Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Keaton Henson - Birthdays [2013]

So, soup died on us a month or so ago. And then it rose from the dead, forgetting everything up to spring 2015. All you 2016 haters, see what you’ve done. The good thing, however, is discovering once again the things we loved back then. And as I stumbled on Keaton Henson’s quote, I felt the same astonishment I felt two years ago. Not only is he pretty in his sadness, he’s also (quite) good with words.

The words that initially caught my attention were:
If you must fight
Fight with yourself and your thought in the night
If you must work
Work to leave some part of you on this earth
If you live darling one
Just live

Cliche, I guess, just like lost and unfulfilled loves that are the main subject of Henson Birthdays’ songs. The album offers some musical diversity, toying with heavier and more aggressive sounds in Kronos (I'd give you all I have / If I could get it back) and cannibalistically optimistic Milk Teeth (One day you'll drink from my bones), but it’s mostly simple and ethereally ascetic, serving merely as background to Henson’s trembling voice and the words of his poetry.

To me, it’s Norwegian mornings in my memory, brisky, but dreamy, cold, but with a warm edge, simple but rich in meaning. Smiling when sarcastic and sad, but melancholic when expressing happiness. I fell in love with looping You, respected Lying to You, nodded “just like me” in Beekeeper (Tact from me is like blood from a stone - but well, I’m working on it) and screamed “preach it” in If I Don’t Have To.

It’s not the kind of music that will sweep you of your feet with its complexity. But if you feel like enjoying something which is simple, but not cheap, try it.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Caspian - Waking Season [2012]

Three years ago I told you about depressive winter 2013 in Berlin, this time we travel back to early spring Oslo 2015, a time of hope, amazing meetings and complete infatuation. Infatuation with yet another work of Caspian that I dared call my favourite (that was until I heard Dust and Disquiet, what a beautiful habit of them to give me a new favourite every few years) and infatuation with this peaceful and seemingly ascetic country, to me so vibrant with life, subtle emotions and incredible art. And the companion to that journey was Waking Season, first heard in 2012, fully loved in early 2015.
While I generally prefer company during longer travels, I long for the moments when I ditch it and wander in these new places completely alone. And so I was, on a wintery Sunday evening, strolling through Tøyen with my ears full of music and eyes full of… anxiety.
Waking Season is very much like the overwhelming feeling of beauty and harmony, the growing excitement of discovering a new place that will stick to your thoughts. Porcellous - seeing your discovery more clearly, distinguishing real beauty from fake gold and growing confident in your love. It is of amazing strength like determined, dependable love. Gone in Bloom and Bough are the sunny mornings on the road.  Legs are willing, mind is calm and road is long. Heart gets teary…”  - I noted back then. 
I have since returned to this album many times, somehow always ending up listening to it while out and high on feelings. Compared to other works of Caspian, Waking Season may seem more spacy and fleeting. The fact that I associate it with winter is sort of ridiculous, given that everything here is slowly rising, blooming and very spring like. Still, somehow it introduces new hope to gloomy, depressive Januaries. 
Maybe I’m the only one thinking “this year can’t be as good as the last one” and drowning in almost-giving-up, but if you’re there too, see if Caspian wakes you up. By Hickory ‘54 I’m usually rising my head and asking the stars to beat the clouds.

Friday, 28 October 2016

The Witcher music

I can’t remember the world without the Witcher. Being Polish and about as old as The Sword of Destiny, I was always aware of Geralt, at first learning about him from my dad and aunt, and seeing simple white covers with single-coloured stripes all around, later, reading the books myself, (probably much too early), loving Ciri and being sort of disgusted with the neverending drama of Geralt and Yen (much too early, told you). Still, I only got into games 3 years ago, when I rested after an operation and needed distraction (and they are the best distraction in the world, proved by all games completed 4 times).

Responsible for soundtrack to the latest games were Marcin Przybyłowicz and Mikolai Stroinski, also joined by Piotr Musiał in Blood and Wine, and by Percival, Polish folk-metal band (think Eluveitie but heavier and crazier), in all three works. And as much as I enjoy the games, I urge you, even if you are not a gamer, try the music alone. It completely dominated my playlist in the recent months, and rightly so, as it has everything one may desire from daily music companion.

