Mixtapes

Mixtape #56 : MCU

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Considering that, when i’m not doing something musical, i’m most often to be found in front of a movie, it’s perhaps surprising that none of my previous mixtapes have been devoted to film scores. Until now, that is. Over the summer, the Beloved and i have been working our way through all the films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. So the latest 5:4 mixtape is a homage to and celebration of the MCU, which for my money is one of the most ambitious, fantastical and exhilarating experiences i’ve had in my cinema-going life. For this mix i’ve allowed myself just one – or, in a couple of cases, two (because they’re really short) – track from each film, moving through them in the order they were released.

i’m conscious of the fact that it might seem a little ironic to turn to the MCU in particular for a musical celebration like this. It is ironic: while some of these movies are among my absolute favourites, very few of their scores adequately live up to the range of imagination and invention that we witness on screen. As was explored in the video ‘The Marvel Symphonic Universe‘ on the excellent, now sadly-defunct YouTube channel Every Frame A Painting a few years ago, a great deal of the music composed for the MCU is bland, generic, superfluous and completely forgettable. Indeed, each time i’ve made the transition from big screen to loudspeakers after seeing each movie for the first time it’s usually proven to be, at the very least, something of a crestfalling experience. But then, that experience is more of a Hollywood problem in general rather than being peculiar to the MCU.

Regardless of all that, i contend that, if you’re prepared to pan for sonic gold, there’s still a lot to enjoy in the music from these movies, and more than a few surprises along the way. i really like the meditative innocence of Ramin Djawadi‘s score for the original Iron Man – when none of us had any clue as to the scale of story-telling that would ensue – which John Debney would subsequently coat in nu metal hooks and riffs for the first sequel (one of the best scores of the franchise). Alan Silvestri‘s theme for The Avengers is as memorable as it is stirringly effective, setting up one of the few really telling points of musical continuity in the series. While we’re talking about themes, Christophe Beck‘s and Michael Giaccino‘s approaches to Ant-Man and Spider-Man respectively are both lovely mélanges of noir, heist and caper, while Brian Tyler‘s setting-up of Thor: The Dark World perfectly captures the film’s mix of mythology and swagger. It was brave of Mark Mothersbaugh to surround this hitherto epic character with retro synths and stylings for Thor: Ragnarok, but it’s brilliantly suited to the gaudy shift in aesthetic, not that far removed from Tyler Bates‘ awe and wonder approach to the two Guardians of the Galaxy movies, echoed by Christophe Beck in his Ant-Man and the Wasp music conjuring up the mysterious and gorgeously-rendered ‘Quantum Realm’. Though it was ludicrously over-hyped (much like the film itself), Ludwig Göransson‘s extension of the series’ soundworld to encompass African tropes in his score for Black Panther is refreshing. Most notable of all, though, is Henry Jackman‘s unique contribution to the MCU in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, channelling his inner Trent Reznor to create an unsettling score unlike any other in the series (all the more obvious in this mixtape), filled with unrelenting jabs of marvellously razor-sharp, edgy electronica. And while the accusations of a lack of memorable music have merit, there’s some potent lyrical writing to be found in the saga’s more intimate and anguished moments, particularly from Patrick Doyle in Thor and, above all, Alan Silvestri‘s moving emotional high points of tragedy and heartbreak in the colossal Avengers two-parter Infinity War and Endgame.

While technically the complete ‘Infinity Saga’ includes 23 films, for my purposes – due to its overwhelmingly cathartic point in the narrative, which makes a much more convincing point to close this first epic chapter of the MCU – i’ve made Endgame the conclusion of this mixtape. Though i’ve worked through the films in order, i haven’t sought to retain a clear sense of the saga’s ongoing narrative, nor have i necessarily selected tracks that are highly representative of their respective scores as a whole. This mix simply explores some of the most interesting musical episodes to be found in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, some of which are happily at some remove from the conventions of Hollywood histrionics.

Over 45 hours of cinematic saga distilled to just 78 minutes of musical mayhem, malevolence and magic; here’s the tracklisting in full, including time positions and links to buy the music. As usual, the mixtape can be downloaded or streamed via MixCloud. Read more

