My desert island albums part 2

My desert island albums part 2

I ended my previous post on a Pink Floyd note (pun intended) and I’d like to start this one by talking about Genesis.

The Genesis I am referring to is the band fronted by Peter Gabriel. This is not because I necessarily have anything against Phil “not so trendy” Collins but simply because I’ve always considered Gabriel as a music pioneer who, through his creativity, always managed to turn music and performance into a moving work of art.

It’s such a shame that when music critics began focusing too much on Gabriel’s stage theatrics and increasingly elaborate costumes rather than the music, the band started getting annoyed and not long after, Gabriel left, disillusioned by the business.

After failing to find a replacement vocalist, Collins eventually stepped up to the job. This, as well as taking Genesis into a different direction in terms of lyrics style, shifted the band from what critics considered as ‘prog’ to pop. Some could argue that being a ‘prog’ band should mean that the music must progress in a certain direction. Maybe Genesis progressed too much too quickly towards a direction that left too many fans behind. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy listening to Genesis post Gabriel on the radio and I honestly think that Collins has a great voice, but that’s as far as it goes for me.

Let me start my remaining album pick with this:

 

Genesis – Selling England by the Pound

The album title was a slogan that the Labour Party adopted in the UK as a manifesto and was picked by Gabriel to ensure that the British press couldn’t accuse the band of “selling out” to America where they had toured extensively. Gabriel said he wrote all the lyrics to the album in two days in a small house near Chessington Zoo.

The whole album is infused with english traditional folk and medieval feeling. It has fantastic waves of prog moments to keep you on your toes. It’s like listening to 4 or 5 separate instrumentals resembling large pieces of shattered glass that strangely make absolute sense when glued together. It’s almost like impro-zz (prog in its basis and improvised  jazz in structure). This is clear in Dancing with the Moonlit Knight.

Digging deeper

This is also an album that shows you don’t need to be so in your head to write a great song. Enter I Know What I Like (in your wardrobe), a song that came out of a jam session between Hackett and Collins and around one of guitarist Steve Hackett’s riffs.
The song’s lyrics are about a young man employed as a groundsman and perfectly happy pushing a lawn mower and not grow up and do great things. Note how during the intro keyboardist Tony Banks ingeniously replicates the lawn mower sound by playing a note on the low-end of the Mellotron (an electro-mechanical, polyphonic tape replay keyboard). The song was considered so pop for Genesis at the time that it even ended up on Top of The Pops.
If all pop was of this calibre in 2017 I think many artists nowadays wouldn’t even bother attempting to make music. This is also the song that showcases perfectly how both Collins’ and Gabriel’s voices blended perfectly during the harmonies.

A special spot goes to Firth of Fifth, mostly composed by keyboardist Tony Banks. To call this song a masterpiece just isn’t enough. It breaks the rules, starting out with a classical-style grand piano introduction played by Banks which is rhythmically extremely complex in its tempo change. It then transitions into the first section of lyrics which are accompanied by Phil Collins on drums and a chord progression between Banks’ Hammond organ and Steve Hackett’s guitar.

Gabriel’s mesmerizing flute solo is then followed by an instrumental section which reprises the opening piano theme using synthesizers. The whole song is a concentrated soup of emotions. The flute melody using violin-like guitar tones played by Hackett towards the end of the song is majestic and although you wish it could go on forever it leads to the perfect conclusion, just like a movie.

It’s not all overwhelming emotions however, you also have some sweetness in the shape of More Fool Me,  that brings out Collins’ voice and shows off its greatness in a more stripped back arrangement without all those intricate and flowery structures.

The Cinema Show is another example of Genesis’ creativity with Gabriel’s and Collins’ vocal harmonies, the oboe/flute solo,Tony Bank’s ARP Pro Soloist ( one of the first commercially successful preset music synthesizer) and with Collins and Rutherford playing a perfectly meshed rhythm.

All in all, this album is a great example of how you can blend various music styles together to come out with the perfect operatic fable. Whether this permeates in the lyrics or the sound itself you can jump from prog to pop, psychedelia to folk and rock to classical and come out at the end with an album that can take you far beyond the expectations of labelling.

Prick up your ears to: I Know What I Like (in your wardrobe), Firth of Fifth, The Cinema Show

 

Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues

Fleet Foxes emerged from the music world in 2008 after word of mouth through MySpace slowly exposed their talent at a time when their style of music wasn’t exactly deemed “cool”.

