Mr Ousby here. Music is one of the main ways I keep myself sane most of the time! It's been especially important to me during the last few weeks and I'm really missing teaching music at school. I'm going to share some of the songs I've been listening to a lot and maybe you'll love them too, maybe you'll find them interesting, maybe you'll think I'm weird! I don't really mind. I'll try and post some new ones each week and put a little bit of context about the artist and why I particularly enjoy them. Where possible, I've posted live performances so it's engaging for the eyes as well as the ears. Hope you find something you love!
It's always a challenge to make electronic music feel organic or natural but this album definitely achieves it - especially in its use of vocals and atmosphere. The beat drops in around 1:30 and I'm hooked from there really!
I love Vampire Weekend - the album that this song comes from is an embarrassment of riches but this is my favourite song. The synthesis of different styles of music feels playful and totally seamless. I also like that, once you get past the catchy melodies and upbeat feel of many of the songs, the lyrics are often pretty deep and philosophical, littered with biblical and literary references.
When I settle down with my book set in the days of Henry VIII, I like a fully immersive experience so I put my headphones on and listen to Tudor era music as I read. I heard this piece of music (YouTube the full 25 minutes if you enjoy this excerpt!) and I stopped reading. It's heartstoppingly beautiful in places - the polyphony (many voices) overlapping and echoing each other is so fantastically complex. I am in awe of the composers who can do this!
Miles Davis is a jazz legend - this performance of the opening track off his seminal album 'Kind of Blue' shows you why.
Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) is a passionate performer with an instantly recognisable voice. His music encompasses solo, insular acoustic singer-songwriter to collaborative, experimental electronic. Here, he arranges a song for a purely vocal performance. It gives me goosebumps!
I'm sure you've always wondered what would happen if a rock band and a string quartet got together? GY!BE from French Canada might be the answer - working with dynamics to build tension to explosive and highly satisfying finales (as in 9:15 of this video).
A characteristically bonkers music video from the dictionary definition of 'idiosyncratic' - Kate Bush. This song has it all for me - emotion, a sample from an old Hammer Horror film, vulnerability and honesty - a deeply literate and complex love song. She's a genius.
I saw Sufjan in Brighton a few years ago. I think he's got a lovely voice and he's a virtuoso multi-instrumentalist and composder - so talented. This song's from the album he made after his mother died - it's incredibly personal and vulnerable and how he found the courage to perform these live, I don't know! Wait for the a capella harmonies at the end - goosebumps galore!
I love this performance - it's all the more powerful that Nick Cave recorded many of the songs on this album in the immediate aftermath of the tragic death of his teenage son. I'm sure certain lyrics of this song (essentially a break-up song) took on new, devastating meanings for him and you can practically hear his grief. His drummer does a great, restrained job of giving this song's rich instrumentation an empty undertone. I'm blown away by his bravery at continuing to perform and make music in the aftermath of something so terrible.
A blistering live performance in front of the stillest audience I'm sure they ever played to! Ramones were everything a punk band should be: fast, loud and basic. There's a lot of unfair criticism of the musical skill of punk musicians - but to play this accurately, at this speed, whilst jumping around with hair so long you can't see anything - it takes skill!
I visited New York with Sarah a few years ago (before we had the kids!) and first came across this piece of music and the video in the 9/11 museum there. It was devastating. William Basinski works with tape loops to create long, hypnotic pieces of music. The difference with this piece is that, as he was recording the tape loop to a computer, it started to disintegrate. Over the hour - get comfy! - it takes, you hear this melancholy, brass instrument loop (originally recorded off a late night, easy-listening radio station in New York), break down and fill with silence. He finished it around the time September 11th 2001 happened and made this video himself from a friend's apartment balcony showing the smoke and ash from the collapsed World Trade Centre. It's a beautiful meditation, deeply sad, and is now a permanent part of the 9/11 museum.