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Mixtape #55 : Sun

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For the latest 5:4 mixtape, inspired by the incredible heat that’s been sizzling its way across Europe recently, i’ve turned to the Sun as my theme. The mix has a somewhat different tone from my Summer mixtape from four years ago (which was, generally, intended to be quite upbeat and – well – ‘summery’), drawing on differing degrees of languorousness, dreaminess and, here and there, some searing intensity. As such, it starts rather slowly and lazily, through relatively gentle tracks by Heiko Maile, Benn Jordan, Fovea Hex, Anna von Hausswolff and Altus, before beginning to pick up some momentum. What follows includes various songs (Lady & Bird, Holly Herndon, Björk, Sigur Rós, C Duncan, Jenny Hval & Susanna, Ghost Twin), some of which are beautifully full-blooded paeans to the sun and/or poetically tap into its connotations of heat and fire. Of the non-vocal tracks, i’ve chosen some for their exuberance (Ashra, Kenny Beltrey, Deborah Pritchard), some for their potent energy (Autechre, Ulver, The Hafler Trio, Aidan Baker, Hecq, Elizabeth Anderson, Ouvrage Fermont, Wolves in the Throne Room, Brian Reitzell) and others for their ecstatic bliss (Ascoil Sun, Andrew Liles, Ben Lukas Boysen & Sebastian Plano, Sleep Party People, Christina Vantzou, 36, Liisa Hirsch). The mixtape begins and ends with short traditional songs from Trio Mediaeval that invoke the sun’s rising and setting.

Two hours of sound that bakes, basks and boils in sunlight; here’s the tracklisting in full, including time positions and links to buy the music. As always, the mixtape can be downloaded or streamed via MixCloud. Read more

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Mixtape #54 : Menagerie

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For the new 5:4 mixtape, i’ve turned to the world of animals, assembling music that references a diverse collection of wildlife. All manner of beasts are featured, insects, birds, reptiles and amphibians in addition to mammals, from the smallest (probably, in this selection, a wasp) to the greatest (definitely, in this selection, a whale), and i’ve not entirely limited myself to reality, including a couple of pieces that pertain to non-existent creatures. The musical choices are similarly aesthetically eclectic, and on this occasion i’ve not sought to make strong stylistic connections throughout the mix but instead emphasise uniqueness: for the most part, none of the 38 tracks closely resembles any of the others.

In all, two hours of sonic zoology providing a veritable musical menagerie, ending with a small tribute to one of music’s great musical minds and voices, who sadly is no longer with us. Here’s the tracklisting in full, together with links to obtain the music. As usual, the mixtape can be downloaded or streamed via MixCloud. Read more

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Mixtape #53 : Best Albums of 2018

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Happy New Year everyone!

Many thanks to all of you who have read, followed, commented, shared, promoted and otherwise supported the blog during the previous year, most especially to my beloved band of Patrons. i’m starting 2019 in the usual way, with a new mixtape featuring something from each of the brilliant albums in my Best of 2018 list. Being such an eclectic list, the ‘narrative’ of this mixtape is one that unavoidably veers between quite wildly dissimilar styles and aesthetics, but to my ear that only makes it all the more interesting and fun.

40 tracks (well, technically 41: Jóhann Jóhannsson’s were short so i included two) that testify to and celebrate the range and scale of musical wonders created during 2018 – the full tracklisting is shown below, and links to buy each album can be found in the previous two days’ articles. As always, the mixtape can be downloaded or streamed. Read more

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Mixtape #52 : Christmas

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For the last of my 2018 monthly mixtapes, which i’ve been doing throughout 5:4‘s 10th anniversary year, i’ve gone seasonal and turned to the theme of Christmas. However, while that theme permeates all the choices i’ve made, the result is quite far from the kind of conventional upbeat playlist we’re using to hearing this time of year. i haven’t in any way set out be deliberately contrary, still less put something together that’s sarcastic or ‘alt Christmas’, but i’m conscious that this is a distinctly subdued and contemplative mixtape (something i’ve reflected in the cover artwork). Like compositions, mixtapes are very personal things, and i guess this collection of music is just what i particularly wanted to be spending time with at the moment.

No need for a breakdown of what’s included this time, i think the music pretty much speaks for itself. 60 minutes of mysterious, melancholic and magical music to provide perhaps a darker, deeper hue for the festive season. Here’s the tracklisting in full, together with links to obtain the music. As usual, the mixtape can be downloaded using the link below or streamed via MixCloud. Read more

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Mixtape #51 : Silence (Requiem)

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November is a somewhat sombre month, and not only because the days are getting a lot colder and darker here in the UK. This year’s remembrance ceremonies have had extra potency due to the centenary of the end of the First World War, so i’ve taken this as my cue for the next 5:4 mixtape. It’s titled ‘Silence (Requiem)’, though i should stress that i haven’t created it as a commemoration, homage or tribute to anyone or anything specific – i’ve simply curated music that exists in an interesting and thoughtful relationship with silence.

