Mixtapes

Mixtape #29 : Best Albums of 2013

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A very HAPPY NEW YEAR to you all!

i want to say a big thank you to everyone who’s followed 5:4 in the last year, and especially to those of you who’ve posted comments and tweets in response. There are lots of exciting things planned for 2014, so watch this space.

In the meantime, continuing the 5:4 annual tradition, here’s the new mixtape, celebrating the music in my Best Albums of the Year list. A little something from each album, seamlessly stitched together and lasting a little under 3 hours. Enjoy!—and if you do enjoy what you hear, links to purchase the music can be found on the previous two days’ articles.

Here’s the tracklisting in full:

Read more

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Mixtape #28 : Speech

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For the last mixtape of 2013, i’ve decided to explore music in which speech is paramount. Within a musical context, spoken words can jar in much the same way as an actor breaking the fourth wall, unsettling us by (ostensibly at least) withholding abstraction in favour of direct reference. The range of pieces included in the mix is more eclectic than usual, drawing on offcuts, afterthoughts and outtakes (Hecq, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Kreng, Aphex Twin), filtered renderings, recreations and re-imaginings of speech (Cabaret Voltaire, Charles Dodge, John Hudak, Gregory Whitehead, Marc Behrens, Jean-Michel Jarre) as well as forms of non-singing (AGF and the peerless William Shatner). But most of the tracks exploit the spoken word through fascinating essays in obscure narrative, by turns sinister (Eugene S. Robinson), prosaic (Jóhann Jóhannsson, Anne-James Chaton), sexual (Andrew Liles), wistful (Steve Peters), intimate (Edward Ka-Spel), surreal (Olga Neuwirth, irr. app. (ext.)), poetic (John Wall/Alex Rodgers), combative (Frank Zappa) and philosophical (Adrian Moore).

A little over two hours of speech-inspired music and sound art; here’s the tracklisting in full: Read more

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Mixtape #27 : Drone

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It’s 1 July, so here’s the new mixtape, focusing on the intense genre of drone. Drone music suffers the same kind of malaise as more generalised ambient music—immobility and drift as tacet apologias for a dearth of imagination and subtlety of ideas. But these 21 tracks offer an insight into something altogether more profound, plumbing the depths of immobility and stasis, teasing out faint, furtive tendrils of exotica. They represent a broad sonic palette, in terms of colour, dynamic and texture, incorporating elements from dark ambient and noise as well as more experimental electronics.

In all, two hours of droning wonder; here’s the tracklisting in full: Read more

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Mixtape #26: Easy Listening

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For the new 5:4 mixtape i’ve opted for something a little different. i don’t tend to have musical ‘guilty pleasures’ as such, but one of my passions that i rarely talk about is for the plethora of easy listening LPs that were released in abundance during the 1960s and early ’70s. To an extent they were a development from the assortment of effervescent idioms that had exploded in popularity through the 1950s, particularly the Afro-Cuban and Brazilian dances such as the bossa nova, rumba and salsa, but jazz—including mild use of scat—was also central to the easy listening scene, along with instrumental versions of popular hits. Far more sophisticated and imaginative than the relatively restrained parallel ‘beautiful music’ genre that was eventually so heavily promulgated by the Muzak corporation, the similarities nonetheless meant that easy listening unavoidably become intertwined with ‘elevator music’. For this and for other reasons, easy listening has often been judged rather harshly, and it’s true that, charges of commercial exploitation aside, it is music very much of its time, not all of which has aged well. Even i can’t really listen to it without being instantly transported back to the late 1970s when my parents would fill their respective houses with the strains of Herb Alpert, Bert Kaempfert, Mantovani, et al. Yet while nostalgia no doubt plays a part in my love of this music, above all i adore the way it vividly captures the slick, lounging sophistication and late-night sleazy dreaminess that seems so quintessential of the time. The standard of the arrangements, too, was often outstanding, a quality easily overlooked when the genre is dismissed out of hand.

In choosing a selection for this mixtape, i’ve selected personal favourites that i think typify the guts and the glory of easy listening (with a couple of more Muzak-related numbers thrown in). Almost all of them are vinyl rips, but only in a couple of places have i cleaned up the audio, as to do otherwise would be to lose something vital. i don’t expect the names will be familiar to anyone with less than a passing interest in the genre, but Mantovani and Nelson Riddle should stand out (Riddle remains one of the finest arrangers of the 20th century; if you’ve listened to much Sinatra, you’ve heard his work); i had to include the great Hugo Montenegro as well—everything he touched seemed to turn to gold—and if the name Johnny Williams doesn’t immediately ring bells, this was before he met up with Spielberg and became the most significant film composer since cinema began. Another composer of soundtracks, David Whitaker, who died last year, is represented by a track with one of the most gorgeous introductions of the genre. i’ve also included a couple of contemporary pastiches by Jerry Martin and Marc Russo, composed as part of the marvellous soundtrack to the computer game The Sims.

In all, just over an hour of music, best heard late at night with the lights low while sipping on a Blue Hawaii. Below is the tracklisting in full—and if this mix whets your appetite, you could do a lot worse then head over to the superb In-Flight Entertainment blog, where lovingly-made rips of many of these otherwise unavailable albums can be found. Read more

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Mixtape #25 : Best Albums of 2012

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HAPPY NEW YEAR TO YOU ALL!

