Vacant Earth

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Fragile Earth by Mixtaped Monk (also known as Arka Sengupta) is one of my favourite independent albums of 2018; I loved it the minute I first heard it.

I’ll let him describe it: Imagine waking up one day and discovering that there are no human beings present around you. You have all the essential supplies of the world at your disposal. But you are left to fend for yourself. What would you feel? How would you react? What would you do with your time? How would you lead the rest of your life? Will you accept your fate? Or would you ceaselessly search for others like you?

Inspired by a dream a dear friend of mine had once, “Vacant Earth” tries to answer the questions mentioned above. Through sounds (and their associated emotions) the album tries to relate the story I imagined, with me as the protagonist, when my friend had first told me about her dream. Sonically, the album borders around post-rock, neo-classical and ambient music.

Note: You can see all my favourite albums in 2018 here.

Bowie at Glastonbury 2000

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There’s not much that hasn’t already been said about David Bowie, who was taken from us three years ago and who would have been 72 years old today; but I didn’t want the milestone to go unmentioned.

I’ve always been fascinated by his music, his creativity, changes of style, his collaborations, and his determination to set trends rather than follow them. An example of the latter is that while punk was happening, he was at the Hansa Studio in Berlin crafting a totally new sound for what became the Low album.

While working in the office at home today, I enjoyed listening to David Bowie’s Glastonbury appearance in 2000 on Spotify. There’s a great selection of his songs, some of which (for example, Hallo Spaceboy) I prefer to hear live. I well remember watching his set at the time on television, one of the truly great Glastonbury performances.

2018 Favourite Albums

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I don’t know about you, but for me, 2018 hasn’t been the greatest year for new commercial music; but of the 91 albums I’ve listened to, here are my top ten (in alphabetical order):

David Byrne: American Utopia
Johnny Marr: Call the Comet
Mogwai: Kin [Soundtrack]
Nils Frahm: All Melody
Ólafur Arnalds: re:member
Paul McCartney: Egypt Station
Paul Weller: True Meanings
Roger Eno: Dust of Stars
The Good, the Bad & the Queen: Merrie England
Tony Bennett & Diana Krall: Love Is Here to Stay

Although not a particular favourite, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino by the Arctic Monkeys deserves special mention. It features a rich sound embodying lounge pop, space pop, glam rock and psychedelic pop, as well as elements of jazz. It’s a major departure from the band’s previous guitar-heavy sound, an album less accessible than their previous work (which I prefer) and one which has divided fans.

My favourite live album is:
David Bowie: Welcome to the Blackout (Live London ’78)

Despite what I’ve said about commercial albums in 2018, it’s been another great year for independent music and (out of the 45 albums I’ve listened to) here are my top ten (again in alphabetical order):

Cousin Silas: Short Stories, Short Stories 2 & Short Stories 3 (3 albums as 1 choice)
Cousin Silas: Unlimited Boundaries
Cousin Silas & Kevin Buckland: Sacred Space
Cousin Silas & Kevin Lyons: The Fortean Project
Martin Neuhold: Embraced by Dusk
Martin Neuhold & Cousin Silas: Piano 2
Mixtaped Monk: Vacant Earth
Øystein Jørgensen: Sea Of Thoughts
Phillip Wilkerson: Reveries
Scott Lawlor: Remnants of Winter Memories

You can find my Bandcamp music collection here.

Let me know what you think about my favourites, and maybe share your favourites. Here’s already looking forward to what 2019 will bring.

Essential Albums and Musicians

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I use the opportunities that driving with the family provides to introduce my young children (well mainly Freddy aged 3 at the moment) to great music. This morning it was the classic Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys, previously we’ve listened to The Beatles and a few others.

I’ll probably leave it a while before introducing them to Metallica and Radiohead, for example, but what would you suggest is essential music they should be hearing at an early age? Not necessarily your favourites, but essential classics, albums and musicians. I look forward to your suggestions.

The Dark Side of the Moon

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I love music and have a very wide and eclectic taste, equally at home listening to Bach, Bartok or The Beatles. Purcell, Prokofiev or Pink Floyd.

There are certain albums that have become legendary and (quite possibly) changed the course of music history. The BeatlesSgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is clearly one, but so is Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon which celebrates its 45th anniversary this month (March 2018).

I well remember buying this album in vinyl with its iconic gatefold sleeve, which I poured over as I listened to this amazing music for the first time, wondering what a VCS3 was! Nothing quite like this had been heard before.

It’s the ultimate concept album; moving (through its roughly 43 minutes) from birth to death, describing the human condition. It still speaks to us today, and I expect people will be listening to this album long into the future. Life, time, fear, madness, money, war, suffering, solitude, withdrawal, selfishness, relationships, breakdowns, fame, politics and (ultimately) death.

Yet this merely touches the surface of what Pink Floyd manage to squeeze into this magnificent work. The themes are bleak and dark, yet the album is positive in the sense that it’s asking the listener to explore what it means to be human, to embrace our common humanity. There are some great lyrics.

At the end you hear a voice saying, “There is no dark side of the moon really, matter of fact it’s all dark”. To spiritualise it, this is a picture of a Good Friday world, with the possibility of new life, but lacking the means. During Lent and Holy Week Christians reflect on the death and resurrection of Jesus, with the means whereby the dark side of human nature might be redeemed. The following verses from the Bible speak about this possibility:

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Colossians 3:1-4 & 12-17 NIV

2017 Favourite Albums

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In 2017 I’ve listened to over 100 albums, mainly while working in the office at home, but occasionally I’ve had the luxury of simply relaxing and listening with headphones and a nice cuppa.

My top ten commercial albums are as follows (in alphabetical order):

Alison Krauss: Windy City
Björk: Utopia
Brian Eno: Reflection
Foo Fighters: Concrete and Gold
Jane Weaver: Modern Kosmology
Laura Marling: Semper Femina
Rick Wakeman: Piano Portraits
Robert Plant: Carry Fire
Sparks: Hippopotamus
The War On Drugs: A Deeper Understanding

The albums that just missed out reaching the top ten are the latest releases by Noel and Liam Gallagher. Let’s hope they overcome their differences and get together again soon, this would be sensational!

I’ve not listened to many live albums, but my favourite (with associated DVD) is David Gilmour: Live at Pompeii.

Whilst not being a particular favourite, I think Every Valley by Public Service Broadcasting deserves a special mention. It’s a concept album which focuses on a topic of modern history (like the band’s previous work), namely the mining industry in Wales, more specifically the rise and decline of the coal industry.

I listen, buy and download independent albums on Bandcamp, my top five are:

Cousin Silas: Landscapes
Cousin Silas & Martin Neuhold: Piano
Cousin Silas & Øystein Jørgensen: Coefficient of Variation
Linnea: Finding Light In The Dark
William Doyle: Lightnesses

Why not check these releases out and let me know what you think? Here’s looking forward to 2018’s new releases!

Favourite Albums of 2016 Part 1

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Widely regarded as a return to form, Dystopia by American heavy-metal band Megadeth is my number 10 album of the year. Back to their roots, and number 9 in my top ten, Blue & Lonesome by The Rolling Stones. Soulsville by the wonderful Beverley Knight comes in at number 8. Atomic by Scottish post-rock band Mogwai is number 7. A progressive rock marriage made in heaven, Invention of Knowledge by Jon Anderson & Roine Stolt is number 6 in my favourites. Sadly taken from us this year, number 5 is You Want It Darker by Leonard Cohen.

My top 3 features in a separate post. In any normal year the final album here would probably be my number 1, but for 3 outstanding albums released in 2016 which top it, so The Ship by Brian Eno is my number 4.