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Cubicle Vacations: New Music, Vol 8

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For your listening pleasure, check out some of the most exciting, newly purchased CDs from our circulating collections. Just click on any album title to head over to the catalog and put that CD on hold—and don't forget the provided "PREVIEW" tracks below. Enjoy!

 

The Infected Mass album cover"The Infected Mass" by Those Who Walk Away (2017)

Somewhere nestled among the charming piazzas of Rome is a place known as the Capuchin Crypt, comprising small chapels, with altars, designs, and wall decorations made from the bones of 4,000 exhumed human skeletons. One altar is made entirely from the skeletons of priests, one room features a mandala wall design comprised of pelvic bones, and another room is made mostly from the bones of infants.
 
Continue on to the adjoining museum and you will find a painting by the Italian master of shadow, Caravaggio: It is of St. Jerome, sitting alone by candlelight, staring at a human skull in his hands, contemplating death.
 
In case you can't make out the picture on the cover of "The Infected Mass", it is an airplane plummeting to certain doom. Who has not boarded an airplane and had their own St. Jerome moment: contemplating their own mortality, if only for a moment?
 
It is just that moment that this Mass explores. The quickened heartbeat, deliberate breathing, actual cockpit recordings of in-flight crises, droning tones, and the slowing down of time. It evokes what Caravaggio evokes, that life itself flickers like a candle, holding the shadows at bay; yet behind every face is a skull.

PREVIEW

 

The Art of the Chinese Lutes album cover"The Art of the Chinese Lutes" by Miao Xiaoyun (2017)

Alone on the northern frontier, 
I play my lute to cover my solitude with songs. 

Autumn chills, maple leaves and reed flowers fall;
The river reflects the moon through a veil of mist.

I close my eyes, a figure of a golden phoenix appears, with flowers in its beak.
The flowers flutter, and the phoenix sings;
Lingering, filling the countryside. 
An early snow begins to fall.

I listen to the sound;
It is like magic sent down from heaven.
Something profound floats in the music; 
It is beautiful and sad, a gateway to the mystery.
My coat is soaked through with tears.

On these snowy, moonlit nights in fall,
I often sit and play alone. It keeps me warm.
I drink wine by myself, and raise a toast to the beauty of this loneliness. 

(freely compiled and rewritten by A. Wagstaff, from poems of the Tang Dynasty.)

PREVIEW

 

Little French Songs album cover"Little French Songs" by Carla Bruni (2013)

Perhaps Carla Bruni's name is familiar to you—many know her as the woman who married then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2008 while he was in office (their daughter was also born during his tenure, in 2011) . However, such trivia should not eclipse the fact that Bruni has some serious musical talent, and one of the most beautiful voices I've ever heard!

Take, for instance, Bruni's cover of Depeche Mode's "Enjoy the Silence" on her new cover album, "French Touch". There are some other wonderful songs on that 2017 cover album (don't miss her version of "Miss You"), which I could have easily made the focus of this entry. But there's a lovely song from "Little French Songs", her 2013 release, that I must highlight here.

Bruni takes a lovely Chopin Waltz—"Valse Posthume no. 17 en la mineur"—and adds her own French lyrics, to great effect. The result is  a wonderfully light and sultry song that takes you back to some torch-lit sidewalk cafe in Paris, of some bygone era.

PREVIEW

 

Ribbons album cover"Ribbons" by Justin Adams (2017)

This collection of sound paintings seems to combine the sonification of energy waves in outer space with an ancient music hidden deep within the earth, somewhere in the Middle East. It escapes the tyranny of musical trends of the present simply by drawing on the ancient past and the distant future. It is as relaxing as it is unique. 

PREVIEW

 

Eternal Tides album cover"Eternal Tides" by Joanne McIver & Alain Genty (2017)

Joanne McIver has an undeniable passion for the traditional music of Scotland, and has geared her graceful musical talents and entire career toward exploring, performing, and composing it. The fact that she clearly lives and breathes this music is what makes it so compelling!

McIver sings, often in Gaelic, and plays the flute, tin whistle, and Scottish pipes. My personal opinion about bagpipes is that they're great for parades, but not for my living room. However, McIver may be the only person to play the bagpipes in a way that is 100% enjoyable. (I like bagpipes now, and she did that!)

In addition to "Eternal Tides", McIver released another album this year, a collaboration with harp player, Christophe Sauniere. Here's a video of McIver singing and playing the tin whistle on a song from that album. 

Her composition style draws lovingly from the Scottish Gaelic tradition she identifies with but there is something else in her music, her own unique elements. That assertion of her own musical sensibilities is so subtle, so effortless and naturally in conjunction with tradition, that the music succeeds in being the most beautiful history of Scotland you'll ever have the pleasure to hear.  I wish she were better known. She should be. I do what I can. 

