Skip to content

New music, September 2011

2011 September 16

Recently I bought some new albums for the first time in some while…

Me newest four CDs

Eat it, iPod?

And it has been quite a while, too.

The fact is, I’m a very visual person, which makes music something of a challenge for me to enjoy as an art. I cannot just sit and listen to something; I need some sort of visual stimulation or I’ll get bored and go do something else. (Also, I won’t listen to audio while I’m working out because I don’t like plastic plugs stuck in my ears.) Into my mid-teens, I don’t think I owned any music at all, and while I’ve built a nice collection since which I enjoy regularly, it’s easy to forget about new music.

Several years ago, for various reasons, I got interested in checking out “independent” music, and this resulted in a very fruitful period of music-discovery. Mostly through the CDbaby website, which was and remains a fantastic resource for discovering great sounds you would not have heard of otherwise. Through my researches into independent tunes I was introduced to some great artists, like Jennifer Marks (where have you gone?) and Crooked Still.

And yet… it’s so easy for me to forget about. I’ve got extensive lists of comics, of books and of movies to look into. But music, mm, it just seems to require more effort. Especially nowadays as I’m no longer commuting, on a regular basis, and so don’t really listen to the radio much. It’s just really easy to settle for the music I already have, plus one or two items that I happen to encounter and download online by chance. Do I need more music, really?

I think, probably, that the answer is “yes,” at least in the same way that I “need” travel, which is also easy to forget about, though in that case I realized a few years ago that the renewal from a good trip is well worth making an effort. I begin to think that the same is true of new music, also.

In any event, between 1) doing fairly well for the year and thus having money to spend and 2) a bit more driving than usual and thus a bit more interest in something to listen to, I recently decided I ought to go shopping for new music again.

I was determined to buy not only music but CDs, for reasons that I can probably go into another time, but in any event I logged into CDbaby for the first time in some while and started browsing around. The result was a package (or, technically, two packages) containing the above four albums. Some notes…

First of all, between four CDs, there’s not a single traditional “jewel case.” Most of these are plastic disc-holders between paperboard covers; one is just a paperboard envelope. And I’m entirely fine with that, really. Not only is it environmentally friendly, it’s probably every bit as good as the jewel case from the perspective of end-use, if not better; in truth the jewel case doesn’t seem to be good for very much, really. Is it just me? If you step on it the plastic will instantly crack and splinter, possibly damaging the disc rather than protecting it; cardboard by comparison will keep dust and dirt away from the disc while just harmlessly pressing against it if compressed.

As for these specific selections, may I also add that shopping for music is difficult, especially when you have eclectic tastes? In fairness, I’m not certain how eclectic my musical tastes are compared with most people my age or younger; I have a pretty broad range of tastes but they aren’t all-inclusive, and meanwhile the fragmentation of a dominant, “popular” music scene may mean that lots of young people are assembling eclectic catch-all music collections, too. I don’t know.

But I do know that it’s a challenge to begin looking for something, when searching a general catalog and uncertain exactly what kind of something one is looking for. So, with all respect to the old adage about “judging a book by its cover,” one of the ways I narrow down the selection is by looking for pleasing cover designs. Which might well seem less important if I were buying electronic-only music on iTunes, but in buying CDs in packages, which I will have on a shelf in my living room and constantly, physically and visually, present in my day-to-day life, I feel like it’s very reasonable to look for something well-designed, all other things being equal.

From that perspective, this selection of four albums has produced rather interesting results, really. Of course I listen to preview clips before buying an album, but I usually stop after three or four tracks, and those are only partial-track clips, so there’s certainly an element of surprise.

Of the four, for what it’s worth, I almost immediately took to The Acid Cowgirl Audio Trade by Salme Dahlstrom. I’m just slightly uneasy about the habit of describing music by comparing it to other, better-known, music, but even connoisseurs describe wines by referring to the flavors of other, completely-unrelated, foods, so… probably the most-useful description I can offer of Acid Cowgirl Audio Trade is that, if someone told you that Pink had a new album and played this for you, you might remark something like “going for more of a dance sound then, is she” but otherwise never suspect anything amiss.

Which, though I may risk offending two artists at once, I think is entirely fine. This album rocks. I have no aptitude for dance, but this has a sound to make me imagine one; it’s a thrashy, electrified blast of pop and better than a double-espresso for shaking off tiredness. I fell in love with this promptly after just one listen.

Whereas it took me a bit longer to warm to Liz Longley‘s Hot Loose Wire, though from a graphic design perspective I think this one’s the pick of the litter. I mean look at that cover; that rules. Though, it’s sort of funny at the same time, as it’s kind of a debatable design in the sense of an appropriate visual for this particular album.

I mean, since the second or third listen, I’ve come to really really like this album, but I’m not sure that “hot loose wire” is what would come to my mind in trying to describe it, either verbally or visually. If, again, I may turn to comparisons, “Tori Amos” or “Jewel Kilcher” (before she jumped ship from folksy to “glam-sexy pop diva”) would be among those descriptions I would reach for, way before I started thinking of a “live wire.”

Though, ultimately, Ms. Longley has quite a lot of range, in terms of both style and emotional range. (I really can’t judge her vocal range; I assume it’s good but I’m a graphic designer.) Hot Loose Wire includes what are, probably, two of the saddest songs in my entire music collection, but on the same album she also includes self-conscious, almost self-parodying humor, as well as a whole assortment of moods and sounds. Very happy with this purchase, and looking forward to more from the artist.

Skittish Voluptuous has probably taken the longest for me to form an opinion on. It’s okay; in terms of comparisons, Evanescence comes to mind and is probably a decent point of reference. This, though, it just kind of stays in the background, thus far, never quite really “soaring” in my opinion. Which is okay, and may well be entirely as intended; in any event that’s my opinion.

Honey from the Thorn is also “background” music, I would say, but in this case that’s sort of what I was expecting and so I’m more satisfied with the result. This is basically Old English music, so if by chance you happen to like “historic” sounds as I do, it might well be worth checking out.

It’s interesting that, per the included notes, English music from 1,000 years ago has come down to us today in very sparse, fragmented form, even compared with music of other societies from the same era. As a result, this work is partially speculative re-creation as well as revival. Which is the case with a lot of “ancient” music, I’ve noticed, and not surprisingly; we’ve only had sound recordings for slightly more than a century and even systematic musical notation only goes back, what, a few centuries, I think.

So, artists have to imagine in many cases, and that’s fine with me; if it sounds appropriate then that’s good enough for me, at least as a recreational consumer of music rather than a scholarly historian. So I think this album will be nice to have, especially as music to read by; there are some vocal numbers but as they are in Old English and therefore pretty much incomprehensible to you and me, they’re just sound and don’t distract from what one might be reading. I have a recent translation of Beowulf I picked up a while ago, and have been waiting for colder weather to sit down and crack open; when I do this will probably be the perfect accompaniament.

Comments are closed.