So let’s make a reference point list! If you are looking for:

Action - check Silver for Monsters… & ...Steel for Humans - the most characteristic feature of witchers is the fact that they carry two swords. While all Percival songs are amazing, these two show two very different faces of this story - Silver is the chase, wildness, entrancing dance and fear creeping at your shoulder, Steel smells of sweat, heavy weapons and hostility. Choose for yourself which one will be more helpful fighting Mondays.

Vikings - go to Spikeroog and King Bran's Final Voyage - with Skellige being the land modeled after Scandinavia (and to some extent Scotland), its two introductory music tales are properly winterly, moderate in words and spectacular in its actions and nature, vibrant with underlying emotions. To me - definitely top of the list. While Spikeroog calms and sooths, King Bran's Final Voyage is seriously the most sublime, honoring and yet humble melody ever.

Game of Thrones - Emhyr var Emreis, Witch Hunters - the game plot takes place in a shadow of a great war and it’s really interesting to see how themes related to two rulers are very similar in their thrilling, spying and merciless style of terror and yet, how much they differ - with Emhyr’s subtlety, depth and growing waves of threats and simple, blind cruelty of Radovid’s Witch Hunters.

Wise love - The Wolf And The Swallow - The Witcher saga and the third game could be summed up as Father, monster slayer, seeks his lost daughter - a princess and monster slayer in training - and fights everybody who stands in his way - monsters, monarchs, wizards and a surprising amount of side quests). Seriously though, I can’t imagine capturing complexity of desperation, worrying about loved one and homesickness accompanying parent-child love better than this song does it. That said, Geralt is the father of not year, but eternity. Also, SPOILER ALERT for gamers, this was the first scene that caught me off-guard and left me crying like a little girl I am. And gets me every. single. time.

Epic Fights - Welcome, Imlerith, Ladies of the Woods and Eredin, King Of The Hunt - I am not overly fond of either of main story big bosses, I found book Eredin annoying and we don’t get much back story of Imlerith. However Imlerith music theme always scares me a bit, and Ladies of the Woods scare me… a lot. Ok, so here is scary confrontation music for you.

Ghost story - Whatsoever A Man Soweth… - while the main theme of Hearts of Stone is thrilling on its own, it is this slowed-down version with exposed strings, slight reverb and ghost-like moans that fully reflects the sad loneliness, hopelessness and remorse. Also Go Back Whence You Came. Seriously, you should listen to these songs before going to confession, I recommend!

Cool languages - apart from Polish and English you can also hear old Belarussian (The Song of the Sword-Dancer), Scots (The Fields of Ard Skellig), Bulgarian (...Steel for Humans) and Croatian (Widow-Maker). And they do it oh-so-great!

Awesome trailer music - Sword of Destiny - a powerful combination of fight/hunt sequences, Lullaby of Woe - have you ever felt sorry for a vampire? The song is a tender, yet morbid in lyrics, lullaby, which will give you goosebumps. Also, if you are playing - look out for its cameo in the latest expansion.

The love song we are all humming - Wilcza Zamieć aka Wolven Storm, sung by female bard, Priscilla, and telling the story of Geralt and Yennefer’s romance. I do encourage you to listen to the Polish version as it’s nicer vocally, but there are so many language versions, that you can check them all.

Twisted France - with the last expansion set in quasi-France, countryside, names and its entire OST bear a lot of French blinks of an eye. One such example may be On The Banks of The Sansretour, the other…

The creepiest accordion you’ll ever hear - Seeking Resonance and On The Champs-Désolés - if accordion makes you think of lousy old folk and wedding music, go listen to these two and see for yourself. Simply horror tunes. Wine Wars also has nice accordion, but it’s not THAT scary.

Weird fight music - I Cannot Let You Live, Tesham Mutna - one of the best things about Blood and Wine are these crazy broken-rhythm, squawked-sung pieces. And vampires. Who under no circumstances shine insunlight.