PREVIEW

 

 Original Motion Picture Soundtrack album cover"Arrival: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack" by Johann Johannsson (2016)

Arrival was a 2016 science-fiction movie involving visitors from outer space. Yet, unlike many other films involving similar visits, the aliens don't use humans as hosts for their spawn, blow stuff up, or otherwise cause a bunch of on-screen havoc. Arrival is an elegantly paced, thought-provoking film whose main protagonist is a linguist professor—an atypical sci-fi hero for sure. Check out the DVD and keep in mind just how important music is for film. 
 
A main plot point in the film focuses on language. How, for instance, could we begin to communicate with an alien life-form whose language shares none of the traits our earthly languages? The starting points, building blocks, and approach to language are just so completely different than our own that there are no motifs or structures from which to draw, even for the most gifted of polyglot linguist professors. 
 
Most interesting about this film is that the composer's similar approach to the music. He seemingly steered clear of all musical conventions and tried to think of soundwaves, and of music, as something completely new. This approach mirrors the film's ideas about language and communication, that our structures and motifs are so familiar, it becomes challenging to even think of something outside of them.
 
What would language be without vowels, hieroglyphs, verbs or nouns? How would you approach playing music if you couldn't use any instrument, or scales, that already exists? That's the best way I can describe the "Arrival" soundtrack. Actually, the composer is much more eloquent and informed about this approach, and breaks down his process, element by element, in this very interesting podcast. So listen to that, and then check out this mesmerizing track, titled "Heptapod B."  
 

PREVIEW

 

The Blue Notebooks album cover"The Blue Notebooks" by Max Richter (2004)

The incredibly beautiful track that plays out the credits in Arrival is not from the film's composer, but from Max Richter. The piece is called "On The Nature of Daylight", and it is one of the most haunting pieces of music ever written. I'll put it there with Arvo Part's "Cantus In Memoriam Benjamin Britten" (Find it in our catalog!) as the song I believe God will have the angels play when the world finally comes to an end, as it is truly magnificent. Okay, that's just my own imagined, larger-than-life scenario. Think of your own. 

PREVIEW

 

boyd meets girl album cover"boyd meets girl" by Rupert Boyd & Laura Metcalf (2017)

Both these musicians have already been critically aclaimed, with The Washington Post all but comparing Boyd's playing to that of Andres Segovia. Allmusic's 5/5 star review of the Laura Metcalf-Matei Varga collaboration "First Day" (also on our shelves) claimed that "the listener is likely to have to be restrained from taking off into the stratosphere!" The review is referring specifically this Poulenc piece, but the whole album is wonderful! This year brings an equally wonderful collaboration, this time with cello and guitar. 

PREVIEW

 

Cousin Emmy and her Kinfolks album cover"Cousin Emmy and Her Kinfolks, 1939-1947"

Bill Monroe and His Bluegrass Boys get most of the credit for inventing bluegrass music, and it's perfectly warranted. The birth of bluegrass is usually set in December 1945, when guitarist Lester Flatt and banjo player Earl Scruggs joined the group and solidfied the instrumentation.

But, as we all know, music—certainly any type of folk music—doesn't just appear out of nowhere. It draws on elements of music that came before it, and adds its own innovations. 

When Cousin Emmy was teaching Grandpa Jones how to play the banjo, and gaining popularity playing the "Jamboree" live on the radio in the 1930s, Earl Scruggs was still a kid. Scruggs is rightly credited with his impressive and innovative 3-finger playing style (now called the "Scruggs Style") and Monroe's better-known Bluegrass Boys certainly codifed an instrumentation for an entire genre (mandolin, banjo, guitar, fiddle, stand-up bass).

But playing the banjo at breakneck speed, getting everybody in the barn up and dancing, and singing about cornbread and beans and lonesome roads? That came to us from Cousin Emmy (and others as well). It is said she knew how to play 16 different instruments. She was one of the first female musicians to barnstorm into a male-dominated industry and never look back, she would brag that "she was the first hillbilly to own a Cadillac,"and she was among the many musicians to have a resurgence in popularity during the roots music revival of the 1960s—a new popularity that resulted in her performing at the Newport Folk Festivals. Cousin Emmy is a legend in country music and her music is always a jamboree!  

PREVIEW

 

Two Parts Viper album cover"Two Parts Viper" by '68 (2017)

This one is loud and sweaty. It is screamed out of a garage as unsuspecting victims walk by, trying not to glance over at the monstrosity. "Are we in danger?! What if it comes after us? They can sense fear, and if they see us looking, they'll get even madder. Let's get out of here!"

If you like raw, unpolished in-your-face rock and roll energy... I'm pretty sure these guys don't have a stylist on the ol' payroll. (Hey, if you play punk rock and have a stylist, you're not really punk.)

But, is this punk? It is if you consider that punk came along and accused rock of being stale and boring and narcisistic and lacking energy and all that, sure. But it's really just straight ahead rock 'n' roll, served up as it should be, with a heaping side of attitude.  

PREVIEW

 

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