Unlike many people, I don't begrudge Dylan for 'going electric' at all! Any artist has to follow their gut and shed fans if they're not prepared to follow. There's no denying that there's something pure and wonderful about early work like this, just him, the guitar and harmonica. He's a lyrical genius (as his recent Nobel Prize for Literature confirms) but I sort of think his unconventional voice grows on you after a while. He's still releasing music too! A new song about the assassination of President Kennedy was released to help his fans get through lockdown about a month ago. If my dad was offered the chance to save my life or Bob Dylan's, I know the choice he'd make and I can't really fault him for it!
Nils Frahm from Berlin blends electronic and classical music perfectly - I love how he creates such variety and a sense of going somewhere in 'Says' despite its reliance on a repetetive arpeggio from a synthesiser. The 5-plus minute build-up before you get some development means that when it comes, it feels totally transcendent. Seeing the amount of feeling he puts into performance (and wondering what all those buttons and knobs he's messing with actually do!) make him really watchable - always a challenge for electronic musicians.
A few years ago, me and Sarah played this album to death on holiday in the Cotswolds and it always takes me back there! You can't stop watching the lead singer, the magnificently-named Samuel T. Herring. His unexpected death-metal roars, his theatrical chest-thumping, his preaching to the crowd, his gravity-defying dancing - he might be the most charismatic and unusual frontman I've ever seen.
Mary Lattimore's trippy harp-playing underlaid with electronics is somewhere I find a lot of peace and beauty.
This guy creates wonderful, minimalist piano music which is the perfect backdrop for report writing that I've been doing this week! I love the atmosphere of his playing outside in this video. His album 'No Home of the Mind' which uses other instruments to support his ambient piano is a regular for when I want to relaxing or zone out.
Julie Byrne's distinctive voice and her finger-picked guitar playing leave me in awe! As a guitar player, imagining being able play like that whilst singing just blows my mind. She worked as a park ranger in Central Park, New York for a while too which I think is pretty cool.
I love Kurt Vile because he sounds like he's like the most laid-back guy on the planet but he's a great guitarist and he writes some beautiful songs - this is one of them. His sound is somewhere between country and grunge-rock. This live rendition with a backing band (The Sadies) working it out as they go along is just perfect in my opinion!
You may have heard of the xx, the band that Jamie has with his two school friends, but he is a formidable DJ and electronic musician in his own right. This is his new song and, in what I believe is the current terminology, it slaps! I love the complicated beats skittering around each other. He employs his trademark vocal samples to dizzying, disorienting effect throughout. Around the 1 minute mark it sounds like the whole song is completely breaking down and then it all comes together to tremendous effect. I hope you have speakers that can do justice to that bass!
I saw Big Thief live in London back in February (before we got locked down!). They've got incredible chemistry and play beautifully together. Annie, their singer and songwriter, has this fragile, wonderful voice and her lyrics are pure magic - the chorus of this song is so great. In this performance, their drummer creates some interesting 'percussion'! Their lead guitarist, Buck, shows that sometimes, the best thing you can play is nothing at all - just adds some vocals towards the end.
I'll always include something a bit more challenging for you! I listen to a lot of purely instrumental music, especially when I'm working as words tend to distract me. I like how this song drifts in and out of focus and builds to that huge wall of scorching, screaming noise at the end. I think this video is pretty cool too - very experimental and weird, like the song itself. Like a lot of 'noise' music, this song really challenges you to think about when something stops being 'music' and just becomes 'noise'. Can you put your finger on the exact moment? Is it too much for you? Does the ending spoil the more melodic parts of it for you? How is listening to music without words different?
A great song is still great when the audio and video quality is poor! My dad brought me up listening to a lot of Van Morrison and Bob Dylan. This album came out the year I was born, as Van was exploring his Irish roots with The Chieftains. I love how he delivers such a powerful vocal at the same time as drumming, all while dressed like a 1970s geography teacher! His little 'shhh' to the band before the last verse gets me every time.
Unfortunately not the ones with chocolate chips.
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