They self-released  their EP The Fleet Foxes and in 2008 another EP titled Sun Giant and that’s when I came across them.

I’d been listening to one of those shows on the radio in the evening where they play soon-to be discovered talents and on came their song Mykonos… the band had recently released their first album entitled Fleet Foxes. I bought it in a matter of days.
Already, back then, there was a longing for real, organic music as opposed to manufactured factory stuff and indie bands were sprouting like mushrooms. However, “on paper”  Fleet Foxes seemed a bit difficult to place. It was thanks to their ability to create a modernised rock-folk that people started listening. Labelled as the new Crosby Stills & Nash at the beginning ( and maybe Young if you compare singer/songwriter Robin Pecknold’s voice to his) and a tinge of Simon & Garfunkel, the band has now managed to come into their own.

 Digging deeper

Helplessness Blues, their second album, cemented their talent for enveloping harmonies, charming and captivating arrangements with embroidery of distant old folk and use of Tudor style tempos. Pecknold said of this album “The last year has been a really trying creative process where I’ve not been knowing what to write or how to write” but the result from this struggling time is a complex, intricate and deeper album. The lyrics are descriptive and very visual, as well as permeating with Pecknold personal struggles and questions, making Helplessness Blues rather analytical and nostalgic, when he sings of leaving the past behind while wanting to deal with the present.

The music is perfectly connected throughout, there isn’t a track on the album that is out-of-place as the thread is almost visible between the songs. You can almost see it as it takes you by the hand on a journey. It is one of the few albums I found myself listening over and over without growing tired of it. Perfect for those moment around a fire when you find yourself reflecting on life.

Prick up your ears to: Bedouin Dress, Sim Sala Bim, The Plains/Bitter Dance, The Cascades, The Shrine/Argument, Grown Ocean

Tame Impala – Innerspeaker

Tame Impala is an Australian psychedelic-rock band founded in 2007 by Kevin Parker.

I found out about them when watching the movie The Kids are Alright when I heard their song Sundown Syndrome that was part of the soundtrack. After some research I found out that they weren’t a 60s band I didn’t know about but one that was very much part of today’s music scene and bought their first album Innerspeaker with the speed of light!

What an empowering selection of songs! Yes you could argue that it’s not pure psychedelic music but why should it be? It is the next best thing: a modernised version on steroids.

Tame Impala are not mainstream as such and don’t appeal to a wide audience, but have always had the potential to as their music has great hooks. I suspect this might have to do with the team behind the band: Parker said that up until recently, from all Tame Impala’s record sales outside of Australia he had received zero dollars. Someone high up spent the money before it got to him and that he may never get that money.

Digging deeper

The band’s music is heavily influenced by the late 60s and early 70s psychedelic rock. Parker achieved this sound by recording on his own in the studio using various production methods like fuzz (a distortion effect on the guitar that creates a “warm” and “dirty” sound), reverb and delay (an audio effect created by recording an input signal to an audio storage medium and played back after a period of time).

The modern touch of Tame Impala comes from the influence of electronic music and Parker’s experiments with different sound effects, as well as some great bass lines, that create their unique and alternative sounds. All this won the band various awards, from Best Rock Act to Most Popular Album and  Best Guitarist (K. Parker).

I love Innerspeaker for its multi dimensional vibe. It’s the perfect album for when you need to detach from the routines of life. If you lay back and get in touch with its music you’ll experience a small Big Bang inside. It strikes chords that are very deep and hidden.
And the good news is that you don’t need to be on LSD. Ah… the power of music…

Prick up your ears to: It Is Not Meant to Be, Lucidity, Solitude is Bliss, Expectation

Punch Brothers – Who’s Feeling Young Now and The Phosphorescent Blues 

 

I really wanted to choose one over the other but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
So here it goes: The Punch Brothers, a quintet consisting of Chris Thile (vocals and mandolin), Gabe Witcher (fiddle/violin),
Noam Pikelny ( banjo) Chris Eldridge (guitar) and Paul Kowert (bass).
With their roots stemming from bluegrass/acoustic and classical, here in the UK they’re almost only known to those who had the good fortune to stumble over them when Saint Jools Holland invited them on Later… in 2012. I never miss a show, it’s still the only music feed to current and new/alternative artists on tv.  That Friday in May Punch Brothers performed Movement and Location. I was transfixed. Not only by their music but by their energy during their live set. I’ve been lucky to see them live at The Royal Festival Hall here in London and they don’t disappoint because what you see on TV comes across live onstage multiplied ten folds. Imagine that they’re a bunch of wires that conduct the electricity from the fuse box to your lights around the house: they’re a channel to their own sound. They spark. They’re little tiny skilled manual workers who craft away to produce their handmade original and unique piece.

