Ghosts drowning in supreme thunder: Nine Inch Nails – Ghosts I–IV

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i was surprised to find, yesterday, that since 1 January, i had listened to 99 albums. It seemed all too fortunate then, that my 100th album of the year should be a brand new release from one of my favourite artists and, in my opinion, one of the very greatest creative minds in music today, Nine Inch Nails (the mind belongs to Trent Reznor, of course). Having been loosed from his record label bonds late last year, Reznor is leading the way in a new kind of thinking, in terms of music distribution. In interviews, and in the way his collaboration with Saul Williams was released last autumn, Reznor is clearly enthusiastic about new ways of delivering music to the fans.

His new album, released 2 days ago, is Ghosts I–IV [Halo 26], which comprises four 9-track EPs, each filled entirely with instrumental music. There’s a variety of ways in which the music can be obtained: the first EP, Ghosts I, can be downloaded free of charge; all four can be downloaded for $5 (barely £2.50 at today’s rates); a 2CD edition is available for $10; and, for the really keen, there are “deluxe” and “ultra deluxe” editions, with additional accoutrements. i opted for the 2CD edition which, since it isn’t released until April, entitled me to an immediate download in any format i chose—unsurprisingly, i opted for FLAC—which includes a large number of wallpapers and other graphics, plus a PDF file of the accompanying 40-page book (each track has its own, very beautiful, artwork). It’s not the first time i’ve encountered an artist including a digital download in the purchase of a CD (Björk began doing it recently), but it seems an idea that will probably catch on, since it both allows one to listen immediately, as well as providing the listener who wants it with a physical object. Read more

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Loving/Collecting Music

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From about the age of 10, i was given £5 pocket money each month. And every month, i would walk to the record shop and buy a new album, which would always cost me £4.99. Since i could only afford one album, i would take a lot of time choosing, looking through perhaps hundreds of LPs before finally deciding. This monthly experience was really exciting for me — all the more so because of the context in which it happened: i had to wait for it, then i had to journey to get it, and finally bring it home — and it took all my money to buy it. i believe there are two qualities that this approach has helped to instill and nurture in me.

The first is to understand the value of the music. i don’t here mean the price; i’m talking about the fact that, for me, it was my once-a-month opportunity to encounter new music, to explore something fresh. Of course, i wanted to do that more often—and i did, regularly raiding my mother’s large record collection—but i had to wait, i had to be patient. And, of course, once the day had arrived, i was so ecstatic finally to own a new album that it meant the world to me. We could perhaps call it a ‘collaboration’: i was granted a new album, but it demanded of me a sacrifice, of my time and of my money. i certainly understood the personal value of the music.

Second, it made me an extremely attentive listener. It would be impossible to go through the experience described above, and then not really care what the music was. So i would sit and focus all my attention on what i was listening to — and i would listen to it over and over again, absorbing it, hearing it afresh, understanding it from more and more angles. The result was that i assimilated the music, it became part of me; i could hear it perfectly clearly in my mind, i would sing it to myself without realising it. And so, overall, i cherished the music, i valued it, i knew it, i understood it, i absorbed it… i loved it. Read more

Not Einstürzende Neubauten but Eingestürzt Altbauten: Belong

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One of the most immediately powerful and communicative images of our time is that of the ruin. Whether it’s something prosaic and dark, like a human suicide, or profound and vivid, like the remains of a cathedral, the effect is similar: we’re made aware of, and irresistably drawn into, something that projects its history upon us. and if the ruin makes for a striking image, it is capable of being an even more breathtaking artistic metaphor—the suicide images of Rachel Howard and the juxtaposition of the new Coventry Cathedral alongside its wrecked sibling are wonderful examples. While concepts such as deconstruction, entropy and collapse are all too common in contemporary music—a worrying fact, worthy of study—the very different concept of ruin is rarely explored. Belong is a duo from the United States who seek to do just that; their music is a few years old now, so it surprises me that more people haven’t encountered it (including me; i did only a few weeks ago). Read more

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Delicate and damaged; broken and beautiful: Burial

