Julia Holter

Mix Tape #36 : Best Albums of 2015

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A very HAPPY NEW YEAR to you all!

In keeping with 5:4 tradition, here’s the new year Mix Tape showcasing music from each of my Best Albums of 2015. Three hours that demonstrate something of the sonic wonders that materialised last year. Enjoy! — and there are links to buy each of the albums featured in the last two days’ articles.

As usual, the mix tape can either be downloaded or streamed via MixCloud. Here’s the tracklisting in full: Read more

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Best Albums of 2015 (Part 2)

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And here, bringing 2015 to a truly glorious end, is the conclusion of my countdown of the year’s best albums.

20 | James Newton Howard – The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

The Hunger Games film series has always been more about people and relationships than mere action, and James Newton Howard has consistently mirrored that in his scores. For the final film in the story, Howard gets archetypal, his score working as well as it does by juxtaposing crushingly imposing climaxes, reinforced by massive bass underpinning, with delicate folk music elements that (echoing the film) powerfully intimate the fragility of each and every one of the lives lost or threatened. Soaringly beautiful, solemn, spine-chilling, epic: a fitting accompaniment for the finale of one of cinema’s more emotionally involving franchises of recent years. [Amazon]

19 | Line Katcho – Pulsions

Québécoise composer Line Katcho speaks of using sound in her work “as kinetic matter, representing movement, forces and gestures”, and that’s abundantly clear throughout the five pieces on Pulsions. Their acousmatic nature is characterised by sounds that often fall just beyond one’s reach of recognition, Katcho whipping and spinning these sounds such that they become like gusts of wind manifested as solid objects. These are in turn sliced and fragmented into huge swirling clouds of sharp-edged matter, penetrating a variety of pitched materials, including deep bass drones and undulating sheets of consonance. Captivating and magical. [Kohlenstoff]

18 | Julia Holter – Have You In My Wilderness

It’s three years since Holter’s superb second album Ekstasis (one of my Best Albums of 2012), an album that drew liberally on musical manners from an earlier time, which is also a defining feature of Have You In My Wilderness. One detects backward glances to the lyrical mindset of a figure like Bacharach, particularly in album opener ‘Feel You’ (which could almost be a 21st century render of a number from the ’60s), as well as permeating the jaunty melody of ‘Silhouette’ (until the wonderful point where it structurally breaks apart, unleashing a host of strings) and the lush accompaniment surrounding Holter in ‘Night Song’. But discrete points of influence are numerous and treated extremely fluidly, jazz and improv jostling with ballad and baroque pop elements. An air of wonder pervades throughout, as present in the palpable sense of joy that arises from Holter’s unexpected arrangements as it is in her lyrics. [Amazon]

17 | Anna Þorvaldsdóttir – In the Light of Air

“The latest CD from Icelandic composer Anna Þorvaldsdóttir, In the Light of Air (out on Sono Luminus), develops further her distinctly elemental approach to music. Here, we’re immediately plunged into a primitive, even primeval place, filled with sounds at once inchoate yet at the same time stylised, producing a kind of heightened, ritualistic tone. Things move, yet for the longest time everything seems essentially static, held in check by its own oppressive weight; but, heralded by twangs on deep piano strings, Þorvaldsdóttir conjures up an atmosphere like folk music waking up, underpinned by some unstable drones and enriched by a movement away from gesture towards melody. […] In the Light of Air‘s conclusion bears similarities to its opening, yet is quite transformed, still decidedly weird but fundamentally more stable. Once again, with characteristic economy of means, Þorvaldsdóttir has created a stunningly immersive soundworld, the music of which conveys perceptible threads of narrative, yet which remains resolutely strange. This is perhaps her most primordial music to date, and it’s extremely impressive…” (reviewed in October) [Presto Classical]

16 | Man Without Country – Maximum Entropy

Surely contemporary pop’s most forward-looking and exhilarating synthpop duo, Man Without Country have somehow managed here to top their sublime 2012 debut, Foe. Sensitivity has always been pivotal to their music, a potent human presence balancing out the electronics, along with a leaning (it would be overdoing it to call it more than that) toward hints of the soundworld of their ’80s predecessors. Tracks like ‘Laws of Motion’, a delicious duet with White Sea’s Morgan Kibby, and ‘Virga’ demonstrate how subtle is their handling in this respect; one feels distant memories being triggered yet everything is fresh and new, making for a complex aural result. Ryan James’ vocals are as breathily ambiguous as ever, pushing the lyrics into a middleground of expressive potential, and the duo don’t seem to be anywhere near to using up their gift for lyrical ingenuity. [Amazon]

