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|Bowers & Wilkins Blog Album Review: American Utopia (Nonesuch)Back in 1983 David Byrne sang about Slippery People with Talking Heads, 35 years later those people are still in power but they're even harder to make sense of. Byrne's first solo album in 14 years seems to be a reaction to the way that life has been thrown out of whack for many in the United States and beyond. There is a distinct sense of confusion in the ten songs on American Utopia but then again Byrne has never been one for a straight forward narrative. It's taken him this long to make a follow up to Grown Backwards because he is always up to something else, be it scoring films, giving a TED talk on how music venues have influenced music in history or recording albums with Fatboy Slim and St. Vincent. He has also made plenty of albums with Brian Eno including the seminal My Life in the Bush of Ghosts and this latest release which is said to have grown out of some dance music tracks that Eno had been making, something that rings very true right from the off with the pounding drum machine beats of I Dance Like This. A song that harks back to Byrne's idiosyncratic dance style of the Talking Heads era and explains "We dance like this because it feels so damn good" but delves a little deeper later on with "The truth don't mean nothing if you ain't got the cash", a truism perhaps but not one often heard in song. Gasoline and Dirty sheets is the obligatory social commentary track demanded of any card carrying American liberal artist, here a bouncy rhythm contrasts with lines that include "Vacuum packed don't rock my world" and references to the many inequities of modern life. It's not the most musically subtle of albums and lacks variety because Byrne's voice is the dominant element in a mix that is distinctly hard edged presumably due to excessive use of compression and limiting. It feels as if it has been mastered for Spotify or one of its low bit rate competitors, the fundamental rhythms and vocal melody will be obvious via almost any medium but there isn't much beyond that. There are some surprising lyrics to keep you entertained on songs including the chicken centric Every Day Is a Miracle, where not only "The pope don't mean shit to a dog" but "The mind is a soft boiled potato". Byrne does on this occasion seem to have realised that if the tune is good enough the words don't actually have to form a linear storyline. But there are highlights for those who persevere to the last two tracks, Everybody's Coming to My House which combines a fine and largely coherent set of lyrics with a bit of musical variety that includes a lead break. A prelude in fact to the musically satisfying finale that is Here, where Eno has delved a little deeper into his sonic palette and brought in some real drums and guitar to leaven the synth and electronic sounds elsewhere. It can't be easy to be working non-stop and maintain quality and on this release Byrne hasn't quite hit the mark, but full marks for effort. Bowers & Wilkins Blog|
|Bowers & Wilkins Blog Interview: Nicolas Krauze, conductor of Orchestre de Chamber Nouvelle Europe, FranceWe talk to Nicolas Krauze, conductor of the Orchestre de Chamber Nouvelle Europe in Paris, about the upcoming season, the importance of sound, and music he simply can't live without.You originally studied as a violinist before turning to conducting. When choosing repertoire for the Orchestre de Chambre Nouvelle Europe, does personal taste play a part or are there other factors involved? Yes, I started with the violin when I was 3 years old. However, it was when I came back (as a French government scholarship holder) to the Moscow Conservatory at the age of 17 that I really realised my deep musical tastes. The Russian and Slavonic repertoire is very present, and it is inevitably felt somewhere in the programming of the OCNE. Which pieces/concerts are you looking forward to the most in this current concert season with the Orchestre? I am passionate about Mozart's last great symphonies. The n°35 "Haffner" is a jewel of elegance, proportions and intelligence. It is also very delicate to interpret. Mendelssohn's concerto with violinist Alena Baeva is also a highlight this season, not forgetting of course our great opera gala which will feature the best young singers of today, all winners of international competitions. Every conductor has their own style and approach to interpreting pieces of music. How do you approach music - new and old - and make it your own? For example, do you listen to earlier recordings of the piece, or do you religiously follow what has been written by the composer? I first try not to listen to any version, just focus on the score, which is what the composer