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Listening to as much music as i do, it’s quite rare to come across something that’s truly surprising. While surprises aren’t as rare as shocks (which are becoming extinct, it seems), they’re elusive nonetheless, and when they do happen it’s exciting and compelling. Those two words apply well to the music of Burial, who emerged seemingly from nowhere in late 2005. Things haven’t changed much since then; somehow, he’s managed to remain anonymous—a handful of people, apparently, know who he is—which is a remarkable achievement. Not as remarkable an achievement as his music, however, which breaks apart the relatively flimsy ideas of dubstep and garage, and creates delicate, damaged objects from the pieces. In fact, brokenness is a quality that pervades all his work, an innate sense of the tragic; Burial is casting his eyes over the world around him and clearly finds the spectacle saddening.

It takes someone with acute sensibilites to say something so stark and emotive through a music of this kind; all the more reason, i suppose, why such a critical source as The Wire named Burial’s eponymous first album as its 2006 Album of the Year. From the opening, untitled, track onwards, there’s an air of mystery cloaking his music, and yet simultaneously it sounds very familiar, very British (a title like “Gutted” affirms its Englishness). Listening to Burial is to be transported to the streets of a city suburb, beneath nocturnal rain; the most telling tracks bespeak devastation in very different ways. Read more

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Floating back to happiness: Goldfrapp – Seventh Tree

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Good music likes company, it seems, as three CDs came through my letterbox this morning, Autechre‘s Quaristice—strange, as it’s not released until Saturday—and Gantz Graf (which i’ve loved for years, but only now got round to buying), plus Goldfrapp‘s new album Seventh Tree, released yesterday. i therefore took time off from my compositional/Autechre duties this morning, to hear finally what Goldfrapp has been up to. i have the deluxe edition, which is quite a package, coming in a small box…

…with the CD, …

…an accompanying DVD, …

…four postcards, …

…a small book of lyrics, all hand-written (just two of the spreads are shown below)…


…and a poster—which is too big to scan. Read more

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Mix Tape #1 : Late Night

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There was a discussion on Radio 4 yesterday, about a possible link between creativity and the late night. i have no opinion on this, except insofar as i have had some highly productive late night composing sessions. A lot of my listening to music takes place at night, however, and i think it’s a very special time indeed to engage with it. To that end, and just for fun, i’ve compiled my own little “mix tape” containing a number of the things i’m listening to at the moment (some old, some new; many mentioned in my posts over the last few months), tracks which heighten in intensity when listened to (preferably, very) late at night. 68 minutes of wonder, seamlessly stitched together for your pleasure…

Here’s the full tracklisting: Read more

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Scandanavian sounds, part 3: AM and the UV

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Every now and then, a band appears that seems to bring together the most engaging qualities of several other artists. A delightful example of that—and proof that not everything coming out of these remote arctic regions is quite as intense or brooding as Deathprod and Biosphere—is AM and the UV, the relatively unknown collaboration of singer Anne Marie Almedal (AM) and obscure duo Ultraviolet (UV). The result is some of the most delicate and compelling songs i’ve heard, effortlessly blending the vocal lyricism of Alison Goldfrapp, the dark funkiness of Portishead (ok, so it broods a little) and the drifting washes of the Cocteau Twins, easily rivalling those artists, the songs are that good. Sadly, they only stayed together long enough to produce two EPs—Tomorrow Is All Like Flowers and Silently The Birds Fly Through Us—and an album, Candy Thunder. The titles of the EPs, in particular, point towards the ethereal aims to which AM and the UV are working. The songs communicate a kind of transparent (if perhaps world-weary) bliss, which grows with repeated listenings. Among the brightest of the highlights: “Whisper” is simply one of the most gorgeous songs ever recorded, “Speak” features some spectacular melodic writing, “Wonderful, Beautiful” is a bizarre retro/modern combination (Almedal sounding a bit like Karen Carpenter), and the chorus is irresistible to sing along with, and “Everywhere We Go”, the final track from the album, is very mellow, with the most delicious ending.

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