Bonus: Since all Witcher soundtracks are amazing, I give you my favourite Witcher song ever: Dwarven Stone Upon Dwarven Stone. If you happen to find yourself in Polish mountains and see a girl playing and singing it - big chances it’s me.

10 steps to an obsession

You may have heard about this tiny hip-hop musical, beating world record in the number of Tony Awards. You may have also heard about Alexander Hamilton, the guy on the 10 dollar bill, one of the America's Founding Fathers. Or maybe not. After 8 months of a friend's nagging me to listen to it, I finally gave up and said I’d try, even though neither musicals nor rap are really my thing. And it took only 10 songs to make me (slightly) obsess about it.

But for some spoilers trailers of the story, some possible tags include: smart orphan(s), bromancing, intense studying, dueling and (sometimes) dying, enlightenment feminists, men being unreliable with the ladies, guns and ships, perfecting law, comma sexting, intense burns, bad decisions, even more bad decisions, good politics, beatboxing mothers, omnipresent male rivalry, sisters before misters.

Number one!
Wait For It – imagine it’s the middle of summer and your city is hosting World Youth Days, with everyone on the verge of panicking because of the risk of a terrorist attack is said to be higher than usual. And you run the streets in the evening, singing loud and proud death doesn’t discriminate between the sinners and the saints... One day I will get myself into some serious trouble. This was the first (and only) song I liked after listening to Act 1 of Hamilton for the first time. Simple but fresh in its rhythm&melody and emotional in its lyrics, it was really easy to like and remember it. Also when you realize that Burr (great Leslie Odom Jr.) was a grandson of Jonathan Edwards, (a well-known 18th c. fire and brimstone preacher), oh, the joy of English majors!

Number two!
I am not throwing away My Shot! Although parts of it are incredibly hard to sing along to, this song is a true anthem and motto of every ambitious nerd rising from less-than-ideal conditions to fulfill his dreams and succeed. It also has some of the best interactions between characters, funniest lyrics and the greatest self-motivator:
I’m past patiently waitin’. I’m passionately
Smashin’ every expectation
Every action’s an act of creation!
I’m laughin’ in the face of casualties and sorrow
For the first time, I’m thinkin’ past tomorrow

Number three!
With all its beauty and intelligent lyrics, this song (or a person you'll identify the story with) will never leave you Satisfied. I cannot imagine an (overly) ambitious, sensitive woman not seeing herself at Angelica’s place enjoying intellectual connection and fascination:
So this is what it feels like to match wits
With someone at your level! What the hell is the catch? It’s
The feeling of freedom, of seein’ the light.
As heartbreaking as this song is, it is also highly addictive in its complicated melody.

Number four!
Non-Stop is the closing point of the first act of the musical. And it indeed forces you to play it again and again. This song is pure fun, both musically and lyrically and a great source of sassy lines for further use – can you brag like Hamilton does in here (I practised the law, I practically perfected it...)? It is also very (physically) moving, regularly changing the rhythm and quickly becoming my favorite cooking&dancing song.

I’ve been reading Common Sense by Thomas Paine
So men say that I’m intense or I’m insane
You want a revolution? I want a revelation!
Well, this quote speaks for itself. The Schuyler Sisters have really great songs (and personalities) and their introduction, amidst the cheesiest pickup lines, is awesome! Wow! making sure we see them as such. Also, a really great song to sing with friends.

Number six!
What’d I Miss
Ok, so this musical is highly critical of Jefferson, and I actually really like him for a number of reasons (while still being aware also of his faults). Daveed Diggs, playing the future president, puts all to shame with his gift for music. But to the point: Jefferson songs all „draw on old-school African American genres like ragtime, boogie-woogie and other Southern jazz flavors that pay homage to his Virginian loyalties”* and It. Is. So. Great.

Cabinet Battle #1 & #2
So this is pure rap. This is also a brilliant lesson in politics at the time and of Jefferson-Hamilton conflict, a river of allusions and beautiful phrases (once again, all linguists get sooo happy), and a manual on how not act in a debate (so many ad persona arguments, shame on you, gentlemen, shame on me for enjoying that so much). And yet, the #burns in these songs are so hot!

