Bavarian Forest Sonata
PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash
The Artists Pushing the Limits of Sound
SO much of what we hear today…
IN THIS PHOTO: Kamasi Washington/PHOTO CREDIT: Press/Getty Images
is all about forcing notes down the throat and sort of ‘getting to the point’. They say people can judge a song in the first thirty seconds: after that, they will stay with it or skip onto the next one. At a time when we are streaming music and buying albums in digital form; we tend to pick and choose our songs based on the first few seconds and whether they strike a chord. People buy albums but we are much more involved with single songs and browsing the full library of music. Even if we do buy a record; we tend to have our favourite tracks and gravitate towards certain tones. Pop music is changing and, even though it will not relinquish its spot in the forefront; the style that is being projected by its biggest newcomers has altered. More mature and inward-looking artists are writing about personal anxieties and pressures: we have more traditional Pop numbers but the whole music is changing, in fact. Even if there are shifts happening in every genre; there is still that thirty-second-rule: get the people hooked, either by energy and hooks or something beautiful and meaningful. Because of this, I am seeing that dependence on vocals and the power of the voice. Lyrics are important but, largely, we concentrate on the vocal and what it can deliver.
Even when we are hooked to the music – a chunky riff or pulsating percussion; some great, electronic rush or coda – we rarely get chance to indulge in the music and get blown away. Maybe we are less patient as a people or prefer our music tighter and less experimental. I want to mention a few artists: Kamasi Washington, Hannah Peel and Goat. The latter is a Swedish fusion group whose current album, Fuzzed in Europe, was met with critical acclaim. The single, Let It Burn, has been doing the rounds on radio and is a fantastically imaginative and galloping work with its tribal drums and epic build. It has the sound of a modern-day Progressive-Rock song. The way it goes through phases and grows larger and more animalistic. Goat have created something that relies on compositional brilliance; taking the listener somewhere wonderful and producing one of the finest singles of the year so far. You listen to a song like Let It Burn and you can feel that cinematic and dramatic sensation. The song was specifically written for the climactic scene in the short film, Killing Gävle. The six-minute-plus fuzzed-out gem has those rollicking drums and ‘fuzzwah’ guitar sounds; a bit of fuzzy bass and epic flute breakdown. Leading to the string-heavy final; it is a biblical and staggering thing that does not need to rely on layers of production and vocals.
IN THIS PHOTO: Hannah Peel/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
Another artist, Hannah Peel, used brass and Classical elements in her music. Whereas Goat’s latest track is primal and urgent; Peel opens up more and creates something spacey and intergalactic. Her 2017 album, Mary Casio: Journey to Cassiopeia was a critical success and is a seven-track release that takes us through the cosmos and provokes images of the stars, planets and galaxies. It relies on the imagination and the listener’s willingness to succumb to the music. It is hard to say what genre (the music is) but the Northern Irish artist has taken Electronic music in new directions. The songs, or ‘movements’, use traditional colliery brass and it explores one person’s exploration to outer-space. It is documents an elderly, pioneering Electronic music stargazer and her lifelong dream to leave her Yorkshire home in Barnsley and see Cassiopeia. The record was recorded live in the Barnsley Civic and combines analogue synths and some incredible brass. One listens to the song and you are immersed in the soundscapes and wonderful twists and turns. It is a physical experience; Mary Casio: Journey to Cassiopeia takes the listener by the hand and brings them into this starry, magical world. It does not need to rely on voices and traditional guitar-bass-drum combinations. I have heard few composers like Hannah Peel who can take brass and Electronic sounds and make them accessible and wonderful. Maybe there are a few likeminded artists around right now: I have not seen anyone who possesses the same imagination and brilliance.
Heaven and Earth is the upcoming album, a sixteen-track release, and will be out towards the end of June. It is his first new album in a few years and shows he has lost none of his step. Fists of Fury is the lead-off track from the record and has been getting some radioplay right now. The fact it is over nine minutes means few will regularly play it. No matter, though; the song is a stunning and expansive work that features choral vocals and spirited horns. It is hard to put into words – you can hear the song a bit further down – and is proof Washington is among the finest composers and musical minds we have right now. If Hannah Peel is bringing Electronic music to new worlds; Goat are doing something radical with drums and more conventional instruments/genres – Washington is bringing Jazz to new heights. There are those who turn their nose at up at Jazz music and feel all of it holds no merit. I am not a huge fan of the genre but have always appreciated how the masters of the form can settle the mood and elevate the spirits; seduce the mind and get the blood rushing – sometimes, in the space of a single song! Kamasi Washington mixes the more ambitious and epic moments of Miles Davis but, in reality, stands out in a league of his own. It will be interesting seeing how Heaven and Earth will be received.
There are some great artists out there but, to me, there are few as scintillating and mesmeric as Nils Frahm. So far, I have brought you wonderful Swedish, British and American music: let us bring a German genius into the mix. One of my favourite discoveries is Frahm and his brilliant album, All Melody. It was released earlier this year and is another record that has picked up rave reviews. This year has seen some immense albums – everyone from Goat Girl to Kasey Musgraves – but they are more of what you’d expect from modern music. Frahm is someone who works with Electronic music but is a modern-day Classical composer. He can do dramatic and stirring: it is when he is at his most romantic and tender the shivers start and the jaw drops. Listen to a song like My Friend the Forest (below) and you can see what I mean. Frahm is an unconventional composer who mixes grand and upright piano; a Roland Juno-60 and Rhodes piano with Moog Taurus and drum machines. It is the way he manages to blend keys and Classical periods that amazes me. A song like My Friend the Forest is so sparse and open. You can hear him pressing on the foot pedal and the odd clatter and hiss of the tape; it is as naked and revealing a performance as you will hear all year.
Forever Changeless and All Melody are tracks that play with sound and mix styles with incredible conviction and brilliance – the latter is an Electronic number that departs from what one might usually expect. You’d think an album that pushes those contrasts and extremes together would not work and hang together. Everything flows purely – the only minor fault is Frahm’s treatment of the human voice and how it is less effective than anything else on the album. I have highlighted these artists because they rely on compositions and throw few vocals into the mix. We often listen to music and know what to expect. There will be vocals at some point and lyrics we can learn from; the songs are usually quite short and, when it is over, we can move onto something else. How many of us take the time to sit down and engage with a song that runs a little longer and emphasises compositional elements? It is no coincidence that Goat’s new single is being tipped as a year-best; Kamasi Washington is being hailed as a pioneer – musicians who go the extra mile and change the rules. I have only mentioned four artists but they represent a wider point. Many of us overlook sonic pieces and artists who engage the imagination and suck us into their worlds. I am obsessed with sound and, in a scene where we want something quick and familiar; these are the artists who rebel against that and produce mind-melting, knee-buckling works. Take a moment to think about the music we listen to and whether we take time to investigate musicians who place emphasis on composition. Take a listen to the songs included in this piece and try and argue against the fact that they are wonderful…
IN THIS PHOTO: Nils Frahm/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
WORKS of brilliance.