Festival of Nine Lessons & Carols (King’s College, Cambridge): Lennox Berkeley & Judith Weir

Posted on by 5:4 in Advent & Christmas, Premières, Seasonal | 7 Comments

HAPPY CHRISTMAS!. To celebrate the feast, here’s a selection from the renowned Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols that took place yesterday at King’s College, Cambridge.

After the fifth lesson came I sing of a maiden by Lennox Berkeley, a sublime creation, its ostensible simplicity containing some lovely harmonic piquancy. Berkeley was the first composer to be commissioned to write a new anthem for this service, back in the early 1980s, beginning an admirable tradition of commissioning a new work each year. Read more

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Nine Inch Nails – The Definitive NIN

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Nine Inch Nails‘ music has appeared on here on a number of occasions. A couple of years ago, Trent Reznor unofficially released three compilation albums, each exploring a different aspect of his output. The three volumes of Nine Inch Nails: The Definitive NIN are titled The Singles, Deep Cuts and Quiet, and together they comprise an effective “Best Of” collection. These releases have previously only been available as torrents, but as they’ve now been around for a while, download speeds aren’t what they were; so below are links to download all three volumes much faster. All three are exactly as Reznor released them, including full high-resolution artwork and an HTML page with further information; the music is (sadly) in mp3 format, at (even more sadly) 192Kbps, but hey – it’s free. Here are the links, together with a complete tracklisting for each volume. Read more

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Approaching future pop perfection: Freezepop

Posted on by 5:4 in Miscellaneous | 1 Comment

2008 seems to be drawing to a close with surprising alacrity, and already i’ve started to see a number of “Best of 2008” articles appearing. Rest assured i’ll be doing my own individual pick of the year’s highlights towards the end of the month. Meanwhile, let’s turn our attention to a group whose last album was one of 2007’s best releases.

Freezepop only came to my attention earlier this year, through an episode of the latest season of The L Word, a show that features a surprisingly eclectic (and high quality) selection of music. Since then, i’ve trawled their back catalogue, and it’s been an interesting experience. To be fair, their earliest output is decidedly hit-and-miss, with emphasis on the latter of those epithets, but—and it’s an important but—nothing really bad afflicts those releases. Their first album, Freezepop Forever, released in 2001, sounds like a fairly typical J-pop offering (a Japanese track title seems to confirm the allusion), a kind of music that achieves popularity principally through downright quirkiness. It also strongly betrays Freezepop’s affiliation with the realm of computer game music; all in all, it’s just too transient and bound-up in stylistic conventions to be terribly engaging. The following year’s Fashion Impression Function is, on balance, even less engaging, but demonstrates the makings of a much more individual sound, smoothly blending electropop trappings old and new, introducing interesting structural variety and bringing new intimacy to Liz Enthusiasm’s vocals. Read more

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Advent Carol Service (St John’s College, Cambridge): James MacMillan, Simon Beattie, Jonathan Dove, John McCabe – The last and greatest herald (World Première) & Peter Wishart

Posted on by 5:4 in Advent & Christmas, Premières, Seasonal | 3 Comments

A new church year is upon us, and with it comes the first choral broadcast for the season of Advent. Yesterday, Radio 3 broadcast the Advent Carol Service live from the Chapel of St John’s College, Cambridge, the choir of which has a deservedly high reputation. They’re also innovative; about 6 weeks ago, they became the first choir of this kind to make their services available as weekly webcasts; for more information go here.

The service featured several interesting contemporary pieces. James MacMillan‘s A New Song is one of his most emphatically melodious anthems; its blend of high solemnity yielding to radiance is just right for Advent. Simon Beattie‘s Advent Calendar is broadcast here for the first time; it’s an interesting piece, not entirely successful, as it lacks a clear sense of direction, but with some nicely-judged poignant harmonic writing. Jonathan Dove‘s I am the day is a simple, delicate confection with a curious patchwork quality, weaving fragments that each sound familiar yet become something new; i like it. Read more

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Mix Tape #8 : Versions

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After far too long a hiatus, here’s a new mix tape, this time exploring some of my favourite cover versions. To be clear, none of these tracks are what i’d call ‘remixes’, which i think of as a separate, quite different discipline; these are good ol’-fashioned covers of some great original songs.

