates in front of her to convince her to marry him. Out of desperation she agreed, and he then took an anecdote that he had hidden on himself. His composition had become a reality, and created a new direction for music.

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Music from the motion picture: “The Pianist: A Roman Polanski Film”

Call Number: 3045

Inspired by a true story, this soundtrack consists of Chopin piano pieces, which was the repertoire of choice of the main character in the movie and in real life. Inspired by events transpiring during the Holocaust, the movie depicts a story of survival because of music. Although the movie is intense, the piano playing is some of the best example of Chopin’s pieces. It’s perfect background music for a quiet night in.

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William Porter: “One of a kind music of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)”

Call Number: 4054

As an organist, my picks would not be complete without some Bach. William Porter, a long time organ professor from the Eastman School of Music recorded this on the Gottfried and Mary Fuchs organ (Paul Fritts & Company) at the Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington. The recording includes the infamous Toccata and Fugue in d minor BWV 565, often recognized as music connected with the “Phantom of the Opera.” In the Passacaglia in c minor BWV 582, J.S. Bach takes one theme and runs with it for close to fifteen minutes. The sheer brilliance and variety makes it an epic piece to listen to.

Come on in to the Music Library, located in Katzen, and check us out along with my music picks and the wide variety of music that we have!

Sweet New Finals Week Arrivals, pt. 3/3: In The Aeroplane Over The Sea

You can only imagine my excitement when my supervisor told me to look at the stack of new CDs today and I found this. What a gift, particularly after the traumatic experience of hiding from a fake gunman. If I ever get put on lockdown in Katzen again, at least I’ll know that even without food, water, or cell phone battery life, I’ll be able to listen to In The Aeroplane Over The Sea on library speakers until I die of starvation. Unless, of course, somebody checks it out.

(Like Paris)

That’s right, our last Sweet New Arrival of the week happens to be one of the most-adored indie rock albums of all time. Released in 1998, ITAOTS turned Neutral Milk Hotel from a tiny lo-fi indie folk band into a tiny lo-fi indie folk band with a gigantic cult audience, to the point that this album has become the stereotypical “indie” album to say you like. But no matter its reputation for annoying, evangelical fans, the album itself will always shine through with the brilliant light of its vision, passion and beauty.

The album’s sound is a mixture of elements you wouldn’t think would cohere, and yet how they do: ramshackle acoustic strums, accordion, the eerie singing saw, entire horn sections, and fuzzed-out, hyper distorted guitars. Appearing in different combinations throughout the album with a healthy helping of studio-conceived ambience, these elements of Neutral Milk Hotel’s sound give the album a feeling of being utterly removed from time and space, at once atavistic and dystopian.

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The boys

 

But what makes ITAOTS an utter work of art is the fact that it is shot through with some of the most utterly emotional songwriting ever to be committed to tape. In his distinctive, keening drawl, frontman/songwriter Jeff Mangum delivers a set of 9 songs (not counting two great instrumentals) that are guaranteed to wrench the heartstrings. Mangum’s lyrics are chock-full of oddball, surrealistic imagery, loosely centering on an infatuation with Anne Frank (yes, the Anne Frank) but more broadly on different kinds of relationships of love and need. And while the imagery is multi-leveled and dense, it is impossible to fight the emotional power of the simple observations that pepper the songsheet, such as the title track’s “can’t believe how strange it is to be anything at all” and of course, the final song’s “don’t hate her when she gets up to leave” (followed by the sound of Mangum getting up and leaving the studio, and the album). Lyrics like these, coupled with the simple and unfettered intensity of his melodies, are guaranteed to reduce anyone with a heart to a weeping child by the 40th and last minute of this album.

So come in and see what all the hype is about, we’ve got it now! Hurry, quick, before we close for the winter! You don’t want to go another long commute home without this album. Trust me. See you in the spring!

 

 

Sweet New Finals Week Arrivals, pt. 2/3: If You’re Feeling Sinister

As I excitedly chicken-scratched at y’all on Monday, we have not one but three of my favorite albums coming onto our shelves this finals week. Fight the doom and gloom with today’s Sweet New Arrival, Belle & Sebastian’s sunshine-sweet indie pop miracle If You’re Feeling Sinister.

Released in 1996, Sinister was the culminating result of frontman Stuart Murdoch’s hyper-prolific first wave of songwriting. From the late 1980s to the mid-90s, Murdoch was largely bedridden as a result of chronic fatigue syndrome. Unable to work, he turned his remaining life force towards songwriting. Once he recovered from his illness, he was able to bring a group of local musicians together to record a preliminary album, Tigermilk, for a music business course.

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After a good reception to Tigermilk, the band became a full-time project and worked on their sophomore release, which would become their critical breakthrough, and this is the album which is blasting (moderately) in the music library AS I TYPE: 1996’s gorgeous If You’re Feeling Sinister. This album is the perfect expression of Murdoch’s songwriting style, a daydream of effortless, brisk and beautiful pop songs with irresistible melodies. The arrangements on this album are nearly baroque, with occasional strings, trumpets, pianos or organs augmenting a bed of light drums and pretty guitars. Murdoch’s breezy vocals sing with an almost feminine softness of love, religion, and the silly and strange gulf between the two with lyrics ranging from charmingly tricky to beautifully sincere.

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This record is a pleasure to listen to, and is really passing the minutes here at work. Every song is a gem, from the upbeat “Mayfly” to the melancholy “Fox In The Snow,” from the slyly honest piano-led “Seeing Other People” to the unforgettable singalongs of “Like Dylan In The Movies” and the triumphant “Judy And The Dream Of Horses.” And my favorite track, “Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying,” a Romantic masterpiece of lyricism glazed upon a perfect chord progression. Another Sweet New Arrival review is coming tomorrow, but for now just come check this one out, and sink into its 40-minute, sun-dappled fantasy world.