Today marks 5:4‘s fifth anniversary, and so i’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of you who regularly read, share and respond to the articles and music explored here. Since 2008, the blog has grown from being an occasional hobby (reading the earliest articles, that fact is rather painfully obvious) to something that now receives significantly more time and attention. i very much hope that 5:4 can grow and become even more interesting and useful in the next five years; all comments, criticisms, suggestions and other feedback is always very warmly encouraged.

But to return to the present, and to continue our annual tradition, here is a new mixtape featuring one track from each of the forty entries on my Best Albums of the Year list. The mix includes more extreme dynamic variety than in previous years, so while i’ve done a little to mitigate that, be warned that at times the music veers between extremely soft and very loud indeed. As ever, if you like what you hear in the mix, please support the artists and buy the music; links are included on the last two days’ posts.

i’ve remarked in the past on the provisional nature of all ‘Best of’ lists, and so to keep things current, i’ve updated the summaries of the Best Albums/EPs of the Years, to reflect further listening than had been possible at the time; the revised lists can be found under The Lists on the main menu.

The mixtape lasts a little under 3½ hours; here’s the tracklisting in full: Read more

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Mixtape #24 : Noir

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It’s time for a new mixtape, and once again it reflects my current predilections and listening habits. Film noir, and particularly its musical analogues, are much on my mind at present, so the new mixtape reflects that, drawing on 23 examples of muted monochrome. The similarities between these pieces are often very strong, yet the range of language used is considerable. The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble, Tor Lundvall, David Lynch and This Will Destroy You opt for heavy-laden music pulled by a sluggish pulse, throwbacks to the past from the cusp of an apocalyptic future. Tangentially related, Ulver, Demdike Stare and Asher find regularity in the artefacts that litter the surface of their hauntological materials. Gareth Davis and Frances-Marie Uitti, Aphex Twin, Paul D. Miller (DJ Spooky) and Cosey Fanni Tutti and Philippe Petit all offer a kind of fin de siècle melodic scrutiny, while First Human Ferro, Access to Arasaka, Angelo Badalamenti and Sleepy Town Manufacture and Unit 21 grimly obsess over chord progressions, some fragile, some aching with nostalgia.
Naked City go further by doing less, unable to move much beyond a bleak repeating chord, while Andrew Liles (remixed here by Jonathan Coleclough) is similarly inert, viscous music drifting slowly in a void. Johan Söderqvist, Deaf Center, Ben Lukas Boysen (Hecq) and The Stranger (Leyland Kirby) tease out the tacet malevolence ubiquitous within noir’s unique atmosphere. Jonathan Coleclough retreats into a despair of off-silent impenetrabilia, but the most substantial example of that comes at the centre of the mix. The apparent ‘absences’ in Rebecca Saunders‘ music are as significant and disorienting—if not more than—the sounds themselves, pulling the listener into a sightless struggle against, seemingly, reality itself.

Two hours of silhouettes and shadows; here’s the tracklisting in full: Read more

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Mixtape #23 : Modern Troubadours

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Creatively, my thoughts have been heavily focused on song in the last couple of months, so i’ve made that the focus of the new 5:4 mixtape. Songs as we think of them today more or less conform to a generic, prefabricated mould that’s often at odds with their lyric content. Not all artists are prepared to compromise so readily, though, and the sixteen songs on this mixtape represent a rather more rare breed of song. i think of these artists as modern troubadours, for whom the the content of their song is such that it demands a break from convention, and the opportunity for a more experimental type of expression.

These songs, which range in duration between 7 and 17 minutes, encompass a wide variety of approaches to the art of song. Some, such as those by Deerhoof and maudlin of the Well, take experimental and progressive rock as their starting point, while Frankie Goes To Hollywood and Transvision Vamp opt for episodic epics, betraying the legacy of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. Janelle Monáe‘s approach is to create what amounts to a 9-minute musical, while Kevin Barnes’ of Montreal beg, borrow and steal from a plethora of pop, dance and rock idioms to convey his typically bizarre narrative. By contrast, Dead Can Dance tell their tale via a hypnotic, circling music that pushes the words firmly into the foreground; despite the complexity of their electronic backdrop, Ulver achieve the same result by speaking their lyrics. Julia Holter makes her words count, summarising them in the first three minutes and allowing them to radiate for another ten; Fovea Hex do something similar in their rethinking of folk music. Others have more to say and take longer to do it; Jenny Hval puts herself on a kind of musical knife-edge, fragile before a pale, sparse backdrop, while David Sylvian surrounds himself with a network of improvised lines and motes that would be impenetrable if they weren’t so scattered. Tori Amos turns to her trusty Bösendorfer in what is still her longest song to date, whereas Joanna Newsom (in her longest song) has her complex harp epicentre heavily enriched by lush orchestrations provided by Van Dyke Parks. Beginning and ending the mix are songs by perhaps the great troubadour of our age, Scott Walker, a pair of songs from his last two albums that explore a depth of lyrical expression that’s pretty much unique in the history of song. Read more

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