wrote. When I've made up my mind about the work, then I listen to a few versions to perhaps find some complementary inspirations and ideas. Artists are often highly critical of their own work, and naturally find ways to build on their accomplishments. During the rehearsal process, or after a performance of a piece, do you analyse where things can be improved, and if so, how? Do you use any technologies to help? Yeah, that's right. When you are a conductor, in the centre of the orchestra, you have a sound and space point of view very different from that of the audience. We are "in the centre of the volcano", and a lot of things are happening, everything is going very fast. It is therefore very interesting to see a concert with a rested head, which often makes it possible to understand effects and details that pass differently depending on the position you are in. Almost all concerts at the OCNE are filmed and recorded, it's a chance for me. How important is sound quality to you and your work as a musician? It's really essential. Instrumentalists sometimes search tirelessly for years to find an instrument whose sound suits them. But my instrument is the orchestra! So beyond the aspects of technical cleanliness and interpretation, what makes the big difference from one to another is the quality of the sound it produces. The same work will be really different according to the quality, richness and sound that we give it. And of course this is also true for sound reproduction, whether with speakers or headphones. It is essential to be as close to reality as possible And finally, can you give 3 pieces of music that you can't live without and why? Bach: Sonatas and partitas for solo violin. Bach is the bible of music, it's God! Undoubtedly the most fundamental composer in the history of music, the one who understood everything, who invented everything. And he who has managed to masterfully and never equalled the power of mathematics and musical theory with inspiration and pure poetry. Mozart: String quartet "Les Dissonances" (or the one in D minor, the choice is hard...). Unlike Bach, who is almost in the hereafter, Mozart is the human genius, earthly, at his best. Intelligence, life, theater, and musical intuitions that are absolutely overwhelming, surprisingly simple, but which are remembered throughout life by listening to them only once. Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6 "Pathétique". If Bach is the afterlife, Mozart is the human genius, then Tchaikovsky is love, feeling. The Pathétique symphony is one of the strongest symbols, with an incredible depth and intensity, the kind of works that can really make a difference. I remember directing it some years ago at the Colon Theatre in Buenos Aires, in front of 1500 people in a cathedral silence, it was a rare experience. You can watch Nicolas perform Mozart's 35th symphony with the Orchestre de Chamber Nouvelle Europe in the below video. Bowers & Wilkins Blog|
|Bowers & Wilkins Blog Album review: The Breeders - All Nerve (4AD)Regroup, re-igniteIt's a brick, look a little closer and you'll see that the cover art is a broken engineering brick. Which is as good a metaphor for this album as anything, even if it suggests something a bit more brutal than most of the music actually delivers. The Breeders themselves are a little worn around the edges, this is their fifth album in over 25 years but they don't seem to have lost their musical powers, if anything they have been honed to a greater precision. Originally formed in the late eighties as side project by Pixies bassist Kim Deal and Throwing Muses guitarist Tanya Donnelly the band morphed through various line ups before hitting the sweetspot with Kelley Deal on guitar, Josephine Wiggs on bass and Jim MacPherson on drums, who released the break out album Last Splash in 1993. Its success largely spurred by the hit single Cannonball which you will have heard even if only in snippets on the Prodigy's Firestarter. But that line-up didn't last as Wiggs left in 1996 and Kelley Deal was busted for drugs and went into rehab the same year. What brought them back together was a 20th Anniversary tour for Last Splash in 2013, which went so well that the band got back into the studio last year to record All Nerve with the help of legendary producer Steve Albini among others. The result is a dynamic and lively 33.5 minutes of post grunge pop/rock that sounds a lot better than the Breeder's most celebrated albums, in fact it's a testament to the advances in studio technology that it has a raw edge without the obvious use of limiting. All but three of the 11 songs are sub three minutes, almost over before you know it but perfect for the soundbite tastes of the streaming generation. With its blazing guitars the first