In some cases this takes the form of busy lowercase chatter (Bernhard Günter, John Wall, Tomas Phillips & Luigi Turra, Shinkei, Ennio Mazzon, Christopher McFall), a few tracks are creatively ‘silent’, presented as ostensibly passive field recordings (Unknown Artist, Christoph Limbach, British Library, Dallas Simpson), and there are various examples of restrained or compressed music, containing a sense of pent-up energy (Ben Frost, Alva Noto & Ryuichi Sakamoto, Desist, Jason Lescalleet, Supersilent, Need Thomas Windham, Secret Chiefs 3, Andrew Liles, Ryoji Ikeda). Most of the tracks, though, are gentle, ruminative and/or meditative music, most of which treats silence as an omnipresence into which its material is carefully placed (Gareth Davis & Frances-Marie Uitti, James Weeks, Brian Eno, The Hafler Trio, The Denisovans, Ouvrage Fermont, Jakob Ullmann, Haruo Okada & Fabio Perletta, Burkhard Schlothauer, Kenneth Kirschner, Jürg Frey, Eva-Maria Houben).

Interspersed at half-hourly intervals are four short excerpts from choral works that either reference the dead or are otherwise laments. Ricky Ian Gordon‘s Water Music: A Requiem is a work, according to the composer, “not only for the dead, but for what seemed like a sort of death in me”. Galina Grigorjeva‘s setting of Joseph Brodsky’s The Butterfly (review) is an exquisitely tender articulation of life’s frailty and ephemerality. Bernat VivancosRequiem (review) avoids the traditional Latin text in favour of a more personal philosophical and poetic reflection on death. To end the mixtape, following two minutes of quasi-silence by irr. app. (ext.), i’ve turned to Alfred Schnittke and the haunting wordless piece that ends his Psalms of Repentance.

In all, two hours of near-noiseless contemplative quietude; i recommend close listening in a darkened space, and as there are no sudden loud outbursts feel free to crank up the volume as much as desired. Here’s the tracklisting in full, together with links to obtain the music. As usual, the mixtape can be downloaded or streamed via MixCloud. Read more

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Mixtape #50 : Remix

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The new 5:4 mixtape is a celebration of the art of the remix. However, i should stress immediately that the emphasis here is not simply on that word’s implied legacy of beats and dance-based forms of music. The scope for this particular mixtape is altogether more broad and open-minded, exploring some of the most unusual, unpredictable and unhinged ways that musicians have rethought, rearranged and reimagined both their own and others’ existing musical material.

Some tracks are more closely associated with the diverse songworlds of pop, rock and electronica – including Gazelle Twin, Nine Inch Nails, Björk, Kate HavnevikThe Irrepressibles, Marina & the DiamondsBeastie Boys, Erotic MarketSusanne Sundfør and Belle and Sebastian – though in some cases the ways that their music has been remixed establishes a sizeable distance from the original. Indeed, in the case of Björk’s ‘Crave (Odd Duck Mix)’ – a remix created by Matmos that was made available as a download from Björk’s website in 2001, and is no longer available – it’s by no means immediately obvious that the track is actually a remix of her song (from Vespertine) ‘An Echo, a Stain’.

Away from songs, i’ve included a number of tracks that occupy dream-like soundworlds of varying levels of stability, comfort and drift. At the more abrasive and/or disquieted end of the spectrum are the likes of Fovea HexAM and the UV, Jóhann Jóhannsson, Shinkei + Mise_en_scene, The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz EnsembleBrian ReitzellKim Cascone and Ektoise, while more sublime environments are found in the music of Ryuichi SakamotoAndrew LilesJonathan Coleclough & Colin PotterCarl Sagan’s GhostMissy MazzoliBen Frost, Sylvain Pohu and Christina Vantzou. Something of an odd one out in the mix as a whole is the track by World’s End Girlfriend, a wonderfully bonkers oddity by an artist whose work i’ve never managed properly to get my head around.

Structurally, it’s pretty much a stream of consciousness, with me more than usually just following my nose, and as a consequence the mixtape veers quite wildly between periods of calmness and seriously ramped-up intensity. Having said that, i’ve started and ended with a pair of tracks that complement each other as an effective overture and finale to the mix as a whole. Access to Arasaka‘s remix of Klangstabil marries elements of dark ambient with glitched beats and electronics, whereas Techdiff‘s grime and dubstep-infused remix of Hecq & Exillon‘s ‘Spheres of Fury’ is quite simply the most accomplished and downright exhilarating remix i’ve ever heard by anyone, retaining an obvious connection to the original while transmogrifying it into a structurally dramatic foray through a series of rhythmically discrete episodes, culminating in the equivalent of a firework display of beats triggered by a barrage of interconnected machine guns. Just amazing.

Two hours of radical reinterpretations; here’s the tracklisting in full, together with links to obtain the music. As usual, the mixtape can be downloaded or streamed via MixCloud. Read more

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