Number eight!
Yorktown. One of, if not the most important, if not the single most important  battle in the history of America. Big emotions, a lot of pride, sadness, spacy music and great words. It took me some time to really appreciate it, but it is indeed the high point of the musical, and while I love the playful talk between Hamilton and Lafayette and Mulligan-bomb at the beginning of it, it is Washington’s hard Not. Yet. that roots the song and the story in history. After all, even if we try to forget it, we know well that great victories in battles often have little effect on the eventual end of violence.

Number nine!
All of Johnathan Groff’s songs. Yes, I'm cheating. You may know him from Glee but I enjoyed him in the reindeer song in Frozen. He is also said to be one of the funniest actors in the musical, even though his parts total ~7 minutes. Well, little or much time, I find his cheerful expression of I will kill your friends and family to remind you of my love hilarious and WILL nail it one day.

Number ten!
Although the second half of the story is predominantly sad or bitter, in my list I somehow mostly picked the happy/intellectual songs. But as the last song that cemented my obsession I should probably point out It’s Quiet Uptown. It may seem less impressive, but yet this change of dynamics, musical minimalism, redemption and forgiveness (so unfashionable and rare in today’s world, in all circumstances) in Eliza and Alexander's relationship always moves me. / But also Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story and Eliza’s final big reveal..! /

So this is a summarized story of my obsession. To be honest, I grew to like every single song on the album (maybe with the exception of Say No To This as I am too angry with Hamilton to enjoy the song) and though I remember well the first excitement of singing Wait For It and Satisfied while running, choosing the latter songs was incredibly hard. When I think of all the amazing lines like these: (
Here’s an itemized list of thirty years of disagreements
/ Sweet Jesus
/ Hey, I have not been shy
I am just a guy in the public eye
Tryin’ to do my best for our republic )… well, simply put - if you feel open-minded and a little bit interested in history, go and give Hamilton a try!