single Wait In The Car ignites a strong nostalgia for the band's heyday but it's got more tone than of yore, these aren't youngsters anymore so they have some perspective and their engineer has found a bit more body and depth in the sound. You can easily hear why the Pixies wanted Kim Deal's bass sound, it's really chunky on the title track, a lament for lost love with big chords and simple lyrics that go straight to the heart of the matter: "I won't stop, I will run you down, I'm all nerve". The best sounding track on the album is Spacewoman where the extra minute or so that they allow themselves provides a bit of space for the light and shade to stretch out and open up. Dawn Making an Effort is also pretty sweet and not just because of the great title, this is a slower tune with a weighty bass line and nice use of reverb on the guitar and the refrain "Dawn running us down, running us down". They should know better by now but these rockers don't know when to quit and it's paying dividends for us and them. Jason Kennedy @EditorTheEarFollow us on Spotify here >Bowers & Wilkins Blog|
|Bowers & Wilkins Blog International Women's Day 2018: Women making wavesIn celebration of International Women's Day, we've chosen some of our favourite female artists who inspire us through their musical creativity, social conscience and activism. World, take note.1. Björk Viscerally exploring the world of newfound love through dense, intricate soundscapes, Björk admirably upholds her tradition of crafting a fresh sound-world with each musical offering, this time in the form of her latest album 'Utopia'. Aside from her musical output, she is devoted to bringing her own form of musical education to a number of schools across Iceland, with further plans to extend it across Scandinavia. The Biophilia Educational Project is designed to push the creative boundaries of children between aged 10 and 12, while redefining old methods to explore creativity in music and science through new technologies. 2. War On Women The entire existence of punk rock is based on the ideology of standing up to authority. War On Women entwine this belief with their no-nonsense brand of feminism. The product is a relevant and politically charged musical match made in heaven. With a new album due in April, their unwavering attitude for equality also permeates through their activism: from promoting safer spaces for women during shows, to calling out many of President Trump's views, this is pure punk attitude with newfound vigour. 3. Laura Mvula Laura Mvula crafts soulful, nuanced art-pop with a modern twist. Her most recent album The Dreaming Room draws influences from jazz, disco and electronic music, and features guitar legend Nile Rogers. A classically trained singer-songwriter, she recently performed with the London Symphony Orchestra and a few years ago re-recorded her critically acclaimed debut album 'Sing To The Moon' with leading orchestra Metropole Orkest at Abbey Road Studios for Bowers & Wilkins Society of Sound. 4. St. Vincent With 2017's Masseduction - a sharp, sophisticated and eminently twisted portrayal of society, wrapped up in immaculate production with a fuzzy bow on top - it feels like St. Vincent has finally infiltrated the mainstream, and about time too. Transcending music, her talents also lie in writing and directing films (she co-wrote and directed horror short The Birthday Party last year), not to mention designing her custom made St. Vincent signature guitar series. This is an artist whose creative flair and originality holds no limits. 5. Natalia Lafourcade We assume most people outside of South America haven't heard of Mexican singer-songwriter Natalia Lafourcade - and we want this to change. In a career spanning an impressive 15 years and counting, the 34-year-old soprano has bridged the gap from Mexican pop heard in her early days to a stunningly original sound embraced in her last three albums. The latter two releases, Musa Vol. 1 and 2, pay a humble homage to Mexican and Latin American music, delivered in a rich, expressive and eminently pleasant vocal style with a spicy accompaniment, sonically transporting the listener to the heart of the Americas. 6. Dorit Chrysler A master of the theremin, an instrument which is seemingly played using thin air, Austrian born Dorit Chrysler is a sound-pioneer in her own right. Her passion towards this avant-garde instrument has steered the way for the existence of the New York Theremin Society, a gathering of musicians who showcase the eerily beautiful timbre of the instrument in concerts across the city. Her performance on the Bowers & Wilkins stage at WOMAD Festival 2017 demonstrated her inspiring and assiduous devotion to tame one of the hardest instruments out there. 7. Tash Sultana Multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter Tash Sultana is a rising star. Only 22 years of age, she recently sold out her 2017 world tour without an album to her name, the latter release is expected in April this year. A loop-pedal aficionado, her music infuses reggae and sun-drenched guitar solos with electronic beats and an infectiously distinctive vocal style. If you're after a mind-blowing live show, the Australian-born Sultana should be at the top of your list.Bowers & Wilkins Blog|
