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
The lists reduce the vastness into controllable sizes, into the size of things that can fit into our mind, where they can expand again to the size of everything. The list is the way of fitting everything in one place at one time, so that we can take it with us, so that we can fit it all inside a microchip, a chip we can then fit inside our soul. … The list is a code for everything we are, the list is a diagram, sometimes extremely slight and incomplete, sometimes unbelievably deep and complete, of eternity. (Paul Morley, Words and Music)
Here we go, then, with the absolute pinnacle of this year’s albums, every one of them essential listening. Read more
In one of the most exciting teasers i’ve seen in a long while, Scott Walker has released a video of snippets from his forthcoming album, Bish Bosch. It includes clips from a number of tracks, bearing such tantalising titles as ‘See You Don’t Bump His Head’, ‘Tar’, ‘Dimple’, ‘Corps de Blah’, ‘Phrasing’ & ‘Epizootics!’ (the complete tracklist is here). The 4-minute video brings to mind scenes from the film 30 Century Man, showing something of the bewildering array of instruments & techniques integral to Walker’s painstaking compositional process. There aren’t many musicians who can bring together such extremes of acoustic & electronic phenomena & make them seem not just suited to each other but downright necessary, but on the strength of this all-too-brief trailer, Bish Bosch is going to do just that. The question one couldn’t help thinking in the devastating wake of 2006’s The Drift was “What on earth will Scott Walker be able to come up with to follow this?”. On 3 December, we’ll all get to find out.
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
Thirty years ago, Ian Curtis, lead singer and prime mover of Joy Division throughout its short-lived existence, took his own life. i can’t and won’t claim to have known anything about this at the time (being a mere six years old, my own musical journey had barely begun, let alone made it as far as the emerging post-punk scene), and i continued to know nothing of Joy Division until around 1982, when the combination of buying the 12″ vinyl of “Blue Monday” (on a whim; i liked the artwork) and my growing fondness for the more gothic end of the growing indie scene made me conscious of Joy Division’s significance. Undoubtedly worthy albums, Unknown Pleasures and the posthumous Closer only begin to hint at where the band might have gone next; whether it would have led down the same path as that taken by New Order is impossible to guess. The death of a celebrity interests people for all the wrong reasons; what matters is that Curtis was a fascinating creative individual, whose talents as a singer and a lyricist had only just begun to reach fruition. It seems entirely appropriate, therefore, to dedicate this new mix tape—focussing on male vocalists—to Ian Curtis’ memory. Read more
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
i avoid superlatives whenever possible. If people ask me (and they do, surprisingly often) to name a favourite composer or artist or album, i invariably either deflect the question away—”i don’t really have one…”—or reflect it back at them—”i’m not sure; how about you…?”). For the most part, the best one can hope to come up with, á la Paul Morley, is a list of favourites that is true at that moment, but would be different, perhaps entirely so (but no less true), at any other time. (Morley writes about this, and many other wonderful things, in his book Words and Music, which right now i might describe as the most brilliant book about music ever written, but tomorrow, who knows…?). Hence my aversion to superlatives, and their transient—and, in any case, subjective—character. Sometimes, though, one encounters something so incredible, so marvellous, so utterly different from anything else hitherto encountered, that superlatives become the only meaningful way to express anything remotely accurate. Not surprisingly, this doesn’t happen often, despite the large amount of music to which i listen, and so when it does, it’s a real shock, a gorgeous surprise, an ineffable thrill, a rapturous provocation of everything from confusion and disbelief to gasps and tears. And as i say, when the stun and stammering have passed, one is left reaching for the acmes of language. Read more