Unfortunately the video to Movement and Location performed on Later… with Jools Holland  is no longer available, but this is the next best thing:

Digging deeper

If you watched the video above you might have noticed that the host introduces the band as “A quintet that takes a classical approach to Bluegrass”… It’s fair to say that the host was probably daydreaming about some other band that day because classical approach is far from what Punch Brothers take.

They took Bluegrass and made it multicoloured. It’s modern, approachable, idiosyncratic, surprising. They have jazz, they have folk, they have melodies, they have classical arrangements and they deliver all this with soul.

All this is clear in their first album Who’s Feeling Young Now which is perfect for any taste. It’s a pick and mix that has the right amount of sweet and sour, fizz and mellowness, it’s punchy, rich and full flavoured. The ideal album while you’re entertaining on your desert island, even if you’re just entertaining yourself!

Prick up your ears to: Movement and Location, This Girl, Who’s Feeling Young Now, Patchwork Girlfriend, New York City.

In 2015 Punch Brothers release The Phosphorescent Blues; on its cover Magritte’s The Lovers and now they’re being called a prog-grass band (I just love it when a new word is born!). The opening track, Familiarity, which is just over 10 mins long is a dense and simmering  cream. A sound rollercoaster that shows the band’s virtuoso playing.

Julep transports you inside a musical painting soaked with impressionism style. And since we’re on the subject, the track straight after is their take on Passepied by Claude Debussy. Punch Brother’s version is sharper and haunting but also has far more humor than the original.

This album is more grown up, it goes deeper and it’s more ambitious, the melodies are more intricate, the arrangements equally captivating. You might need to listen to the entire album 2 or 3 times before you can take in all its content and decide that you love it. It’s one of those that calls for a bit of taste buds training, especially if you’re basing your decision on their previous album Who’s Feeling Young Now.

Prick up your ears to: Familiarity, Julep, Magnet, My Oh My, Forgotten, Little Lights

 

Keane – Hopes and Fears

Keane emerged with their first album Hopes and Fears in 2004. I first heard of them in the summer of that year while I was abroad and was left breathless by listening to This is the Last Time on the radio.

The band’s peculiarity at the time was that they didn’t use guitars and never had a guitarist on stage but relied heavily on piano and synths to fill in that gap.
Tom Chaplin was the lead vocalist with Tim Rice-Oxley, the lyricist of the band, on piano, synthesisers, bass guitar and backing vocals and Richard Hughes on drums, percussion and backing vocals.

This album left a major sign in the music realm. Before they were discovered Keane had already composed most of the songs for Hopes and Fears  for which the band won Mastercard Best British Album and Best British Breakthrough Album in 2005.

Digging deeper

Keane has an amazingly orchestral sound and this is clearer in this album.
Tom Chaplin’s vocals and falsetto are captivating and his singing style is reminiscent of Jeff Buckley.

During their early years most songs were about love or broken relationships; however, other themes, like war,  the impact of being a celebrity and criticism of religious violence started to emerge in more recent tracks.

Keane deliver powerful melodies, their vocals are always elegant, a crescendo of sound that’s never aggressive; It’s full-bodied and satisfying.

When I listen to Hopes and Fears I find it is laden with so many anthems. Most tracks hook you instantly and Chaplin’s almost breathless singing style with his falsetto is so heartfelt that you can’t help but be sucked in their vortex.

You can feel the fears in the tracks but you can also feel the hopes. You can’t look at this album only as a dark and gloomy cauldron of sadness because you can hear the hope in every track.

To me that’s the beauty of this album: each track has a circle of dark clouds around them but ultimately they all work up to some kind of resolution. It’s felt both in the lyrics and the melodies. Like climbing a flight of stairs, from the bottom step to the highest one.

What better album to give you hope when stuck on a desert island then?

Prick up your ears to: Somewhere Only We Know, This is The Last Time, We might as well be strangers, Everybody’s Changing, Your Eyes Open

 

Well, I’m all set now.

I picked my music and I’m off… to “get me” a desert island!

 

 

 

 

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