|Bowers & Wilkins Blog Society of Sound: Erland Cooper short playlistIn these songs I find hope, despair, strength with weakness: love, lust and joy, melancholy and forgiveness. They elicit, in me, a reflection on childhood memory, folklore, Orkney and it's "silence, loneliness" and "deep, marvelous rhythms of sea and land, darkness and light".To find more Bowers & Wilkins playlists, follow us on Spotify here >Discover more top 10s hereBowers & Wilkins Blog|
|Bowers & Wilkins Blog Album review: Keith Jarrett Gary Peacock Jack DeJohnette - After the Fall (ECM)Back in the saddlePianist Keith Jarrett is something of a legend among contemporary jazz musicians, his Koln Concerts released in 1975 is still the best selling album in the ECM catalogue and although his output has slowed in recent times his career spans 50 years plus. Jarrett's work is split between solo and group projects and the so-called Standards trio that he formed with bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette was the longest running of these, their first relase, Standards Vol.1, came out in 1983 and the latest to have surfaced thus far is 2009's Somewhere. The music on After the Fall was recorded live in 1998 at the New Jersey Performing Arts Centre but has only just been released. Prior to this concert Jarrett had been suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome and hadn't played live since the 'fall' of 1986 and decided to make a tentative comeback to live work at this venue because it was only an hour away from his home. Jarrett's recorded output has largely been improvised but in the last two decades he has turned his attention to standards, making his own music for so long presumably gave him a new respect for well composed tunes. For this event he decided to play be-bop because, as he puts it in the sleeve notes: "I didn't think I needed to play as hard as I often did (as my energy still seemed too low to "dig in" too much)". A statement that had me concerned that this might be a limp performance put out because Jarrett's health of late has meant that new releases are getting scarcer. But that isn't the case, by the time you get to Bouncin' with Bud on the second of the two discs the piano playing is spirited and spritely, Jarrett may not have been able to express himself as fully as he's been known to but his technique and enthusiasm do not seem to have suffered. The tunes vary in tempo and energy but are pretty upbeat for the most part, showing the trio's remarkable skill at locking into and then playing with a groove. It's nice to hear more reflective playing on songs like Late Lament but this is partly because it contrasts with the vitality of other numbers. An unlikely highlight is Santa Claus is Coming to Town, hardly a jazz standard but when this band leans into it there's a lot to enjoy, especially the combination of Jarrett's left hand and Peacock's weighty double bass. Recording quality is high as with every ECM but not quite as pristine as they can be, the concert wasn't originally intended to be released as it was recorded to DAT (digital audio tape) at the mixing desk, but as Jarrett was happy with the results it has come to light 20 years later. A good thing too, in some ways the pianist's limited energies leave a bit more space for his fellow musicians to fill and they do it exceptionally well. DeJohnette's fills are often a delight and Peacocks ability to play around the piano is masterful. After the Fall is not the greatest performance from this trio but it gives plenty of insight into why it is held in such high regard and will inspire listeners to seek out the highlights of their extensive back catalogue. Jason Kennedy @EditorTheEar Bowers & Wilkins Blog|
