Mixtape #23 : Modern Troubadours

by 5:4
4 minutes read

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

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

In total, a little under 3 hours of music that demonstrate what song, in the right hands, can be; here’s the tracklisting in full:

  • Scott Walker – Patriot (A Single) (from Tilt)
  • Deerhoof – Look Away (from Friend Opportunity)
  • Dead Can Dance – How Fortunate The Man With None (from Into the Labyrinth)
  • Julia Holter – The Falling Age (from Live from Beaudry)
  • Fovea Hex – While You’re Away (from Huge)
  • David Sylvian – The Greatest Living Englishman (from Manafon)
  • maudlin of the Well – Birth Pains of Astral Projection (from Bath)
  • Ulver – Stone Angels (from Wars of the Roses)
  • Frankie Goes To Hollywood – Welcome To The Pleasuredome (from Welcome To The Pleasuredome)
  • Jenny Hval – This is a Thirst (from Viscera)
  • Janelle Monáe – BaBopByeYa (from The ArchAndroid (Suites II and III))
  • Transvision Vamp – Velveteen (from Velveteen)
  • Tori Amos – Yes, Anastasia (from Under The Pink)
  • Joanna Newsom – Only Skin (from Ys)
  • of Montreal – Authentic Pyrrhic Remission (from Paralytic Stalks)
  • Scott Walker – Cue (from The Drift)

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[…] the 5:4 blog HERE. He also puts up very eclectic and exciting mixtapes which you can download. Aaaand… here’s Simon Cummings on the Guardian’s Six […]


The funny thing is, Van Dyke Parks was originally hired to arrange the strings for Tori Amos’ “Yes, Anastasia”, as well as several other songs on Under the Pink. However, he wouldn’t let her see the arrangements until the session, when it was too late. According to legend, she hated his intensely ornate arrangements so much, she erased the master tape herself. Between the arrangements and session, Amos ended up eating the cost, somewhere around $20,000. She hired her friend Phil Shenale, and twenty years later, he’s still her arranger.

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