Music for Ascension Day: Patrick Gowers – Viri Galilaei

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Forty days after Easter, today marks the Feast of the Ascension. Despite being one of the four ‘pillars’ of the Church’s liturgical calendar (along with Christmas, Easter and Pentecost), this feast has never attracted composers quite as much as the others. i imagine it’s a combination of the relatively short shrift given to it in the Gospels, as well as—dare i say it—the slightly comic idea of Christ ascending into the clouds (there’s a well-known painting of this scene (i forget which), with Christ’s feet hilariously protruding from the base of a cloud). It’s no doubt the lack of alternative material that has led to Gerald Finzi‘s God is gone up becoming the sine qua non on this particular day. Not that that should take anything away from Finzi’s piece; it’s superb, and contains some of the most exquisite words ever set to music:

God is gone up with a triumphant shout:
The Lord with sounding Trumpets’ melodies:
Sing Praise, sing Praise, sing Praise, sing Praises out,
Unto our King sing praise seraphicwise!
Lift up your Heads, ye lasting Doors, they sing,
And let the King of Glory enter in.

Methinks I see Heaven’s sparkling courtiers fly,
In flakes of Glory down him to attend,
And hear Heart-cramping notes of Melody
Surround his Chariot as it did ascend;
Mixing their Music, making ev’ry string
More to enravish as they this tune sing.

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Deerhoof: confounding & clever

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i detest the obsession to subdivide music into genres, and what excites me so much about Deerhoof’s music is that it’s absolutely impossible to pigeon-hole. i’ve seen them called “indie rock”, “post rock”, “avant rock” and “math rock”; but i don’t worry about such things, and choose rather to revel in some of the most confoundingly brilliant, unashamedly artistic and downright clever music i’ve heard in my life. There’s an omnipresent sense of anarchy lurking in their songs, the band often sounding as though they’re barely held in check by Satomi Matsuzaki’s simplistic vocals.

Their most recent album, Friend Opportunity, starts with “The Perfect Me”, the perfect album opener: fast, irregular, harmonically ambiguous, percussion everywhere; it’s also a perfect demonstration of Deerhoof’s approach to structure, veering between utterly different episodes with absolutely no attempt at smoothing over the joins. Play it loud, very loud! “+81″‘s opening trumpet fanfare shows a willingness to bring in unexpected instruments, which sound entirely at home; the middle portion of the song is them at their most obtuse harmonically, perhaps the most peculiar series of chords i’ve ever heard away from classical art music. Though i hate the term, Deerhoof exhibit a palpable ‘retro’ quality at times, and the opening of “Believe E.S.P.” is, dare i say it, the kind of thing one might expect to hear in a ’70s porn movie. But there’s nothing remotely embarrassing about it; it’s made to fit perfectly, melding among the laid-back percussion and dark guitar/electronic stings. Read more

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Olivier Messiaen – La Nativité de Seigneur

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On the anniversary of Messiaen‘s death (and in entirely the wrong liturgical season), here’s a recording of his organ cycle, La Nativité du Seigneur, broadcast on BBC Radio 3 a few years ago. What makes the performance particularly special is that the organist is Naji Hakim, Messiaen’s successor at La Trinité in Paris. The performance dates from July 1999, during a festival of Messiaen’s music, and was performed in Westminster Cathedral, London. Read more

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More from The Pipettes – two live concerts

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As an addendum to yesterday’s post, here are two excellent recordings of The Pipettes performing live. The first comes from the 2007 South By South West festival in Austin, Texas; two excellent reviews of the concert—with great pictures!—can be found here and here. The concert includes two non-album tracks, “Guess Who Ran Off With The Milkman?” and “True Love Waits Patiently For A Miracle”. Read more

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The Pipettes: changing once again

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i’m in mourning at present. A few days ago, it was announced that two members of The Pipettes, RiotBecki and Rosay, are leaving “to pursue other musical projects”. i’ve nothing against change, of course, and in their five years The Pipettes have already experienced a fair amount of alterations, but these two together with Gwenno seemed to have achieved the ideal balance. Although there’s more than a whiff of being another pre-fab band (a fact their name hints at), they demonstrate an originality and talent which sets them apart from anything remotely ‘plastic’. The three-part harmonies that fill their early 50s-/60s-inspired miniatures are sumptuous, showing these girls really can sing, not merely perform (though they do perform brilliantly too, playing their own instruments and performing retro dance numbers). All the more sad that changes are afoot; the replacements are to be Anna and Ani (Gwenno’s sister), and according to Gwenno, the trio is demoing 20-25 new songs. Writing about the situation on the band’s website, Gwenno sounds both optimistic—“People may be confused by such a drastic change in line-up but please rest assured – if we were to be an imitation of ourselves we would stop”—and tantalising—“…we’re incredibly excited to be working toward bringing you a new album that will be unlike anything we (or anyone else) have ever done”. A change is probably a good thing; Rosay’s voice, in particular, has been central to the current Pipettes sound, so it’ll be interesting to hear how the new trio will sound. Either way though, The Pipettes as i’ve known and loved them are no more…

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Vitrolic, bitter and brilliant: Transvision Vamp – Velveteen

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When i was 16, i bought my first CD player. At the time—and i’m conscious how old i feel saying this—it was still a real novelty for anyone my age to possess their own CD player, and it was one of the (mercifully) few times when i was the centre of attention, everyone wanting to experience the clarity of digital music. At the same time, i bought 4 CDs, the start of a collection that i now have neither the time nor the inclination to count. Among those four was Transvision Vamp‘s second album Velveteen, that had been recently released (also among the four was Martika’s self-titled debut album, but we all make mistakes). My interest in Transvision Vamp began when their first single, “I Want Your Love” was released the previous year. Both the song, and its accompanying video, are breathtaking; it’s one of those amazing moments when you hear a song by an artist you’ve never encountered before, and the experience is totally enthralling. i can’t recall another female vocalist who was quite like Wendy James at that time: she snarled and screeched and screamed, she was the archetypal rock-chick, full of froth and feist, and she oozed sexuality (i admit i had many posters of her on my wall). One of the reasons why their sound was so refreshing, i think, is because it was at a time when the acid-house scene was reaching its peak, and the so-called “Madchester” bands were beginning to become really popular, a style of music that, with a few exceptions, i found bland, generic and—worst of all—eager to please. So Transvision Vamp’s combination of rock with (rather mild) punk was an exciting break from the norm. Read more

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Mix Tape #4 : Miniatures

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This new Mix Tape began life as one of my playlists on iTunes, which simply specified that it should only include tracks under two minutes in duration. Surprisingly, 815 tracks from my music library fulfil this criteria, amounting to over 15 hours of music. Not surprisingly, this playlist makes for an eclectic and surreal listen, while at the same time providing a kind of ‘distillation’ of the music that i love. Here then, is a selection from that playlist, with a slight emphasis on music i’ve listened to more recently; almost 70 minutes of music stitched together with the aid of a variety of delightful advertisement spots by the wonderful and very innovative Raymond Scott. What this lot tells you about my music collection is anyone’s guess…

Here’s the complete tracklisting: Read more

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