|Bowers & Wilkins Blog Sound Therapy #1: Does music relieve stress?Stress. Relaxation. Sometimes we turn to music for both. But why? We decided to explore this intriguing human characteristic through examining societal habits, science, and music itself, discovering some interesting findings along the way...Let's face it, at some point in our lives we've turned to music as a stress-battler and relaxation-enhancer - and the internet knows it. Simply search for words such as 'chill' or 'relax' on Spotify, and you will find a rich digital library of playlists devoted to our wellbeing and precious downtime. From playlists labelled 'Ambient Chill', to the more specific 'Chill Lofi Study Beats' (we promise we didn't make that one up), there's no denying modern society's penchant for wanting to literally turn up, tune in and drop out. But why do we put our trust in music, and what genres do we gravitate towards most? There are a number of factors - some of which are more deep-rooted than you might think.Money, Money, MoneyIn Western culture, especially during ancient through to medieval times, music existed as an integral part of a religious society. Exclusively enjoyed by nobility behind closed doors in their courts and castles, it was an expensive, high-brow form of entertainment and incredibly sought after across Europe - not readily available for the mere peasants of the land. Fast-forward 500 years or so, and combined with the remarkable advent of technology, music has evolved into an eminently accessible art form, made even more reachable through streaming services such as Spotify, Tidal and Apple Music. And unlike the nobility and church who paid composers and musicians for each performance back in the day, a small subscription fee a month for access to millions of tracks is an economically viable choice for those seeking instant relaxation in modern times.A formula for relaxation?So how does music make us feel more relaxed or de-stressed? We've turned to science for this one. A study in New York examined the effect of music on surgical patients suffering with cataracts. Forty patients volunteered for a trial: all received ordinary care, however one half of the group listened to music through headphones before, during and immediately after the operations. Just before surgery, the heart rates and blood pressure of all patients increased. However, the patients who were subjected to the sounds of the operating room remained in a state of heightened tension, while the pressure readings of patients who listened to music decreased rapidly and remained low in the recovery room - a promising result for music. While the choice of music wasn't disclosed in this study, we have evidence to suggest that different kinds of music also help to lower stress levels. In another study, volunteers were assigned one of three different sonic conditions (relaxing music, rippling water and no acoustic stimulation) before being exposed to a stress test. Interestingly, it was the sound of rippling water that produced the lowest stress levels compared to the other conditions, but the relaxing music was more effective in a faster autonomic (heart rate and blood pressure) recovery than both of the other controlled sonic conditions, proving that music does prevent stress.It's a natural choiceScientists found it surprising that natural sounds, like that of the rippling water, were interpreted by the volunteers' brains as a relaxation tool. But on closer inspection, this response could be engrained in our very DNA. This stems back to early human existence, where sounds of the natural world were once all a human could hear. Picture waking up to rustling leaves, a gentle stream or the sounds of birds - these sound-worlds from hundreds of years ago provide an insightful link to how humans perceive natural sounds today. A genre like Biomusic blends natural sounds like animal noises and field recordings together with music, creating a supposed perfect combination for human ears. And, according to an Italian study involving 24 volunteers, tempo also matters. They found that slow or meditative music was far more effective at relaxing the subjects, while faster tempos produced a higher amount of arousal. However, immediately after the latter music stopped, heart rates and blood pressures fell to levels below usual, indicating relaxation.Music for sleepFrom stress relievers to sleep-inducers, in 2015 a contemporary classical composer Max Richter wrote and recorded an eight-hour long piece designed to be listened to over the course of a full sleep cycle. Described in the album notes as an 'eight-hour lullaby', Richter conferred with American neuroscientist David Eagleman to learn about how the brain functions during sleep. "We got talking about the various phases of sleep - the dreaming sleep and the various stages of deep sleep. There is also a particular area of sleep called slow-wave sleep, where the brain basically gets into step with itself and gets into this one single phase of these relatively slow brain waves - around 10 Hz or so - and the whole brain 'fires all at once'." It has also been scientifically proven that music reduces stress response during some shut-eye. In a study involving 10 critically ill postoperative patients under the influence of the sedative propofol whilst using breathing machines, half of the patients were played slow movements from Mozart piano sonatas. The nurses reported that the patients in the controlled music setting required significantly less propofol to maintain sleep sedation than the other half who were not played the music. Lower blood pressures and heart rates, as well as lower stress hormones were found in conjunction with these results. So there you have it. Music clearly plays a larger part in stress reduction than we might have thought. And while we know how it reduces stress, further exploration into the genres and sounds that facilitate this change could prove to be music's next eureka moment.Bowers & Wilkins Blog|