* http://genius.com/Lin-manuel-miranda-whatd-i-miss-lyrics

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Music that shaped me

Half a year ago I was asked to list 12 albums which were of most influence and importance to the shaping of my music taste (and, dare I say, personality). While I believe this to be a cruel task that’s nearly impossible to answer objectively, after much thought I’ve come up with a tentative answer and a playlist which I guess I may start using as my go-to reference: “What do I listen to? Go and read / listen.” Pink Floyd — The Dark Side of the Moon Although I consider Wish You Were Here (album) the best work of Pink Floyd, I guess TDSotM deserves that place due to my parents declaring that my father played it to my infant self (a very active child) to calm me down. It later helped me connect with people who would make the best team of high school friends I could imagine. Joaquín Rodrigo — Concierto de Aranjuez My very first experience with live music was Waldemar Gromolak, a great Polish guitarist, playing Concierto de Aranjuez. He left my 8-year-old self speechless twice, first because of his performance and then second by his showing incredible kindness when he talked to me backstage. He made sure that even though I did not become a classic guitarist, I would always think of Rodrigo with love and inspiration. Shakira — Grandes Éxitos Shakira became internationally famous when I was nine. Since I was already a little hipster, I fell in love with her Spanish songs. I was fascinated by the rhythms and playfulness of this music, so different from the classic pieces I studied at music school and classic rock my parents listened to. It also inspired me to learn the language really well and heavily influenced my early ideas of romantic love. Clint Mansell — The Fountain Film music goes great with reading and studying, and as bookworm, I was always surrounded by plenty of it. Mansell was always top of the list, and few films had better score than The Fountain. Though I’ll have Preisner, Marianelli, Tiersen, Einaudi, and recently Djawadi, know that I love them very much as well! Opeth — Morningrise By the time I was 16, I was already pretty hooked up on metal, but mostly the kind I would hear on the German channel Viva Plus (i. e. Rammstein and Within Temptation, whom I loved, or System of the Down, which I despise). Hearing Morningrise for the first time left me thunderstruck and in awe of Opeth’s skill in combining a wall of sound with gentle melodies, incredible acoustic guitars and such diverse clean and growled vocals. Though later on they would break my heart with Heritage, Opeth gave me a lot of my firsts, including my first metal concert, first music festival and the opportunities to meet some of my favourite people in the world. Anathema — Alternative 4 I could name any Anathema album as important to me, with their Anyone, Anywhere being the first song I arranged and played in public, Thin Air defining my early stages of being in love and lyrics of Angelica which I still use as my personal motto. But it was Alternative 4 and its uncompromising, raw grief that was the only music that was of any use to me when I faced my first losses and was coming to terms with mortality and fragility of life and love. Philip Glass — Violin Concerto / Prelude and Dance from Akhnaten / Company Glass might not be the most original contemporary composer but I really love this album, especially the Akhnaten parts. This piece, together with Glassworks, remind me of my probably favourite TV series, Battlestar Galactica and are what I call good entrancing (if repetitive) music. Caspian — You Are The Conductor Do you remember when last.fm had a cool design and UX, and promoted unknown bands by playing their songs for free? Quovis/Further Up/Further In was the first ever song I downloaded from last.fm and the first post-rock I heard. Since then, Caspian has remained my most trustworthy band, producing my new favourite album of theirs every few years. They are also incredible performers, and I cannot believe my luck that I got to see them play live with God Is an Astronaut and Tides From Nebula soon after the latter released their debut album. Archive — Controlling Crowds I first heard Controlling Crowds on the day of my mid-way high school party; I then spent the whole evening shaking with emotion and intellectual pleasure rather than dancing. I cannot imagine Archive writing a better album, even though I love all their works. CC amazes on all levels, from unbelievably good music to the message of its lyrics, which becomes more striking and accurate with each year. Alcest — Souvenirs d'un autre Monde & Écailles de lune Two albums, two very different sides of the band shown in them, the summer of my coming of age, sun, dreaming and learning French to better understand the meaning of these lyrics. I would begin my days to Souvenirs and fall asleep to the words of Sur l'océan couleur de fer. I still do that sometimes. 2TM2,3 — Dementi The only Polish album to stay with me throughout the years. The songs are basically beautifully arranged acoustic versions of the Psalms and there is something about them that makes me come back again and again, maybe not often, but with a great deal of admiration. Starofash — The Thread I’m not very partial to female vocals (sic, given that I sing a lot myself) and although I respect most works by Anneke van Giersbergen or PJ Harvey, and I love Fever Ray, it was only with Heidi Solberg Tveitan aka Ihriel aka Star of Ash/Starofash, that I felt some sort of connection. Her music is simple yet meaningful, much like the haikus she loves. She often sings poems of Emily Dickinson and doing justice to Dickinson’s works can’t get better than that.

You can listen to some of the songs from these albums here.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Push the Sky Away [2012]

Winter 2013. To say I’m dissatisfied with my life is a misunderstanding. I'm in the process of redefining myself and find comfort in few things when I decide to hit the road again. And so it happens that cold German highways are the place where I hear Push the Sky Away for the very first time. 

Over the years I considered Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds interesting, but a bit too flashy for my taste. Some songs were nice, but the albums as a whole were usually too much. Push the Sky Away amazes me till today. It embraces musical minimalism, focusing on slow loops and simple strings, laying emphasis on Cave’s theatrical singing that sometimes even seems real. And in this cold honesty it made a nice company for my journey to Berlin.

The opening We Know Who U R could be a hymn from social media to me and you, my poor lost souls. Seriously though, it is a tale rather sweet in its sadness, with a bitter taste of the ascetic sound. Lyrically, I love how nature (or simply – trees) represents the numbness typical to how many people nowadays feel and how Cave’s “we” are those who crack during daytime and wander without any sense only to find the light in the evening. Given that it is a common routine of people struggling with early stages of depression, I’d dare to say the song can be seen as a way of recognising this illness.

Wide Lovely Eyes is a simple, lovely goodbye of the lovers. Nothing bad, but also nothing special. On Water’s Edge the mating rituals of young generation are being reinvented. Cave is making it sound slightly horror-like and the music makes me drift off to the memories of Berlin’s Ringbahn at dawn, passing empty stations, poor neighbourhoods and barely awake people. 