15 | C Duncan – Architect

You really don’t see music like this coming. Christopher Duncan’s approach to songwriting taps into a musical equivalent of summer holiday polaroids from the 1970s. Far from sounding merely like a retro throwback, his songs are homages to a kind of folk simplicity, inhabiting a dreamlike world of technicolor cheerfulness and harmony. One of the things that’s so remarkable about Duncan’s music is how it never feels remotely twee (despite how i’ve just described it), and also—considering how its composer wasn’t even born until 1989—how authentically it speaks. There’s a decidedly wistful punch being packed here, Duncan’s captivating voice emerging like a pristine artefact from the past that you’d thought was lost many, many years ago. Gorgeous. [FatCat Records] Read more

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Mix Tape #35 : Moon

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Taking inspiration from the lunar events at the start of this week, the new 5:4 mix tape is devoted to music related to the moon. i’ve crammed it with a veritable shed-load of personal favourites, small and great, old and new. The mix encompasses a broad spectrum, from the kind of soft delicacy heard in pieces by Toshio Hosokawa, Tor Lundvall, Pram, Alva Noto & Ryuichi Sakamoto, Implex Grace, Sunken Foal, Andrew Liles, Aun and The Noisettes to more abrasive expression in works by First Human Ferro, Philippe Petit (& Friends), Paul Dolden, John Williams and Chelsea Wolfe. Wolfe’s is one of a number of moon-related songs featured in the mix, alongside the very lovely Cemeteries (with one of my favourite tracks of 2015), Betty Ween, Radiohead and—heard in a miniature epic of gorgeous proportions—Julia Holter. The timebound yet timeless Johnny Howard Orchestra adds a bit of froth, immediately followed by its more sour hauntological answer courtesy of The Caretaker; Ochre and some vintage Multiplex bring a bit of play to the proceedings, while Eric Serra adds a brief note of cinematic grandeur and Natasha Barrett dives into a strange but exquisitely light soundscape. A sumptuous bit of nocturnalism from Richard Strauss acts as a coda, leading into the night proper via Chris Watson. Serving as structural markers throughout are the four parts of Harry Partch‘s hilariously mental Ring Around the Moon. Lycanthropes might want to give this particular mix a miss.

A little under two hours of sound from the lunatic fringe; here’s the tracklisting in full. If you enjoy the mix, there are links below to buy the music. Read more

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Mix Tape #25 : Best Albums of 2012

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HAPPY NEW YEAR TO YOU ALL!

Today marks 5:4‘s fifth anniversary, & so i’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of you who regularly read, share & respond to the articles & 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 & attention. i very much hope that 5:4 can grow & become even more interesting & useful in the next five years; all comments, criticisms, suggestions & other feedback is always very warmly encouraged.

But to return to the present, & to continue our annual tradition, here is a new mix tape 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 & very loud indeed. As ever, if you like what you hear in the mix, please support the artists & 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, & 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 mix tape lasts a little under 3½ hours; here’s the tracklisting in full: Read more

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Best Albums of 2012 (Part 1)

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This is a list surrounded by other lists leading to other lists, lists … that explain everything by being gateways into worlds of sound, feeling and information…
…the love of making lists is an attempt to remind us of what it is that has happened, and what is happening, all at once, as time and humanity collapses into itself. …
The list is a collage of hopes and wishes, of knowledge and exhibitionism.
(Paul Morley, Words and Music)

So we move on to the list of lists, the forty albums that have made the greatest impact over the last twelve months. Here are the first twenty to have made the cut.

Read more

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Mix Tape #23 (Modern Troubadours)

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Creatively, my thoughts have been heavily focussed on song in the last couple of months, so i’ve made that the focus of the new 5:4 Mix Tape. 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, & the sixteen songs on this Mix Tape 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, & the opportunity for a more experimental type of expression.

These songs, which range in duration between 7 & 17 minutes, encompass a wide variety of approaches to the art of song. Some, such as those by Deerhoof & maudlin of the Well, take experimental & progressive rock as their starting point, while Frankie Goes To Hollywood & 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 & steal from a plethora of pop, dance & 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 & allowing them to radiate for another ten; Fovea Hex do something similar in their rethinking of folk music. Others have more to say & 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 & 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 & 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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