|Bowers & Wilkins Blog Film soundtrack review: Black Panther (2018)In what is perhaps the biggest Marvel film in recent years, we explore the cinematic sound of Black Panther: it's orchestral score - composed by Ludwig Gooransson - and the accompanying contemporary soundtrack curated by rapper Kendrick Lamar.Utterly seismic. These are a couple of words which come to mind when describing the two-pronged sound of the latest Marvel release: Black Panther. Set mainly in the fictional country of Wakanda in Africa, both accompanying soundtracks provide a visceral sound to a story which champions and celebrates African culture.An earth-shaking soundThe orchestral soundtrack proceeds as if it were a film itself, with many electronic and special audio effects entwined into the score, while long pauses and transitions separate the moments of grandeur from the percussion-heavy African sections. In 'Wakanda' appears the main theme of the film's fictitious setting, and is heard throughout and in various forms. Complementing the vast onscreen African landscapes in its first appearance, a traditional African melody is heard in the form of a visceral solo voice. The proceeding orchestral accompaniment, combined with native-sounding percussion, slowly creeps in, and quickly transforms into an epic sound laden with brass - the latter we feel is very much a staple sound signature in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Although with a 132-piece orchestra, as well as choir at composer Ludwig Göransson's disposal, it would almost be rude not to include such noise. The composer also shows moments of ingenuity by neatly rewriting the Wakanda theme into an orchestral setting in 'Ancestral Plane'. Muscular sounding strings add a new and refined dimension to the theme, which later reappears in the upper registers of the instruments. This brings the emotion to a solemn climax in the scene where T'Challa, the main protagonist, meets his deceased father.African soundscapes[caption id="attachment_25432" align="aligncenter" width="640"] Image: YouTube[/caption]But while Göransson shows prowess in his orchestral arrangements, he also demonstrates a great aptitude at creating powerful and atmospheric African soundscapes. For example, in 'Warrior Falls', forceful African drums and chants are laced with delays which reverberate across the wide soundstage. At its extremes, there are moments where all three elements of orchestral, African and hip-hop sounds meet. Göransson keeps the symphonic music unified in its rhythms, providing room for the percussion and sub bass to breathe in their subtlety. All in all, it's quite an achievement for this eclectic blend to work so well, considering the diversity of genres heard at once. Tracks like 'Killmonger' and 'Killmonger's Challenge', named after the main villain of the film, exhibit a hip-hop heavy side of the soundtrack, with the seemingly ever-popular trap hi-hat sound appearing alongside the orchestral accompaniment and native African sounds. The hip-hop beats reflect the cultural origins of the young villain, who was raised in America.An album for the times[caption id="attachment_25433" align="aligncenter" width="640"] Image: YouTube[/caption]As well as an orchestral soundtrack, an accompanying hip-hop release was also recorded. Curated by Kendrick Lamar, an artist at the top of his game, the album is titled 'Black Panther: The Album Music from and Inspired by' - and inspire it does. The album's content signals to the film through references to characters, the original score and the story; the latter permeates through a socially conscious narrative transformed to reflect to the world as we know it. The opening track speaks from the perspective of T'Challa while a melancholic piano sample meets tribal drums infused with hip-hop beats, imitating the percussion-heavy symphonic soundtrack. This storytelling continues in 'Opps', where Kendrick raps 'you're dead to me' - a direct nod to the villain in the film - over industrial sounding beats. Interestingly, the way he raps the hook is identical to the tuned