t.A.T.u.’s version of The Smiths‘ “How Soon Is Now?” stands out on their first album, 200Km/h in the Wrong Lane, partly because it’s the only cover version, but more because of how utterly good it is. While i always was a fan of The Smiths, i’d actually far prefer to listen to t.A.T.u.’s rendition of it, their vocals somewhat less restrained than Morrissey’s. “Here’s Where The Story Ends” has been covered by many artists, and i’ve included the most recent, by Tin Tin Out featuring Shelley Nelson. Their version of the song is rather passionless, but this remix of it (the “Canny Remix”) saves the day, a dance version that shows off Nelson’s superb voice admirably. An old classic, “Blue Moon”, is given a fantastic big band treatment by Cybill Shepherd, taken from the soundtrack to the 80s TV series, Moonlighting. Shepherd’s voice is simply astounding, in what is my favourite version of this timeless song. Tori Amos makes several appearances in this mix, simply because she takes a more imaginative approach to her covers than any artist i’ve come across, always presenting the song in a new light, teasing out new connotations from the original. First up is her utterly deconstructed version of 10cc‘s epic ballad, “I’m Not In Love”, taken from her album of covers, Strange Little Girls. All sentimentality has been stripped, the music standing bare and heavy, with a palpable sense of menace; it’s beautiful and gently horrifying all at the same time. Read more

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Drifting and Tilting: The Songs of Scott Walker

Posted on by 5:4 in Concerts | 1 Comment

Last night, the Beloved and i were fortunate enough to be at the Barbican for the final performance of the three-night-only run of Drifting and Tilting: The Songs of Scott Walker. Devised by Walker himself, the performance comprised eight of his songs—taken, no surprise, from The Drift and Tilt—re-imagined for a visual presentation, the vocals delivered by a variety of singers, including Jarvis Cocker, Dot Allison and Damon Albarn. Booked many months ago, this is one of the most anticipated events i’ve ever attended, although i’ll confess i was uncertain of how successfully other singers would be able to bring off Walker’s utterly unique creations. As usual for me, the days leading up to it were filled with Walker’s music, especially Tilt and The Drift, which only fuelled my excitement.

Before the evening performance, the Barbican had sensibly programmed Stephen Kijak’s documentary about Walker’s career, Scott Walker: 30 Century Man. i’d not seen the film before, and found it totally enthralling, even more so considering—to my surprise—how much Scott Walker himself discusses his output, in addition to the fascinating glimpses into the production of The Drift, including a remarkable scene where a percussionist repeatedly thwacks a side of meat, urged on by Walker from the mixing desk. It also set the scene for the show to follow, including contributions from many of the singers taking part. Read more

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Heavy radiance: Tu M’ – Is That You?

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Netlabels are a curious phenomenon. On the one hand, they’re rather like havens for creatives to inhabit, artistic agglomerations producing wildly (un)predictable output; on the other, their surprising dedication to giving music away free of charge seems to have abandoned any hope of remuneration for creative endeavour. It’s hard to see them as the future; for now, at least, they’re fascinating and very useful; a gift horse into the mouth of which i have no intention of looking. Some netlabels have made the mistake of becoming stylistically typecast (e.g. one – and a feeble style at that), while others seemingly vanish overnight (the most recent being Nikita Golyshev’s excellent Musica Excentrica, that one can only hope returns soon). The best, however, chart an altogether less predictable path through territory that is often radical and challenging. Crónica is one of my favourites, a netlabel combining physical and digital releases, some of which are free, alongside some curious accompanying paraphernalia (or, if you prefer, art) and interesting podcasts.

It was Crónica that introduced me to the Italian multimedia duo Tu M’ who, early this year, released a free EP entitled Is That You?, which quickly became—and remains—one of my favourite releases of 2008. It comprises three tracks, one for each word of that title, exploring markedly different sonic environments. The laptop—rapidly becoming (at least, ostensibly) a sine qua non for the budding composer—is the instrument of choice for Tu M’, but this is very far from obvious in the opening track, “Is”. It’s an organic, woody composition, with clarinets and marimba pervading most clearly through the warm fog that drifts stodgily for its 5-minute duration. Tu M’ have struck a critical balance here; the sounds are obviously treated and manipulated, but at no point lose that essential quality that betrays a raw acoustic origin. It’s beautiful and tragic, a dirge-like procession that is as moving as it is striking. Read more

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