Jubilee Street shows melody and pace perfect for strolling around. It unwinds slowly like a disillusioned cigarette smoke on the winter morning, so common on the western streets. This song visualises all the loneliness of the life in the city and dishonesty of our lifestyles. It’s a subtle story of love, obsession and learning. I really like the I ought to practice what I preach message, after all, shouldn’t we all? wouldn’t the world be a better place if we did?

Mermaids has great atmosphere of loveliness and slow acceptance of missing a lover. The lyrics are mostly a small catastrophe though. We Real Cool once again proves Wikipedia as a disastrous inspiration for wording, but it does sound good with its calm desire, and arising but controlled anxiety. Finishing Jubilee Street has a quite different sound than its beginning, being relatively cheerful (just like me after a few hours of travelling).

Can't remember anything at all
Flame trees line the streets
Can't remember anything at all
But I'm driving my car down to …
this opening of Higgs Boson Blues pretty much sums up its meaning as a gorgeous stream of consciousness / road song. Driving in slow motion, lazy thoughts  – isn’t it the essence of travelling alone? The singer wishes to teach, and back during my first listening, I wish to learn and hear all he says about the destruction caused by white men. It’s a good story and it breaks my heart to co-feel the heartbeat of all our common misdoings. 

It’s not healthy to cling on to these feelings for too long though. As they say finishing the album,
You've got it, just keep on pushing and, keep on pushing and
Push the sky away
Good words, and I add – don’t forget about the feelings. But focus on action. Will it cure the depression? No. But if you’re better and you keep on doing good things that bring you happiness, perhaps it will take it more time to strike back. And if you're on the road, make the most of it.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Crib45 - Metamorphosis [2009]

Some music requires our patience. Some requires growing up and developing more subtle sensitivity. It took me about 6 years to fully appreciate Crib45’s Metamorphosis. Man, have I grown.

There are 3 things that can make or break a rising post metal band. An idea for riffs and melody, interesting drums and sensible vocals(&lyrics). Crib45 gets an A in this class. There are also 3 things that can make or break any genre. Idea, mystery and emotion. As you may guess, they get an A in this one too. So, all you need to do is understand the importance of these points and go listen. Or you can read further as I prove them right;)

As an IT girl and a feminist I should find it hard to say – but this is truly an unbelievably male (and positive in this masculinity) album. Not just because few girls enjoy post metal, but because it presents a very (clever kind of) male approach to words and to the music (little emotion, but how intense). Even though the message shows pain and vulnerability, it is packed in a strong, confident and not at all aggressive sounds. And well, considering the title, I like to see this story as telling of passage from boy to man.

The album opens with The Chant, a song alike its’ title – glorious, harmonious and with a slight touch of monastery atmosphere. And this is a right feeling, as the lyrics are a call – to be guided, guarded, led, redeemed and liberated. The journey towards transformation begins when you manage to focus, liberate your thoughts and allow guidance. 

And when you move to Passage you are clear to explore your mind and to be reborn. The confident force that is waking corresponds well with the inner sense of harmony (the amazing distorted guitar bridges).
Zahir, The Ghosts Among Me and Province are the core and the heart of the composition. Like a male heart they seem harsh at first, only to reveal an incredible strength and sensitivity of spirit and surrender to the pain that few men would admit to feel. Zahir is almost a ballad with moving chorus, reflection on the “ferocious gravity” and rise from despair to hope. 

The Ghosts Among Me is a passionate tale of guitars and drums broken by a sensual wind solo that subtly visualizes that inside the stability of main phrase
They still haunt me
The words that never left me

Province (of the soul) is the most complex composition with its dreamy, almost post-rocky roaming through these distant lands, the struggle with the night, road and abandonment and incredible saxophone hymn of hope. This trip is the essence of masculinity to me. Or of a journey. Or both.

The Last Breath despite its serious, and seemingly depressing sound shows that life lasts as long as you work on it, as you build and construct and improve what you are. Well, what’s more liberating than building yourself?

This weird interpretation of mine might not appeal to you, but seriously, go listen. And when you enjoy it, check the follow-up Marching Through The Borderlines. We should make them as loved as Cult of Luna, I'm telling you!