percussion sounds in 'Wakanda Origins' heard in the score. This is a nice musical touch and provides a coherent link between the two soundworlds, however I thought the tracks of the heavily lauded hip-hop release would play a heavier role in the onscreen proceedings. There are moments of pop-magic in 'All The Stars', the lead single from the soundtrack. Guest singer SZA marries an expressive melodic hook to lyrics about connecting with the stars, a symbolic link to the spirits that watch over Black Panther in its own comic book lore. The album also features guest appearances from James Blake, Anderson .Paak and The Weeknd, showing that this release means serious business. Futhermore, there is no denying that hip-hop has overtaken rock music in its popularity, with the genre giving a platform for swathes of artists to highlight societal issues on a never-before-seen worldwide scale. Black Panther confirms this shift in taste, and the film has harnessed the opportunity to bring to fruition a hip-hop album that seamlessly blurs the line between fictional story and real life. This makes for a truly landmark release, testament to the current pop landscape and one that won't be forgotten, culturally or socially, anytime soon. - Alex WestonBowers & Wilkins Blog|
|Bowers & Wilkins Blog Our favourite late-night listening albumsTurn down the lights, switch on your system or headphones, and relax into your favourite chair. We share seven of our favourite great-sounding albums, all of which are simply perfect for those unforgettable late-night listening sessions.1. Nirvana - MTV Unplugged In New York For those wanting the instant pleasure of experiencing an intimate show in their living room, Nirvana's performance from the Sony Music Studios in New York should be at the top of your list. There is something harrowingly beautiful in Kurt Cobain's vocal performance, which was recorded five months before his suicide in 1994. The raw, rustic and nonetheless insightful detail of the acoustic instrumental backdrop adds to a spellbinding set of hits, covers and traditional songs. The album's closer, Where Did You Sleep Last Night, provides a moment of pure, unbridled emotion and is up there as one of our favourite live moments ever. 2. Nicolas Jaar - Space Is Only Noise An ear-watering blend of field recordings, samples and electronic sound, Chilean-born Nicolas Jaar instant name for himself within the electronic music world with this album. In their maturity, the dense, complex and constantly shape-shifting soundworlds of defy all evidence that Jaar was only 21 years old on its release. But tracks like Être and Problem With the Sun demonstrate an innate understanding of the sonic elements which are needed to craft creative and characterful compositions, and combined with the rest of the songs from the album, entertain the listener until the very last sound. 3. D'Angelo - Black Messiah Breaking a 14-year hiatus, D'Angelo stunned critics with the unexpected release of Black Messiah - however this was just a knee jerk reaction to the Ferguson and Eric Carter court cases circling the news at the time. The music itself is eminently listenable, smooth and silky R&B combined with gritty lyrical and sampled overtones. The inventive processing of the guitar, brass and keyboard sounds bring the songwriting to life, making it a fun-filled sonic nightcap before the lights go out. 4. Agnes Obel - Citizen Of Glass Agnes Obel's Citizen Of Glass is a stunning late-night listen. A meandering violin line of the opening number is enough to draw you into a dark, mystical and atmospheric world similar to the depths of rural Scandinavia. Expertly recorded, the album is a sonic feast, and on a good system or pair of headphones unearths the nuances of the many textures embedded in the arrangements with transparent ease. Obel's expressive voice vividly guides the listener through vast soundworlds in an utterly captivating listen that is simply too good to pause. 5. Portishead - Dummy In a thrilling debut, Portishead solidified Bristol's role in the UK as the home of early trip-hop in the mid-90s - and we can hear why. Its seminal sound of minimalist beats, combined with forward-thinking splashes of electronica can still be heard in music being made today. Beth Gibbons' beguiling pop vocals are seamlessly juxtaposed onto melancholic harmonies, creating an otherworldly sound, which, track by track, entrances the listener through its sheer seductiveness. 6. PJ Harvey - To Bring You My Love Coincidentally losing out to Portishead in the 1995 Grammy awards, this album from PJ Harvey is still a firm favourite of ours for the late hours of the day. It's sinister sounding, with enough sting and bite to keep you on the edge of your seat throughout the listen. Slowly creeping in, the opening track ebbs and flows with plenty of musical muscularity, only for more hard, angular and unforgivingly brazen rock to follow suit. Just try not to wake anyone else up with this one. 7. Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong - Ella and Louis A collection of eleven ballads, this release from jazz legends Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong has sonically stood the test of time since its release in 1956. The relaxed feel of the album is owed to style of singing and the lounge-like accompaniment of the Oscar Peterson Quartet. There are plenty of musical nuances to be discovered in each song too, whether that be through Louis' soulful, gravelly voice and edgy trumpet playing, or Ella's assiduous dedication to intonation and phrasing, it's a joyous listen altogether. And for those who enjoy their sleep, this is the album for you.After studying brain sleeping patterns with a neuroscientist, Max Richter decided to compose an eight-hour piece designed to accompany some shut-eye. Entwining ambient, acoustic and electronic sounds together, the music follows different stages of sleep through sedate tempos. Aside from the science, it also sounds great, too. Unfortunately, the full eight-hour version isn't available for streaming, but Richter has compiled shorter excerpts, which we think are the perfect length to cap off your evening of listening. Bowers & Wilkins Blog|
|Bowers & Wilkins Blog Album review: Laurie Anderson & Kronos Quartet - Landfall (Nonesuch)After the stormIn 2012 hurricane Sandy made landfall in North America and caused billions of dollars' worth of damage, on her first release with the Kronos Quartet Laurie Anderson recounts the effect it had on her and New York through 30 spoken word and instrumental pieces. Anderson is best known for her 1981 hit Oh Superman (For Massenet) but her work crosses the performance art divide and much of her music is as much about story telling as it is about composition. Although she used to play a white 'violin' with magnetic tape for a bow and a tape head as the strings this is the first time that she has composed for so many of the acoustic variety. The Kronos Quartet consists of David Harrington and John Sherba on violin, Hank Dutt on viola and Sunny Yang on cello, they have performed with artists across the musical spectrum including Elvis Costello, Natalie Merchant and Rhiannon Giddens and are particularly adept at bridging the divide between classical and contemporary styles. The many tracks on Landfall sound like a combination of string quartet and synthesiser with the latter adding properly seismic bass as well as percussive elements to many tracks but as with many of Anderson's projects it's not that simple. For example much of the sound that doesn't seem as if it was coming from bowed, sawed or plucked strings is derived from them nonetheless, specifically the viola which Anderson recorded and used unique software to generate specific sounds from. She also used an Optigan, and optical organ sold in the seventies that uses optical discs to store sounds, a bit like a sampler and a precursor to the sampling synthesisers that appeared in the next decade. Which would partly explain the strange nature of the sounds on this album which are softer and far less defined than those of the quartet. There are a number of stories on Landfall and these make a nice contrast with the instrumental numbers which tend to be short in duration with few breaking the three-minute mark. One track called Nothing Left but Their Names includes references to a book of extinct species with lines like "15 chapters on sloths", "every last mastodon" and a clear favourite "One whole chapter on the one eared dinosaur". Anderson's style is quiet and deliberate with a sense of wry humour that keeps you listening hard for the next observation. This same piece changes subject completely when it turns to "the reason I love the stars is that we can't hurt them", but, she concedes "we are reaching for them", which has a moving pathos to it that few artists achieve. The Kronos Quartet plays largely simple repeated phrases and motifs, they occasionally stray into the choppy waters of atonality but rarely for long and the overall effect is rather more pleasant than the scenes of flooding and devastation that the song titles suggest. The sound is large scale and enveloping with the aforementioned low bass waiting to reward listeners with proper loudspeakers (e.g. large ones). One line goes "Don't you hate it when people tell you their dreams" but inevitably Landfall has a distinctly dream like quality and that is a large part of its appeal. Jason Kennedy @EditorTheEar Bowers & Wilkins Blog|
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